Friday, April 25, 2008

Happy belated earth day

Until I read a bunch of earth day themed blog posts, I sort of forgot that it was earth day at all. In my defence, it wasn’t earth day in Australia. Australians focused more on earth hour, which was started last year by Sydney. But reading everyone’s earth day posts got me thinking about the environment, consumption, and those sorts of things. And I know I’m preaching to the converted since most of my blog readers are already very eco-conscious, but hopefully I’ll mention one thing that you haven’t yet thought of. Plus, considering some of the random google searches that lead people to my blog, someone may have no idea about these issues (hard to believe, but…).

From the sounds of things, the US is similar to Australia in the push to ‘buy green’. The focus is on recycling and reusing, with little attention paid to actually reducing what we consume. I think they’re all important and I try to think creatively about all three Rs, but I think the possibilities for real change lie in that last R.

Recycle

Andy and I recently bought a worm farm. We haven’t had it long enough to get much more than a feel for it, but judging on first impressions alone I think it’s just great. Since most of our waste is food waste (and all plant-based and therefore compostable), we have seriously cut down on the amount of stuff that goes out to the bin. It doesn’t smell, and it’s quick: I’ve already taken a few scoops of dirt out of it. Plus, each week when we change the water in the fish tank we dump the bucket through the whole system. This has two effects—it keeps the worm farm moist, and it provides us with rich liquid fertiliser for all of our plants. I highly recommend a worm farm to everyone, regardless of whether you have a back yard or not. We’ve got a tiny patio, and it would work on balconies, fire escapes, or even laundry rooms.

Reuse

The majority of my wardrobe is second-hand (thanks especially to the amazing op shops in PNG). Everything except our mattress and Andy’s desk is second-hand, a combination of op shops, freecycle, garage sales, and side of the road finds. We also try to reuse food packaging whenever we can. Empty jars become containers for pressure-cooked beans or veggie stock. Plastic bags full of produce are reused as sandwich bags for lunches. Aside from reducing the amount of waste, and the amount of new stuff that needs to be made, reusing has the added bonus of monetary savings—or at least, it keeps money more local (i.e., garage sales) rather than supporting transnational corporations.

Reduce

As I said before, and as The Little One eloquently summed up on actual earth day, reducing is the most important of the three Rs. There are a number of ways we can reduce…

Energy usage—Andy and I only realised how much energy is wasted in the form of phantom load after visiting the Sustainability Expo in January where we saw a meter plugged into a stereo that was switched off. Since then we’ve been reminding each other to turn things off at the power point. (Australian outlets are greener than their American counterparts because of one simple addition: a switch. Instead of unplugging everything, we just need to flip the switch to cut off the power supply that constantly flows, even to appliances that seem to be turned off.) An added bonus is the semi-naughty jokes we get to make when we forget: “When I woke up this morning, the kettle was blowing its phantom load all over the kitchen.”

Waste—This one is a no-brainer. Buy in bulk as much as you can. Use green bags for groceries and anything else you buy. Reuse whatever you can—turn old sheets into rags for cleaning. Fix things when they break. Learn a bit of sewing so you can patch clothing and furniture. Make things from scratch. Freeze leftovers, bread and tofu to avoid throwing away food. And when you do need to buy something, spend the extra money to buy something of a higher quality—it will last longer and thus cost less in the long-run. The other thing that has cut down considerably on the amount of rubbish we have is a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign. This probably won’t apply for Americans, but in Australia the junk mail doesn’t go through the post. A simple sign that says you only want Australia Post to put anything into your mailbox will cut down on the amount of crap you have to throw away each week. Another benefit of the ‘no junk mail’ sign is that I don’t have to see fliers full of raw meat photos. Plus, I’ve found that looking at junk mail makes me want new things that I don’t need. Which leads me into the next thing we should reduce…

Consumption—When I was preparing to move to Australia two years ago I realised I had to fit a life’s worth of stuff into about 70 pounds of baggage. I really took stock of what was important to me (I really shouldn't have wasted so much space on socks. I never wear them.). Some of it, like shoes, I expected to replenish with Australian goods once I got settled over here. But, the first few months were really very rough financially, and we just couldn’t afford to buy stuff. In that time we spent two months in PNG where the lifestyle is much simpler and at some point, we just adjusted to a life without clutter. And without a television. I highly recommend this option to everyone. No tv means less energy usage, less advertisements enticing you to buy excess stuff, and better conversations and relationships with the people around you. We listen to the ABC tv station on the radio at night, and music during the day, and if we really feel like vegging we put a movie on the laptop. Instead of watching tv, Andy and I talk to each other, play with the cat, watch the fishtank… and when he’s gone I read in place of conversation.

When I do need to buy new stuff, I practice what I’ve come to think of as ‘considered consumption’. That is, I think before I buy. I don’t think I’m hardcore enough to identify as an ecotarian, but I try to choose items that are high quality, come from companies that are local and/or with good labour and social practices, and especially from small-scale operations. For instance, I prefer to buy dried beans from the Asian grocery rather than the big corporate supermarkets. If I do need to buy something from far away, I try to support vegan, anarchist, or small-scale businesses like AK Press, the Cruelty Free Shop, or The Purist Company.

Luckily, the greenest options are the cheapest—a very important consideration for a student surviving on a scholarship. But they require a bit of lifestyle changes; in short, we need to simplify. Because the world simply can’t support the lifestyle of the global north. Obviously we’re not all perfect, but everyone can make changes to reduce their impact on the planet.

Now for my earth day resolutions: to reduce our household water consumption (we take a lot of long showers), and to further lessen my reliance on plastic bags.

17 comments:

VeggieGirl said...

No worries about forgetting about Earth Day - you seem to be a very "Green" person already, and I am ALWAYS inspired by your eco-friendly habits. So keep it up! :0)

David J said...

Great post! I've been wanting to start a worm farm for ages. It sounds fantastic. Thanks for all the great tips and for being an example that these things aren't so hard to do and can make a difference.

(I'd totally neglected earth day but did ride my bike to work and I did plant a paw-paw the next day...

Cheers.

Urban Vegan said...

AWESOME and INSPIRING post!

Kumudha said...

Great post!

Being a vegan is a great way to go green...

pleasantly plump vegan said...

great ideas. i love that switch on the outlet! too cool.
i hate junk mail soooo much! maybe i should try that sign because we get sooo much junk, especially coupons and flyers to places we can't even eat.

The Vegan Snorkeler said...

I love your idea of "considered consumption"! I too have been trying to conserve more water lately. Great post!

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

I just *knew* you would have a great Earth-Day post to share with us. Thanks for all the ideas; I'm always looking for ways to make my carbon footprint lighter. You rock!

Alice (in Veganland) said...

Theresa... I'm in love with your blog...I can't help it!

I had a friend working in the French Embassy in PNG and LOVED her stories, I think I would love to spend some time there.
And I love simple life. Really, do we need so much stuff? NO, big NO.

I wish I could go visit you in Australia and have a meal together and talk about a million things!

Frankofile said...

My local 'commune' here in France is offering me a free composter next week. Can't wait!

Groover said...

Worm farm - thanks for that. Alberto is composting (sort of) but we never considered a worm farm.

We have the No Junk sign for years now. It's great that it works.

I moved to Oz from Germany 8 years ago and went through the same process of decluttering my life. It really taught me not to get attached to stuff. Haven't bought much furniture or big items since. We didn't have a TV when I first moved to Cairns and it was great. I could happily live without one again.

Thanks for your inspiration.

Bianca said...

Happy belated Earth Day to you too! Sounds like you guys are living as green as possible. That's awesome!

I reuse plastic bags to scoop dog poop...but sometimes I feel guilty because, though I keep the reusable bags in my car, I often don't use them because I need plastic bags for poop scoopers.

Cookiemouse said...

Great post full of good ideas!

Alec said...

Great tips there. It is sad how the 'green' thing in the US now seems to be to go out and buy 'green junk' instead of not buying anything!

I love that worm farm. I gotta get me one of those. I'm offended that you call any type of mail 'junk mail' (j/k- this is a 'Newman' reference from Seinfeld). That's cool that the no junk mail sign works. I've been trying to cut down on all the stupid catalogues we get in the mail but they never seem to subside despite all my efforts.

One thing that always amazes me is how much food is thrown away and wasted in the US. We always save leftovers for lunches/snacks, etc. When I visit my family and relatives now it is shocking to see how much food they throw away that could be saved!

That's cool seeing your suitcase all ready to head to Australia, except for the Yankees hat! Oh no! Go Red Sox! ;)

the little one said...

Thanks for the link! As always, great green tips!

Veggie said...

Great post! I do all these things already, except the outlet shut-off but only b/c we don't have those here. I was so fascinated by them when I went to Australia that I took a picture to show everyone here.

I also have a difficult time reducing water consumption, but I do have a low-flow shower head and front loading washer, so that must be helping, right?

What's PNG?

Liz² said...

I forgot about Earth Day too, and even if I had remembered I wouldn't have known what to write - my lifestyle is quite like this already but I never would have thought to write about it and spread the good word! I still need a worm composter, but I figured out how to recycle my paper actually! (just take it downstairs in a big cardboard box on the appropriate day and it gets recycled with the rest of the junkmail that piles up in the lobby).

I'm really enjoying reading your posts, I wish I had been checking up on blogs over the past while so I could devote enough time to responding fully to them all... but I am learning more. And say hi to Nacho for me!

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