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The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.

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Reduce: Tissues

I’ve been feeling guilty about not making a bunch of hankies a bit sooner, like I said I was going to. Reusable hankies will help me stop using tissues so much. That being said, I don’t often need to blow my nose, except when I’m sick.

But when I’m sick… oh boy.

I’ve just gotten over a sinus sort of thing. At the height of it, I used about 4 boxes of tissues. As Yankee Elv so eloquently put it as I went to recycle box #1: ‘You killed a tree today!’

Yeah, thanks. Now I feel more guilty.

My only consolation is that I would have had to use some tissues anyway, cos there’s no way I would have made enough hankies to keep up. My biggest regret outside of the environmental factors is that apparently cloth hankies are softer on your nose than paper, and my nose got sooooo chafed.

Another thing I’ve been doing to try to reduce my tissue usage is make these flannelette face wipes. I’ve been slowly hand sewing them out of old, ripped pairs of pyjama pants.

Flannelette facial wipes made out of old pyjama pants

Flannelette facial wipes made out of old pyjama pants

I use tissues to apply my witch hazel toner, so these will dramatically reduce my tissue consumption. I tried one out yesterday and it worked well! I was worried it was going to take a lot more witch hazel to soak through the material than it does to soak through a tissue, but it didn’t actually, so that was unexpectedly good news. (Especially since I’m using bloody expensive organic witch hazel so I could refill my bottle rather than buy a new one. I’m still not sure whether I’m going to do that again.)

I got the idea to make flannelette facial wipes from this post on the Towards Sustainability blog, but I made up my own pattern. All I did to make one was cut two circles out of flannelette, put them together (right sides facing each other, so the un-sewn pad was inside-out) and sew around the edges using a regular hand-stitch. Once I’d sewn all around the edge except for a little gap, I turned it right side out and carefully sewed up the gap. Then I sewed all around the edge in blanket stitch to make it look pretty and to ensure the two pieces were securely attached. Voila! Facial wipes.

Now they facial wipes are done, I’m moving on to the hankies. For once my chunky thighs are paying off – more pj pants material with which to make hankies! Wasn’t that just so totally Pollyanna?

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Reduce: Tool Replacement. Grr.

Ok, I’m a bit ticked off.

We have a push mower – my parents gave it to Yankee Elv and I as a Christmas present in 2007. We were really happy to have it. Our yard is quite small, so it was great to have an eco-friendly (no fuel required!) way of keeping it in shape. It’s very achievable to mow it by hand and it’s a good work-out. I prefer it – I’m always paranoid that pebbles will fly from under a regular mower and hit me in the leg.

push mower

Ozito push mower, with blades no-one will sharpen or replace.

Anyway, the blades on the push mower are dull. We have been trying for more than 6 months to find someone to sharpen or replace the blades and no-one will do it. Bunnings used to (that’s where my parents bought it originally), but apparently it’s too cost-prohibitive for them to continue anymore. Everyone else has the same excuse. We’ve called mower places, hardware stores and tool shops. We even reached out on Freecycle and had someone agree to do it for us, but then he backed out. I emailed the mower company and got no reply. I’m very frustrated!

The mower is not usable, and we can’t continue whipper snipping the lawn, small though it may be. The day before yesterday, Yankee Elv went to Bunnings – one of those shops that won’t sharpen my current mower’s blades! – and bought a new mower. The fact that she needed to do that really pisses me off!! We got an electric mower, so at least we can use green power rather than gasoline… but that’s really not the point. The push mower we have is just fine.

It annoys me that people feel it’s not worth keeping up a perfectly good product because of their impact on their bank account. What about the impact on the environment? It’s not like the damned mower is recyclable even.

Grr.

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Recycle: CFL Lightbulbs

Earlier today, @LighterFootstep tweeted that in three years of using CFLs (those squiggly lightbulbs that save energy and money), not one had needed replacing. That’s pretty cool, and valid – mine haven’t needed to be replaced either, although I don’t think it’s been a full three years we’ve been using them yet. We just replace our regular bulbs with CFLs as they blow.

Talking about replacing them got me thinking about recycling them though, and lo and behold, Lighter Footstep has a challenge going (kind of like a pledge) over at their site. CFLs have mercury, and need to be recycled sustainably so the toxic chemical doesn’t screw over the world. The challenge asks that you pledge to become a CFL Recycling Superhero.

Take the CFL Recycling challenge at Lighter Footstep.

Take the CFL Recycling challenge at Lighter Footstep.

I’m all for that.

Brisbanites, check here to see where you can recycle your CFLs. Everyone else – google, or look in that article I mentioned if you’re American. I know we’ll end up at Ikea – what better excuse for a couple of eco lesbos to take a trip to the dykiest furniture store ever, than recycling lightbulbs?

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Spotlight: Digital Dumping Grounds

I knew developing countries were, to a degree, the rubbish dumps for electronic waste (e-waste) shipped in from developed nations, but I didn’t know how bad it was. I watched this episode of Frontline World this morning that really made it hit home for me. Here’s the promo:

You can access the full 20 minute segment about Ghana here. Sorry Deafies, there are no captions (which annoys the shit out of me – c’mon PBS!), but underneath the video there is a transcript of the segment (if it’s not exact, it’s pretty close). You can also see some photos with captions here on Jane Hahn‘s site.

It’s not just Ghana either – Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, China and lots of other third-world nations are being taken advantage of. In fact, the segment discussed how the average computer-owner (and dumper) is also being taken advantage of, by companies who say they’re dumping responsibly, but who ship out unusable computers for reuse. Clearly, since they’re unusuable, they’re only going to become scrap, but labelling them ‘for reuse’ enables their export courtesy of a legal loophole.

I have a bunch of e-waste here at my place that I was looking to dispose of responsibly, but now I’m unsure how I can do that if I can’t even trust the recycling companies. Plus, I want to make sure no-one has access to my data (that image of the FBI guy smashing the hard drive with the hammer also make an impression on me). Is it really best for the environment for me to be smashing stuff up, regardless of how cathartic that may be? However, is it best for me to not smash it? Ghana is one of the world’s leading areas of cyber crime, after all – there’s has to be link between that and the dumping of e-waste, it’s too convenient a co-incidence.

The one ‘positive’ thing to come out of the whole thing isn’t even very good. I wrote a while ago about the impact of metal mining on the environment (here and here). Trawling through the e-waste for scraps of copper and other precious metals does at least eliminate the need for so much mining… but at what cost? The toxic fumes produced by the burning needed to scavenge this metal is detrimental to both the environment and the unsuspecting people who participate, not to mention every man and his dog who lives nearby.

Aside from making pretty earrings, and giving away old items on Freecycle, what can we do with this stuff? Does anyone know of a recycler who actually recycles stuff responsibly without exporting it?

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Recycle: Glass vs Plastic

Question. Is it better to buy a smaller glass container or a larger plastic container?
Answer? I don’t bloody know! I can’t decide. Help!

We buy Bertolli olive oil (extra virgin, fruity taste) and we go through it quite quickly. The Elves like a good EVOO, yes we do. Bertolli sells it in either a 1 litre glass bottle, or a 2 litre plastic bottle. So far we’ve been buying the glass one, but which one is more environmentally friendly?

We are currently buying the 1 litre glass bottle of Bertolli EVOO.

We are currently buying the 1 litre glass bottle of Bertolli EVOO.

Glass is better for the environment, I think – it’s made of sand, silica and limestone and while it doesn’t biodegrade easily, it can be recycled over and over again, forever. I’ve also seen pieces of glass at the beach, all smooth and no longer resembling whatever they originally were. It takes way less energy to produce (especially if it’s recycled) and if it gets dumped, you know it’s not going to leach toxins or hurt an animal (unless it’s broken and they get cut). The eco-downside is that because it’s heavier, it takes more energy to ship, and it can break more easily during shipping, causing greater waste. Apparently it takes more energy to recycle than plastic too, but I think maybe that’s not considering fancy glass recycling plants like the Visy plant in Melbourne.

Plastic is made from petrochemicals and doesn’t biodegrade. It’s made of all kinds of nasty toxic stuff and hangs around killing animals for ages. Production almost always includes nurdles as a by-product, and let’s not even talk about the floating plastic continent of doom. It’s lighter and more durable and consumes less energy when shipping though.

I’m inclined to go for glass, but if we buy glass, it comes in a smaller package, which means more packaging to get the same amount of oil. I think they sell it in a 5 litre tin too, but our tiny house is not made for storing significant bulk food purchases, as much as I like the idea, so that won’t work for us.

Which one should we buy?

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