Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Greenwash household products

When looking around for new items for your house make sure you check into the environmental credentials and claims that the product's manufacturer and distributors are making. Green, eco and sustainable branding is the new 'in' thing, with many companies using this strategy as their new marketing tool. For those trying to do the right thing, but are time poor, it can be a difficult minefield to navigate and determine which products are those in fact making a positive difference to the environment.

Sure it comes down to personal choice and what you find meets your criteria for an 'environmentally appropriate' product. But there are many products that are blatantly using green branding to highlight themselves without actually making a difference. And in some cases these green branded products are more environmentally detrimental than the 'standard' products. Be wary!

The best thing to do is determine what you are happy to accept in the way of environmental features for your product and then start your research. For example, if you're looking for a white good product, environmental features you might consider important are: cradle-to-grave impacts, ongoing environmental impact(s) and efficiency (water and/or electricity).

There are a number of websites that can assist compare products, their environmental features and tell you whether their environmental claims are accurate or not. Some of these websites are government-owned, whilst others are maintained by the private industry. Some of the ones I have found useful include:

WELS rating (water efficiency)
Energy rating

So, if you are planning on investing some of your hard-earned money into new products for your home, try and spend some time researching their environmental impact(s) and their environmental claims. Pin It

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are you an active occupant?

Did you know that there can be significant gains in energy efficiencies and cost savings in your house  but require a conscious occupancy of your house? Well it is true!

What does this mean? Basically it means that you have to be aware of how you are living in your house and what the environment is doing in and around your home. For example, as a cooler evening begins to set it, you should close your windows, draw your blinds or curtains and put on a jumper (if necessary), instead of continuing your usual activity in shorts and t-shirt and turning on a heater and leaving some of the smaller windows open. The latter results in warmer interior air being drawn out of the house and cool air into your home and potentially requiring you to heat your home for longer period. Overall, resulting in a larger electricity bill for you and a greater environmental impact.

Things that you can do in your home on a daily basis which can make a significant difference to your home's ambient temperature and overall costs include:

  • shutting windows/louvres when cooler temperatures set in;
  • closing blinds or curtains to avoid westerly sun into your home in the afternoons;
  • also closing blinds and curtains in the evenings to keep warmer air in and cooler air out;
  • wearing an extra layer of clothing or taking an extra layer off if the temperature requires it;
  • using a blanket whilst you sit on the couch instead of turning on a heater;
  • using interior fans instead of air conditioning (as a first option) to circulate air in warmer temperatures;
  • using interior fans (set on winter mode) to circulate heated air throughout your house rather than having second or third heaters;
  • using floor rugs in winter and removing them in summer to maintain appropriate internal temperatures.

These are just a few but will make a difference to your hip pocket and reduce your environmental footprint. If you have other suggestions it would be great to hear them. Pin It

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New garden

I am so daunted. We are about to move into our new home and we have a significant amount of land. Well it seems like it to me who originates from the suburbs. We have a 1.25 acre block which probably has about half of it covered in regrowth and remnant native vegetation and the rest of it planted gardens and open space. Given my passion for both producing my own food and native plants I feel overwhelmed with the ideas that I have for the land. Organising these thoughts and making them work is bringing me to panic. I think I should be taking some of my own advice and just do one step at a time. This surely will be the best plan of attack.

Photos of the blank canvas to come.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

How to get involved in science

The lack of science education in the broader community is often considered to be one of the main reasons why people don't believe or trust in matters such as climate change, the level of impact humans are having on habitat and many of the other environmental issues we are currently facing.

I personally think that many people feel unconnected with the scientific process and the research that is being undertaken. But this can change. You can become involved in or participate in research that will directly feed into the scientific literature. This information is then used to drive government policy on matters such as climate change, water quality, vegetation clearing and many environmental issues.

Over the last twenty years or so there has been a proliferation of science education programs in schools aimed at getting kids to participate in environmental management type science, such as the rehabilitation of creeks, water quality monitoring, noise monitoring to name a few. But science participation doesn't have to be restricted to the schools or your children.  There are many places and opportunities for you (as a young adult or adult) to participate in such things.

If you are truly interested and have some time to volunteer you could contact your local University. Seek out the department where your interests lie, and find out whether there are any Honours, Masters or PhD students looking for volunteers. For example, one of my passion lies with animals, so I would seek out their Department of Zoology or Environment (or something along those lines) and then just make contact with the general number on their website. Alternatively you could go even further and look into their academic and research staff and see what projects they currently have on and make contact to see whether there is any assistance you can provide.

Other ways to participate could be through community groups and government run research programs. There are always groups researching all manner of things and there is likely to be one or two looking into things that are of interest to you. Just do a web search for your interests and add to your search parameters something along the lines of 'research', 'community group', 'volunteer', 'data collection', etc, etc.  Alternatively, if you're lucky enough to have lots of money and looking for a holiday, which could make a difference, there are groups such as Earthwatch that collaborate with researchers and invite community members to be involved in the research (on a payment basis).

So if you're keen and have some time and want to know more about the science behind your interests why not give it a go and become actively involved. Pin It

Monday, August 22, 2011

Green waste, where should it go?

What do you do with your left over food (vegetable and fruit) scraps, grass clippings, garden waste? More often than not most suburbanites end up putting this green waste into their domestic rubbish bin. In fact, some Councils and groups estimate that green waste makes up to 30% of our rubbish. This isn't the right place for your green waste!

Putting this material into your bin results in it being lost to the landscape, where it could be utilised over and over again. When green waste is placed in your rubbish bin, it becomes mixed with non-degradable goods and materials and can become contaminated and in fact may become toxic. Quite often this material just adds to the landfill, doesn't ever break down effectively and cannot be utilised by the environment. It is also my understanding the carbon (the major component of this green waste) ends up breaking down, through a typically anaerobic process, that ends up contributing greenhouse gas in our environment by releasing methane.

What alternative options are available to prevent this material entering into your rubbish bin and traditional waste streams? Some options include:

  • a Council provided green waste bin (often for a small surcharge);
  • worm farming;
  • commercial green waste collectors;
  • small compost bin;
  • large compost systems;
  • mulch for your garden.
I'm sure there are other options but these are just a few that might be utilised in your situation. Such small actions, that is preventing these types of wastes going into your rubbish bin, can collectively make a significant difference to our environment.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fruit fly trap

I recently built a non-chemical fruit fly trap and I have had some success reducing the number of fruit flies buzzing around my place, so I thought I should share it with you all.

I made the trap because I was suffering from an overload of fruit flies around my worm farm.  I have been known to overfeed my worms and give them too many fruit scraps, creating a perfect environment for fruit flies to breed in. This didn't really bother me except for the cloud of fruit flies that would swirl around my head when I opened my worm farm.

After a quick internet search, I discovered vinegar is a solution that fruit flies are attracted to. Makes sense really, since vinegar is similar smelling to the rotting fruit in my worm farm. I then just had to find a suitable container to hold the vinegar, whilst also not attracting my toddler to tip the vinegar everywhere or minimise the amount spilt if she did decide to tip the container upside. My solution was an old plastic "jar". I filled the bottom of the container with white vinegar (about 1/10) and then drilled some holes in the lid. The holes were large enough for the fruit flies to fly in. I then just sat this container on top of my worm farm. Voila!

With this solution I have definitely managed to reduce the number of fruit flies in and around my worm farm. There are still some fruit flies floating around, which is just because I still have rotting fruit in my worm farm, but certainly numbers have decreased significantly and not worrying me at all.

This system does require some maintenance, but not very much though. I have to replace the vinegar every 2-3 weeks. I just chuck out all of the old vinegar and dead fruit flies and then add new white vinegar in the bottom of the container. This is cheap solution and has minimised my environmental footprint, as I have used products around my house (old container), will require very little input over time (just the new white vinegar) and uses no harsh chemicals. No off the shelf product required for me. Hope this solution works for you as well! Pin It

Monday, August 15, 2011

Native Bees

Native bees here in Australia have a significant role in our native ecosystems and presently with the overall world decline of pollinators they have a very important place in our backyards. There are apparently over one thousand native bee species here in Australia, with the honey bees, that we typically associate as honey providers, being an introduced species. Native bees are generally solitary with only about 10 of our native species being communal or social, with these occupying a variety of habitats, but a primarily hollows in trees.

There are many reasons for the reduction in the number of native bee species and other pollinators here in Australia but some of the primary reasons are the reduction of their habitat and the widespread use of insecticides throughout the community.

Native bee hives in tree hollows are not visually prominent and as a result are often destroyed when areas of native vegetation are cleared. If these nests are identified prior to clearing activities, they can be salvaged, as has been done with this one that is now located in the Mt-Cootha Botanic Gardens in Brisbane, Queensland.

Native bees provide an important ecosystem service for humans, with these insects acting as pollinators for many of our food crops and also native vegetation. If these species are lost, overall food is likely to become more difficult to produce and in the long-run more expensive due to higher production costs and increased scarcity.

Things that you can do to encourage and maintain these species in your garden:

  • Become aware of their plight (including increased competition for food resources from the European honey bee) and their physiology (they are stingless and therefore don't pose any threat to people with allergies); 
  • maintain their habitat;
  • alternatively if clearing is necessary salvage a native bee nest; or 
  • invest in a salvaged nest to include in your garden. 
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Friday, August 12, 2011

What is a mining tailings dam?

You've probably heard of tailings dams before and many are concerned about their environmental impact. These areas are often considered by some people as more environmentally damaging than the mining activities themselves. But what is a tailings dam?

To understand this question one must first understand that all types of mining activities produce a form of tailings. Basically tailings are just the left-over material once the mineral or material being sought is removed. A tailings dam however, is a structure constructed to contain left over materials (usually quite fine) and water used and generated during the extraction process, and meant to allow the materials to settle out during its storage period. Tailings dams are also known to contain additives, which are chemicals used during material processing to aid in the extraction of the relevant mineral(s). It is commonly believed that many of these additives are the "problem", due to their potential toxicity to both the environment and people. 

Well, now we know what they are, do tailings dams truly pose environmental risk? It certainly seems that historically mining tailings dams (throughout the world) have had impacts on aquifers, downstream water systems and local communities. And it does seem in terms of quantity alone (compared to the amount of mineral extracted) tailings are a heavy burden on the landscape. However, I think to determine the true impact of these "dams", it will be important to examine each of the processes, as obviously each mineral requires a different extraction process and in turn will have their own environmental and social impacts.

Stayed tuned, unless you have the answers earlier. 
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Should companies be responsible?

What would happen if companies were held to account for the goods they produce throughout their products entire life-cycle? As an example in this situation, a producer of a mobile phone would therefore be responsible for all of the discarded or redundant mobile phones they produce. I think this is a marvellous situation to ponder.

Would producers end up producing products that were likely to last longer, have more recyclable or reusable content and reduce the number of new models they are produced? What other situations would arise from this? Perhaps there would be a return of repairers, rather than the standard response "it would be cheaper to buy a new one than investigate the issue and then repair the problem" or "parts are no longer available for that model".

I believe there would likely be less landfill, less pollution, more sustainability and longevity of products. Producers would become more savvy with their products, more responsible with their choice of components, increase the amount of recycled content, as well as the increasing the capability for  their products to be recycled.

To me the opportunities and positive outcomes as a result of such a scenario are endless and something that perhaps we could strive towards and maybe mark the end of endless consumption that modern, western society seems to have entered into. Pin It

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sea-eagle cam!

How cool! I love live footage of nature in action. The latest one I have linked into is a remote camera that is trained onto a wild white-bellied sea-eagles' nest at the Birds Australia Discovery Centre in Sydney, Australia. The parents are currently incubating two eggs, with the expected hatching date sometime in mid-August 2011.

If you'd also like to watch, have a look at:

If you'd like to donate to keep the research and opportunities going for Birds Australia, the group running this remote camera you can do this at: Apparently the group is looking to raise $30,000 by October 2011 to enable them to upgrade the cable that sends through the video feed from the centre to the world for the 2012 nesting season. Pin It

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ever heard of a cassowary?

Southern cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) are a fabulous Australian species, which is unfortunately significantly threatened in north Queensland, where they currently live. This species is protected under both Queensland and Commonwealth legislation, but legislation alone will not bring this species back from the edge of extinction. 

Cassowaries are one of Australia's flightless birds and looks much like an emu in stature, but has shiny black feathers, a uniquely coloured and wattled head and neck and a large 'helmet' on its head. It grows to approximately two metres in height and weighs between 55-75kg when mature. Chicks on the other hand are camouflaged and lack the distinctive 'helmet' until mature. An interesting fact is the male is the parent that raises the chicks until they are of an age to move into their own home ranges.

In Australia, this species' distribution is between Townsville in the south and Cooktown in the north and within this area occupies only rainforest and associated habitats. Further information on its distribution and habitat can be found on the Commonwealth government's website.

This species is particularly important, as it is considered a keystone species and is attributed to the survival and maintenance of the rainforest through its role as a distributor and processor of seeds and fruit from the plants that occupy this habitat. Many plant species in these areas have co-evolved with the cassowaries and are only able to survive as long as the cassowaries are there to keep them going (as cassowaries are the only species that can transmit their seeds, due to their size).

Threats the cassowaries face within their habitat include:
  • habitat fragmentation and loss;
  • habitat degradation;
  • roads and traffic;
  • dog attack;
  • feeding by people, which brings them into urban environments;
  • diseases; and
  • natural catastrophic events such as cyclones. 
The first six dot points in this list are ongoing threats to cassowaries, with the impact of the last dot point being exacerbating by those preceding dot points. Over recent years, the area occupied by cassowaries has felt the brunt of two significant cyclone events. These cyclones tore the cassowary's habitat apart with significant loss in vegetation cover and food availability for the cassowaries. This saw many of the surviving cassowaries come into townships and cross roads where additional fatalities occurred as a result of the impact of vehicles and dogs.

This species does not have generations to live, if the impacts they currently face are not curbed. But rather they could be extinct within our lifetime. This is a real life or death situation and unlike the current political support seeking to maintain koalas just in south-east Queensland, this species needs political and social support to see its survival in the wild. Let's make a difference and become more aware of this situation and support actions that prevent or reduce some of the impacts this species is experiencing in North Queensland. Don't stand back and let a unique Australian species become extinct on your watch!
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Friday, August 5, 2011

How to make a difference with your super!

Here in Australia it is mandatory to have a percentage of your wage go into superannuation, with the money only accessible once you retire aged 60/65. The reason for this is to ensure all people will have some sort of financial security in their retirement and reduce the burden on the government.

Generally, this money is invested by private companies into shares, cash and property. Many of these companies offer different packages to allow you say in the investment choice dependent on your circumstances. For example, there are packages tailored to those retiring in the short-term, with these likely to be more aggressive attempting to maximise your gain in a short period of time.

Some of these companies are realising that not all people wish to invest in "typical" options and/or have a desire to make a difference to the world throughout their lives. As such, there are now packages appearing which are entitled "socially responsible" or "environmentally friendly". If you are a person considering one of these options it is worthwhile investigating the package to determine whether they address your concerns. I personally have a "socially responsible" package through my superannuation firm, which gives me similar returns to other standard packages, but the investment choices within this are determined to be socially responsible.

However, what does "socially responsible" mean though? My superannuation company has an extensive list of the firms they invest in through this package available on their website, which can be downloaded and reviewed at your leisure. This is a great first step. After reviewing the list briefly, of so-called "socially responsible" companies some of them looked a little questionable to me. So, my next step was to email my company requesting a definition or set of parameters that they use to to determine whether a company is "socially responsible" or not.

I received the following as a response. They have three key criteria which they use:

" 1. the financial assessment process and the ability to factor labour standards, and ethical, social and environmental factors into company selection;
2. avoiding exposure to companies with a material exposure (greater than 10% on key financial measures) to avoid the production or manufacture of tobacco, uranium, armaments, gambling, alcohol, or pornography;
3. selecting optimal manager combinations."

This was fascinating and made me more aware of the package I was "buying into". The issue, however comes as you cannot change your investment mix to reflect personal choices and remove individual companies based on your preferences.

So if you are considering making a positive step for either the environment or "society" through your long-term finances an appropriate superannuation packages might be another reasonable strategy. The key message however, is to look into the investment structure and asked for definitions.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Veggie gardener threatened with jail

If you hadn't already heard there has recently been an American case where a lady was taken to court for growing vegetables in her front garden. The Organic Gardener magazine reports that her case has not proceeded. Thankfully!

It is with utter amazement to me that it is possible for a "city" to take someone to court for trying to provide themselves with fresh produce in their front garden. It started with an infringement notice leading to a charge requiring an appearance in a court. Apparently this gardener's choice of plants were not considered to be "suitable living plant material".

Thankfully common sense has prevailed!

The lady who's war this was has a blog which you can also visit: Pin It

Monday, August 1, 2011

What's happening in the environment where you live?

As part of the initial concepts and introduction to permaculture, keeping an observation journal is very important to begin to understand the natural patterns that you will either attempt to work within or modify once understood.

Things that I have noticed around my place over the last few weeks:

  • the molasses grass has seeded and started to die off now
  • the weather is extremely dry
  • days are starting to get warmer during the middle of the day (t-shirt weather at midday)
  • still have chilly mornings
  • blue billygoat weed is flowering
  • acacias (wattles) both planted and naturally occurring are flowering. This started back in June and various species have flowered over this time, but the beautiful yellow flowers are still prevalent around my area
  • magpie babies have grown up and some have dispersed from their parental territory
  • strawberries are in full production in my area
  • increased numbers of roadkill around my area, mostly feral animals, but have noticed a number of dead bandicoots on the side of the road (guess it is the beginning of their breeding season or dispersal of juveniles).
Another interesting thing that occurred in my neighbourhood is that the neighbour on the either side of the creek has decided to clear fell an entire paddock. Thankfully the creek line has government protection and he has abided by this protection, but I now notice there is increased sunlight levels glimmering through the vegetation which was not visible before he cleared. To me that is a little sad because the vegetation is predominantly wet eucalpyt and rainforest and the increased light levels are likely to encourage the growth of weeds in this community and along the drainage line. There will also be changes to the microclimate for the animals and plants that have occupied this area up until now. Pin It