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Eco-friendly Wet Weather Gear

In case you have missed it (and if you don’t live in South East Queensland, then it’s entirely likely you have), Brisbane has been experiencing some seriously wet weather. My shed has flooded for the first time ever. On Tuesday, we had the wettest day in 23 years. It’s been pretty crazy.

And I have a broken umbrella.

Fortunately, Yankee Elv had a spare unbroken umbrella, so I’ve been using that, but it did get me thinking about the broken state of my umbrella. One of the metal spines (arms? prongs? what do you call them?) is snapped in half and the nylon fabric has become detached from another metal bit. It was a pretty cheap umbrella to start with. The plastic handle was really uncomfortable and it was super flimsy. As one blogger, Sharon Russell, said:

Many people have adopted the belief that buying several cheap umbrellas is less costly than buying one umbrella of good quality that will last a few years. Instead, they simply plan to replace broken umbrellas whenever they need to.”

I must say, I have fallen prey to this attitude. What’s worse, when I stopped to think about, it occurred to me that pretty much every bit of an umbrella is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. Also, considering the cheapness, I’m pretty sure it’s not made from recycled materials. A bummer all around.

So this led me to thinking… what kind of environmentally sustainable wet weather gear might there be available? The answer: not much.

Treehugger has a nice list of umbrellas, but everything is American (except one, which is British). I found a Dutch raincoat (but seriously, brown and yellow? what possessed them?), however it looks a bit thick for our climate. It mostly rains in summer here. Ecouterre has a list of raincoats but they are all so expensive! There are some good, inexpensive, Australian umbrellas made from recycled umbrellas available at Positive Impact, but they only sell them in sets of 1000 or more for corporate clients. I think that might be a couple too many. Even ebay can’t help me. 😦

I guess I could go for the Urban Dictionary definition.

Does anyone know where I could get some eco-friendly wet weather gear?

Short of making my own raincoat out of the one Ikea bag I happen to have available and would rather like to keep?

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Reduce: Toothbrush Waste

Am I an eco-freak or is thinking about environmentally friendly dental hygiene a normal trait amongst the eco-conscious?

Thank you, I thought it was normal. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

Alright, for those of you less eco-freak normal than me, here’s why you should be thinking about the environmental impact of toothbrushes. Let’s take Australia as an example.

There are about 22 million people in the country. Let’s say, as a very rough estimate, that 1.25 million are little babies and don’t have teeth. So that’s 20.75 million Australians with teeth (including dentures, which still need to be brushed, so they count.) We all know the dentist tells us to change our toothbrush when it starts to get shaggy; about every three months. We also know that we are lazy, so we probably only change them every four months. So let’s say everyone changes their toothbrush three times a year (every four months).

Here’s the equation:

  • Australian population with teeth  x number of toothbrushes used per person per year  = number of toothbrushes used in Australia per year

…which equates to:

  • 20,750,000  x= 62,250,000

Yes, you read that right. By my very rough estimate, Australians are using 62 and a quarter million toothbrushes per year. (Some estimates say 30 million, but I’m going to presume Australians care about their dental hygiene more than that.) To boggle your brain a little more, keep in mind that Australia has a small population. Think of how many toothbrushes the US, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and Indonesians are using. Yikes!

These toothbrushes are made of plastic (the handles) and nylon (the bristles), plus they come in that dodgy plastic packaging – one of those single-use, disposable consumer items The Story of Stuff claims make up the vast proportion of our purchases.

Remember, no plastic is boidegradable. Photodegradable, sure (that means, broken down by sunlight into tiny pieces) – but it’s still there, being ingested by ever smaller organisms – entering and messing with our food chain from the very lowest level. All plastic rubbish goes into landfill or one of the ocean garbage patches (there are five – even though you may have only heard of the largest one in the North Pacific).

So what can we do about it?

Well, Mr Teeny-bop and I are trialling the Environmental Toothbrush and we are very excited! (Yankee Elv will get one too when her current toothbrush wears out.)

I found the wooden toothbrushes at Flannery’s for $2.95 each, which is very comparable with standard plastic toothbrushes (actually less than some). They are made of sustainably-produced bamboo (the handle) and a biodegradable polymer (the bristles) and will apparently compost completely in your home compost heap or bin. The packaging is cardboard and paper, which can be composted or recycled.

The one environmental downside is that they are manufactured in China (although this would be an upside if you lived in China, so I guess it all depends on your perspective). Regardless, every other toothbrush I’ve been able to find on the shelves is also made in China, so it’s not like they’re any worse than what we’ve been buying anyway, in terms of travel miles. My findings on manufacturing locations are backed up by an Australian Low Impact blog.

As far as the efficacy goes, I think they are great! The bristles are soft, which is my preference anyway, but these are a bit softer than I’ve been able to find otherwise, so I’m very impressd with that.

The handle is comfortable and the head is small, which works for me as I have a small mouth. Sometimes I find toothbrushes are a bit big to fit comfortably between my top and bottom teeth and I have to really open wide to brush my back molars. This toothbrush doesn’t require that, which is great.

Also, my front teeth curve a little bit and it can be difficult to clean the back of them, but the small head and soft, bendy bristles make cleaning a breeze. I think I actually like the way this brush works better than any other I’ve used. So it’s a win for me!

Mr Teeny-bop also reports that is it very comfortable. He likes that it’s not so ‘plasticky’ in his mouth and he also likes the smaller head and softer bristles. We are using coloured elastic bands (stolen from Yankee Elv’s old hair supplies) to tell the toothbrushes apart.

I am conscious that we will have to be careful to keep the toothbrushes dry. I think leaving them standing in a cup (our current method) is not going to be an effective way of keeping the ends from staying damp and potentially rotting. We’ll have to modify our toothbrush storage method, but I think that is a small price to pay.

So why don’t you give them a try? If you don’t live in Queensland and thus don’t have access to a Flannery’s shop, you can order the toothbrushes from the site, like the folks at My Green Australia are going to. Alternatively, try find your own locally produced environmentally-friendly toothbrushes, and spend your four minutes of toothbrushing per day congratulating yourself for diverting more plastic from landfills and oceans. Cos we all deserve some self-congratulation sometimes, right?

Remember to spread the word to your family and friends. These toothbrushes are not only good for the environment, they’re also good value and comfy to use!

P.S. These toothbrushes are also vegan. No boar bristles!

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Newsflash: Kitty Litter Not Created Equal

Our cats are outside cats (bring on the calls of those who want to get nasty about how cats don’t belong outside, but I’m telling you up front that I’m too tired to get into a debate). However, Old Fatso is too old to jump out the window at night if he wants to do his business, and Diva is too much of a princess to go outside if it’s rainy and her fur might get wet. So we have a litter tray that gets used occasionally, at night and on rainy days. It’s more like a suite really, their own little room – it is enclosed and has a door flap. It took a long time to find the right one, and they like it. They also like the litter we normally use, which is this grey, rocky sort of stuff. El cheapo brand, you know.

We decided to try buying this biodegradable kind for a change, to be nicer to the environment. We discussed adding it to the compost bin (although I’ve since vetoed that idea cos I think I’ll use the compost on my vege patch and the nitrogen from cat waste isn’t good for edibles). Ultimately, we thought it would be better.

Well, it’s not; for two reasons.

1. It reeks. The stench is something like four-day old instant chicken noodle soup. None of us even like fresh homemade chicken noodle soup, so you can imagine how much we love this.

2. The cats hate it. Diva, in fact, hates it to the point where she decided to dig up my bathroom pot plant (fortunately devoid of plants for the time being; I was thinking about trying some mint in there again) and pee in there instead. Nice. Have a look at the evidence.

kitty toilet in pot plant - evidence

The makeshift litter box. Oh, how delightful.

Diva is completely unperturbed by her actions – in fact, she did it again the next day.

diva princess

Unperturbed kitteh is unperturbed.

The moral of the story? Not all things eco-friendly are good – it pays to try some different options. Also… if your cats hates the new litter you bought, change it on the first day… don’t leave it for a second day…

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Reduce: Plastic Bags

Plastic bags. Everyone loves to hate them. Me too. But I’ll let you in on a secret.

I still use them.

Plastic bags are the devil... right?

Plastic bags are the devil... right?

OMG OMG OMG! I know. Don’t scream at me, I know it’s bad and I want to change my ways. I mean, I used to use green bags really consistently so I know I can do it. But first, don’t you want to know why a staunch environmentalist doesn’t already always use green bags (which, mind you, are made from plastic anyway). I don’t always use calico bags either. C’mon… wanna know why?

I use plastic shopping bags for my rubbish bin. We make such a small amount of waste that the big bin with the big bags wasn’t working out for us. We switched to a much smaller bin, and why buy bags (with all the additional packaging) when I can get shopping bags for free?

I also use the bags as poo pick-up bags. We don’t walk Loodle much anymore; he’s old and his hips tend to protest if he walks around too much. When we do walk him though, the plastic bags are a definite must. There is, always, poo.

The last thing I regularly use the bags for is to carry my lunch to work. I pack my lunch in old takeaway containers and sometimes they leak. The plastic bags prevent my laptop bag from getting curry or stir-fry sauce all through it.

I must say though – I feel really uncomfortable getting plastic shopping bags at the grocery store, like I’m a bad environmentalist. Aside from the fact that everyone can see me being a bad environmentalist, I also know full well that plastic bags, even the biodegradable ones, don’t really biodegrade properly because landfill is too anaerobic to allow for proper decomposition. But I have these dilemmas, listed above… so what should I do? Here’s my thinking.

Avoid using bin bags altogether. I don’t use bin bags for my recycling bin, or any bin except the kitchen bin. With the introduction of a compost bin/worm farm (no, I don’t have one yet – we’re in a rental house on a very low budget, but it’s in the works) I should be able to prevent food scraps from being dumped. Then all I have to do is manage the plastic waste (pretty much everything else is biodegradable). At the very least, I can dramatically minimse the number of plastic bags we use in the bin.

Poo-pick up bags. I don’t know how this will work for everyone else, but Loodle is just about over going out walking anymore, so this isn’t a huge issue for us. He mostly poos in the backyard, which we clean up by doing a big poo-pick up every few weeks. The poo goes into one of his empty food bags and then into the wheelie bin. I wonder if you can compost dog poo… and if that would be nasty. Maybe nasty. Or maybe good like manure. I must research this. For people with dogs who are young and go for walks lots, you could try:

  • Taking a small bucket or container with a lid (and a little shovel?)
  • Getting a pooper-scooper
  • Going to dog parks (they have biodegradable bags available there, at least in Brisbane)
  • Using paper bags (not sure how well this would work – there may be seepage)
  • Using empty bags or packaging from other products.

The final thing I regularly use plastic bags for is to protect my bag from food leakage. I think this wouldn’t be an issue if I used proper lunch containers and lunch bag/box. There are lots of different kinds, but my current favourite is Harold the lunch monster!

Harold the Lunch Monster from Ones and Zeros Fashion

Harold the Lunch Monster from Ones and Zeros Fashion

A bit expensive, especially with the exchange rate, but awesomely cool. I’d still need to use lunch containers though… maybe that could be another use for jars, if I have something that might leak! Jars are pretty air/water-tight. I like that idea.

So I’m really going to make an effort to reduce my plastic bag usage. Before too long, we won’t have a choice anyway – shopping bags will be phased out as of 2011 or sooner here in Australia.

I just have to remember to take my reusable shopping bags with me!

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