Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wombling free

"Underground, overground, wombling free
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we
Making good use of the things that we find
Things that the everyday folks leave behind"
(The Wombles TV Theme Song - Listen to it here)

I loved watching The Wombles as a kid. For those who missed it, this was a 70s British stop-motion animation featuring little creatures that went around picking up litter and turning it into something useful. Recycling before it was cool.

Growing up, my family were often reclaiming bits and pieces. Both my parents were very adept at creatively re-using things. As a kid this meant and endless supply of materials for craft projects as well as joining in on the fun game of spotting useful things that people had thrown out. Of course once I became a teenager it was embarrassing to have your Dad stop the car to retrieve stuff out of the hard rubbish collection piles, but I soon got over it once I became a uni student and engaged in the time honoured tradition of finding free furniture.

The wombling habit is fairly ingrained in both myself and the Cunning Plans Dept. We're both committed to reducing waste and recycling/re-using where possible. We often boggle at the amount of things that people throw out onto the verge that could have been donated to a charity or second hand shop to be reused or put in the recycling bin. Over the years, we've wombled some nifty things.

Recent acquisitions include:
  • Two bicycles, one with a broken back wheel and one missing the front wheel = one complete free bicycle
  • Fully functional bag less vacuum cleaner for the shed
  • Small, carry-on sized suitcase
  • Pedestal fan
  • Clothes drying rack
  • Wooden table that's getting used in the backyard as my gardening bench
  • Banana lounge
  • Plastic baskets for storage
  • A bike horn
In the last year, I've found myself often pondering on the waste of things that are in good enough condition to be re-used or resold through an op shop. Now when I have the time and energy, I will pick up stuff, take it home, give it a clean, then drop it of at the local Brotherhood of St Laurence. In the weeks before Christmas last year, we noticed that one of the apartment blocks we walk the dogs past had 6 large bags of clothes piled out the front next to the bins. A quick look showed the clothes were probably in good nick. So the bags came home. I won't lie, they reeked from having been left out in the weather and all the sorting was done outside with gloves. However, after throwing them through the wash (with some Dettol), the end result was a large pile of good clothes (and a few random things like the complete set of car seat covers in fluffy cow print...) that went to the Brotherhood of St Laurence instead of going to landfill.
Bags of clothes reclaimed from outside an apartment block
The huge pile of clean clothes ready to be donated
Bag 1
Bag 2
Bag 3
Random fluffy cow print seat covers
Bag 4
Bag 5
Bag 6
Things like old blankets and towels are put aside for The Lost Dogs Home and some items that weren't good enough to donate were stripped for reusable parts like zippers, buttons, elastic, trim etc..

I feel good when I see stuff that would have gone to landfill being reused and recycled and I'm glad to be a part of that process.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reducing our waste - The Bathroom

Part of our 2011 sustainable living goals to reduce how much our household puts into general waste each week.

In order to reduce your waste, you need to know what is going into your bin each week. We decided to go bin by bin in our house to see what we were regularly throwing into general waste and what changes we could make to replace these things with recyclable or reusable options where possible or otherwise reduce the amount wasted.

The Bathroom

The bathroom can be a challenging area to reduce waste without compromising health and hygiene.

What we've already done
Some easy steps we'd already taken to reduce waste in the bathroom include:
  • selecting products in recyclable containers
  • choosing recycled toilet paper that comes in paper wrapping rather than plastic wrap
  • looking for products that use containers made from recycled materials
 A couple of years ago I swapped disposable razors and wax strips for a rechargeable epilator. A bit of an upfront cost, but it has paid itself off in both money and waste compared to shaving or waxing (though depending on your pain threshold, you may need to factor in a few bottles of gin to the costs...)

What we've done this year
If you live in a household with females, you've probably noticed that once a month the bathroom waste increases. Our bin audit revealed that feminine hygiene products accounted for a significant amount of our bathroom waste. This year I decided to look for more sustainable options to reduce the amount of waste. The options I found were:
  • compostable tampons and pads 
  • fabric reusable pads
  • silicone or rubber menstrual cups
The first option didn't really appeal as I was dubious as to how effective our compost bin would be in breaking down the used products quickly and as we use our compost on our vegie garden, I didn't want to risk any nasty bugs. The fabric reusable pads didn't appeal to me either as I don't like conventional pads. However, I did buy a soft bamboo reusable pad to give it a go. I didn't like it. Too bulky, soft but still uncomfortable to wear and I was constantly worried about it moving around or leaking. That left the menstrual cups. I had heard about them before, via blogs of friends, and always thought them a little on the "crusty" side of hippidom. However I did think they were worth a shot so at the beginning of this year I ordered a Lunette cup online.

I have to say I'm a complete convert! Seriously, I wish I'd known more about these years ago. I found the cup very easy to use, comfortable, completely secure, easy to clean and best of all, no waste going into the bin! It's a triple win in that it a) reduced regular costs, b) is more comfortable and convenient than previous methods, and c) is almost waste free. You can add an extra bonus in there if you consider that by having a reusable option always ready you eliminate the need to send confused male partners into the supermarket for emergencies. There is an upfront cost in that they are ~$57.00 (AUD), but considering they will last 5-10 years with correct care, that's pretty cheap compared to how much you'd spend on conventional products over that same time period.

Further information for those who are interested (and ladies, I strongly recommend giving these a try, they are honestly no more "icky" than using conventional products):
  • Lunette website - There are other brands of cups out there, but this was the one I decided to try based on reviews and availability and I've been really happy with it. I think it is one of the few that has been approved for sale in Australia (The TGA happily lets shonky homeopathic crap into pharmacies, but getting a menstrual cup approved is apparently quite difficult)
  • This website has lots of useful information about menstrual cups, including brand comparisons and FAQs -
  • The livejournal community forum on menstrual cups -
What's left that we haven't been able to reduce
We still have a number of things that end up in the bathroom bin regularly that we haven't been able to replace or reduce.
  • The CPD's disposable razor cartridges. The most sustainable option would be not to shave, but the bearded look isn't great so it will be razors for a while yet.
  • Dental floss. The CPD bought a Waterpik water flosser when he got braces, which uses a fine jet of water to floss around teeth and braces. I still use regular floss though as I find the machine a bit awkward.
  • Products that come in non-recyclable containers like toothpaste and some cosmetics.
  • Cotton buds and cotton wool. We try to use ethically sourced options, but they are still disposable.
However, the overall volume of bathroom waste has probably been reduced by at least 50% simply from changing my feminine hygiene practices. We have a tiny bin in the bathroom and it rarely has more than a handful of rubbish each week so on the whole I'm pretty happy with how we're going in this area.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

2011 Sustainable Living Goals

The beginning of another year and the traditional time for reflection on the past and plans for the future. In past years, we've been working on living more sustainably and have adopted changes in our lifestyle and behaviours as we thought of things.This year I've decided to actually make some sustainability goals upfront and then actively work to achieve them throughout the year. I hope it will help us focus our energies a bit more as it can often be overwhelming to decide what to do when there are so many options and so many pros and cons.

I've focused the list into the Four R's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and the most important, Rethink. I haven't included things that we're already doing, though I might make a list of these in another post for reference.

2011 Reduce
  • Reduce overall waste in terms of what we throw out, either at home or out and about.
  • Reduce our consumption of meat.
  • Reduce car use.
  • Reduce electricity and gas use
  • Reduce water use by working on limiting showers to 4 minutes (Okay, I'm the biggest culprit here)
  • Reduce laundry by laundering items less frequently. Many clothes can be worn several times before they require washing and some things can be aired rather than washed. The will also help fabrics last longer.
2011 Reuse
  • Take our used printer cartridges to be refilled rather than buying new.
2011 Recycle
  • Learn more about what can and can't be recycled and where.
  • Take our pile of used batteries to the battery recycling centre (they exist here!)
  • Preference products made from recycled materials over new materials, especially for things like paper and plastic.
2011 Rethink
Last year we made a pretty big change in our lives by moving to Brunswick. This has brought with it some changes in our lifestyle that we're still getting used to. The challenge for 2011 will be balancing our commitment to live sustainably with some of the new aspects of our lives, such as:
  • Living in a much smaller house than in Figtree
  • Both of us working from home most days
  • Reduced income (I'm not working as much as I was in Wollongong)
  • Living with a chronic illness (Fibromyalgia), which unfortunately had a major setback with the stress of the move.
  • Living reasonably close to functional and regular public transport
  • Having a much broader range of sustainable and ethical choices available to us locally, such as local and organic produce, local designers and producers for things like clothing and homewares.
  • Living in a community that has a council with a number of sustainability initiatives
There are both incentives and constraints there so we need to rethink our approach to how we live.

Next post, I'll go into some more detail on how we plan to achieve our 2011 sustainability goals.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shade solutions for Melbourne Summer

As plants have started to spring up in our vegie boxes, I've noticed that a number of them that started off quite strong appear to have been scorched by some of the hot days we've had. I'm still getting the hang of Melbourne spring. The weather really is all over the place and when the sun is out it certainly has some bite. I'd put down some mulch, but even with the mulch I noticed that the soil was drying out and getting a hard crust on top, which was causing the young seedlings a bit of trouble.

I'd seen a couple of shade options in the Gardening Australia magazine and TV show that used shade cloth stretched over poly pipe. So with some vague descriptions of this given to the Cunning Plans Dept, we toddled off to Bunnings in search of shade cloth, poly pipe, cable ties and other random bits and pieces.

We ended up getting 50% shade cloth. I'd read somewhere that 30% was the stuff to go for, but the lowest Bunnings had was 50%. Still, I think it will work fine.

The Cunning Plans Dept rigged up some frames using the poly pipe and cable ties.
He drilled through the pipes to tie them together so that they wouldn't shift around each other. The frames just sit inside the vegie boxes and aren't anchored down (we'll see how they go if we get any strong winds).
The shade cloth is simply draped over the frame and pulled down tight by hooking it onto rows of nails on the sides of the boxes. Not high tech, but it works.
It also makes it easy to unhook the shade cloth from any side and pull it back to get to the plants for weeding and watering.
Ta da! Shaded vegie boxes!

To give the plants an extra boos t, I sprinkled some a ll purpose fertiliser and gave them a good soak before putting the cloth back on. Two days later, I checked the plants this morning and they are looking noticeably better. More fresh growth and less burnt leaves. The soil also seems to be retaining the moisture better.

And of course it wouldn't be a proper project if the pups didn't "help" out. Gracie (who loves the shady spot in between the boxes) very helpfully minded the power tools, while Hudson "helped" by eating the plastic lid of the nail container. We'll have to wait and see how "lab-proof" the shade covers prove to be.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A new vegie patch, in boxes

We've been looking at options for creating vegie patches at our new place that are not permanent, as we're renting and there are no established garden beds and we get the impression that our landlord isn't keen on permanent structures.

We decided on some kind of raising vegie bed, which also has the bonus of being more ergonomic for me to manage. We'd seen these pre-done vegie boxes that were wooden crates filled with soil and pre-planted for around $350. The CPD then spotted someone selling ex-fruit crates for $20 each. We picked up 3 of them (that's what would fit on the ute we hired). We lined them with some builders plastic, with a few drain holes in the bottom.

Next step was to order some soil and mulch. We decided that rather than fill them just with soil, we'd fill the bottom half with mulch, which would drain well and also be a little cheaper than soil.
Yesterday the soil and mulch arrived and we set to work filling up our vegie boxes, with supervision by the dynamic duo - Hudson and Gracie.

Today I planted seeds into the boxes and hopefully we'll be looking at our first Brunswick harvest this summer :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Starting a new patch: Seed raising

Today I took advantage of the fine weather to get started on some seed raising for what will be the new vegie patch here in Brunswick. I'd nabbed some free shallow punnets at CERES the other weekend and had also saved a couple of other containers. I also decided to try the coir pellets that came in the bundle of gardening stuff I got via Gumtree.
While I was getting to work on the seed raising the Cunning Plans Dept asked the rather pertinent question of "where are you going to put them?". I had initially thought down the side of the house, but that may not get enough sun to keep them warm. The backyard would be better, but required puppy-proofing. The CPD came up with the solution of attaching a shelf to the back wall of the house so I could put my punnets and trays up out of reach of the dogs, but still getting the warmth of the sun.
Voila! Planted in the coir pellets are spaghetti squash, butternut pumpkin and gem squash. In the punnets I've planted another spaghetti squash (I really want to grow these!), some mini capsicums, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, red Russian kale, apple cucumbers, Lebanese cucumbers and garlic chives. To my dismay I found about half the spaghetti squash seeds I'd saved had gone moldy. I'm airing them to see if I can dry them out a bit more. I think I may need to get some of those moisture absorbing sachets to put in my seed box.

I also potted out the continental parsley and mint I picked up a month ago. The parsley punnet actually had 3 plants in it, so I've planted them out separately and hopefully they'll grow nice and bushy.
There is also movement on the small strip of garden by the side of the house that I'd dug over and planted a month or so ago. The row of marigolds have sprouted, as have 4 of the lettuce, one of the dwarf snow peas, and some of the spring onions (and a bunch of weeds, but I'll get to those soon).

It may be getting close to the end of September, but it is finally starting to feel like Spring is arriving. Buds are bursting on trees and we're starting to see the sun for more than a fleeting moment. After having just experienced my first Melbourne winter, I really appreciate the coming of Spring :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thrifty Gardening: Urban pots and herbs

While we were walking up to the local primary school to vote a few weeks ago, we saw a good size plastic pot abandoned amongst other rubbish near the pedestrian bridge over the freeway. I made a note to pick it up on our way back home as I need pots. At the school, post-voting, we noticed that CERES had set up a little stall selling seedlings and potted herbs. I picked up a mint and a continental parsley for $5, which I thought was a bargain (granted the parsley was cheap because it looked a bit straggly).

I also discovered that CERES have a free pot recycling bin at their nursery, where you can nab used pots and then bring back any you aren't using anymore. And their shop sells a number of bulk goods (food and cleaning products) by weight. You can BYO container or use some of the recycled containers or paper bags they have at the store.

We popped in on the weekend to stock up on some eco-friendly dishwasher powder (is anyone else disappointed that it is hard to get eco-friendly dishwasher powder in the major supermarkets? My local Coles stocks eco-friendly dishwasher tablets, but our little dishwasher drawer doesn't need much). And since I'm now on the exclusion diet from hell, I also grabbed a paper bag and stocked up on some quinoa, before heading to the cafe to get a soy dandy. I also love that the market has "Puppy Parking" (i.e. a place just outside the market where you can tether your pooch while you shop), though I'm not sure I'd trust our dynamic duo not to wreak havoc. We exited via the nursery and pot bin to get a few medium pots to pot on my herbs and some small trays to get some seed raising going.

I love Brunswick :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thrifty Gardening: Free seeds and fertiliser

Continuing with the sustainable and thrifty living concept, I've set myself a challenge to establish a garden at our new place without spending any money if possible.

We brought with us our collection of seeds and tools, so that's our starting point. The things we had to leave behind included our fertilisers and pots.

So I've been looking out for possible freecycling options to replenish our stocks. I saw an ad on Gumtree from someone giving away a box of fertiliser and assorted seeds. I replied and on Monday popped into town on my way back from a meeting to pick it up. Talk about a good haul of freebies! I'm so glad I brought my fold-up trolley otherwise I would have really been stuffed trying to get it home on the tram.

Check this out:

The fertiliser etc.. includes:
  • Richgro Premium complete fertiliser plus 5kg bag
  • Naked Farmer Organic Soil Activator sample pack
  • Hortico All purpose compound fertiliser 500g tub (open)
  • Brunnings Tomato & Vegetable Starter fertiliser 1kg tub
  • Jiffy small peat pellets 12
  • Water storage crystals 250g far (1/2 full)
  • Miracle Gro Seafeed 3 in 1 250ml
  • Charlie Carp 500ml
  • Yates Thrive Shake 'n' Feed 700g (1/2 full)
  • Garden ties 15
  • Brunnings Rose Planting Mix coir block (open)
  • Seasol 20ml sachet
  • Eco-cweed 5g sachet
  • Rainsaver crystals 10g sachet
  • Searles Penetraide re-wetting granules 2 x 40g sachets
  • Searles Flourish soluble plant food 3 x 20g sachets
The assorted seeds includes:
  • Cucumber Lebanese (open)
  • Snapdragon
  • Tomato Roma (open)
  • Dwarf snapbean (open)
  • Sunflower
  • Pak Choi (open)
  • Broccoli Royal Dame (open)
  • Beetroot Perfect (open)
  • Spinach Emerald Star (open)
  • Squash Gem
  • Lucerne (open)
  • Eggplant Listada di Gandia
  • Peanut Virginia
  • Okra x 2 (open)
  • Miscellaneous bag that appears to have a mix of coriander, pumpkin and possibly spring onion)
Not bad for free, eh?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bonjour Brunswick!

The move to Melbourne went very well. We arrived last Thursday evening, moved everything in on Friday, and by the end of the weekend were mostly unpacked and ready to start the work week. As of last night, we have finished unpacking all the boxes and have a giant pile of flat packed cardboard boxes to show for it.

Our new place is really a blank slate from the garden perspective. The back yard is a decent size and the only things in it are a shed, a clothesline strung between two concrete posts, and some very bare skinny trees, which I haven't identified yet. The backyard faces north, so gets plenty of sunshine. Right now, in the middle of winter, we're appreciating it, but I'm guessing summer will be another story.
Left: Backyard facing north - Right: Backyard facing south

The front yard is also fairly nondescript. Being on the south side, it's mostly in shade and just has patchy grass.

I can't wait to get started on building new gardens. As we're renting, we just need to check that the landlord is okay with this. We're also thinking about building more of a container garden so that if we move when our lease finishes in 12 months then we'll be able to take most of the garden with us.

We're also going to have to start new compost and worm farms as we left the others behind in Figtree. While we're still waiting to sell the house in Figtree, we're being very conservative with our finances. However, I jumped onto Gumtree and managed to get a second hand compost bin for $20. It's missing one of the side pieces that hold it together (it shouldn't be gaping like that), but that's a fairly easy fix.

I also managed to get a pair of plastic clam shells (kids sand pit/wading pool) for free! This will definitely help keep the pups cool in summer.

I've also found an unused (still in packaging) 2-tier worm farm for $40, but it's about an hours drive from us, so I'm still tossing up whether it's worth a trip that far and when we'd be able to do it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Farewell Figtree

Well it seems like it was only a few months ago that we made the decision to move to Melbourne, but today seems to have come around fast.

Today we said farewell to Figtree. I was hoping to take some final photos of the garden, but it decided to absolutely bucket with rain (not helpful for the removalists trying to pick the truck). At least it meant I didn't have to water the garden before we went. So sadly, no parting photos.

Yesterday I did some maintenance on the vegie patch to get it ready for being unattended for a while. All the beds are mulched. The new irrigation timer has been installed and set. All the plants are looking healthy. The snow peas are just starting to reach the twine that they'll eventually climb. The broccoli heads are forming nicely. It is finally looking like a well established, mature garden. I would like to hope that it will bring joy to the future occupants.

I don't find myself missing the garden, as I've enjoyed the process of gardening as much as the end product. I would have liked to have seen the fruit trees mature and start to bear fruit. I'm looking forward to the challenge of starting a new garden in Melbourne. I'm bringing our seeds with us, many of which we've saved from what we've grown in Figtree, so it will be like bringing a bit of our Figtree garden with us.