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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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Mulberries: An Interlude

Guess who stepped in a mulberry?

cat's paw coloured purple

Princess.

Guess who left little purple paw prints all over the tiles?

woman holding a cat with a purple paw, kissing its head

Princess.

Guess who was highly unimpressed I was taking her photo while she had a purple-stained foot?

unimpressed-looking cat

Princess.

Yeah. Diva Princess. That’s who.

Just to show she’s not always messy and disgruntled…

tabby cat and tortoiseshell cat snuggling together on a bed

Princess is very sweet to little Fruity.

Awwwww.

Now if only the possums would hurry up and eat all the mulberries on the ground under the tree. We were just lucky this time that we didn’t end up with purple stains on the carpet. Fortunately only the bedrooms are carpeted. Phew! Now, keep up, possums!

P.S. My eco-friendly cat toy tip of the day? A twig from a poinciana tree. I was using one to encourage Fruity to follow me back inside and she loved it. I forgot though, that I used to play with Princess in the same way… she had to come join in! They took turns to bat the twig. So cute. Pou was very confused as to what they were doing. An ex-stray, Pou doesn’t really understand the concept of playing like that. But my point is – who said cat toys have to be expensive and made of plastic? These two get more fun out of a bendy twig than they ever have out of some weird plastic ball with a bell inside. Yay nature!

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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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9

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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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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3

Sustainable Menstrual Pads

I read an article on BlogHer today called iPads and Maxi Pads: Changing Women’s Lives in Uganda. Alison McQuade (the author of the post) uses the hype around the new iPad to draw attention to a more important issue – that Ugandan girls are dropping out of school at puberty because they have no access to sanitary items (pads, panty liners, tampons, menstrual cups etc). It struck a chord with me today particularly because I’ve just been trying out a new cloth pad. I’ve had it for ages but have been so enamoured with my menstrual cup, supplemented with cloth panty liners, that I hadn’t worn it before today – and I just felt like trying it out. The sock monkey called to me.

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Arty farty shot of my (then new) sock money pad, from Moon Pads. (The sock monkey part is one of the wings.)

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve heard before that many girls in third-world countries don’t have access to any menstrual items, but I was surprised that the solution suggested in the post was to donate to a non-profit group (the Kasiisi Project) who provide disposable pads to the girls. The other group I know of who used to try to combat the same issue was Goods 4 Girls, who provided cloth menstrual pads to African girls (Crunchy Chicken, who ran the group, has since had to let it go – I’m not sure if anyone else has taken up the mantle). The advantage of cloth pads, of course, is that they can be reused over and over again with just a simple washing between wears. Quite aside from the environmental impact, I envisaged the aftermath of introducing disposable pads as something like a less serious version of the Nestle baby powder tragedy of the 1970s/1980s. What would happen if the Kasiisi Project ran out of funds? The girls would run out of pads and be right back where they started.

However, I did a little more research and while I still think cloth pads are a better option, I like the holistic set-up the Kasiisi Project has set up better than the ‘make a pad and donate it’ style of Goods 4 Girls. (Of course, this likely came about because the Kasiisi Project is a well-established non-profit organisation and Goods 4 Girls was a one woman who took donations – so you know, fair enough, you do what you can.) The Kasiisi Project donates Maka Pads, which are produced in Uganda as part of a cottage industry – often employing the families of the girls who will benefit from them. They are made from locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper, using little electricity in production. They can be worn for 8 to 10 hours, much longer than a regular pad (depending on your flow of course), so you use less of them. They’re cheap (US 0.5 cents per pad) for the city women who buy them, but most of the rural girls access them through donation.

Clearly the people behind this part of the Kasiisi Project have thought beyond the immediate need of the girls who would otherwise miss out on an education – they have also considered how to help the community and the environment. If you’re interested, I found this video much more informative than the websites (unfortunately there is no captioning).

Now, don’t think I’m dissing Goods 4 Girls because I’m not. It was still a worthwhile effort, as is the Kasiisi Project – every little bit helps (in most cases). But you know what would be best of all? A combination of their methods, which would, in my opinion, be the best option. Keep up the local cottage industry, but produce cloth pads, which can be reused for a long time. Of course, that then brings up the question – where does the cloth for the pads come from? Is it possible the Kasiisi Project already considered this and found locally-sourced papyrus and waste paper to be the more sustainable option after all? I guess if you had to ship in the cloth over a long distance, that would be a significant impact in and of itself. Also, has the Kasiisi Project factored in the disposal of the used pads?

I may email them to find out. Will keep you posted!

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