“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” – Native American Proverb
It’s all well and good to have a modest home and practice sustainability within, but step outside and you’re faced with consumerism gone mad. Most of the things within this comprehensive guide I practice myself, others I am still establishing or not yet applicable to my life. Simply though, being an eco-warrior means being prepared and well researched.
Green and Produce Bags – Taking your own bags is one of the simplest things you could do when shopping, it makes a statement and you avoid contributing to the plastic bag epidemic. I think it’s refreshing to remember that before plastic, people did their shopping with cane baskets… I keep ample green bags in my car boot. Something new for me is also taking my own produce bags. Though I have never bagged produce, taking cotton or mesh produce bags permits me to buy pretzels from containers or loose items like onions in larger quantities without packaging.
How to make your own produce bags: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-make-your-own-re-usable-fruit-and-vegetable-bags/
To get Victoria up to speed with greener states: http://www.plasticbagfreevictoria.org/
“Buy Local”, sometimes – Peter Singer, an ethics philosopher, suggests it is too simplistic to recommend everyone “Buy Local”. Buying locally keeps your money circulating in your community, including supporting smaller local farmers. The compelling environmental argument for buying local is that the lesser distance the food has to travel to become available to consumers, the less carbon dioxide emissions produced and plastic packaging required. However, Peter suggests “Buying local food, when it is in season, is generally a good thing to do, but sometimes there a stronger ethical reasons for buying imported food”. Examples of when it can be considered more ethical to purchase internationally imported products includes coffee, tea and chocolate. These are all products that provide incomes to people in developing countries. Hence, you should opt for products with Fair Trade certification to ensure sustainable farming and higher earning benefits for the people labouring to sell their local commodities. Loving Earth chocolate is a perfect example of this, with many varieties made with single origin Certified Organic Raw Cacao (55%) from Peru and hand-made in Melbourne. Imported fairly traded, organic commodity plus a local job. It’s then our job to spend a few more cents and support this highly ethical practice.
To learn more on this topic and more read: The Ethics of What We Eat – Peter Singer and Jim Mason
To read about Loving Earth farmers in Australia and in developing countries: https://lovingearth.net/our_growers
Shop Ethical! Or Shop Less –
People who’ve recently gone vegan often ask me about clothes. In later blogs I’ll discuss what it means to not wear animals or products tested on animals. But even before going vegan I was concerned about the ethics of what I wore in a different way. We often buy things that look nice on the rack, without much consideration for the environmental, social or animal welfare concerns. A few years ago I became aware of an app called Shop Ethical! It’s $5 to buy from the App Store and provides rating from A-F on brands of everything from appliances to personal care items. Shop Ethical! suggests ethical shopping can take on subtle forms:
- Positive buying: such as favouring ethical products (fair trade, organic, cruelty free etc). Shop Ethical! considers this act the most important as it directly supports progressive companies. This was take the form of buying cosmetics with vegan certification or getting the raw vegan slice even if you just went in to purchase coffee!
- Negative purchasing: Avoiding products you disapprove of such as meat, dairy, highly polluting cars.
- Company based purchasing: targeting a business as a whole. For example, I have boycotted Nestle and other unethical companies. This sort of action promotes the company to become more ethical to be more competitive.
The five principles Shop Ethical! prescribes to are:
- Every purchase makes an impact. If you still don’t yet believe this I haven’t achieved my objective!
- Ask “Do I need it?” – Around 80% of items are discarded after single use. Shopping lists are easy way to facilitate this.
- Learn about issues, one at a time, and with the products you buy most frequently. For most of us, this will mean researching food and clothing companies.
- Seek out the best buy by considering “What do I value?” Prioritise your values but know you will often have to make trade-offs.
- Make lasting change. Celebrate good choices, create good habits and share your discoveries.
To research your next purchases I really recommend using Shop Ethical! To navigate it. Of course, where possible, purchasing from op-shops and repairing clothes to get the longest life out of them is ethical practice.
To watch video about the ethics of buying cheap clothes: https://www.facebook.com/grist.org/videos/10154010779259809/
8 Simple Rules for Creating a Sustainable Wardrobe – Good on You: http://goodonyou.org.au/8-simple-rules-for-creating-a-sustainable-wardrobe
Buy well and repair when necessary: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/diy-dont-throw-away-your-old-clothes-repair-them/
Don’t Shop At All: Dumpstering and Freeganism
The most difficult thing for me about adopting Zero Waste is that my produce is often scavenged from my workplace, which gets an excess of produce donated from Second Bite. One thing I have started doing is collecting the rubber bands that are tied around leafy greens, I’ve almost filled a mason jar in a few short months!
You don’t necessarily need to get in a dumpster to be greener, wherever possible salvage food that would otherwise be wasted. One initiative around this is The Odd Bunch at Woolworths, produce to ugly to be considered for the shelf. Use your positive buying capacity to show your support for thoughtful ideas like these.
I wrote fairly extensively on the freegan principles I’ve adopted in my blog on Food and Animal Waste. To read more about freegan lifestyles visit: http://freegan.info/. This is without question the most ethical way of living!
Keep Cup – The Keep Cup is to take-away what green bags are to shopping – simple, trendy and an effective solution to reduce your plastic waste. I bought one in my first year of uni and have only just upgraded to a glass one. This year I have been buying them as gifts!
Boycott Bottled Water and Soft Drinks –
In the plastic fight, buying bottled water is up the equivalent of eating red meat: bad for your health and wasteful in every way. Buy a metal or glass bottle and refill it over the course of its long life. I was never allowed to drink soft drink so I don’t understand the hype but if you do drink them be sure to recycle the packaging. But if you care about your health – boycott them all together!
The Life Cycle of a Plastic Bottle: https://www.facebook.com/TEDEducation/videos/1182406945105843/
BYO Utensils – Most Zero Waste bloggers have a section on their website in which you can “shop” and purchase metal, wooden or bamboo straw, spoon, knife, fork etc. These are on my list of Zero Waste items to purchase, and will be essential for camping, festivals, events with street food and some cafes and restaurants.
Public Transport – By far the most ethical mode of transport, I enjoyed this lifestyle for the course of my university degree. Even if you own a car utilise public transport wherever feasible.
Cars – If you’re going to have a car, make a thoughtful purchase. I’ve bought a car within the last week! I choose a Toyota Yaris, not only because I like the look of them but because Toyota, as a company, is making more enviromentally responsible cars and this model in particular has an amazing green rating.
Planes – They may be safer than cars but they certainly are not greener, fly thoughtfully! I think of all things vegans do, excessive flying is where our greatest carbon emissions are generally produced.
Reconsider your next short flight: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/why-you-should-reconsider-next-short-haul-flight/
Green Workplaces – Somewhat sadly, I spend more waking hours at work than I do at home. Everything you can do to make your house greener, you also have a responsibility to do in your workplace. I found a compost bin and took it to work as we have lots of kitchen scraps. I also made many tedious calls to be able to get us a recycling bin! If you work in an office, be mindful of your paper waste.
Banking – I’ve been with CommBank since I was 14 but I’m preparing to change to Bank Australia. I saw an ad for them on SBS a few months ago and it was the first time I’d considered banking ethically.
Change the world by changing where you bank – Tom and Angus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrOrGyxwqXo
Superannuation – I had been with a member owned industry super fund before I even knew what superannuation was. I merged that into a CommBank super fund last year to have all my accounts in the one place, then, this year I realised what a mistake that was. Aside from being one of the Big Four and hence a law upon itself, Four Corners reported earlier this year how CommInsure uses unscrupulous tactics to take consumers’ money and avoid insurance payouts, leaving customers paying money for nothing at the most difficult moment of their lives.
Money for Nothing – http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2016/03/07/4417757.htm
I had been exposed to Australian Ethical Super and Future Super on social media and the below article helped me to choose Future Super. At the time I was signing up for Future Super, they were donating $50 to a dear friend’s climate action project for every new member – bonus!
Ethical super funds – it’s what people want: http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/business/trends/ethical-super-funds-its-what-people-want/70841
Herbs and Vegetables – Gardening is a life skill, one of which I only recently acquired. I still have a lot to learn! I use a lot of herbs in cooking so having fresh basil, coriander, parsley and mint is super low maintenance, organic, most nutritious when its freshly picked and free of packaging. I hope to soon have a greenhouse of some description so I can have various herbs all year around. PRO TIP: keep dried herb small glass jars, I refilled my Thyme jar for 10c at Geelong Fresh Foods recently.
My vegetable gardening is hit and miss. Once I’ve finished blogging about veganism, I plan to blog more extensively on vegetable gardening! If you’re interested in getting started I recommend reading Backyard Farming and 1 Minute Gardener both by The Little Veggie Patch Co. I received both for my 23rd birthday and they have been a wonderful resource!
Native Flowers – I think one of the primary reasons I didn’t have a very successful summer harvest was my lack of native flowers to attract bees. As I have previously discussed, we need to help save the bees if we want to sustain our own food supply! Herbs are good, I’m waiting until spring to start cultivating my own rosemary and lavender from cutting (my house mate has them both in pots). Bee’s love bright flowers, daffodils, geraniums and marigolds were my starting place.
Composting and Worm Farming – There are various ways in which to compost your food waste, I use the traditional black bin, which I picked up from Bunnings for $40. If you’re going to do it this way, make sure you buy a Compost Mate for $20 so you can turn your compost otherwise it will be chemically imbalanced. I recently started a worm farm ($70 from Bunnings) to allow me to stop contributing to my compost bin and let it do its thing. The only thing I compost instead of feeding my worm babies is onion and citrus. Worms are vegans too, they don’t appreciate meat or dairy (or any spicy food). A recent study at Yale University found that worms could help buffer the impact of global warming. Worms do this by eating microbes, which are tiny organisms responsible for releasing a substantial amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Invest in some worms and reap the reward for your garden!
How to make your own worm farm: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-make-your-own-worm/
Recycling food waste: Melbourne precinct reduces rubbish by 90pc: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-03/recycling-food-waste-melbourne-precinct/7474714
Parties and Weddings
Gift Wrapping – I’ve always loved putting gifts in brown paper bags, which are reusable at best and degradable at worst. I’ve started keeping gift wrapping to reuse it if/when I need it. I keep this all in a shoe box with a handful of cards. I am pretty sentimental and have kept all thoughtful cards I’ve received over the years. Some eco-warriors have boycotted cards – I now use discretion to decide whether the recipient will appreciate a card or whether it will be thrown straight in the bin.
5 Ways to Wrap Gifts without Trashing the Planet: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/no-waste-festive-season-5-ways-to-wrap-up-gifts-without-trashing-the-planet/
Boycott the Balloon – You may or may not have noted in my previous post the image stating balloons NEVER degrade. That’s a pretty enormous environmental cost, regardless of how big the celebration. I’ve vowed to never purchase balloons again. There are plenty of other decorative items to have in a party room, my personal favourite are plants and flower arrangements.
Re-purpose Flower Arrangements – There are no shortage of Aged Care homes and also no better feeling than giving flowers, especially to people without family or friends.
Weddings create more waste than they should — but what if they gave back to the world instead? https://www.facebook.com/UpworthyVideo/videos/809591479145401/
Ethical Weddings – We’re not yet ready to tie the knot, but I have put a bit of thought into this already, including:
- Getting a scientifically made diamond; so as not to support the diamond industry, which runs primarily from Africa and is socially unethical. This is the equivalent of lab meat or 3D printed meat if you’re up to speed in the science world. These rings, made by companies like Brilliant Earth, are gorgeous, actual diamonds, for a fraction of the price! The money saved can go towards an extended honeymoon!
- Renting the dress; some people will gasp, but I don’t see the need to keep a dress I will wear once… In fact, I’d prefer to rent everything opposed to buying new. This is a much more cost effective way to do the big day!
- In the way of food, like the bride and groom; a vegan and conscientious omnivore split menu, but without doubt, the cake has to be a locally made, raw vegan cake! Put measures in place to compost any waste.
- To avoid unwanted gifts, I think its best practice to be clear about what you want, even if that’s cash! I’ve recently been told of donating to (effective) charitys as a wedding gift, I love this idea!
Babies and Children
Nappies – Like a lot of things now, the tradition method was exceeded by a more convenient method, until the environmental cost of the convenient method was realised. “Modern Cloth Nappies” cost anywhere between $10 and $30 apiece and are easy to use, come in lots of different colours and patterns and can be adjusted in size to fit your little one from the time they are about one month old until they are fully toilet trained. There are many types of MCNs, for example, some have a pocket in the back where you insert a large, absorbent microfiber pad. For an infant it is recommended you have around 24 cloth nappies. Granted $240 might sound like a lot, unless (like me) you weren’t aware that the average Australian parent spends around $3,000 on disposable nappies by the time their child is toilet trained! Green options are almost always the cheapest option!
The pros and cons of cloth nappies: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/roadtest-pros-and-cons-cloth-nappies/
Toys – I’m anti-toys. I don’t believe the latest Fisher Price toy is going to significantly improve a child’s cognitive or motor development. But if you feel you need some for your child, maybe ask around the family for some hand-me-downs!
Values – The most important thing you can give your child, I believe, are the knowledge and skills to live a sustainable and satisfying life, without material goods.
If you have any questions or anything you think I’ve missed please let me know!
Thanks for reading,