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 listĀ 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. šŸ˜¦

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?


Recycle: Asthma Puffers (Inhalers)

I’m sitting here with my leg hurting from tonight’s injection (damn legs give me more trouble than anywhere else!), and I kind of let my mind wander. It wandered to the asthma puffers (inhalers, if you’re American) sitting on my bedside table. On the very slim chance you haven’t seen one before, they are number 2 HDPE plastic devices which each contain a pressurised metal cylinder full of medication. You place the plastic mouthpiece in your mouth, press down on the canister, and breathe in the gaseous medication it emits. Ta-da. Nice and simple; I’ve been using them since I was a kid… so you can imagine how many I’ve gone through over the years.


Asthma puffers really puff! (Note: this is not my puffer, so check your own puffer to find out what kind of plastic it is before you get too excited!)

I recently had to replace an empty puffer, and as I did so, I got cranky about the waste. Not for the first time, I wondered why there’s no puffer recycling program. Folks have come up with all kinds of weird and wacky ways to reuse the little suckers, and I know how dispose of expired (not empty) medication – in my area, you take it back to the pharmacy; pretty easy. Brisbane City Council’s plastic recycling fact sheet seems to suggest they could go in the standard yellow-lidded recycling bin… but they have some broad caveats, so I think that would warrant checking.

No-one (as far as I can find) seems to have something universal, concrete and 100% fo’ shizĀ definiteĀ that will work for everyone to reduce, reuse and/or recycle these plastic and metal constructs that millions of people use to stay alive or live a normal life. Which is crappy. Sometimes I don’t want to have to research my finicky, regional niche recyclers – I just want the ubiquitous big-guy! Sometimes I’m too tired to be picky.

So I guess what I’m ultimately saying is: does anyone know of anything or have any suggestions, aside from having to mail my empty puffers halfway round the world to GlaxoSmithKline‘s North Carolina offices?

I plan to continue to research this (including emailing Brisbane City Council) and will let you know what I find out.

P.S. You know what? My leg still stings… but I think I’m sleepy enough now not to care. Silver lining!



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?



Recycle: Ethical Metals

I like to wear silver jewellery. I don’t really mind much what it’s made of – but it needs to be silver-coloured. Some people prefer gold. I’m just a silver person. Of course, silver-coloured jewellery is made of metal. Yeah, you can get the plastic silver-coloured, but um… yeah. Really no.

Metal is natural, so that’s great! Go eco, go! Right?

Not so much.


Wouldn't it be great if they were made from recycled metal?

Wouldn't it be great if they were made from recycled metal?



The process required to extract that metal from the earth is incredibly damaging to the environment. This is slowly becoming more and more well known. A few years ago, the ‘no dirty gold‘ campaign was introduced, encouraging people to buy only sustainably mined gold. The campaign was just the tip of the iceberg though, as not just gold but lots of other metals are mined unsustainably around the world. Don’t think the metals are just used in jewellery though. Metals are used in lots of things – gold thread in beautiful dresses, remote controls, mobile phones and other similar devices. And those are just the highest impact metals.People and companies are increasingly offering advice and alternatives which enable you to avoid metal mined in environmentally damaging ways. Almost all of them include recycling the metals we’ve already mined.

  • You can recycle your mobile phone, as discussed in last week’s Recycle post.
  • You can buy jewellery made with recycled metal.
  • You can recycle lead from old car batteries. Service stations and car battery retail outlets will generally accept car batteries for trade-in. Be careful though – don’t empty out battery acid before taking the batteries for recycling.
  • Scrap metal recyclers can take copper pipes, hot water systems, car bodies, metal appliances and other metals to be recycled.
  • Remember kerbside recycling – putting cans into your regular recycling bin means the metal can be reused to create other cans, fridges and all sorts of other things.

To learn more about how metal mining damages the environment, check out this site or this one.

Note: The image of the rings is from Love and Pride.



Recycle: Mobile Phones

Mr Teeny-bop is starting high school next week. He’s going to be catching the bus (the regular city council bus, not a school bus) by himself back and forth. His school isn’t far away, but it’s pretty central, on busy streets, lots of people. So Yankee Elv and I decided it was time for him to get a mobile phone, so he can contact us, or vice versa – just in case. He’s been wanting a phone for ages, so he is very happy!

Mobile Phone

Aside from the fact that new phones are expensive, for environmental reasons, we wanted to get a second-hand phone – so we have one on it’s way to our house right now (go ebay!). It’s all about the reuse.

Yankee Elv has been wanting a new phone herself for a while now too – one with a strong vibration, since she’s Deaf and can’t hear text messages or alarms. Since we were already on the phone hunt, we’re looking on ebay for her too. What should we do with her current phone though? We can’t just throw it away (ok, technically we can, but we won’t).

So we’re going to recycle the phone. Why? Well, let’s look at whatĀ happens when you recycle mobile phones.

  • Some companies refurbish and reuse the phones if they are in good enough condition
  • The batteries are taken apart and the nickel, cadmium, coltan, zinc, copper and cobalt is extracted and used in new batteries and other products
  • Circuit boards have the gold, silver, copper and lead extracted and reused
  • Any other heavy metals, like mercury, beryllium and arsenic are smelted and disposed of appropriately
  • Plastic from handset casings is used to make fence posts and pallets
  • Paper packaging is sent to standard recycling stations
  • Other parts (including plastic packaging as well as pure and impure metals) are either recycled or go into landfill.

Yeah, I hear you. Why is it good that these items are recycled or reused?

  • Many of the heavy metals used in mobile phones can negatively affect your health and the environment if they enter landfill or are not disposed of carefully
  • The demand for precious metals to use in mobile phones and other similar devices (like remote controls) has led to war over the rights to the metal, mostly in the Congo and surrounding African nations
  • Thanks to strip mining, the sourcing of a tiny amount of metal involves the displacement of tonnes of land
  • Plastic doesn’t really biodegrade, so reducing and reusing is the best we can do (no need to contribute to the Pacific plastic soup)
  • Recycling paper has a far smaller impact on the environment than creating paper from scratch.

Here’s a video, if you want more information:

I must say – it was only within the last year that I found out the impact of not just releasing but sourcing precious metals. I knew about blood diamonds of course – but never imagined that the phones, remote controls or jewellery I was buying were impacting the lives of all these people, caught in the fight for resources. I resolved then and there to minimise my use of new metal. That involved buying second-hand, recycled or sustainably sourced metal, and recycling whatever metal possible.

So why not try it? Don’t become a statistic, hoarding your phone in the back of a drawer. Hand in your old phone when you upgrade.

Besides, recycling makes you feel good. Promise.