30 December 2019

Confession, Lament, Hope

The truth is, I'm not very good at living sustainably.

I haven't written a blog post in over two years. Partly I was feeling like a fraud, talking about sustainability while painfully aware of the ways we were not living up to the ideal. Partly, I looked at the state of the world and just lost heart.

First to the issue of not living up to my own standards: A couple of years back Tyson and I were getting invited to be guest speakers on sustainability. I would see people's eyes lighting up at the opportunities to do simple things that make the world better. Yet I knew we were not at all the sustainable living role models we were being portrayed as. A couple of people visited our home because they wanted to 'see how we live' - I think they might have been disappointed.

Other friends felt guilty in response to what I wrote. The blog was intended to inspire people with how possible and attainable change was, but instead it was making people feel bad about how much they were not doing. Finally, it even had that effect on me: my own past enthusiasm, optimism and action made me feel guilty about how poorly I believed I was following through, and how much I hadn't done at all. The area that I really feel we do badly on is plastics. I read inspiring rubbish-free articles and know how much packaging we throw away, even if much of it goes into recycling. As the months without a post stretched out, even the blog felt like a sustainability action I had failed at. Below, I have put a list of all the 'small steps' I have posted on the blog in the past, to come clean on which we are still doing at all, a little, or not. 

But the greater reason my blog writing stopped was a creeping sense of despair. Climate change is no longer a thing we are working to avoid; it is a present reality that we are learning (maybe) to survive. And parallel to our world being literally on fire, political leadership seems to be turning away from environmental reality, away from the common good, away from global cooperation, creativity, innovation and radical world-saving action.

Greta Thunberg has said she doesn't want people to feel hopeful, but to feel the fear she feels, to panic, and so to act. Unfortunately, a lack of hope has had the opposite effect on me. Something like: If its all falling apart anyway, why knock myself out trying so hard to live efficiently? Why not just enjoy what we have until its gone? Not that I've suddenly bought a jet ski and taken up random acts of environmental violence. But I haven't been trying all that hard to keep doing what we are doing, and we have pretty much stopped taking on new sustainability commitments. I feel your fear, Greta, and all those who share your voice; I wake up in the night terrified that I am not teaching my children skills to survive a post-societal collapse (because I don't have those skills), that I am handing on to them less than nothing. And mostly it leaves me curled in a ball in the dark longing for morning, when routine normalcy blanks out the terror long enough to get on with things.

In my tradition, December is a time to pay attention to waiting, hoping, longing for a better world - an Advent season of reflection. This Advent I set myself to actively seeking hope. Tyson drew my attention to the work of Rebecca Solnit. In particular, her concept of hope as the tool with which to enact desperate change, not a sleeping pill to make you feel better about someone coming to rescue you. In her words: 'Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency'. 

I need to believe global collapse is not inevitable. And that even in a global collapse, human beings would still be the mix of love and hate, kindness and self-interest, fear and joy, creativity and intransigence that we have now, and would make a way forward. I do not instinctively trust that this is true, but I am teaching myself to hold it as true, because I need to in order to do anything useful. This is the hope with which I intend to hammer at the imprisoning doors of the climate emergency.

I am also finding that I cannot hope unless I also lament. Lament is the honest recognition that things are not as we desire. Hiding in the night with my fears entraps me. In contrast, it is surprisingly freeing to turn my face to the torrent of things going wrong and saying I see you. I know you are terrible. I weep for all the ways humans are failing our beloved earth. 

I lament my own failure to live as sustainably as I desire. Rebecca Solnit has something to say there too: 'Perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible'. The audit of actions below is my lament, and also my celebration of the ways we are making an effort. A small effort. Very, very small steps. They might not be enough, but if I stop because I am not doing it perfectly, or lose hope in the potential for a better world, I have beaten the possibility of change to death with my perfectionism and my despair.

Paying attention to hope through Advent has also given me tiny moments of discovering it. Oddly, the eastern seaboard being blanketed in bushfire smoke for weeks gave me hope: after despairing at how many Australians were ignoring the impact of climate change, now no-one could ignore it - they were breathing it in. (I live in Perth; I may have felt less hopeful if I was choking on that insidious climate-change messenger myself). Compared to ten years ago when I began this blog, the conversation about climate change has moved astonishingly. I can focus on the not enough part of that story, or I can hang on to how far public opinion has moved. (A study of 50,000 Australians in 2019 found that 72% were worried about climate change). Although when I watched the film 2040 earlier in the year I came out feeling we were all doomed because the ideas presented were so far from enough, on reflection the diversity of innovative technologies and attitude changes that the movie opened up does give me hope. Humans are a remarkably resourceful, creative and adaptive species and we have what it takes to survive, even to thrive, and possibly to steer the world away from climate disaster.

I am discovering that hope is a discipline, from which life and joy can grow. I can't teach my children indigenous bush skills or urban guerilla survival, but I can teach them hope. I can't I can't I can't is easy to list and that is my lament. But I am learning to pay attention to what I can.

One thing I can do is write. And take pictures. So maybe in 2020 I will return to blogging. Or maybe this is a farewell post and my 'I can' will be in other directions. 


Small Steps Action Audit December 2019

Things we have given away entirely

Grey water irrigation
recycling water using buckets including toilet flushing with recycled water (This was given away one winter when we were perpetually sick and I put it down to buckets of grey water sitting around)
Worm farm (We kept killing them in the heat)
farmers' market
carrying stuff on bikes (This largely died away when we had two children to transport, neither of them able to ride for themselves. They can both ride well now. We haven't got back to carting much)
returning packaging (linked to farmers' market, which became a hassle to get to on a Saturday)
grey water wheelie bin
write the blog (until today)
green printing for work projects (the green printer was so slow turning orders around that I gave up; I tried a local independent and their print quality was hopeless; recently I resorted to a mainstream local printer)
blanket pelments
giving away to prepare for Christmas/ birthdays
bottling tomatoes
byo plates/ cutlery
reusable barrier bags
using the tip shop

Things we do sometimes, partially, or not as described

Cloth nappies (We kept this up for years but our second child had terrible nappy rash so we gave it away when he was about two. Then he took a long time to toilet train, so we used a lot of disposables; cloth wipes were more successful with the second child)
Heat barrier curtain (Still there, but our guinea pigs are in the laundry now so we don't want it to keep the heat stored there anymore)
Meat minimalist diet (We don't eat big slabs of meat much, but we do have meat in many meals), careful seafood choices (tuna is not as bad as it used to be)
lowering our hot water temperature (When the hot water system was replaced we can't recall turning it down. I think there was some difficulty with doing so)
Gifts from recycled sources
tarpaulin for shade, blinds for front windows (Both replaced with shade cloth - the tarp tore, as it wasn't really suitable; the shade cloth at the front was more efficient)
Tyson's work (He is no longer directly in sustainability work, but teaches heritage wood craft skills through Joy of Wood, which contributes in a different way)

Care with washing water
No rubbish challenge
Bike riding (Certainly not meeting my goal of riding anywhere I could get in under ten minutes. Especially not the pool in winter)
toy library (No longer relevant as our kids are primary school age now, but we also used it much less with #2)
showers over bath (One of our children loves a bath, so its a special treat to indulge in; the other can stay in the shower so long I'm not sure it uses any less water anymore. Baths are also great for calming late afternoon restlessness)
speaking out (Sometimes. I have been to one student climate strike. I am considering joining dear friends who are venturing into Extinction Rebellion)
water consciousness (partly dropped from our priorities as two desalination plants now serve Perth, so it is not so urgent as it was; we still watch water use, but we don't recycle as we once did)
various shading (our main shading is now corflute, washing on the clothesline for hot days, a painting canvas in the bathroom, and a few foam mats outside windows)
re-using garden waste (we have never again borrowed the shredder, but we do try to keep green waste out of the bin where we can)
Christmas conversations and actions (we still wrap entirely in re-usable cloth, re-use the same decorations each year, don't send Christmas cards and make the few we do give... but we have a 7yr old and a 10yr old and we buy them gifts. New. We try not to buy plastic - except Lego, which we have mounds of. When giving gifts to our children's friends we choose a book from our shelf that we have read and enjoyed and re-gift it)

Shop Ethical Guide (we haven't looked it up for a while, but mostly continue with what was best option a few years back)
Ethical fundraising (I'm not involved in fundraising at present and our school doesn't push it, but this commitment remains rumbling along ready to rise again when the time comes)

no TV (Except Iview on Friday nights. But no TV doesn't mean much anymore because every phone is a TV in your pocket. Sorting out appropriate screen use for our family is a work in progress. We were recently given a TV and it is on a wheeled table with a cover over it, coming out only on Friday nights)
no driving to school (We aspire to ride bikes every day, but the number of legitimate reasons to drive seems to be expanding: too hot, too rainy, need to carry something, running very late, someone's sick...)
sustainable catering (We haven't been in a situation since I posted about this to do likewise or otherwise)
reusing construction waste (Fewer construction sites on our street and fewer projects needing these sort of materials has slowed this down. Tyson also has enough recycled wood now stored to keep us going a long time)

Things we are still doing pretty much as written about

Efficient lighting (now LEDs rather than CFLs when replacements arise)
Compost (although in more efficient/ effective ways than in 2009)
Shade cloth (yes, both the original and expansion pieces and replacement of originals that eventually wore out)
no standby electrical use
enviro laundry and dishwasher powder
water pipe insulation
door weather seal
Christmas Baking Day (OH yes, we still do this - and it has grown, this year to nearly 50 people)
verge collection including using recycled materials found (although there have been few notable instances lately)
books (as written at the time, we do buy books, in moderation, as well as buying second hand and using libraries)

cold water laundry washing
reducing toilet cistern volume
no buy no waste children's activities (Although, of course, not the toddler or preschooler ones shown - they are so big now!)
buy WA cheese (Although there is no longer ANY 1kg block cheddar made in WA; but to compensate, we mostly buy all WA dairy now - yoghurt and milk as well as cheese)
fuel efficient car (We still drive the Citroen from 2008; a new car would be more efficient but we are not in the market for a new car)
preserving fruit (more often bottled now than frozen)
Strawberry Jam. And Nectarine. And mulberry. And last week for the first time, after a bumper crop off our self-sown apricot tree, apricot jam. But not lilly pilly after the first go. And I'm not meant to tell you about the quandong jam because I found out later its not legal to pick wild quandongs. Oops.

Basically, we haven't bought shop jam except for specific recipes at Christmas since 2012. The only time we go to the farmers' market is at peak fruit times to pick up jam fruit.
re-doing summer shading every year (but not the various other actions in this post from 2012)
hot-weather coping strategies (not all of these all the time, but similar)
extractor fans & security screens for passive cooling
no single-purpose single-use plastic bags
care around buying new clothes (for myself - including jeans)
low waste children's birthdays (Ny great joy was that our ten year old this year wanted to celebrate her birthday with a church bring-and-share lunch, afternoon tea with her grandparents, and taking two car loads of school friends to run around at Kings Park after school for a couple of hours without any promise of party food or goodie bags) and any special birthdays are also celebrated joyously with minimal waste
boiling only the water we need
try fixing it first
rubbish free lunches
car pooling (When we can. We are well beyond kindy now, which this blog was about, and #2 got driven to kindy alone as we had no-one near us to pool with)
grapes in a rental garden (and now also apricots!! Because we are miraculously in our thirteenth year renting the same house)

loft bed
no printed phone directories
efficient washing machine
buy local for school supplies (Unfortunately the newsagent described in this post has closed, but I talked to our school about moving from an international to a local school supplies company and the whole school's booklist is now run through WA-owned Ziggies)
redecorate with what we have (Not that we redecorate! But we did do a major room rearrange/ bedroom swap this year without buying anything)
upcycle where possible (including Tyson's work mostly using timber offcuts to produce beautiful handcrafted items)
enviro toilet paper
more efficient fridge

various earlier actions: no clothes dryer, water-saver shower heads, green energy, minimal aircon or heater use, reverse cycle set at 24 degrees in summer and 19 in winter, not turning lights on unless dark, one car, enviro friendly cleaning products, full use of recycling services, minimal alfoil, free range eggs chicken and pork, fair trade coffee, mostly fair trade tea, cloth shopping bags, not growing lawn; and another lot: low-water garden, seasonal mats in the living area, bamboo blinds on the back window, shed vent

21 August 2017


One too many rounds of frozen fruit at the back of the fridge and I decided it was time to replace our refrigerator.

The old fridge had served us for eleven years. It was secondhand, so had a couple of years life already before that. On average, your fridge makes up about 16% of a household's electricity use; it seems our old one accounted for between 25% and 40% of ours.

Tyson did the research and sourced us a brand new fridge that was the most efficient model we could afford. Although almost 50% bigger (inside - strangely, not 50% bigger outside) it was rated as using only about 60% as much electricity.

Note that the star ratings compare 'like products' (similar size and configuration) so are not directly comparable; also star ratings are reassessed every few years, so an old 4-star and a new 4-star are not equivalent. The important information is the red 'kWh per year' estimate - that IS directly comparable.

Initial Time: Approx 5hrs (including research, visiting the store, arranging trailer, doing pick-up and swap over)

Initial Cost: $720    

Ongoing time or cost commitment: zero time; cost saving


On the ratings alone we would anticipate saving 269kWh per year ($71 on current prices)

However, Tyson hooked up a nifty device to check how much electricity the fridges REALLY use.

We measured the old fridge for two days before unplugging it and found it used 4.8kWh in 40.5hrs - which works out at 1,038kWh per year - considerably worse than it is rated. Given that we measured in the middle of winter, it is likely that the actual number is higher than that, as the old beast would use more electricity in summer.

The new fridge, in comparison, has used 14.4kwH so far over 24 days, which is 219kWh per year - far FAR better than it is rated.

Comparing these real measured figures, we are saving 819kWh of electricity per year with the new fridge: $217 (at current prices); 672kg of CO2 (on data from 2014)

On these figures, the fridge pays for itself in 3yrs 4months. However, as I imagine the difference between the two would be greater in summer, it is likely to be even less.

But what of the embodied energy used to manufacture, transport, sell and ultimately dispose of the fridge? This academic paper by Jenessa Doherty (York University Faculty of Environmental Science, Toronto, c.2015) calculates everything from raw material extraction to the fridge reaching a customer, comparing a fridge that is approximately three times more efficient than the one being replaced, which saves 935kWh a year. She determines that the embodied energy in a new fridge equates to equates to between 2.3 and 2.9 years of electricity savings (depending on what portion of fridge is made from recycled materials, and whether there is a computer in the fridge - high in trace metals). Other websites, which were mostly much more vague, also threw around an approximate three-year figure.

This doesn't allow for disposal. However, it looks like from around November 2020, electricity savings on the new fridge will have paid off both its embodied energy and its purchase price, and it will be all savings from there on.

And that is without calculating how much less food we are now wasting as the fridge is doing its job properly at last.

(The gpo power meter cost $49 for a pack of three. We are now measuring electricity use of the computer system, washing machine and fridge. I will let you know if anything exciting results)


http://www.academia.edu/22753163/Efficient_Refrigerators_The_Embedded_Energy_Footprint_in_Modern_Technology  - Jenessa Doherty paper

www.energyrating.gov.au - Australian government website where you can compare energy ratings for specific models of a whole range of products, if you no longer have the ratings sticker that your appliance came with.

19 June 2017

Doing better on toilet paper

Time to talk toilets. Or more precisely, toilet paper.

We recently converted from using off-the-shelf recycled/ unbleached/ plantation-grown etc toilet paper to ordering from an Aussie business combining environmental sustainability, toilet paper and support for great poverty-reducing aid projects, the cleverly-name 'Who Gives a Crap'.

In addition to being made of either recycled paper, sugarcane or bamboo fibres, and being produced with less water use than most toilet paper, WGAC donates half their profits to build toilets for people don't have access to toilets. Which is 40% of the world's population.

Initial Time: fifteen minutes getting online and placing an order. 

Initial Cost: $48 for a box of 48 'double length' rolls. Orders over $30 are delivered free, and arrived very promptly. Due to a *slight* miscommunication between Tyson and I about who was ordering the toilet paper, we started with 96 rolls. But as you can see, 96 rolls of toilet paper are good for many things besides wiping bums.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: As above, repeat. 

Impact: Five years ago I wrote that Australians use 1.3 billion sheets of toilet paper a day (57 sheets per person), of which 95% was not recycled. I haven't found anything to say this has changed significantly. So the first impact is to continue ensuring we are reducing our consumption impact as much as possible on the toilet paper front.

But the more important reason for supporting WGAC is so that our consumption also contributes to improving health, life expectancy, education, women's safety and quality of life for people less fortunate than us. 

Waterborne disease is a major killer world-wide, especially of children. Every two minutes, a child dies of disease caused by not having access to clean water; every minute a newborn baby dies of infection caused by lack of clean water. Worldwide, 2.3 billion people do not have access to a toilet, and many of these defecate outside, polluting water sources used by the whole community. Women going to the toilet outside are subject to harassment. Children (especially girls) without adequate toilets are more likely to drop out of school - and 34% of the world's schools do not have adequate toilets. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half the population cannot obtain clean water, 42% of health care facilities also do not have access to clean water; in South-East Asia, a similar percentage of health facilities do not have adequate toilets. (Stats source)

WGAC claims to have donated $478,500 to sanitation projects since they launched in 2012, along with saving 30,797 trees, 74 million litres of water and 5,922 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That's something I am glad to be part of.


https://au.whogivesacrap.org/  - Who Gives A Crap main page, inc online shop and plenty of info on the product, and the way money is used to support the poor. 

http://www.wateraid.org/au - Water Aid, the main agency WGAC supports - their website also has heaps of information and links about the global sanitation crisis.

http://washwatch.org/en/ - updates on improvements in world sanitation and water access, with funky graphics

Note: We are not personally associated in any way with this company and have not been given any incentives to promote them.

28 February 2017

Make an apron from a couch (not a cow)

Tyson spends a lot of time in his shed and wanted a decent work apron.

After pricing both pre-made aprons and commercially available leather, it was looking like an expensive project. But then our neighbourhood had bulk waste and the problem was solved.

Given the number of leather couches we have seen on verges in the past six months, it seems there is at present a cultural trend to chuck them out. Perhaps the leather is irredeemably cracked or worn - but almost always only on the front. The back is often nearly two square metres of undamaged leather.

This provided all the leather Tyson needed to craft himself a beautiful apron, complete with clips salvaged from an old back pack.

Initial Time: Cutting leather from the couch down the road was a lot quicker than getting to a shop to purchase new material. Making a hand-crafted apron took many days.

Initial Cost: Two reels of heavy-duty thread and one pack of rivets (approx $15)

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero (and a LOT cheaper than buying new leather!)

Impact: Lets be honest - this action was motivated by convenience and finance, along with our commitment to recycle/ upcycle wherever possible. I won't bore you again with the figures about how much waste Australians make, but this took a big piece of leather out of landfill.

I have since done a little investigation into the environmental impacts of leather production and it seems this choice was also 'green' on several other counts. (As I am not ethically opposed to the killing of animals per se, this is not one of those counts for me, but it needs a mention as I know it is a deal-breaker for many others)

Firstly, tanning of leather involves toxic chemicals. I haven't found a solid source explaining what chemicals are used, but various (anti-leather) sites suggest formaldehyde, azocolorants, pentachlorophenol, lead, chromium, cyanide, arsenic, sodium sulfide, sodium hydroxide, sodium hydrosulfite and dimethyl amine (along with several other scary sounding compounds that when I looked them up turned out to not be toxic). Several of these are bioaccumulative heavy metals, building up in the bodies of tannery workers, the land on which tanneries are sited and the waterways that tanneries feed into. At the lower end of health concerns are skin and respiratory complaints (and that tanneries smell really bad); at the higher end are risks of blindness and up to 50% higher rates of cancer.

Then there re human rights concerns about the conditions that workers are under while producing leather - much of which reportedly comes from Bangladesh, where protections for workers are acknowledged to be poor. Many leather workers are children.

There are also concerns about excessive water use, especially when linked to also polluting waste water in ways that do not allow it to return safely to the ecosystem.

Cattle raising brings its own sustainability concerns (It should be noted that this relates particularly to more intensive forms of farming, which are less common in Australia's cattle industry, although animal rights groups believe the use of feedlots is on the increase here also). And although leather is a by-product of meat production, it is not a waste product. As meat consumption is in decline while leather consumption is increasing, it is likely at some point animals will be raised primarily for their skins rather than their meat.

There are also environmental concerns with faux leather, not least being its use of petrochemicals. Also, as it generally wears much quicker than leather, it becomes waste and needs replacing more regularly than leather products.

Both real and faux leather have the perpetual issues of energy use and pollution in production, transport, packaging and retail.

When I searched for 'recycled leather' I found either Pinterist craft ideas for reusing scraps, or options for commercially pulping scrap leather to roll into a new semi-leather product. All good, but meanwhile great big pieces of good leather are going into the bin with each bulk waste collection, as couch after couch is crushed and carried away. Get out there with your Stanley knives people and rescue some leather*!
(*from discarded couches that are clearly too worn out to be reused as couches)


A whole website dedicated to sustainable leather - talking chemicals, supply chains, waste, etc

Human Rights Watch report on tanneries in Bangladesh

Guardian article discussing environmental impact of leather vs faux leather

Shop Ethical Guide on issues in leather (although mostly quoting straight from PETA website)

RSPCA stance on leather

Someone else's blog considering these issues

Info for businesses wanting to recycle leather

31 December 2016

Gumboot pots and Paper chains

Want to make your house pretty without consuming more, find creative activities for children that don't involve buying more, and/or re-use some of the stuff around your house that is no longer wanted? Here are two ideas that do all three.

Gumboots! There are so many cool kids' ones around but, no matter how funky, they still wear out or (if you're lucky) kids grow out of them. What to do with all that rubber-plastic prettiness?

A few spring flower punnets and an hour of working together and we have had these decorating our entrance for the last two months.

Although we did buy potting mix, more than half the soil was made up of our own compost. (We have three compost tumblers and our guinea pigs contribute substantially to this enterprise!)

Five of these six gumboots drained sufficiently without any help; the sixth needed a couple of holes added. Summer has nearly killed them off now and direct sun has faded the gumboots significantly, but we may get second season out of them and meanwhile, it has been a lot more fun than just binning them.

Your children might not rip through gumboots at quite the rate we do, but if you have anyone small in your house you are certain to have a pile of kids' artwork mounting up. And old posters. Calendars. Wrapping paper. (Most people I suppose have junk mail or magazines, but we don't receive them here)

Eva got inspired to make paper chains for Christmas and it was a great use for the build-up of paper.

Because they were using their own old artworks and posters they were willing to 'repurpose' things that I had not been allowed to throw away (sneaky, huh?!).

Note the hole-punching above. If you have someone who loves hole-punching, its not a bad way to add interest to strips from old calendars while keeping those hole-punching-hands from less productive outcomes.

They both loved making the chains and I am happy to have our living room decorated by their creativity and enthusiasm.

Initial Time: Both of these activities took about an hour. That was part of the point. We have no TV and its school holidays again. Creative, engaging, sustainable activities are what we need plenty of here. (I last wrote specifically about this when Eva was quite small but if you search the labels below for 'free kids activities' there are also other places it has come up as she has got bigger)

Initial Cost: Gumboot pots: about $30 for seedlings and a bag of potting mix; Paper chains: a couple of dollars for a big box of staples.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: We will eventually have to take both these things down and they will ultimately end up in the recycling (chains) or the general rubbish (boots).

Impact: It is impossible to really calculate an impact for these activities and, to be honest, it would probably be quite small anyway. But both are little bits of a bigger picture: finding ways to reuse everything until it really is beyond use, rather than chucking it out after its first purpose; avoiding buying stuff to meet a need (and considering whether it is in fact a need at all); helping children to be creative; celebrating colour and beauty and natural things; finding the quality in our own creative effort rather than needing a professional or 'perfect' outcome (often with associated waste) in order to be happy; sharing activities together and working collaboratively on a combined project.

25 November 2016

A visit to the super composter

This 'sustainability action' was one to educate ourselves.

We were given the opportunity to join a group from Uniting Church in the City for a tour of the Neerabup 'Resource Recovery Centre', which is operated by Mindarie Regional Council. Basically, it is a huge composting plant, taking the waste from general (green lid) rubbish bins and processing it to extract organic matter and make it into usable compost.

If this doesn't sound like fun to you, ask any pre-school child how they would like to see where the bin trucks go with our rubbish.

Our small boy was beside himself with excitement; our big girl was jealous because she had to go to school instead. The word 'grapple' entered our basic vocabulary and play.

The Mindarie Regional Council serves the local government areas of Wanneroo, Stirling, Perth, Joondalup, Cambridge, Vincent and Victoria Park. However, the bulk of the waste taken to the composting facility comes from Joondalup, Vincent, Wanneroo and Victoria Park. The facility processes 100,000 tonnes of waste a year; the seven councils that make up the MRC together put about 160,000 tonnes of waste into our general rubbish bins, so quite a lot still goes straight to landfill. About 30-40% of the tonnage received at the facility comes out as compost; the non-organic remainder also ends up in landfill. So, there is still lots of behaviour-change work to be done, but 30-40,000 tonnes of compost each year diverted from landfill is a great thing.
half the giant compost tumbler - waste takes three days to get through it

Here's the page that explains how the 'Resource Recovery Facility' actually works to extract compost from general rubbish. Or here for the commercial version.

Initial Time: Half a day

Initial Cost: $10 for the bus.

Tours are offered free, but you need to book. Here's the website with details for various tour options (I have heard there is more rubbish truck action at Tamala Park landfill, if entertaining children is part of your brief). Our tour was run by the inimitable Peg Davies, who I think does a great many of them. She really knows her stuff.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Continued sorting of rubbish into regular or recycling bins, with greater attention to keeping glass and ceramics out of the regular bin.

Impact: I learnt a lot. I also found it really encouraging to see the efforts being made to keep organic matter out of landfill. It helps me to keep doing our little things when I see organisational attempts at bigger things like this.

removed section of composter
The biggest learning was the call to keep glass and ceramics out of general rubbish. Put them in the recycling, broken or not. Glass in the compost is a major problem, because it is nearly impossible to completely sieve it out. I had not taken the notices about keeping glass out of general waste very seriously, because I couldn't conceptualise how general waste could be turned into compost anyway. Now that I have seen it in action I get it: If you live in Wanneroo, Stirling, Perth, Joondalup, Cambridge, Vincent and Victoria Park DON'T PUT GLASS IN YOUR GREEN-LID BIN. Thanks.

If you are in the East Metro Regional Council - Bassendean, Bayswater, Belmont, Kalamunda, Mundaring and Swan - planning for a similar facility at Redhill is underway, aiming to be operational by 2019. So when the 'no glass' notice comes around, take it seriously! 

If you are in another area - how about writing to you local council to let them know that you think these places are a good idea?