Future Living: Water Care

Before we look at HOW we can practice water care, it is useful to reflect on WHY it is important. Here are a few reasons, but you might think of more:

  1. Water is essential for all life; every species on the planet relies on water in some form.
  2. We rely on water for growing food.
  3. Access to clean water is essential for good health.
  4. For many people, water has spiritual and/or cultural value.
  5. We use water for recreation and fun.
  6. We use water to travel, and to transport good.
Waikato River

Across much of Aotearoa New Zealand, we are lucky enough to have good access to drinkable water; often just at the turn of a tap.

But how aware are we of the processes, effort and resources that allow us to just turn on our taps and have this water? And how aware are we of what we are putting back into our water when we send it down the drain?

In Kirikiriroa, Hamilton all of our supplied water is abstracted from the Waikato River. 60-100 million litres per day, on average. It all goes through a 10-step process to make sure it is potable, and this uses a lot of energy and resources (though ironically, 95% of it is not drunk).

Then, of course, once it leaves the tap it usually quickly goes straight down the drain – and often with added chemicals.

Think about when you use water in your house – how often is it just water going down the drain, and how often there are soaps, detergents, cleaning products, added nutrients (like poo and pee), or other chemicals.

Water makes up the largest proportion of our rates/local taxes, and the cost continues to rise as we abstract more and more water, and put more and more strain on resources.

So how can we look after our local water system?

There are three ways we will look at here:

  • Reducing our water use
  • Being careful what we put in our waste water
  • Support water care projects.

Reducing our water use

Michelle Templeton, the Smart Water Co-Ordinator at Hamilton City Council says there are 5 R’s to follow to maximise water efficiency and reduce wasting water.


The Smart Water website has lots of easy ideas for how households can cut their water consumption in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry and garden.

If you already have all the basics sussed, the next step is to check out 100+ Ways To Conserve Water (its actually more like 190 tips!) by WaterUseItWisely.com.

Being careful what we put in our waste water

Unlike the 10-step process water goes through before it reaches our taps, it undergoes a much less rigorous process before it is returned back into the river. In Aotearoa New Zealand, waste water treatment mainly phosphates, e. coli, and solid waste. Everything else goes back into the ecosystems and environment.

bioflush-bio-enzymatic-toilet-bowl-deodoriserIt can be a good (though scary) exercise to consider all the different products we put down drains and look at their ingredients. Many products, such as drain deblockers, toilet fresheners and cleaning products, even state on the label that they are ecotoxic or toxic to aquatic life. And where do we put these products? Right into our aquatic ecosystems ūüė¶

Diane Millow from The Dairy Farmers Daughter is very knowledgeable of the different chemicals we -households- put down our drains and on our body’s largest organ, our skin. For years she has been making her own cleaning and cosmetic products out of natural ingredients, and she says the benefits are manifold:

Diane runs MAKE (Making A Kinder Environment) workshops, where she demonstrates making your own cleaning and cosmetic products. She also shares great resources on her Facebook page.

EarthEasy have created an excellent resource for people wanting to try making their own eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products. For cosmetic and make up products, The Coconut Mama and The Wellness Mama are great resources.

Support water care projects

Around the world, people, communities and organisations are working to protect and restore streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, seas and oceans. Wherever you are in the world, there will most probably be local projects you can support.

And if there aren’t, a) there are international organisations working to protect our waters (such as The Nature Conservancy¬†and WWF), and/or b) you can start your own project.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, there is a big focus on native riparian planting (planting native species along waterways) because riparian planting has many benefits to areas with water challenges.

Image result for riparian planting waikato
Riparian planting working bee in the Waikato. Photo from Waikato Regional Council.

The Sustainable Business Network and EnSpiral have collaborated to create a nationwide crowdfunding platform to support the restoration of waterways in Aotearoa New Zealand: the Million Metres Streams Project.

A final quote to reflect on…

Image result for protect water quote


Future Living: Smart Travel and Sustainable Transport

“Each million we invest into urban motorways is an investment to destroy the city“ РMayor Hans Joachim Vogel, Munich (1970).

Similar to many economically developed countries, in Aotearoa New Zealand 20% of greenhouse gases are emitted through travel and transport. Culture and infrastructure have encouraged high car use, car dependency, and a myriad of social and environmental costs including:

congestion, air pollution, accidents and deaths, noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change, land clearing and ecosystem destruction, water pollution, soil pollution, dependence on imported fuel, less active lifestyles and associated health implications, and …, and …, and…

"There doesn't always seem to be a reason for the traffic apart from at Takanini," Bob Mitchell said.
Image credit: CHRIS SKELTON, Fairfax Media

Transport, Energy and Climate

Simon Gascoigne, Emissions Expert at the Waikato Environment Centre explains that there are two converging issues: climate change and peak oil.

He explains that before the industrial revolution, there were approximately 280 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Now we are at 409.76 ppm. This is significant because CO2 has a warming effect in the atmosphere, and the greater the proportion of atmospheric CO2, the greater the warming; the greater the level of disruption and change to the climate.

The burning of fossil fuels to fuel our lifestyles is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Simon shared that in Aotearoa New Zealand we use approximately 3 litres of oil per person each day on transport and freight. From that we get the same amount of energy equivalent to 291 hours of humans engaging in moderate energy-exerting work, so we are actually very lucky we spend less than $6 on that amount of energy (it would cost $5878.30 to pay humans to do that, assuming they were paid a living wage).

What all the data on peak oil shows is that it is happening now (or has already happened), and now we are using more oil than we are finding. In addition, we are relying more and more on unconventional oil sources, such as fracking and tar sands, which are more difficult and more environmentally destructive to extract oil from.

Transport Options – Breaking Away From The Car Addiction

We need to DIVERSIFY our means of transport. We may not be able/willing to eliminate car use from our lifestyles, but every journey that is not taken by car means fewer emissions and pollution.

Plus, nowadays there are many alternatives!


Bicycle. Especially good for shorter distances, increasing activity in our lifestyles. $50-500 for an average/good model.


Image result for electric bikes
Electric Bike. Great for commuting, 20-30km/hr. $2000-3000 for an average/good model.


Image result for scooter


Image result for scooter electric
Electric scooter approx. 25km/hr

In some parts of the world, dockless bike sharing is growing. This involves using a QR Code which, when scanned using a phone, unlocks the bicycle and charges your account 30 cents per hour. You use an app to locate the nearest one, ause it, and then leave it when you no longer need it. Amazing!

Dockless Bike Sharing

There are also a growing number of car sharing and car pooling options available in many cities and towns, including Your Drive, MyCarYourRental. These allow people to rent other peoples’ cars by the hour, day or week – a bit like AirBnB for your car.

Local Action

It is worth checking out what your local council is doing to support low carbon transport options. For example, here in Kirikiriroa Hamilton the Council wants to create a Bike Friendly City and so there is a lot happening to promote active transport and road safety.

Electric Vehicles

Justin Boyd, EV enthusiast and owner, and part of Leading the Charge, talks about the many direct and indirect incentives for and advantages of electric vehicles.

For example, it is becoming more and more affordable to purchase new and second-hand EVs. Here in Aotearoa, it costs 50% the amount to register your EV as it does a conventional car, and there are no road user charges (only to be introduced when 2% of the vehicles on the road are electric – and currently that is a long while away).

Image result for bmw i3
Justin has driven electric for over a year and currently owns a BMW I3. Using free fast-charge stations he accesses through ChargeNet, he powers this zero-emission vehicle.

EECA have developed some great resources about electric vehicles: https://www.energywise.govt.nz/on-the-road/electric-vehicles.

Fuel Efficient Driving

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, the next best thing we can do is engage in fuel efficient driving. Through best practice driving techniques and correct vehicle maintenance, it is possible to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 30%. Here is a blog post about how to practice fuel efficient driving.

But of course, the¬†best way to reduce emissions associated with driving is to make a commitment to drive less ūüôā

For more information, contact Tania or myself via education@envirocentre.org.nz.

Future Living – Zero Waste Living

Being confronted by disturbing statistics or pictures can be uncomfortable, but it can also help engage us in an issue. To begin or re-inspire the journey towards waste reduction or zero waste living, it can be helpful to think about why we want to engage with this movement. Why is it important to me to reduce/eliminate waste from my lifestyles? What makes me care?

plastic 3 plastic 7 plastic 5 plastic-1.jpg

Image result for how long until its gone rubbishAnother way that helps us understand the problem is by look at different items of rubbish and working out how long it takes for them to disappear. Charts like this one can help us understand that actually a lot of our waste will persist in the environment for a long time. (It is important to note is that even though plastic items can degrade, i.e. break down into smaller and smaller parts, they still persist in the environment. In fact, every piece of plastic that has every been created still exists.)

Image result for plastic bottleImage result for glass bottle

Both plastic and glass persist indefinitely in the environment. However, while glass is inert and so does not react with the environment, plastic becomes quite chemically active. This leads to the release of harmful chemicals into the ecosystem, including endocrine disruptors.

For a more complete story of plastic, how it degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, enters the environment, becomes chemically active, and then disrupts ecosystems and human health, the documentaries Plastic Ocean or Midway are very informative and engaging. But a good (albeit simplified) way to think about waste and how it breaks down is:

  • Made by nature = breaks down¬†relatively quickly (food, paper, wood, cotton)
  • Made by humans = takes a long time to break down (metal, plastic, mixed materials).

Currently, the average person produces around 1.2-1.4kg of waste per day (plus an extra 21kg, as for every 1kg of rubbish we generate approximately another 15kg were created along the supply chain). Most of this ends up in landfill, which is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. They release large volumes of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change (it has a global warming potential 34 times s greater than carbon dioxide.
  2. They generate toxic leachate, which can contaminate water; making it unsafe for humans and causing ecosystem disruption.
  3. They attract vermin, create noise and unpleasant odours, and reduce land quality.

In short, sending waste to landfill causes damage to air, water and land.

Related image
Image from www.indigenous.com.

There are ways we can begin to reduce the amount of waste we generate:

  • Green Shopping
    10 eco friendly shopping tips

    Conscious shopping – when we are going to purchase something, we can consider the following:

    • Do I need this?¬†Less consumption = less waste
    • What is it made of?
      • What resources and inputs were needed to make the item?
      • What wastes were generated along the supply chain?
      • What can I do with it when I have finished with it?
      • Does it have packaging? (And what is that made of/where will it go?)
    • Are the alternatives available? (E.g. perhaps made from sustainable raw materials, perhaps with different/less packaging, etc.)
    • What am I going to do with this at the end of its life? When I no longer need it/ it is finished/ it is broken.
  • Image result for how to recycleRecycling where possible, by:
    • Educating ourselves on what recycling options are available. Which materials are recycled through local curbside collections. ¬†Where drop-off points for other items and materials are.
    • Ensuring we recycle well by avoiding cross-contamination and ensuring recycling is clean.
  • Composting organic material – It is very important that organics are kept out of landfill as they are the ‘key ingredient’ in the generation of methane there. There are several different ways to manage household and business organic waste, including composting, worm farming and Bokashi (or combinations thereof).
  • Reducing the number and size of (landfill) bins in the house – The fewer bins there are, the smaller they are, and the more inconveniently located they are, the less likely we are to use them. A really useful way to reduce waste to landfill is to make it relatively difficult to put rubbish in the landfill bin, and easier to dispose of it the correct way.
  • Avoiding plastic and especially single use plastic by finding alternatives to everyday items, such as:
Reusable coffee cup instead of disposable one
Image result for metal straw
No straw metal/glass straw instead of conventional one
Image result for reusable shopping bag
Reusable bags instead of single use plastic bags
Image result for ecotanka
Reusable drink bottle instead of disposable bottles
Image result for wax wrap
Wax wrap instead of plastic kitchen wrap

Image result for mushroom paper bag

use mushroom bag (paper) for pick’n’mix in the supermarket, instead of plastic ones.

Related image
Menstrual cups and reusable pads instead of disposable products
Image result for cloth nappies
Cloth nappies instead of disposable nappies
Image result for tiffin
Bringing your own containers instead of getting plastic takeaway containers
Image result for fork
Carrying a fork so you can say no to a disposable one
Image result for merino clothing
Natural materials instead of synthetic
Image result for loose tea
Loose tea instead of teabags (which are infused with plastic sealants)

My Plastic Free Life is a great resource for further reducing plastic consumption. The Plastic Free July challenge is also a great way to kick start a reduction in your household waste.

Image result for plastic free july

Essentially, working towards zero waste living is about following the waste hierarchy as much as possible:

Related image
Image from WMEAC

The most important action is avoid sources of waste; refusing items we do not want or need, and reducing the amount we purchase/obtain.

Then we can reuse, re-purpose and mend items, to avoid or delay their disposal.

Recycling is often considered the solution to waste, but reducing and reusing waste are actually much more important, as they help prevent the problem, rather than deal with it. Some materials (glass, aluminium, etc.) can be recycled and the materials retain their value. Others can only be downcycled to a material with lower value and usefulness (e.g. plastics).

With careful use and proper disposal of resources, household waste-to-landfill is often minimal. Sending materials to landfill is almost always preventable and should be avoided whenever possible.

Image result for zero waste