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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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Vegan Fast Food

Vegans and fast food don’t often go together. There are exceptions, like Lord of the Fries in Melbourne, but those kinds of places are far and few between. Takeaway food from regular restaurants is a bit expensive to eat very often.

So usually I make my own fast food.

This is what I had for lunch the other day:

refried beans, pinto beans, rice, sweet potato, salsa

  • Roasted sweet potato (I had two in the basket in the pantry starting to get a bit old, so I roasted them up to eat as I pleased)
  • Refried beans with jalapenos (thanks Old El Paso!)
  • Mexi-beans (thanks again Old El Paso!)
  • Mexican style express rice (this time, Uncle Ben’s was my friend)
  • Roasted capsicum salsa (I’m taking out shares in Old El Paso).

So these aren’t the most eco-friendly items I’ve ever eaten… two things from cans, one in a plastic packet and one from a jar… but aside from the rice packet, it’s all recyclable and/or reusable, which is more than you can say for the paper/cardboard/plastic/styrofoam packaging you get from places like Macca’s.

It’s also loads healthier.

And it was fast! It took me less than 5 mins to make. Sometimes that’s what you want. Plus, there’s leftovers!!

refried beans, pinto beans, rice, sweet potato, salsa

But best of all, it was tasty. Nommmmm….

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Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. 🙂

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My Water Notice: Crazy or Awesome?

I got a water notice in the mail today. It’s like a bill, except there’s nothing to pay. They just tell you how much water you’re using. Normally, we are well under the local average and the Brisbane average, but for some reason (and this is where the crazy comes in), we are averaging 594L per day!!

piece of paper with two graphs; the first comparing water usage in the household (no data for same period last year, approx 150L per day for previous period and 594L per day for current period); the second comparing water usage in this period with the local average (about 400L per day) and the Brisbane average (about 420L per day).

The utilities company is new and I don't think their data is correct for last period either, much as I'd love to say we are that fantastic at water conservation. It makes me doubt the 594L, but then I wonder if I want to doubt it, so am I being unfair?

Now, this is still within the 200L per person per day limit that Brisbane has going on (remember, we have three people in our family); less than 200L each if you consider we have two cats and a very big dog (who, for medical reasons, needs a bath once a week). During the drought, the limit was 140L per person per day, which we met pretty easily, and we’ve never had trouble with the current limit, even though it’s under the typical water allowance for most western cities. Say what you will about Australia’s carbon emissions; when it comes to water-saving measures, we’ve got it a lot better than most. Years and years of drought will do that to you. Of course, now we have more water than we need, but that’s another story…

My point is, what the heck are we doing with that kind of water usage on our water notice? I’ve quizzed Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop and none of us can figure out where we might have been using extra water. Maybe a little bit extra per day – it’s summer, we might take more showers or wash our clothes more maybe… but we’re reaching here; we don’t really think that’s it. The last two weeks the toilet has been running a bit sometimes after a flush, but the sound is like fingernails down a chalkboard to me and I stop it as soon as I hear it, so I don’t think that’s been happening very much. We seriously cannot figure it out.

Maybe there’s a leak somewhere. More investigation to follow. I’ll keep you updated.

So anyway, on the other side of the coin, regarding the potential awesomeness, check out this little ad/graphic thingy that was on the back of the water notice.

water notice advertisement outlining the benefits of drinking tap water as compared to bottled water and other beverages, highlighting cost (you can get 10 glasses of tap water for one cent).

I like that this ad went out to every Brisbane home. It sends the right message.

How’s that for promoting town water (as opposed to bottled water or other drinks)? I’m really big on tap water and very very rarely buy bottled water – only if I’m out and I cannot find free water anywhere (or I forgot my bottle). I would say this happens maybe 2 per cent of the times I drink water when I’m out of the house. This is a conscious decision on my part. Read more about that in my previous post about bottled water.

Tap water rocks and tastes cool anyway. To me, just like you get different weather when you visit different places, you also get different water. If I drink from taps at certain beaches, it’s like a blast back to my childhood… the flavour memory is crazy.

water gushing out of a simple metal tap attached to a short blue wooden stake, outdoors

This pic is from Cairns.com.au - way up north - but the tap looks very similar to the ones at the beaches I went to growing up.

Even though I was really little, I still remember it every time I have a drink there. Mum, Dad and I (my siblings weren’t born yet) would get in the car and drive to the coast and I’d sit up in my booster seat as we crested the hill and shout ‘I see the water!’, cos I could see the ocean beyond the trees. Mum and Dad would laugh and we’d speed down the hill to get there a little bit quicker (naughty naughty – I do not advocate speeding now in my old age, but I was like a miniature drag racer back then). I’d be wearing my little togs and my yellow terry-towelling shorts and the vinyl car seat of the Torana would make the backs of my legs sweat, so when we got out I’d want to hop straight in, but Mum would slather me in sunscreen beforehand, but she’d let me have a drink of beach water from the tap first.

Hey, it was the 80s, ok? And Dad still teases me by saying ‘I see the water!’ whenever we go over that hill.

You can’t get that kind of hyper-localised memory in any other product really. Food can always be sold elsewhere, like how I can get other beach memories eating a Calippo from the corner shop at the top of my street, or how I can think of childhood trips to the Ekka when I’m eating a Ykillamoocow vegan dagwood dog at the West End markets. (Om nom nom!) That beach water though, it’s special.

So yeah, now that I’m finished with my sentimental trip down memory lane, I’ll back to the topic; do you think my water notice was crazy or awesome?

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Population: Bomb or Bullshit?

Just a quick little thing to think about: you might want to read it in correlation with my previous post on population growth.

Two opposing viewpoints on population growth:

1. I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids by Beth Terry at My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish)

2. Top ten reasons the “Population Bomb” is bullshit by Jason Blum at phenotypical.com

Which do you agree with, if either? Personally, I’ve seen a lot more written supporting the first one, but there’s a little itty bitty part of me that thinks some of what’s in the second one is common sense. If a little alarmist… maybe. But I’m not really sure it’s alarmist. See my Apocalypse Soon post for more on my perspective on that.

My point is… what’re your thoughts? Cos clearly I’m not sure.

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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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