Future Living – Reduce your Energy Bill and Live Better

This article will be most helpful for people living in Aotearoa New Zealand, or areas with similar climatic conditions.

If you live in Aotearoa New Zealand, you can have an Eco Design Advisor come to your home and carry out a free and impartial Home Performance Assessment. It supports people reduce their resource use (energy, water and waste) and improve their home’s performance.

Bigger Picture

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the majority of homes perform to a very poor standard. They are cold, damp, expensive to run, and making us sick. Each year there are 1600 deaths caused or contributed to by poor housing conditions.

According to the World Health Organisation, the following temperatures lead to health implications:

  • Less than 16oC affects respiratory system
  • Less than 12oC affects cardiovascular system

(These values are for healthy adults. Children, elderly and people with illness or disabilities require at least 2 degrees warmer than these values.)

Living areas should not fall below 18 degrees and bedrooms should not fall below 16 degrees. Yet in New Zealand, 17.9% of living rooms are colder than 18 degrees during winter months (despite active heating), and 13.6% of bedrooms are colder than 12 degrees. In addition, 55% of our homes have visible mould.

This is making people sick, but we can do a lot to avoid it.

For example, it has been calculated that for every $1 you invest into insulating your home, you save $6-10 through direct cost savings (e.g. power bill) and indirect savings (e.g. lower medical bills, better school attendance and education, etc.).

When designing or retrofitting a home, it is important to consider 3 factors:


If you try to cut on one, you will end up cutting on the others as well. We spend 55% of our lives in our home, so it is important to make sure we make it good.

energy use

Our energy use is divided roughly equally into

  • Spatial heating
  • Lights and appliances
  • Water heating

If we can reduce the cost involved in any of these, we simultaneously reduce our energy bill and impact on the planet.


Lowering energy needed for spatial heating

There are two ways to go about reducing energy needs for heating:

  1. Heat the home more efficiently,
  2. Make sure heat is not lost

Heat the home efficiently

There are many different ways to heat homes. Below are some common home-heating methods ranked according to cost effectiveness. Cost effectiveness refers to how much warmth you get for how much money it costs to run.


  1. Heat pump (converts 1kW of electricity into 5kW of heat)
  2. Wood burners (they emit a lot of heat and are relatively cheap to fuel. They are even cheaper to run if you collect some of the fuel yourself)
  3. Gas heaters (flued!)
  4. Electric heaters (ones you plug into the wall, such as fan heaters, oil column, panel/ecopanel, etc.)
  5. XXX Unflued gas heaters XXX – these should be avoided, as they burn oxygen, release toxic gases (including carbon monoxide) and emit moisture (which makes homes damper). They have been banned in most Western countries, though unfortunately not yet in New Zealand.


Make sure heat is not lost – Insulation

Insulation slows down the movement of heat. Good materials to use for insulating have low conductivity and air pockets (as still air is highly insulating). R values are used to reflect the thermal resistance of different materials. Thermal resistance is the ability of a material to keep cold things cold and hot things hot.

Heat loss is motivated by temperature differentials. The larger the difference in heat, the faster the heat will move. In an uninsulated house, heat can be expected to be lost in roughly the following ways:energy-use1.png

Insulating different places (e.g. ceiling, underfloor, etc.), reduces the overall heat loss speed. However, it is important to think about the whole thermal envelope of the house. It does not make sense to just insulate one area of the house as the heat will then just escape somewhere else. It can be likened to being naked in the cold: it helps if you put on a jacket, but to get truly warm you will also need trousers, socks, hat, etc. 3 jackets but no trousers/socks/hat is not as useful as one of each.

Below are R values according to the Building Code and as recommended by Ian Mayes:


Make sure heat is not lost – Curtaining

Curtaining windows is important because windows allow a lot of heat loss. There are 4 rules to good curtaining:

  1. Curtain all glass (or cover it in some way if it is not possible to put a curtain on)
  2. Have 2 (or more) layers
  3. Stop convection currents through pelmets and having curtains to the floor
  4. Good curtain behaviour – close curtains before heat is lost, around 4pm.

The diagram below illustrates the difference between a well and poorly performing curtain:energy use

Lowering energy needs for lights and appliances

The way we use appliances majorly affects their energy performance, and the average household can save several hundred dollars each year by taking the following steps:

  • Switching off appliances at the wall. Appliances that use a remote or are programmable each use $20 of electricity a year by being in standby mode (this includes TVs, DVD players, internet modems, game consoles, microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, and more).
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    Each appliance that gets switched off at the wall when not in use will save $20 of electricity. TIP: Organise the appliances you want to keep on vs the ones you would like to switch off using a multiplug/powerstrip. 

  • Switch to LED lightbulbs. These are more expensive to buy, but they pay for themselves within the first year and lead to hundreds of dollars worth of savings in their lifetime. TIP: You don’t have to replace all bulbs in one go. Switch the bulbs you use most often first of all(kitchen and living room, then bedroom). You might want to check out this tool to calculate your savings when you replace different light bulbs, created by the EECA.

Lowering energy needs for hot water

  • If you have a hot water cylinder, insulate it with a cylinder jacket.
  • Insulate the hot water pipes leading out of the hot water cylinder as well.
  • Reduce the amount of water used in showers (as showers use the bulk of a household’s hot water). This can be done by:
    • Image result for egg timerShortening shower length. Depending on how long your household currently showers for, and how long shower time is reduced by, there is potential for hot water usage to halve (or more) by shortening shower time. Each minute added to a person’s daily shower adds up to about $70/yr. TIP: Put a 3 or 4 timer in the shower to help keep track of shower lengths. Even switching off the water while lathering and/or shaving helps reduce hot water usage.
    • Reducing water flow. You can check the flow rate of your shower head. If it is greater than 9 litres per minute, it may be good to reduce the flow rate. The video below shows how to do this with a flow restrictor, or you may wish to replace the showerhead to a more water-efficient one.

The Energywise website has many useful resources and tips to making your home energy efficient: www.energywise.govt.nz/at-home

[All statistics from BRANZ and EECA.]


Fuel Efficient Driving

My colleague and I in front of a display I made on fuel efficient driving.

There are many modes of transport we can use from A to B.

Walking, cycling and using public transport are low-carbon alternatives to using private vehicles (plus walking and cycling can have bonus health benefits). Using low-carbon transport options is an important part of creating a more sustainable future.

However, for some of us car use is sometimes unavoidable.

When this is the case, here are some ways to reduce the environmental impact of driving (relevant to petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles)…


Driving Patterns

  1. Carpool where possible. Carpooling is more environmentally friendly (and cheaper) than driving alone as it reduces congestion and means fewer vehicles are on the road. This means fewer carbon dioxide emissions. It is also cheaper as you can share fuel and parking costs.
  2. Consider car sharing or cooperatively owning vehicles. Many localities already have established car sharing initiatives, so you might want to check out what is happening in your region.

Driving Behaviours

  1. Journey Plan. Vehicles are less fuel-efficient and more polluting at the start of trips and on short trips. Trips of less than 5km usually do not allow for the engine to reach peak operating temperature. SOLUTION: Plan to do a number of errands in one trip, rather than several trips. to save time and fuel.
  2. Don’t speed. Fuel consumption increases significantly above 100km/h. At 110km/h many cars use 25% more fuel than they would at 90km/h. Many cars are most fuel efficient at 50km/h and 95km/h. SOLUTION: Drive at or slightly below the speed limit for optimal fuel-efficiency and safety.
  3. Don’t idle. Contrary to popular belief, most cars (all modern cars) do not need to be ‘warmed up’ before setting off… it simply wastes fuel. The same goes for switching the engine off and on again. SOLUTION: If you will be idling for more than 15 seconds, it will use less fuel to switch the vehicle off and on again.
  4. Drive Smoothly. Stop/start driving is up to 30% less efficient and more polluting than driving smoothly at more constant speeds. SOLUTION: Avoid travelling trough congested roads whenever possible. ALSO, avoid unnecessary accelerating and braking by keeping safe distances and anticipating traffic.
  5. Minimise aerodynamic drag. Additional parts on the exterior of the vehicle (roof racks, trailers, spoilers, etc.) increase wind resistance and fuel consumption. SOLUTION: Don’t use them when you don’t need them. Also, to cool off below 70km/h it is more fuel efficient to wind the window down. After 70km/h, the air resistance created by open windows is greater than the energy needed to use air conditioning. SOLUTION: Below 70km/h, cool off with the window down. Above 70km/h, use the A/C.
  6. Keep your car light. Every additional 10kg in your vehicle decreases fuel efficiency by 2%. SOLUTION: Avoid transporting items you do not need for a particular trip.

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Vehicle Maintenance

  1. Keep your vehicle tuned and regularly maintained. A well tuned engine runs more efficiently and is less polluting.
  2. Look after tyres: * Inflate your tyres regularly (monthly) to the highest pressure recommended by the manufacturer. * Make sure wheels are properly aligned (every 10,000km). Looking after tyres will not only reduce fuel consumption but also increase their life.

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It is also important to remember the best way to reduce emissions associated with driving is to make a commitment to drive less.

I believe these are the main ways to improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollution when it comes to driving, though there are many other little tips and tricks as well. Please let me know if there is something you would like to see added 🙂


Para Kore (and how I linked to my Marae)

I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand in late 2012 and, not knowing many people (anyone, except my partner’s family who I had met once, to be precise), I greatly valued opportunities to meet new people, build new relationships, and extend my social network.

When my daughter was ready to go to preschool, mid-2013, we enrolled her in a Kōhanga Reo (total immersion Māori pre-school) on the local Marae (Māori community space used for spiritual and social occasions). Both the Kōhanga Reo and Marae welcomed us, even though we have no Māori ancestry.

We were offered opportunities to learn how to speak Te Reo Māori (Māori language), to learn about te ao Māori (the Māori world and worldview), tikanga (customs and values), stories, songs, and more. My daughter loved it, as did I, and the Marae became an important influence as I found my place in this country and the city we live in, Kirikiriroa Hamilton.

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Singing a waiata (song).
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Showing her mahi (work).

As part of my whānau awhi (‘family help’ – all parents give some time to the running of the centre) at the Kōhanga Reo, I helped introduce and run a Para Kore (zero waste) initiative, where we composted food scraps and recycled waste whenever possible.


My daughter left Kōhanga Reo last year, and for some time I lost connection with the whānau there. But then recently I took up contact with them and the Marae, and I am so happy did. I did it because Kirikiriroa Marae has offered so much to me, my family, and the community.

Photo from the Kirikiriroa Marae website.

Kirikiriroa Marae is a Matawaka Marae, which means they welcome people from all iwi (tribe) and hapū (sub-tribe), all parts of Aotearoa, and all places in the world. And it offers so much to the community, including the Kōhanga Reo, emergency housing, healthcare services, support for people with intellectual disabilities, rehabilitation opportunities for people with criminal records and/or addictions, space for spiritual and social events, and more.

To offer something back to this Marae that gives so much, I offered my time and experience in waste minimisation to help with the Marae’s vision of becoming zero waste. (And it just so happened to be perfectly timed, as the person that used to manage the waste and recycling system had recently moved away.)

Helping suss out the current waste management system with a friend who is also involved with Kirikririroa Marae.

Kirikiriroa Marae is a ‘Para Kore’ Marae. Para Kore is a programme run by amazing people that help Marae and other organisations across the country reduce their waste.

If you are a Marae, community organisation or business that is run by or working with Māori kaupapa or people, please check out their website.

On the right is Jacqui Forbes from Para Kore, who spent some time showing me how to carry on the Para Kore work at Kirikiriroa Marae.

If this doesn’t apply to you, but you are in Aotearoa and are interested in minimising your waste, you can still get in touch as they have a wealth of free resources and information available.

If you are not in New Zealand but are interested in how environmental and sustainability work can be linked with support for indigenous cultures/communities in your region, again, my suggestion is to contact them, as I really believe they have so much knowledge and experience to share with any people, groups or organisations within to lessen their impact on the planet.


Te Ao Māori – Opportunities for Learning and Connection

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert in any aspect of New Zealand’s history or present, or te ao Māori or any part thereof. This is just based on my personal perceptions and experiences.

Māori people and culture have faced many challenges and injustices through the process of colonisation of Aotearoa New Zealand. The effects and impacts this has and continues to have on Māori people, te ao Māori (the Māori world), and New Zealand more broadly are another post (or book, or several books!) in itself, and there are many knowledgeable people that have written on the subject.

But perhaps a single-sentence summary is that there are still many societal issues that need to be addressed, many grievances that need to be resolved, and many mindsets that need to be changed if Aotearoa is to decolonise, the Treaty of Waitangi is to be upheld, and appropriate respect and justice is to be given to Māori people and culture.


(Photos of Kirikiriroa Marae meeting house, from their website)

One way I believe we can contribute to the decolonisation of Aotearoa, upholding of the Treaty of Waitangi, and generally do right by the tangata whenua, is to educate ourselves about and engage ourselves with te ao Māori. Here are some of the ways I have found to engage:

  • Read beyond mainstream media. Māori Television and Māori radio stations are some resources I find useful. I also like reading and researching different topics as I come across them, making sure I am not just getting information from one source.
  • He Papa Tikanga course – this is a free course offered through the amazing Wānanga o Aotearoa that gives an introduction to Māori tikanga, values and customs. It also addresses some of the events that have been all but wiped from mainstream (coloniser-written) history education. You get supported the whole way through and receive some amazing reading resources and textbooks .
Wharenui at Kirikiriroa Marae. Image from their website.
  • Visit and become involved with your marae. If you do not know your marae, iwi or hapū, there are people to support you finding out this information. All people, from all across Aotearoa and the world are welcome at Kirikiriroa Marae in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.
  • Learn to speak te reo Māori. Until I started learning to learn this beautiful language I did not understand why it was considered the most precious taonga (treasure). Now I get it; because there are concepts that we just can’t communicate in English words. I have completed a number of different te reo courses which use different teaching methods, and so far my favourite is Te Ataarangi. It uses little rods (rākau) as the main teaching tool and I cannot explain how amazing and easy it is to learn this way!
Te Ataarangi – teaching with rākau

If you have other resources you would like to see mentioned here, please let me know 🙂

Post Script

I have noticed for many people (of both Māori and European descent) engaging in te ao Māori can sometimes be difficult, uncomfortable and/or emotive, for different reasons.

For example, when I initially expressed my desire to send our non-Māori daughter to kohanga reo (Māori preschool), I was surprised at the controversy this caused within our family and social circles. I ended up writing an article about my experience which ended up being one of the nationally most-read articles of that year, led to follow up articles, several radio interviews, and all sorts of responses from the public – from praise and support, to abuse and even death wishes!

Camilla Carty-Melis
Why my Pākeha child goes to Kōhanga Reo

Still to this day I struggle to understand why it caused such a ruckus. But I suppose this was a turning point for me when I realised I needed to better understand te ao Māori and the strange, tense race relations that currently affect this country.

But I guess what I would like to say is that even if it is challenging, daunting, or uncomfortable… I urge you to pursue, if it is something that you would like to do. I love everything about the learning journey I am on.  I am sometimes really placed outside of my comfort zone. But so far it has always been worth it, because what I learn enriches my life in ways I struggle to put into words. It has most definitely changed my understanding of the world. It has made so clear me the value of co-operation and community strength; challenging the notions of independence, competitiveness and individualism so valued by the Western worldview. And I have grown spirituality as I learn about the sacredness of nature, and my connection to it.

Arohanui, Camilla ❤

Statue of Earth Mother at Ngarunui beach in Whaingaroa Raglan


Creating Resilient, Diverse and Inclusive Communities (that are healthy and fun!)

We all have many ‘hats’ that we wear. We all play multiple and varied roles within our personal lives, families and social network, work, and community.


A cool little activity is to have a think about the different roles you have in your communities and networks. Where are you connected? Where are your skills and/or relationships strongest? Where can you build your skills and/or relationships?

In groups (so we could build on each other’s ideas), we explored two ideas:

  1. What does active citizenship look like?
  2. What makes communities resilient, inclusive, diverse, fun, and healthy?

Here are the ideas we had:

What is active citizenship


Some initiatives and ideas that we can participate in to help make our communities fun and resilient are further discussed below.

Swap and Share Tables

Swap and share tables are a super way to share surplus, exchange goods we no longer need, re-use and recycle items, and get the community talking.

There is one at my work and about 3 years ago I set one up outside where I lived at the time. Within the last 3 years I have seen or heard of at least another half dozen that have cropped up around the city.

Some are modestly sized (one is made from a converted shopping basket), some are large (one place even transformed their whole garage into a free shop). Some only share garden surplus, others are exclusively for books. Some have anything and everything!

There is great environmental and social value in fostering swapping and sharing cultures. They encourage the use and re-use of items that might otherwise be discarded, which is good for the environment as it reduces waste and strain on resources. And is good for communities as it encourages them to be better connected.

Shira Golding wrote a great post about how to organise swap and share events.

Other resources that are related include The Freecycle Network, which is a global sharing network which you sign up to (for free) and you can share, gift and receive items for free in your local community.

Guerrilla Gardening 

Another way to be active (even if it is a bit subversive) for your community is to engage in guerrilla gardening. Why? Because guerrilla gardening offers free food for the community, makes places productive or more attractive, engages us with nature, and encourages biodiversity.

Guerrilla Gardening is the act of transforming under-utilised public space to make it productive of beautiful. For example, in Kirikiriroa Hamilton (where I live), outside most homes there are grassy berms owned by the council. They are a monoculture with no productive value and limited aesthetic value. So… we transformed ours into a productive community veggie patch, and it continues to attract people several years down the track.

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If you live in Kirikiriroa Hamilton, the ‘Green Ninjas’ are a group of people who can come and transform your berm. Just message green-ninjas@outlook.com.

There are some tips, tricks and etiquette when it comes to guerrilla gardening. They are summed up will in this short videoclip:

Guerrilla gardening is one of several ways to help create more edible cities, alongside developing community gardens, and finding ways to share produce (for example by encouraging  fruit trees in your section to overhang into public space, so that passersby can pick them.

These kinds of activities encourage foraging, and there are a growing number of resources that support a foraging culture, for example:

  • www.fallingfruit.org maps fruit and nut trees across the world that can be harvested by the public.
  • your city might have a more detailed foraging map available – just Google it!
  • there are a growing number of local guides, blogs and people keen to share knowledge about foraging in your area. (For New Zealanders, here is a good place to start.)
  • Keep an eye/ear out for local Crop Swap events taking place in your neighbourhood.


TimeBanking is based on the principle that everyone has valuable skills to offer (even if they are not recognised as valuable by the financial system), and works by using time as a currency (as opposed to money). By giving and receiving help to/from people in our neighbourhood, we build strong networks and are engaged in our community.

It is a pay-it-forward system where I do something for someone, except instead of being a one-way flow of giving, it is reciprocated by members of the community in turn doing things for me. So when I do something for someone, I earn time credits (1 hour = 1 time credit), which I can then spend when someone does something for me.

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I love TimeBanking because it is a complementary currency that not only acknowledges the value of all people, but is more equitable in the distribution of its currency.

If there is no TimeBank in your region, there are a number of resources available online to help you set one up in your area, including this great little booklet by Lyttelton TimeBank.

If you are interested in going beyond just TimeBanking and seeking to incorporate other alternative economies into your way of living, I suggest checking out the Mutual Aid Network. This is a global movement which offers ideas and resources to incorporate different kinds of co-operative networks into your life and lifestyle, such as cooperative saving pools, cooperative ownership, mutual credit, and more.

They even have a Posh-terity Budgeting Spreadsheet, which helps you record assets and exchanges in different currencies (not just money).

Civil Defence

Civil defence, or civil protection, is an effort to protect the citizens of a state (generally non-combatants) from military attacks and natural disasters.

Disaster preparedness is an essential part of creating resilient communities. It is very important to have a plan ready in case of emergency. If you do not already have a plan for what you and your family will do in case of emergency, take a look at this resource which helps you make a plan. It is also important to have all the supplies and resources you need to get through an emergency situation.

Even though this is long, I hope it has been interesting. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand, I believe there is another important element to creating communities that are diverse, inclusive and resilient, and that is te ao Māori – the Māori world (including te reo, tikanga, marae, waahi tapu and more). I have written a separate post about that.

make your own happiness

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Today (17th May) is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. I hope and wish that one day we will reach a point where we don’t need a special reminder day to treat people decently.

To get to that point we need more awareness and less ignorance.

We need more open minds, and less stereotyping.

We need more love, and less prejudgment.

For people that identify as straight but nevertheless allies of LGBTQIA+ community, there is action to take to help end homophobia and transphobia. I would argue it is not enough to just ‘be ok’ with sexually and gender diversity. To be an ally in more than just words comes with responsibilities.

Here are some resources that I think are useful. Please enjoy, learn, and spread the love 🙂

  • Becoming an Ally – how to challenge subtle homophobia ingrained in our mainstream culture.
  • Dear Straight Allies – Things straight people need to be aware of at Pride events and other LGBTQIA+ safe spaces.

Suicide and Hope

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a Hope Walk. The purpose of the walk was to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention, but I found it did something else too: it brought people affected by suicide together.

And given that suicide remains a social taboo, and that mental health can often be very isolating, I think that actually it was really important to create a space where people could see that they are not alone, and that many people have/are affected by suicide.


Suicide is not unfamiliar territory for me, and this has led me to research a lot of different resources that are available. A lot of it has been interesting. Some of it has been useful. Some of it has not been particularly useful. A little has been downright unhelpful, misleading, and/or dangerous.

One thing I learned more recently is about terminology. The term ‘commit suicide’ is often used, and dates back to when suicide was a criminal offence. I read about how using this language can be unhelpful (to both the person that is suicidal, and to people who are grieving as a result of a suicide/attempt) as it loads the suicide into a ‘bad action’, which can cause guilt, blame, anger and other associations that are not constructive to dealing with suicidal thoughts or grief. Language that was offered as an alternative was ‘died by suicide’, or ‘suicided’.

I think learning about suicide, the warning signs, the reasons why suicides happen, and how they can be prevented is really important. In my opinion, one good place to start is the Beyond Blue website. I also found this article in Psychology Today very interesting.

And the incredible life-changing, life-saving page that I have read so many times through my life, and I know has also helped others in desperate moments. The page that is referenced throughout the suicide resources, the page that is visited by thousands of people each week, the page by metanoia.org: Suicide… Read this first.

World Fair Trade Day

Last Saturday (13th May) was World Fair Trade Day. Fair Trade is a social movement seeking wages and working conditions that are ethical and fair. Where agriculture and primary production is involved, it also seeks to ensure environmentally sustainable practices are upheld.

unnamedIn the city I live in, Kirikiriroa/Hamilton, we had a number of events on to celebrate World Fair Trade Day.

One was a ‘Fairtrade Banana’-themed picnic, where I had the most delicious banana-based baking and smoothie.

Another was a ‘open day’ at our local fair trade shop, Trade Aid, where we could sample fair trade products, listen to local and world music, and learn about the different suppliers of the Trade Aid shop.

Fern (my 4 year old) and I went with a few of our friends, and it was a really nice family-friendly afternoon.

The World Fair Trade Organisation have developed a resource for ideas on running your own Fair Trade Day event, for people who might want to organise one in the future 🙂fair trade

Reconceptualising Waste

Our current (Western) culture promotes a very linear way of using resources:
Produce > Use > Dispose. The result is a lot of resources being used, and a lot of waste being generated. It is wasteful, destructive and irresponsible to people and the environment.
But if we see our waste as under-utilised/unutilised resources, rather than rubbish, we simultaneously eliminate the concept of ‘waste’, make our economies more circular, and incorporate more sustainable consumption patterns.

I was thinking all of this while raking leaves in our garden today. I initially pondered if raking might be a futile chore, as more leaves are going to fall down and it is using my time (which I could be spending doing other things). But then as I considered what I should do with all the leaves, I realised I was not dealing with ‘garden waste’…. no! These leaves were a precious resource. On top of that, it was a free resource, from our City Council no less! What a bargain…

garden waste

Upcycling Project

Through my local TimeBank I found myself with the task of upcycling a painting.

Upcycling is the process of transforming unwanted or waste products into something that is desirable or useful. It is one step up from recycling, as it increases the value of the material/item being upcycled.

The Upcycle Team have written a cool little piece about the environmental, social and personal benefits of upcycling.

Well… here it is 🙂