Archive for the ‘green living’ Category

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Have you ever bought something online and then returned it?

Chances are your returns weren’t resold to someone else.

We found this out on our last visit to San Francisco, when a pillow that a friend ordered wasn’t quite right. In America, everything can be returned. When he contacted the company for the return details, he was given a prepaid address to send it to….and it went directly to Goodwill. The company didn’t even pretend to go through the motions of taking it back and assessing its condition and suitability for resale (it hadn’t even been used).

Apparently, this practice is commonplace, particularly with clothing. This news article is worth reading before you make your next online clothing purchase. I’m not sure how often this occurs in Australia, but in parts of the world, it’s just much easier and more economically viable for companies to dispose of items (and maybe claim the loss on insurance) than it is for them to pay a real person to decide whether or not it’s fit to be sold again as new.

So what can we do?

Well, we can buy vintage and secondhand. So often the items found at thrift stores and opshops have never been worn before. The dress I wore to Big Boy and Monkey Girl’s wedding is a good example – it still had a tag on it, even though I bought it at the Salvos and it cost me less than a tenth of its original retail price.

Pete has become the king of vintage in the past couple of years, to the point where nearly everything in his wardrobe (even shoes) is decades old. Our friend Arnold at Potts Point Vintage has had a big influence..

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We can buy less. One thing that two months of lockdown has taught me is that I really don’t need new clothes for years to come. In a pinch, I could survive in rescued jeans and ponchos. Believe it or not, I found another poncho photo – this was actually my first one as an adult, crocheted for me by Maude. I wore it to death!


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We can hire outfits for special occasions. I haven’t done this yet (too many clothes, not enough special occasions), but my friends Caitlin and Bee are renting pieces for their upcoming wedding. They’ve raved about a company they’ve found in nearby Marrickville specialising in vintage outfits for hire. Men have been hiring suits forever, and maybe it’s time women joined in as well…

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And of course, we can mend.

Mend, mend, mend, and then mend some more.

It’s such a joyous process and for the comfort-driven like me, it means wearing ever softer clothing. YouTube is full of how-to videos, and I have a very basic tutorial here on darning which might be helpful.

I know that my personal fashion mantra – style is always optional – isn’t for everyone. But we can fix things that never get seen by others – tracksuit pants and pyjamas and socks that hide inside boots. I’ve even patched old underwear, much to Pete’s despair. I thought about it for two seconds, but decided that you don’t need to see a photo. Here’s one of my darling Small Man in his sashiko patched jeans instead…

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Finally, on the occasions when we do have to purchase something new online, let’s do it with a lot more thought. Choose carefully, because anything we return (not to mention the packaging it comes in) might end up in landfill. I’ll try to think twice before clicking the “buy” button from now on! ♥

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At the moment, many international students in Sydney are struggling.

The Covid19 crisis has wiped out their part-time employment and most don’t qualify for government assistance. As this wonderful video I posted a few weeks ago shows, it’s been left to charitable organisations and the wider community to provide them with support during these unexpectedly difficult times.

I was chatting to a friend about this recently and wondering if there was anything I might be able to do to help. She pointed me to the Addi Road Food Pantry, based within the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, which is also home to Reverse Garbage and The Bower. Not only do they offer low cost, rescued food to the community at highly affordable prices, but they also support literally anyone who needs help by supplying them with Food Relief boxes of essential groceries for free. The  photos and information in this post come directly from their website…

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I popped in yesterday to ask if I could bake for them but it wasn’t possible – they can’t take home cooked food from folks who aren’t certified by the Department of Health. But there are two ways in which we can help.

Firstly, we can donate food and toiletries – here’s the wishlist from their website…

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Secondly, we can make small donations (I’m not sure these are tax deductible), and by small, I mean really little. For $10, you can donate a box of groceries to a family who might otherwise go hungry this week. That’s what it costs to buy two takeaway coffees here in Sydney. The cash is used to buy groceries from the Food Pantry, which I think is how they manage to fill a box for so few dollars.

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Pete and I made a donation last night and I wanted to share this with any fellow Sydneysiders and Inner West residents who might be interested in supporting them.

In these crazy times, it’s a blessing to have organisations working so hard to ensure that people in need are given as much support as possible! ♥

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Neighbourhood Loaves

Remember the artisan bakers flour that my friend Kevin and Robbie sent me?

Well, I finally got to the bottom of the first bag (they’ve actually given me two!). I used the last of the bag to bake focaccia and white loaves for the neighbours…

Inspired by the rescued tea sacks of Elvis and Kresse, I carefully cut open Kevin’s double layered paper sack and ironed it as best I could. I then used it to wrap up this batch of neighbourhood loaves, thereby giving one more life to the paper before it goes into the recycling bin.

Here’s what my lovely neighbours found waiting for them on the back deck! ♥

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Have you heard about B Corps? If not, they’re worth reading up about.

Traditionally, businesses operated with a bottom-line focus, making decisions solely to maximise profitability.

B Corps are a new wave of companies which focus on both profit and purpose – taking into account the impact their decisions have on their workers, the environment and the community as a whole. They are companies which attempt to operate as sustainably as possible, pay their workers fairly, and ensure that their actions benefit others rather than just their shareholders. The certification process is, by all accounts, rigorous and can take up to six months to complete.

Here is the description offered by their website:

Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.

B Corps form a community of leaders and drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good. The values and aspirations of the B Corp community are embedded in the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence.

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We have a surprising number of B Corps in Australia, which is pretty wonderful. You can find out more about them here. This short video from the Australian website gives a good overview…

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I first found out about B Corps when I discovered Elvis and Kresse.

I wrote a bit about this company last year and I continue to find them incredibly inspiring. In 2005, Kresse Wesling discovered that all of London’s decommissioned fire-hoses were being sent to landfill. The rubber hoses were still in great condition, but wear and tear in even a small area can render them no longer fit for active duty.

Kresse and her partner Elvis decided to rescue all of them. Over 200 tons worth. They did this by creating a company which manufactures belts and luxury lifestyle accessories – bags, luggage, folios, notebooks and more. Their operations are based in an old mill in Kent, they pay their workers properly, and they donate half of their profits from their fire-hose products to the Fire Fighters Charity. Yep, you read that correctly, and they’ve extended that to all their rescued resources…50% of their profits go back to charities associated with those products.

E&K have recently expanded into rescuing leather, including the 120 tonnes of leather offcuts which Burberry expect to produce over the next five years. They even make their own packaging materials from recycled paper tea sacks. You can read about the materials they rescue here.

The more I read, the more smitten I became with them. So for his last birthday, I begged Pete to let me buy him a fire-hose belt. He’d been looking for a replacement belt for some time, so it wasn’t a frivolous purchase. It wasn’t cheap either – nor should it have been given that it was made by hand in England – and it was outside his usual colour palette. But it would be a statement piece, I told him, that reflected our strong views on sustainability and rescue.

It arrived in an envelope made from a recycled tea sack…

The case it came in was made from a rescued print blanket. Both the packing envelope and the case were made at the mill in Kent…

I didn’t want to waste the printing blanket, so I gave it a third life by turning it into a small coin purse…

And Pete? He put the belt on…and hasn’t taken it off since. If anything, it seems to have brought about a change in the colours he’s willing to wear, which is a very good thing in my opinion…

If you’d like to know a bit more about Elvis and Kresse, you might enjoy this video. I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth putting up again. I watch it whenever I need an inspirational nudge for a new reuse project…

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And circling back to our original conversation about B Corps – Kresse recently wrote a very succinct post about them on her blog. It’s definitely worth a read! ♥

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Can we address the elephant in the room?

As we guiltily bring home our plastic wrapped items and takeaway coffee cups, the new rules surrounding COVID19 have made life a bit trickier for those of us who were trying to minimise our impact on the environment.

Last week we visited Harris Farm in Leichhardt, usually a stronghold of plastic-free packaging, and were surprised to see that we were the only people in the store still using our mesh bags. In fact, one particularly cautious customer, wearing a paper mask, was using two plastic bags as gloves to put her fruit and veg into a third. She then discarded her glove bags after each item and got new ones. I kept my requisite 1.5 metres away and refrained from comment. People are very frightened, and  I’m certainly not going to judge anyone for doing what they feel they need to in order to stay safe at this time.

Then there are the official instructions to wash our hands for 20 seconds. We have lever taps in the kitchen thankfully, but I’m troubled by all the times a tap has to be left on for 20 seconds while folks are lathering up. Parts of our state continue to be in severe drought and strict water restrictions still apply – I’m not sure how rural folks are coping with these directives.

But on the flipside, the environment appears to be thriving with most of humanity in lockdown. For the first time in 30 years, the Himalayas are visible from the northern Indian state of Punjab, due to an unprecedented reduction in air pollution. The photo below is from this CNN article

The Dhauladhar range of mountains is visible from the city due to a drop in pollution levels.

Paradoxically, even though we’re bringing in more plastic packaging than we have in the last couple of years, our weekly rubbish output is actually slightly less than it was before lockdown. Which made me realise that a determining factor in the amount of waste we produce is not just what we buy, but how often we buy it.

We’re only shopping for fruit, vegetables and groceries once every nine days or so. The beeswax wraps are making a huge difference – using them means loose leaves and spring onions go the distance between shopping runs without turning to mush. Even more importantly, our approach to food has shifted slightly – we didn’t throw out much in the past, but now almost nothing gets wasted. As we’re all at home, leftover dinners become lunches the following day, single portions get stashed in the freezer, yesterday’s roast becomes tomorrow’s nachos.

Pete has managed to perfect his soldier fly hatchery – I’m sorry, but you’ll have to Google or YouTube on how to make one, as it’s too complicated for me to describe and I don’t really understand how it works anyway. I had a quick look and found this Gardening Australia fact sheet on them.

This is Pete’s second attempt, and my only contribution has been to sew seams as directed. It’s made almost entirely from recycled materials (I think he bought a honey tap for it), including the boys’ old toy box, shade cloth from Reverse Garbage, a leftover bit of roofing and two used kimchi containers.

In our backyard, particularly in the warmer months, it works brilliantly. Much better than the Bokashi bucket. The soldier fly larvae voraciously gobble up all sorts of food scraps and leftovers, and then pupate into what can only be described as chicken crack – the hens completely lose their minds for them. We had at least 30 little pupae to feed them yesterday. Coupled with our two worm farms, almost no food scraps other than bones and avocado pips end up in the red bin these days.

At home, we’re doing our best to toe the sustainability line – we’re still using our cloth napkins, teflon baking sheets and crocheted dishcloths. All the neighbourhood bakes are going out wrapped in paper. I have had to use plastic bags to share bread flour, because exploding paper bags loaded with kilos of wholemeal are never a good thing. Buying in bulk and decanting continues to work well – we end up with one large plastic bag which we try to reuse, rather than ten small ones. And we’re still taking our reusable mesh and cloth bags to the shops when we do go.

Ordering in has been tricker – we had an arrangement with our local Japanese restaurant to provide them with our own platter, but that’s temporarily on hold as all food outlets are obliged to use disposable serving ware at present. That means we’re not able to take our own KeepCups to cafes either – as a result, I’ve only had three takeaway coffees since lockdown began. And even though I’m keen to support our local restaurants, we haven’t ordered many takeaway meals – partly because it’s never quite as good as the food we make at home, and partly because Small Man gets very distressed by all the single use plastic coming into the house.

Going out so infrequently means we’re using less than half the petrol we were pre-lockdown. And as we’re not going anywhere, clothes are getting washed less often, shoes aren’t wearing out, and bad hair days have given me the perfect excuse to don increasingly bizarre hats.

As you might recall, we had solar panels installed at the end of last year, and a Tesla battery at the start of 2020.

So far, it’s been fantastic. It used up the funds we’d been saving for a new car, but it was well worth it – since the battery was installed, we’ve achieved carbon neutrality (just) in electricity terms. We’ll still have a utilities bill to pay, because we’re charged three times more for the power we draw down from the grid than for the kilowatts we send to it, but that’s okay – our motives for making the shift were never purely financial. We won’t be able to perform as well in winter, but it’s encouraging to know that it’s definitely making a difference. Here are our stats at the time of writing…

Hmm. It’s always good to write this stuff down. It’s been simmering in the back of my brain for a while now, but it’s nice to have an opportunity to put my thoughts in order.

So here’s what I think.

During this slightly crazy time, we can only do the best we can in unprecedented circumstances. There’s nothing to be gained from beating ourselves up over things which are outside our control. Instead, let’s continue to nurture our green mindsets and try to make sustainable choices from the options presented to us. We can’t buy loose salad leaves at the moment, but that’s ok. What we can do is make them last longer by storing them carefully and not wasting any of them. We can support our communities and be more waste-conscious at home, particularly if we find ourselves with a bit more free time. And we can take the lessons we’re learning during this crisis – on frugality, kindness and creativity – and use them to live richer and more rewarding lives post-lockdown.

I hope you all have a lovely, gentle day, dearhearts. Thank you for letting me ramble on. ♥

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