Refugees – Doing Our Bit

Earlier this week I went to a really interesting talk by Murdoch Stevens, who is an advocate for refugees and began the campaign Doing Our Bit – Double The Quota,

He talked about how current narratives around refugees (and policies pertaining to them) are often conveyed in a way that makes the issues about migrants versus other vulnerable people. He explained the importance of reframing these issues, so that they do not place people in competition against each other for resources.

For example, there is all this talk about how it costs around $80,000 to resettle a refugee – around $28,000 a year for roughly three years in New Zealand. (At this point it is also interesting to note that to keep someone in prison costs $90,000 for just one year.) What this figure fails to acknowledge is that most refugees coming here are families, and 45% are children… mostly people that will in time end up contributing to the economy.

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Murdoch Stevens talking in Kirikiriroa, 2017

But I believe that even if there was no direct financial incentive, there is still a moral duty. There is an ethical responsibility to do what we can to support vulnerable people, regardless of where they are from.

And in Aotearoa New Zealand that definitely means increasing the quota… this country ranks very poorly compared to other more economically developed nations – five times lower per capita intake than our neighbours in Australia, and 47 times fewer than Sweden, the top ranking nation.

There are strengths to having a quota system. It is good because it is a way of going out into the world and saying ‘yes, we want these people’. But the number really needs to increase (it hasn’t since 1987!), especially as -unlike many other countries- we get very few asylum seekers, because of our geographical isolation.

(For the difference between asylum seekers and refugees, click here)

Fortunately, from 2018 the NZ quota will increase from up to 750 people per year to up to 1000 people per year, but it is election year and nearly every party except National (who are currently in government) will increase it beyond that. So, fingers crossed for a change in government (for a multitude of other reasons, as well!).

Stevens said some really thought-provoking things. He pointed out the New Zealand does not often get into wars. New Zealanders like to spend money on humanitarian causes. New Zealanders are kind and generous people. And that there is compassion across the political spectrum (it isn’t just for ‘The Left’).

So let’s update the quota to reflect that 🙂

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Image from http://www.wpclipart.com

To stay up to date with news relating to human rights, and people who are internally displaces, seeking asylum, or refugees, I find the following organisations useful:

To volunteer to support refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand, contact Red Cross. Other countries will have different organisations doing great work in your local communities too, so it can be worth looking around to see who is doing what 🙂

(I have worked as a Refugee Resettlement Volunteer for several families coming to New Zealand and it was probably one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have had).

 

Options for More Sustainable/Ethical Procurement

This morning my colleague, Dr Anna Casey-Cox, and I ran a workshop on making more sustainable/ethical procurement choices. It was at a conference called Thriving in the 21st Century and the audience were mainly representatives from different organisations, not-for-profits, and social services. I mention this because often organisations like these do not have spare money to spend on non-essentials, so the aim of our workshop was to engage participants in making more sustainable/ethical procurement choices within financial constraints.

We began by showing the clip MAN by Steve Cutts, to reflect on the way we use nature and resources.

Anna introduced the idea of environmental and social externalities that occur when we produce ‘stuff’. These are unintended (and almost always unaccounted for) costs that arise during the production, processing, use and disposal of goods.

Having recently visited the USA and reflecting on food culture there, she used a burger as an example of a product where there are many environmental and social externalities that are not factored into price.

She said on average a good burger costs $4. This was for a bun, a bit of beef, a bit of cheese, a bit of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a bit of relish.

A small selection of things the $4 price does not take into consideration are:

  • the cost of pollution to waterways as a result of cattle farming;
  • the environmental cost of the methane and other greenhouse gases that are emitted,
  • the environmental and health effects of the use of pesticides and fertilisers on the lettuce and tomatoes, and
  • the long term individual welfare and broader social implications of paying less than a livable wage to the people involved in preparing the food (growers, processors, cooks, wait staff).

Conservative calculations suggest that by the time externalities are taken into consideration, the $4 pricetag on the burger is probably less than half the true cost of the burger.

Anna observed that here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the dairy industry is seen as a huge industry on which we all depend (which might well be true). It is hailed as one of the essential parts for our economic success, domestically and internationally, contributing $8 billion to the GDP each year.  Yet if we factor in the environmental and social externalities, it may not even cover its own costs!

What we would like to see is the price of our commodities better reflecting the true cost of their production, use and disposal. This will help protect our communities and environment, but will also give us the opportunity to make more informed and conscious decision decisions.

This led on to the the next topic…

When it comes to making more sustainable/ethical consumption or procurement choices, we believe it is important to emphasise that sustainable/ethical choices look different for every individual/household/organisation: what works for one will not necessarily work for the other, as we all have different knowledge, time and resources available to us.

The process is just as important as the end result. So, instead of having a list of DOs and DON’Ts, we have a list of considerations and questions for aiding decision making.

For each purchasing decision, there are many factors to consider and often a persuasive factor is price. Other factors you might wish to incorporate, which take into consideration the welfare of people and the planet, are:

  • Which raw materials and resources were used to make this product? Are there more environmentally considerate options? For example, do we buy envelopes with plastic windows? These require paper, glues, and plastic (derived from fossil fuels). They also contaminate paper recycling. Could we use windowless envelopes instead?
  • What is the packaging on this item? Is it recyclable? Is it compostable? If not, are there alternatives with less packaging, or packaging that can be disposed of responsibly? The same questions can be asked about the item itself. For example, is there less packaging if we bulk buy pens? Or could we shift to pencils (maybe just some of the time?), as they produce less waste and the waste can be composted.
  • Where is the item made? Can we source the item locally? Then it has a lower carbon footprint, and it also support our local economy. For example, are the biscuits in the coffee room locally made or imported?

Labels and accreditations can also be helpful in identifying more sustainable/ethical options. For example the Fair Trade logo indicates producers received a fair wage for their products. There are various eco and environmental logos which can indicate the product has been produced in an environmentally considerate way. Product labels often say where something was made.

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Of course, Anna and I are hardcore passionate about environmental and social justice issues, but it is important to recognise that not everyone might be: we all have different values and different things we care about.

We believe that the first step to making more informed and conscious decisions is first reflecting on what is it that you/your organisation stands for? Then the next question can be ‘how do my procurement choices reflect these values?’

(So for example, if your organisation is about supporting members of the community manage their budget and become financially self-sufficient, buying local might be an important action to reflect your commitment to supporting local people, businesses and the community)

What we believe is important is that we all do what we can, when we can, which almost always means we can do SOMETHING. Most of us cannot change everything all in one go. But each change, and each conscious decision is a step forwards to your/your organisation’s goals, and every action helps make a difference.

I shall finish with this thought-provoking article:

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 http://www.evolveea.com/work/sustainable-consumption

Meathooked and the End of Water

This evening I went to a screening of Meathooked and the End of Water by VICE (who do some really brilliant documentaries – please check them out if you don’t already know them!)

The video has one graphic scene that some would find emotionally-charging (ahem, I did. My 4 year old was unphased, though). However, it is not your average stop-eating-meat-because-it-is-cruel-and-evil kind of documentary. Instead, it looks at the features of industrial agriculture and explores the unintended environmental impacts that result.

It especially looks at water and other resources that are needed to mass produce livestock to meet current demands, and talks to farmers and other people who are worried about what is going to happen once they run out of water (which for several people interviewed in the film will be happening quite soon!).

It is just short of half an hour long, and worth watching for anyone who eats food (i.e. pretty much everyone).

I would say ENJOY, but it isn’t really that kind of film. Perhaps more suitable would be WATCH, BE MOVED, then ACT 🙂

Thriving By Nature – Permaculture

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Next weekend my colleague and I begin running a Permaculture Design Certificate at our work. Unfamiliar with permaculture? This is a nice little clip where people explain what permaculture is to them.

I think that permaculture means different things to different people, and people choose to apply its principles and processes differently. But essentially, it is a series of 12 principles underpinned by three values – care for the Earth, care for people, and sharing resources fairly – that can be applied to… anything!

Traditionally, permaculture was used to design food systems that mimicked natural systems but were more productive. More recently, we are seeing examples of permaculture principles and design being used in: architecture and building; city planning; designing businesses, organisations, and services; and all aspects of how we organise and live our lives.

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The permaculture course we are running at my work will take place over the next year – there are 12 modules (approx. one a month) and for each one I will be writing a summary post about. Details about the modules are here.

In the meantime, some of my favourite permaculture resources are:

 

Future Living – Sustainable Food Choices

Food is incredibly important. We eat food to stay alive. It influences our health. It brings us together as families and communities. It allows us to express ourselves culturally.

It is easy to get quite defensive about food, as it is such an important part of our individual and communal identities. But it is important to realise that our personal food choices have impacts beyond us, and the decisions we make about food affect other people, communities, and the environment.

The purpose of this article is not to make any kinds of judgements or guilt about food choices and habits. Nor is it supposed to offer a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to how to buy more sustainable food, it is just some food for thought (sorry, that pun seemed unavoidable) 🙂

Kaivolution Food Rescue

A good place to start is looking at how much food we throw out. On average, a third of food produced is wasted, and this takes place at every stage of the food system:

  • A third of food grown will not make it to food distributors…
  • A third of that food will not make it to the market/supermarket…
  • A third of that food will not be sold…
  • Of the food that is sold, a third will be discarded, uneaten.

That is a lot of food!

The majority of this food

And this flaw in the system is serious, because in a world where each year we produce enough food to comfortably feed 12 billion people, having 795 million (out of 7.3 billion) people hungry is just not ok.

There are many resources, tips and suggestions for how businesses and households can reduce their food waste.

For organisations and businesses, useful resources include Ways To Reduce Food Waste In Your Business by the Australian EPA, Food Recovery Hierarchy by Recycle.Com, and 16 Tips for Restaurant Food Waste Reduction.

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For households, the website Love Food Hate Waste is a brilliant resource for helping maximise food use and minimising food waste.


But it is possible to reduce the impact of our food by looking at the stage before it arrives in our homes: the purchasing stage.

There are many factors we can consider when we are deciding to purchase food:

  • Price – by far the easiest, because this is what the most obvious label is!
  • Taste
  • Brand reputation
  • Advertising and/or brand familiarity
  • Nutritional value

… all of these are factors that will affect us, personally. However, it is possible to also consider factors that go beyond just us…

  • Packaging (how much is there, and what is it made from?)
  • Country of origin (how are people growing and processing food treated? Does the making of this food have political or human rights implications?)
  • Distance traveled (what are the associated transport emissions?)
  • Method of production (which chemicals and resources were needed to create the food?)
  • Have producers been adequately compensated for their work? (e.g. is it a Fair Trade product?)
  • Have any animals used in the product been humanely treated? (e.g. free range)
  • … the list can go on.
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Image from the Food Ethics Council – a great resource for learning about the what, why and how of making ethical food choices.

Of course, there are often conflicts when it comes to making more sustainable or more ethical food choices, and it can be helpful to choose to focus on just a few factors… because otherwise it is easy to end up not knowing what to choose:

  • the Fair Trade coffee wrapped in plastic, or the Nescafe in a glass jar?
  • the more expensive free range eggs, or the cheaper eggs from caged or barn hens
  • and so on…

My top 5 considerations for more sustainable and ethical food choices (for reducing harm to the environment, people and other animals) are, in no particular order:

  1. Buying food that is local and seasonal, where possible (this means travel emissions will be lower, as will resource inputs – growing out of climate and out of season means a lot of energy and other resources are required)
  2. Buying food that has been produced with fewer chemical additions, where possible (organic and spray-free production is better for soils and the environment. Similar crops and animals produced with the addition of inorganic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, fungicides and hormones use more resource inputs and result in more negative impacts on ecosystems)
  3. Buying food that is less processed (every stage of processing requires energy, resource and labour inputs, which all have environmental and social impacts. Less processing usually means lower impact)
  4. Buying food that has less/no packaging, where possible (just like the food itself, packaging requires many energy and resource inputs, which all have environmental impacts. Avoiding excessive packaging means fewer resource inputs and fewer impacts. It also reduces waste generation)
  5. Buying food that considers the well-being of those involved (e.g. where human and animal welfare conditions are upheld)

Of course there are always exceptions, loopholes and conflicts to these considerations, but by-and-large following these considerations when possible will lead to more environmentally sustainable and ethical food purchasing decisions 🙂

Other tips and cool resources:

  • hoe-2448148_960_720If you can, growing your own food is a great way to source packaging free, organically grown food with zero food miles. Plus there are many health benefits of gardening, including being a source of light exercise, fresh air, and interaction with nature.
  • Cutting down on meat and animal products reduces the carbon emissions and and resource requirements of our diet. Plus it is a win for animal welfare.
  • For low-carbon eating, check out  www.eatlowcarbon.org (I strongly recommend doing the fun and eye-opening quiz).
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    Plastic is avoidable, even in supermarkets!

    For avoiding plastic food packaging, have a look at plasticisrubbish.com.

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.
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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.

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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 😦

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.

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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…

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Future Living: Smart Travel and Sustainable Transport

“Each million we invest into urban motorways is an investment to destroy the city“ – Mayor 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.

 

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

 

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Scooter

 

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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!

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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).

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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 🙂

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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?

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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.)

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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.

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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
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No straw metal/glass straw instead of conventional one
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Reusable bags instead of single use plastic bags
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Reusable drink bottle instead of disposable bottles
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Wax wrap instead of plastic kitchen wrap

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

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Menstrual cups and reusable pads instead of disposable products
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Cloth nappies instead of disposable nappies
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Bringing your own containers instead of getting plastic takeaway containers
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Carrying a fork so you can say no to a disposable one
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Natural materials instead of synthetic
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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.

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

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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.

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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:

QUALITY, TIME and (LOW) PRICE.

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.

MOST COST EFFECTIVE

  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.

LEAST COST EFFECTIVE

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:

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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).
    Image result for power strip new zealand
    multiplug/powerstrip

    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

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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)…

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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 🙂