31 March 2014

Are you "eco-effective"? Inspired by No Impact Man.

How much of our consumption of the planet's resources actually makes us happier and how much just keeps us chained up as wage slaves?
This week in Brisbane we've had a 'No Impact' immersion.  We watched the film No Impact Man, and as Biome founder I was fortunate to take part in a Q&A panel afterwards.  I'm also reading the book, which explores in more depth the impacts that New York City-based author Colin Beavan attempts to negate in his year long lifestyle experiment.  It's a great read that I am finding more effective at changing my habits than other environmental books.

I connected with Beavan's philosophy and the messages that we have conveyed over the years with our eco-retail business--and, based on the world wide interest in his project it seems to be working for many others.  He delves into the motivations of why 'we' spend our lives working to earn money in order to be able to spend it on buying more convenience and material excess in the pursuit of elusive happiness.  These words stood out:  It's not that while trashing the planet the human race is having a party. Quite the opposite. We feel a malaise and guilt that at another time in history might have motivated action, but at this time seems instead to be coupled with a terrible sense of helplessness.

Beavan wanted to find a way to encourage a society that emphasises a little less self-indulgence and a little more kindness to one another and to the planet.  But, if he was to write a book about changing other people, he realised that he ought first to worry about changing his own actions.

And so began his year of inquiry--to put the habitat first and see how that affected his family; and, most importantly when it came to his own despair, was he as helpless to help change the imperilled world we live in as he thought?


Beavan followed the words of the environmental scientists William McDonough and Michael Braungart: "Saving this planet depends on finding a middle path that is neither unconsciously consumerist nor self-consciously anti-materialist. The idea for No Impact Man is not to be anorexic but to be abundant, not to be eco-efficient but "eco-effective."

His philosophy is based not only on reducing consumption but also on changing what is consumed so that it actually helps or at least does not hinder the world.  He argues that humans need to figure out what our world is able to productively offer us rather than considering only what we want.

After all, this harmonious existence is how most other species on earth live.  He illustrates this with the simplicity of examples from nature.  "Lions neither starve themselves nor gorge to the point of wiping out the gazelle population. Instead, they promote the health of the gazelle herd by culling its weaker members and preventing herd overgrowth which in turn prevents overgrazing of the savannah. Animal waste does not poison the ground but fertilizes the soil so that it can produce more vegetation for the animals to eat. Bees feed on the pollen of flowers but far from damaging them they provide the crucial service of pollinating them."

Beavan references the book Cradle to Cradle, where McDonough and Braungart discuss the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin, who have harvested wood for sale from their forested land for many generations.   He writes: "In 1870, the Menominee inventoried 1.3 billion standing board feet of timber on their 235,000 acres. Since then, they have harvested nearly twice that amount--2.25 billion board feet. Considering the "clear-cutting" methods of the corporate lumber merchants you hear about, which completely strips land of its trees, you'd expect that the Menominee would have barely a single tree left...In fact, they have 1.7 billion board feet left, more than they had in 1870, and a thriving forest ecosystem."

"That's because the Menominee tend to cut only the weaker trees, leaving behind the strong mother trees and enough of the upper canopy for the arboreal animals to continue to inhabit. They have figured out what the forest can productively offer them instead of considering only what they want to take from it."

Stage one: No waste - not even toilet paper

No Impact Man sensibly approached his project in stages, taking on one impact before tackling another. His first stage was to live without making garbage.  Beginning with an inventory of all the rubbish AND recycling they generated, Beavan and his wife committed to producing not a skerrick of output.

"wash the spoon" - posters-for-good.tumblr.com
This concept of recycling not being as 'green' as we believe is building momentum.  In Junkyard Planet,  author Adam Minter, says recycling has the tendency to absolve our conscience about acquiring the next new thing.  The vast majority of rubbish and recycling are items used for less than 10 minutes.  Beavan talks about the loss of the "waste not, want not" ethos his grandparents held dear.   Items pass through our hands with little gratitude for the precious resources that were consumed in their production.

Recycling is in fact not very different to rubbish - there is no "away".  Many of the health and environmental issues of dealing with the massive global recycling industry are pushed onto the poorer nations - China for example, where Australia sends container ship loads of toxic, dirty waste for "recycling".

The holy grail is an empty recycling bin--and that is what Beavan recognised and lived by for the year.

How can you achieve this?  No Impact Man showed us: do not accept anything in to your life that needs to be recycled or thrown away.
  • buy food with absolutely no packaging (by shopping at farmers markets and whole food stores) - even their milk was purchased from a farmer that refilled the same glass milk bottles
  • take your own containers and cheesecloth and produce bags to the take out store or food market
  • use reusable cloths instead of toilet paper, napkins, baby nappies
  • bake your own bread, make your own yoghurt
Any 'waste' you do produce should be organic matter that can be composted at home with a worm farm, Bokashi or compost heap.

Beavan's family ate a pretty simple diet based around shopping direct with the producers, only eating what is in season and only eating food that was grown within a 250 mile radius of New York. This helped with eliminating packaging waste - but Eating Sustainably was the third stage and we will leave that for another blog post.

Read more about the No Impact Man project here and consider participating in the week long experiment.  See more activism quotes on Biome's Pinterest.

25 February 2014

Recycling plastic bags

Green newsflash!  You can stop throwing away flexible plastic bags like bread bags, grocery bags, frozen food, pasta and confectionery plastic packaging.  Recycling plastic bags is now possible in Australia.

We all know that hard plastic such as plastic bottles and containers can be recycled through kerbside recycling bins, but until now our household has been putting flexible plastics in the rubbish (meaning off to landfill).

We now gather all soft plastic in a separate bag and take them to our local Coles supermarket to the Redcycle bin located at the front of the store.  From there, the bags are used by Australian recycled plastic manufacturer Replas to make a range of products such as outdoor furniture, bollards and decking.

For those not able to visit Coles, we have asked Redcycle to let us know whether there are other options for non-metro residents to drop off bags.

The greenie ideal is for product manufacturers and distributors to take responsibility for their product throughout its entire lifecycle, including what happens to it at the end of its life.  Redcycle is a true product stewardship model where everyone involved in the life cycle of a product, including the consumer, has a role to play.

Soft plastic bags are a great scourge on our environment, ending up in our waterways and oceans. Alternatively, they are dumped in landfill or transported overseas to be dealt with there (that's another story!).  Recycling plastic bags not only helps reduce the pollution, but it also reduces the need to use precious resources to make virgin plastic.

What types of flexible plastic bags can be recycled?

  • ✓ Bread bags
  • ✓ Biscuit packets
  • ✓ Frozen food bags
  • ✓ Rice and pasta Bags
  • ✓ Confectionery packets
  • ✓ Cereal Box Liners
  • ✓ Newspaper wrap
  • ✓ Plastic shopping bags
  • ✓ Old green bags

Find more info here about Redcycle, an initiative of  Melbourne based consulting and recycling organisation Red Group.

Greenie fact
According to Clean Up Australia, Australians are sending 429,000 soft plastic bags to landfill every hour.  That seems an incredible number!

10 October 2013

Glass Containers for safe food storage by Wean Green

Fabulous new larger size glass containers from Wean Green make it even easier to use glass at home for all your food preparation and storage, as well as for lunch boxes, picnics and outdoor catering.  

Wean Green by Glasslock glass containers are made from strong tempered glass with leak-proof, high quality snap lock lids made from BPA free plastic. Pictured above are the Meal Cube on the bottom, Meal Bowl and Lunch Bowl.

Here's the fabulous full range of glass food containers.  These glass containers can be used for limitless uses - see some clever ideas below.

 Glass container Volume Available in
Meal Cube 900ml Singles
Meal Bowl 720ml Singles
Lunch Cube 490ml Singles, 2 pack
Lunch Bowl 400ml Singles, 2 pack
Snack Cube 210ml Singles, 2 pack, 4 pack (garden mix)
Wean Bowl 165ml Singles, 2 pack, 4 pack (garden mix)
Wean Cube 120ml Singles, 4 pack (garden mix & one colour)

Uses for your Wean Green glass containers

Soak your nuts and seeds: activated nuts and seeds boost their nutritional value and make them more easily digested by your body through reducing physic acid and neutralizing enzyme inhibitors. Some great nuts and seeds for soaking are cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Simply take your nuts and seeds, put them in separate glass containers, cover them with reverse osmosis or purified water, let sit overnight, drain and rinse and then use as desired. You might try a yummy raw cashew cheesecake.

Storing Homemade Flavours: Create your own spice mixes, sauces, salad dressings and spreads. This will be a fun new way for you and your family to explore new tastes and flavours! Try adding some great detox flavours to your creations such as cayenne pepper, ginger and cinnamon. The wide variety of Wean Green glass container sizes makes them perfect for holding all of these homemade mixtures so that you always have quick access to your favourite flavours to add to meals.

Make Single Serving Raw Avocado Chocolate Pudding:  Awesome idea for school and work lunch boxes rather than pre-packaged single serve sweet treats. Make a simple and delicious raw chocolate mousse with avocados, raw cacao powder, unsweetened almond milk, raw almond butter, agave and soaked dates for a nourishing snack or dessert on the go. You can add in additional flavours and raw food toppings such as raw cacao nibs, goji berries and coconut. Use Wean Greens snack cubes or bowls to have the perfect single serving size. Find a gorgeous vegan avocado chocolate pudding recipe here.

Ideas from the Wean Green blog  http://blog.weangreen.com/new-ways-to-use-your-wean-greens/ written by Marni Wasserman is Culinary Nutritionist  & Health Strategist at Toronto’s First Plant Based Food Studio. 

Lunch boxes:  And of course, glass containers are absolutely perfect for everyone's lunch boxes!

  1. Today I Ate A Rainbow Kale Chips
  2. The Pioneer Woman Fruit Salad 
  3. Organic Celery with Not Enough Cinnamon’s Homemade Peanut Butter
  4. Raw Organic Almonds

08 September 2013

Tanjung Puting orangutan sanctuary expedition

In September 1996, my mother, father and I shared a truly remarkable journey to "Camp Leakey" at the heart of Tanjung Puting National Park in the south of Kalimantan, Indonesia.  This precious place is where a young Birute Galdikas arrived in 1971 under the mentorship of Prof. Louis Leakey, beginning 42 years of relentless endeavour to save the orangutans and their forests.

Without the work of Dr Galdikas and the Orangutan Foundation International and its supporters, this tiny peninsula of jungle would certainly be clear felled like the thousands of clear-felled hectares pressing at its boundaries.  It is one of the last havens for the orangutans and the other species that share this wild jungle home, such as the proboscis monkey and toucan (read more about Dr Galdikas below).

Dr Galdikas is one of my heros and shining lights. When I question what we are doing at Biome or I struggle with the pressures of the competitive retail industry, I try to remember what she endured and achieved.  How she dared to dream, lived her dream and helped our planet.  We can't all devote our lives to such significant work in the wilds of Borneo, but we can do something to help the environment each day in the sphere over which we have control.

Avid readers of National Geographic Magazine, our family was drawn to primates and we hoped to see them up close one day.  The opportunity came to visit Camp Leakey 17 years ago while I was working in Jakarta for a public relations firm.  It was a time before the internet and mobile phones!  I remember organising the trip via a chain of land-line phone calls and messages in broken Indonesian.  There were no blogs to read the advice of other travellers.  So when we hopped off the tiny plane that flew us to Pangkalan Bun, we had very little idea of the expdetition that lay ahead.

As in most jungles of the world, rivers are the highway and so we set off on a long narrow boat called a Klotok up a small tributary of the Kumai River. Our four crew were enthusiastic and entertaining hosts. For the next few days we lived a dream.  We saw proboscis monkeys leaping from high branches to land as far as they could across the river and then swim like crazy to beat the crocodiles.  We swam in the river at Camp Leakey so smitten by the adventure we forgot about the massive crocodile we saw sunning itself earlier. One gloriously serene night our boat was lit up by a galaxy of fire flies shining from the long river reeds all around us.  And of course, we saw up close many orangutans of all ages, from playful orphans to a massive male with large cheek pads. 
Feeding time at one of the stations where young orphaned orangutans are reintroduced to the jungle.
Poking her or his tummy out for a tummy tickle from me - 17 years ago!

Hee, hee ... Spot the similarities!

Breakfast on the Klotok. One of our crew, Dad and I.

As we now know so well, the orangutans' rainforest home is being destroyed for palm oil plantations and illegal logging.  There are a number of amazing organisations fighting to protect them.  Please consider volunteering your time to help them out or making a donation through sponsoring an orangutam.

Today, similar organutan tours to the one undertaken by us are run by the Orangutan Foundation International to raise vital funds to continue their work.  Some include the absolute honour of being accompanied by Dr Galdikas!

This video captures some of what we saw.  It was wonderful to come across this as we did not have any video memories of the trip. 

About Dr Birute Galdikas

In 1971, Biruté Mary Galdikas and her then husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in one of the world’s last wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Borneo. There were no telephones, roads, electricity, television, nor regular mail service. The reserve was being logged and the laws protecting wildlife were not enforced. The rhinoceros had already been hunted into extinction in the area. At this time, very little was known about orangutans in the wild.  Before she left the U.S., she was told by her professors and others that it “couldn’t be done”; she wouldn’t be able to study orangutans in the wild.  They were too elusive and wary, living almost entirely in deep swamps.
Before long, however, her hard work and determination had paid off. She set up “Camp Leakey,” named after her mentor and began documenting the ecology and behavior of the wild orangutans. Four years later, she wrote the cover article for National Geographic Magazine, bringing orangutans widespread international public attention for the first time. The article was illustrated with Brindamour’s photographs.
(Ref: http://www.orangutan.org/dr-galdikas-bio#sthash.CNH7NpMW.dpuf)

Camp Leakey is the site of the longest continuous study on any primate. She has also protected one of the last havens for orangutans in Borneo despite the tremendous pressures from illegal logging and mining interests.  Read more of Dr Galdikas' life work and achievements for the orangutans
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