Clean and green may be an illusion

Christmas is a perfect example of how our commitment to recycling is only skin deep when we come under pressure. And Christmas is a time of pressure: pressure to spend, pressure to impress, pressure to show affluence.

We only have to look at our rubbish bin on Boxing Day to realise how much we have thrown away in 24 hours. What could be recycled instead of chucked? What could have been recycled from last year? What do these gifts we give actually say about our belief in and commitment to recycling.

Every time we give a gift that requires batteries we are buying into the throw-away culture. When we buy an electric appliance to replace a hand-operated one we are increasing our use of power, adding to trash when it eventually breaks down (because modern appliances can rarely be repaired), and often using more water if we need to clean them.

For many, Christmas is a time of excess not environmental care. So I have to applaud my friend who announced on Facebook: “We’re not sending Christmas cards this year. The money has gone to Oxfam, and I know you’ll all be happy to know you’ve helped donate lots of trees, among other things.”

One challenge I feel every year is whether to wrap presents. The cheap printed paper we use is only able to manage one use – sometimes not even holding together long enough for the present to reach the recipient. And once the present is unwrapped, we don’t fold the mountain of paper to use next year. I often wonder if gifts would be better presented in supermarket bags? At least they would be more likely to be recycled.

So what New Year’s resolutions about recycling are you making?

Heather Sylvawood, author and blogger.

Here’s to Our Rubbish Artists

They are a certain breed, these rubbish artists. They can look at our discards and think: “I could make a xxxx out of that.” More than that, they actually get off butt and do so.

It takes a lot of imagination to see something and imagine it in another life form. For instance, I often admire the creativity of furniture recyclers who spot and old item and with a swift flick of a brush, a swatch of fabric, or bang with a tack hammer recycle stuff into the oh-so-chic items that feature in Home Beautiful.

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I don’t do that. Instead along the way towards the conversion (usually very close to the start) I run out of confidence; I’m too scared to take up hammer and paint in case the end product doesn’t meet the perfect image in my mind.

Rubbish artists aren’t like that. They see in their mind a new objet d’art and experiment until they achieve it. One such artist has made Golden Bay her home – sculptor, fitter and machinist Georgina West of Georgeous Designs. She’s also on Facebook if you want to ‘like’ her.

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Above: From large garden flowers to small, and from birds to fish, Georgina creates them all from old tin cans and discarded materials, including wire from the back of microwaves.

From these most unpromising materials Georgina’s imagination creates these amazing, whimsical, decorative designs. They’re set to replace the wall butterfly, I’m sure.

So here’s to our rubbish artists whose creativity is helping to deal with our waste – true recyclers.

Eco-choices hard to get right

We have a food scraps container – so do most people. So how ‘eco’ is that? Our food scraps go into our compost bin where the local mice party and compete with the worms. However, our cat enjoys the hunting and quite often brings in his trophies very much alive. In effect he is recycling our scraps – peelings – mice – cat food! In less rural localities compost bins are not possible.

Some town or city centres have bins where food scraps can go and they’re turned into compost at efficient composting plants where no intelligent mouse would risk her/his life (and which, I assume, are free of cats). Applying compost to the garden from such a centre is much more wholesome. It all comes in plastic bags … oops … what do you do with plastic bags?

Now I know that a good eco-warrior would buy everything in re-useable or compostable containers, and we did start buying those woven bags put out by supermarkets in NZ. They’re supposed to cut down the number of plastic bags sent to the rubbish tip each year. I was all for that until I looked at the Made in China label. Hmmm a lot of fuel was used transporting them down-under. Instead we resolved to re-use plastic bags as many times as possible before disposing of them. Our dog helps out in that regard – we still send the bags to the refuse disposal system but it does contain some compostable material.

I’ve decided, it’s all about getting the balance right for the locality you live in and the options it offers. We will still compost and apply it to our garden in a bid to be as eco as possible. We will still use plastic but re-use the bags as many times as possible before binning them. And, where there is opportunity to use recyclable containers, we will.

Hello world!

I am writing this blog to record the process of turning our suburban section (690 square metres) and house into an eco-friendly place, where we equalise what we take with what we give back.

Our plan is to evaluate and adapt our:

  • Water use and conservation
  • Energy use and conservation
  • Food consumption
  • Recycling systems
  • Garden production to organic foods

Each week, or more often, I will share with you our progress towards a more sustainable lifestyle. This will cover my research and our practical actions. Look out for photos and video!

Join me in my journey …

– Heather