Week 42 – Canon vs Sony

Firstly, apologies for the complete absence of a blog from us for the past couple of weeks.  A perfect storm of travel, exams, work and life meant that we didn’t get a chance to sit down and write, but the storm has now moved on and the forecast is looking good for future weekly blogs!

One of our trips away was to attend my nephew, Adam’s, 21st birthday.  We decided to purchase Adam a camera, and at the same time look at getting one for ourselves, having previously relied on the goodwill of friends to take digital photos.  After all the comparisons and research was completed we purchased a Sony camera for Adam, and a week later, bought a Canon camera for ourselves.  On getting the Sony camera home and having a wee play with it before wrapping it up, I was struck by the simplicity of the packaging which consisted of a cardboard tray, cables tied with wire ties and that was about it.  Previously, I had rung the store and after explaining our challenge, had asked what packaging came with the Canon camera.  I was told that the packaging was very minimal and, like the Sony, cardboard based.  Therefore, when I purchased the Canon camera it wasn’t until I got home that I found a whole heap of plastic packaging.  It sat in a plastic tray, cables tied with wire ties were then sealed in plastic bags and the CD rom and manuals were also in individual plastic bags.  So our rubbish collection has increased.  We were reluctant to apply our standard practice of purchasing second hand products to the camera mainly because of the lack of warranties and the possibility of it having been dropped or damaged in it’s previous life, however, in looking at the unnecessary packaging, maybe two Sony cameras would have been a better idea!

In keeping with our decision to not put off any projects or activities around the house till after the challenge has finished, this week we have embarked on dismantling our glasshouse.  The glasshouse is a wooden construction about 40yrs old, measuring 5m x 4.8m and although veges certainly grow well in there we have found it to be too large, ugly and time consuming in maintainence.  After many conversations we’ve decided to get rid of it, convert that area into a semi-forest and enlarge the chicken coop.  Over the past few days I’ve built two new raised beds outside, closer to the house, and have transplanted from the glasshouse to there.  Although it would be no problem disposing of the glass, the wooden frame has been painted and the timber may be treated, therefore, we can not use it as firewood.  The problem was solved however, after I placed an ad in our local Freecycle group.  Freecycle is a geographically based Yahoo group that enables you to list, and view, items to be given away for free.  People are able to view the items and then email if they would like them.  The first person to make contact is then given an address from where to pick the item up.  In our case six people were interested in the glasshouse.  The result is that our glasshouse will be off to Dunsandel, 40mins from Christchurch, with the new owner coming over this weekend to begin deconstruction.  It is a great win – win situation, with the glasshouse not really being of great monetary value, except to someone who has the considerable time and energy it will take to complete the project, whilst at the same time saving the landfill from additional waste and reusing a resource…awesome!

Week 39 – Tired tires

We decided not to blog last week due to it being Labour Day Weekend and we were out of town and for those of you who have noticed our absence from the NZ Herald, we have been bumped in the interests of increased reporting on the election but apparently will reappear after we’ve all voted!

We often get the ‘What do you do about…?’ questions and have generally been surprised at how many we have been able to provide an answer , but they seem to be getting harder!  We were asked this week what we do with our old bicycle tires when they wear out?  Waveney’s tires are getting pretty thin, evidenced by three punctures in just over a month, and so this is an issue we are about to face as we look at getting her some new ones.  We haven’t had any car tires wear out so far this year, but in the past they have come in handy to make potato stacks.  Basically, after stuffing the cavity with newspaper, you plant your potatoes in one and then as the plants grow you add a tire and more soil until you have a stack about six tires high.  Then when it comes time to harvest you just go in reverse removing potatoes as you need them.  The tires make the soil warmer stimulating growth whilst also retaining moisture.  But back to the issue of bicycle tires, if anyone has any suggestions on alternative uses please let us know, we would be very appreciative.  I have found that worn out inner tubes make great tie downs for my surfboard onto the roof racks but haven’t found any uses for the tires yet.

There has been many times this year when we have lamented decisions made either by former owners and tenants of our house, or past Matty and Wave, therefore it is great to acknowledge where past decisions have had a positive impact on reducing our waste.  About two years ago Waveney bought a aluminum water bottle which last week sprung a leak.  At the time she was drawn towards the nicer colours of a range of plastic bottles.  It is hard to know which is more durable, but we are rapt that we can send this bottle to the scrap metal dealer, whereas once the plastic one had reached the end of it’s life, it would have been off to the landfill as it wasn’t recyclable in Christchurch.  The other item that died in the last few weeks was a coat hanger.  At the start of the year we got hold of second hand wooden coat hangers and it was one of these that broke.   The wood was used as kindling to light a fire one evening and the hook will join the water bottle in a trip to the scrap metal dealer, again, a plastic one would have joined the landfill.

Week 37 – Restaurant leftovers

On the odd occasion that Waveney and I go out for dinner we can generally be found at a Chinese restaurant imaginatively named ‘The Great Wall of China’.  When we went a few weeks ago we ended up with a lot of food leftover and were about to ask for it to be packaged up to take home when we spied the styrofoam takeaway containers.  The ethical dilema of whether it is best to have perfectly good food thrown out versus utilizing non-biodegradable or recyclable containers was easily solved in light of our rubbish free year.  However, the experience obviously made an impact because returning last Sunday, we were about to walk out the door of our house when we remembered to grab some containers and consequently we both had our lunches catered for the next day.  It has made me wonder whether it might be a good idea to keep some containers in the car for such situations…of course we should be on our bikes…

Speaking of cars, ours has finally added an item to our rubbish bag.  On a hot nor’west day here in Christchurch our car decided to overheat.  It soon became apparent that the top radiator hose had perished.  I attempted to shorten the hose but this was unsuccessful and so a new one was bought and the old one added to the bag.  I’m not sure what alternative uses exist for a reinforced perished rubber hose, so if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.  In the meantime it has been added to our rubbish pile which has just pushed us out of the shoebox we have been storing our rubbish in for the past nine and half months.

Week 36 – a brighter future

the pitWe have had a few family members visiting in the last couple of weeks, making the most of the school holidays .  My cousin and her family live in Auckland and her eldest daughter goes to a eco-friendly primary school.  Its amazing what schools are getting up to these days. They have a worm farm and garden and every Friday the whole school is completely rubbish free.  Apparently this 10 year old is so in to it she tells her mum off for slipping fruit wraps or anything plastic wrapped into her lunchbox.  Not surprisingly she was very keen to explore our rubbish free home.  I showed her all of our rubbish systems, apart from our pit, which she wasn’t at all keen on experiencing.  (our ‘pit’ is a long term composting system  that consists of a hole in the ground covered by a big plastic bin the with the base cut out of it and a lid that seals the whole thing.  It is where things like dog poo, dog fur, fish bones, hair and fingernails end up.  Not a combo she was keen to see! – Although to be fair she managed a quick peek).  She wrote a report for her teacher about it.  We were all scared of dying in a nuclear war when I was her age, hadn’t given two thoughts about making the future a better place to be.  Good on you Emma.   My sister also came down with her family.  The were all keen to look at our rubbish – which is still managing to fit into a shoe box.  It amuses me how often people want to look through our rubbish!  I’ve even taken it out with me to show interested people when we visit!  It doesn’t smell because everything is washed and of course nothing is organic.  When looking through everything we decided to extract two items.  I took out the cigarette butts that Matty found in the woodshed and burned them in the logburner.  We originally decided not to burn them because we were concerned about the toxins in the filters, but we changed our minds.  I burned one and it seemed fine, so they all happily went up in a big woosh.  The other item was the medication packaging from Jess the dog’s antibiotics.  I thought it was a foil plastic composite, but my sister thought it was just foil (therefore able to be taken to a scrap metal dealer or recycled at the kerbside).  Upon thorough scrutiny we all decided that there was no evidence of plastic and that it was indeed pure foil.

Everyone who visited commented that it didn’t seem like a rubbish free house i.e it seemed to look and operate normally.  I think that this is a fair observation.  Most of the difference is in the way we shop, and sometimes in food preparation methods, but not so much not in what we serve up for dinner.  Although my sister, who is older than me and can remember the 70’s more vividly, did mention that  our pantry reminded her of mum’s ‘health food craze’.  A brief period where mum somehow found the energy to raise three children, bake bread, roast bran-flake-molasses-coffee, prepare lemon and barley water and squeeze our own fresh orange juice. It definitely has gone that way a bit round here, with fresh dandelion tea, soaking beans, and growing our own ginger root.  Did you know that you can make a lovely tea straight from dandelion leaves?  Especially great this time of year when there are lots of supple shoots around.  It’s a weak green tea like flavour.

Week 35- A Green Company

Here’s a tale with a happy ending.

A few days ago we received a rubbish problem in the mail: A flyer from our power provider Meridian wrapped in clear plastic.  Amazingly it was the first piece of (solicited) plastic ensconced mail we have received since starting 8 months ago.  We have had other things come through but they were unsolicited and unwanted so we just returned them to sender.  I know some people get inundated with plastic covered mail, one person I spoke to said it was one of her biggest sources of rubbish!  But we have worked hard on cutting it down, we have a no junk mail sign and are not on any subscription or mailing lists.  When we somehow we get on mailing lists anyway we RTS or email asking to get off.

For those of you unaware of Meridian’s image it is a company that prides itself on being green.  When we recently got back from a year overseas we had to work out the best providers for phone, internet and power.  Working out the cheapest phone internet combo was a horrible, confusing task, and it was looking like choosing the best power provider would be tantamount.  Then I stumbled upon Greenpeace’s Clean Energy Guide.  You  choose your area and it rates the electricity providers in terms of their ‘cleaness’.  Some companies are worse than others but the only green rated company in the whole country is Meridian.  I was pleased to find straight forward grounds for choosing someone that didn’t involve maths so I signed up.

Zoom forward 10 months… I receive this plastic wrapped flyer/promo thing from a company I had hoped would have thought that one through.  So I decided to write them a letter challenging them about it.  Its actually only the third ever letter I have written along this lines, I hate the confrontation.  I highlighted that they had unnecessarily created thousands of pieces of plastic that will be in our ecosystems for hundreds and hundreds of years and (politely) asked if they could reconsider their future use of plastic in mailouts, I actually mentioned that I would be blogging about it, which Matthew thought was quite similar to blackmail….hmmm, who knows.  Anyway the day after I snail mailed them we received an email from Nadine at the customer services team.  Here’s an excerpt from her letter:

Thank you for contacting Meridian Energy.

Regarding the plastic envelope that your latest correspondence was
enclosed in, I can advise you that it is made from corn starch and is
entirely compostable.  We also only use plant dyes in our printing so
you can also compost any printed material without putting unwanted
chemicals into the environment.

We are also at this time working towards reducing the amount of
correspondence we mail out to customers, you can register to receive
your bills online at www.mymeridian.co.nz and also opt to receive all
correspondence from us via email.

Well!  Talk about being out done!  I am so humbled and delighted!  and sooo pleased that we chose them. I know that the economic system we live in makes it extremely difficult for companies to be truley environmentally friendly and that there are plenty of companies quick to cash in on the green dollar without looking at their production impact holistically. But it looks like Meridian’s green actions are driven from somwhere deep within its core philosophy.  So nice for a change, well done Meridian!  Oh and by the way, if your household would consider switching to a more ethical power provider but is concerned about the cost…rest assured our powerbills have never been cheaper!

Week 34 – Home delivery

One of the negative aspects of living rubbish free has been the amount of time it takes to do the weekly shop as we visit the Bin Inn, the butcher, green grocer and fish monger.  Although we often bike, we more regularly drive, and so in addition to time there is also the issue of exhaust emissions.  We have been very conscious of this issue, and as we are wanting to make this lifestyle as sustainable as possible for ourselves, over the past month we have been trialling a couple of alternatives.  The Bin Inn and the butcher are side by side about 1km from our place so that is no problem but we had then been doing a rather large circle that took us back home via the fishmonger and green grocer.  About a month ago, when yarning to our neighbours, we discovered that they go to the fishmonger every Monday without fail and would be very happy to pick up some fish for us.  So now they are on board with taking an ice cream container along with them (to save using a plastic bag) and we give them some cash when they return.  Greenpeace recently released a document on their website called the Red Fish Guide which outlines fish species they suggest we don’t buy due to depleted stocks or unsustainable fishing practices which has been useful.

The second development was organising home delivery of vegetables which has come by way of Just Organics.  Every Tuesday a box full of organic fruit and vegetables is delivered to our door containing produce that is fresh and primarily locally sourced.  We were able to meet with one of the owners and it was on that basis alone that we would have been happy to proceed with getting a box.  There were a couple of things that really stood out in talking with her, firstly that 80% of the produce is from Canterbury and secondly, despite delivering to seven times the number of households they started with, the total number of kilometres they drive has not increased.  Financially, we feel that the amount of time we save, as well as the cost of petrol, balances out the cost of the box, and environmentally it seems to make sense to have one less car journey when these guys are pretty much driving past our door anyway.

Week 33 – Toasters

A few years ago we were visiting a market with about four other friends when we decided to institute a $5 challenge.  We all scoured the market for items costing $5 or less, the winner being the individual who had secured the ‘coolest’ item.  To be fair it was quite a subjective contest, but nonetheless I was a bit surprised that I didn’t win with my ‘Toastermatic’.  With a toastermatic you are spared the chore of lowering your bread down into the toaster, with the toastermatic gently doing this task for you when it feels the weight of the bread and then equally gently raising the toast when browned.  I have not seen any modern day equivalent toasters on the market and assume that this is because of the general shift from mechanical to electronic based appliances.  One of my motivations for buying the toastermatic was the hope of having a toaster that is older than the one my parents in law have – theirs is coming up for it’s 50th birthday in the next few years.  Recently thier toaster did have a hiccup however, requiring my talented electrician brother in law to open it up to see what was happening.  He was amazed to find that the toaster operates on pure mechanics.  The problem was easily solved with the replacement of a wire and the purchase of a glass bead to serve as an insulator with the declaration that there is no reason why many future loaves of bread won’t pass through the toaster.  I’m not sure whether someone with a defunct modern toaster is going to be able to open it up and fix the problem as easily.  The task possibly requires a degree in computer engineering, so more likely it would be destined to the landfill and a replacement bought.

I have no evidence to back up this statement, but it appears to me that manufacturers design in a seven year obselecence to a wide variety of appliances.  Friends of ours recently had a heater, dryer, vacum cleaner and jug all die in the space of a month, all having been purchased at the same time.  The move from mechanical to electronic based appliances corresponds with a decrease in purchase price for the consumer and I’ve certainly heard the stories about what a significant purchase new appliances were back in the day.  However this reduced cost has an environmental impact with it often being more cost effective to discard items and replace them with a newer model.  Based on my seven year theory, my parents in law would have gone through seven modern toasters to their one mechanical toaster.  A great short video that does a much better job of asking us to consider the cost of a product during it’s entire lifespan, and not just when it enters and leaves our lives, can be found at www.thestoryofstuff.com  I guess the spin off in having manufacturers design items for longevity is a more expensive initial purchase price and the rub is would I shell out $150 for a new mechanical toaster that would last the rest of my days or am I more likely to buy a $20 model that I can update to a more fashionable colour in seven years?

Week 32 – where for art thou honey?

One thing I’ve learnt this year: a trick to frustration free bulk buying is to have two containers and to fill up one when the other one is getting empty. It took me a while to work that one out but it means you can fill up on bulk things all at once, not when you run out of them – which means only needing to go to bulk food stores about once a month, and also means we never run out of things.  Theoretically anyway.  It is working particularly well for the olive oil, vinegar, jif, detergent etc where we take a large container to the shop and then keep a smaller bottle filled for everyday use.

However, things haven’t been so simple with the honey.   We have been buying honey at a farmer’s market and returning the empty container as we go.  It is local and incredibly cheap.  Last time we got 5 litres of cooking grade honey for $12!!  That’s got to be some sort of record.  I don’t know what makes cooking grade honey cheap, it seems totally fine to me.  When we ran out of honey about 2 months ago I happily bundled up and went off to the farmer’s market.  It was a nasty southern winter’s day but a friend and I went out together and combined the farmers market with sitting in a nice warm cafe afterward… by the way if you haven’t yet experienced the joy of your local farmers’ market and would like to know where your closest one is. visit: www.farmersmarket.org.nz  Perhaps because the weather was foul that day the honey man didn’t show up.  The next day I biked out to Riccarton Market hoping that he would be there.  He wasn’t.  I bought a frying pan instead, a bargain – but didn’t really suffice.  Next week I went out again and he wasn’t there again.  Maybe bees don’t make honey over winter, I have no idea.  On subsequent weeks I  had various friends check it out for me, once he was there, but by the time I found out about it it was too late in the day.  A few weeks back we got some honey from Bin Inn to keep us going, but we’ve run out of that now too.  We go through a bit of honey as its our primary sweetener in drinks and baking.  Oh well, we shall persevere.  When I do catch up with him I think I’ll ask for his number and in future I’ll text him before making the trip.

While I am on the topic, another product we have run around after is yogurt.  After realising that pretty much all yogurt in the supermarket is in non-recyclable packaging Matthew looked around for alternatives.  One day while shopping in a wholefoods shop he spied an organic natural yogurt  called Clear Waters.  They are an owner operated, local and they take their containers back, I think they reuse them for seedlings or something like that.   Unfortunately the first thing I did was drop the yogurt all over the floor, before we even tasted it, and I smashed the container which means they wont want it back.  But apart from that I’m sure its a worthwhile endeavour.

A final word on the soap nuts: I have done another load of washing, this time a hot white wash, and they worked great!  If anything I’d say the clothes have a particularly fresh smell.  I don’t know if I am imagining it, but its like smelling a blue sky sunny day.    But I’ll do another couple of washes just to be on the safe side before declaring  allegiance. Also I recently went through our links page up dating a few things.  The foot print quiz is new and improved, guaranteed to make finding out how many worlds we would need if everyone lived like you to be as pleasurable an experience as possible,  and  for the visually inclined I have added a link to the photographic artwork of Chris Jordan.  His images are mind blowing.  His work shows things like number of plastic water bottles thrown away every 5 mins or number of cell phones thrown away everyday.  Its unbelievable.

Week 31- lemon trees and soap nut trees

Thanks to all the old schoolers out there who descended on the  blog Matthew wrote a few weeks ago to suggest that I use a colouring-in pencil instead of a highlighter. Its just as good and so simple! Why didn’t I think of it?  It’s a classic example of how we somehow get weened of something simple and sustainable and a generation later we have no idea how to something without plastic. Speaking of plastic free, we tried soap nuts for the first time.  Very novel I must say, and despite all the feedback that they work I just wasn’t convinced that these acorn-shell like things in a cotton bag would work.  The instructions say to soak them in warm water first if you are going to do a cold wash, so we did that and then threw them in.  Unlike soaps, soap nuts don’t leave a residue that needs to be rinsed out so you can save water by reducing the length of the cycle, and once the clothes were clean and dry we noticed that our clothes didn’t smell of anything at all.  Which is a good thing I guess.  This particular company, www.scarecrowfarm.co.nz, also sells lavender or lemon oil that can be added to make the clothes smell more or less like a mainstream brand.   We were generally very satisfied with how the wash came out, but there were a couple of t-shirts (the tight under the arm type) that resisted cleaning.   I am pretty keen to try a warmer wash next time and see how that goes, and I need to do a control test.  I.e. I don’t usually go smelling under the armpits of clothes after we’ve washed them, so I will do a regular wash and see if its just the fragrance screening the smell or if it really does do a better job of washing.  Either way, I hope the soap nuts do come through because they are such a fantastic concept, apparently you can even grow your own tree!!

In other rubbish news, a small pile of rubbish was found yesterday when Matthew trimmed the really overgrown lemon tree in our front yard, we haven’t done it since we bought the house five years ago.  Really, if we knew better we wouldn’t go near the garden in a rubbish free year.  It seems every time we do  we unearth a new ensemble of discarded plastic bags, tape, string…plastic doesn’t break down. Whoever lived here before us didn’t mind so much I guess. But we have also been creating rubbish of our own accord.  Apart from the dental floss this is the first time we have chosen to use the ‘grace’ of one bag, (the official challenge is one year, filling no more than one bag of household rubbish for the landfill).  We needed a new hard drive and ‘needed’ wireless.  So we just went out and bought them both new – packaging and all.  We were impressed actually to see how much the industry has changed their packaging in the last couple of years.  Everything used to come in Styrofoam and now computery stuff and phones etc often seem to come in the egg carton type molds instead.  Great to see an industry changing.  One step forward… The only packaging form both purchases that we were unble to recycle were the plastic sleeves that the individual bits came in.  We also rehomed a computer last week.  It hasn’t worked since we got back from Canada last year, we tried all sorts of things to resurrect it, but finally gave up and took it to Molten Media.   That was a good feeling – diverting such a large and noxious item from the landfill.  Molten Media have lots of tecky staff that will reconfigure it andmake it a good cheap computer for someone to buy.  If you live out of Christchurch I encourage you to google for an equivilent service in your area.

Week 30 – Washing tigers

Whilst talking with a friend yesterday, I was again struck by how difficult it is to always ‘do the right thing.’ The problem is that the ‘right thing’ in one area may well be a grievous sin in another. For example, she was telling me that she has always tried to buy eco-friendly dishwashing detergent, but that she recently learnt that the Sumatran Tigers in Indonesia are under threat due to the palm trees that make up their habitat being milled for palm oil – a key ingredient in environmentally friendly detergents. Previously, it was this type of thing that contributed to our ongoing apathy about doing anything at all, adding as it did to an ever-increasing feeling of being overwhelmed by the enormity of trying to step lightly in the world. I don’t think there would be a very quick conclusion to a discussion that tried to decide whether it was better to save the tigers or to protect our waterways and as cheesy as the saying is, it can appear that ignorance is indeed bliss. One of the things I have found this year is that generally people are extremely gracious in providing education when by trying to do the right thing in one particular area our actions are causing a negative consequence in another. Rather than becoming overwhelmed, we try to remind ourselves that it is important to start somewhere, and that along the way we can add to this base in considering other aspects of our lifestyle and consumption. I don’t think it is possible to get it right 100% of the time, but my ignorance is not bliss for the various environments that my lifestyle may negatively impact, and doesn’t change the reality of the situation. So this year there have been some unanticipated changes in addition to be rubbish free including avoiding buying tuna, the purchase of a more expensive front loader washing machine instead of a top loader, and improved efforts to buy organic cotton clothing where possible. Sainthood is still a long way off however and the debate is ongoing as to whether we should own a car (we do, in fact we have two) and the ethics of air travel.

Bringing it back to the practical, at the start of the year we bought a 10 litre recyclable container of dishwashing liquid and a 20 litre recyclable container of clothes washing liquid from B_E_E.  We have found both to be really good and have only used about two litres of the clothes washing liquid in the past seven months, and yes we do wash our clothes, but with the front loader it doesn’t want much liquid because it froths up so much.  When these are used up we might fill up the containers at the Bin Inn or we may have converted to soap nuts!  According to Wikipedia soap nuts grow on trees in warm temperate to tropical areas.  They contain a natural detergent and apparently if we place 4 -6 in a small cotton bag they create frothy soapy water and clean the clothes well.  Also, apparently we can soak them and then use the resulting liquid to clean the dishes.  There have been pro and con comments left on our website about them but we intend to give them a go this week and will let you know how we found them.