Garden to the Kitchen to the Garden

After participating in the Zero Waste Challenge, I’ve had a few people comment on the small amount of food waste we have going into our green top bin. Over the seven weeks of data collection, all we discarded was cooked chicken bones (and a handful of olive pips that should have gone into the compost).

Other than the simple strategy of only buying the food that we need, any kitchen waste from preparing meals goes into either our worm farm, compost bins, or the Bokashi bin. I can share our experiences using these over the next few blog entries. For now, I thought I’d start at the kitchen bench and show the system we use to manage our kitchen waste.

Kitchen waste tubs for compost and worm farmThe two small tubs are for the compost bin (left) and worm farm (right). I think the worm farm tub was originally a treat from Scutti’s (so there’s  an excuse if you need one).

There are some raw fruit and vegetable scraps that the  worms can’t have and we also don’t put cooked food in the worm farm. Worms don’t like citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit) and onion (including garlic and spring onions) so all of those go into the compost tub. The worms get all other vegetable and fruit peelings and cores. The tub is usually filled when we prepare the evening meal so it goes straight out to the worm farm near the back door.

Besides the remaining citrus and onion waste, the dark water in the bottom of the compost tub is grounds washed out of the coffee plunger. We used to put these in the worm farm but they added too much water and the grounds clogged the drain tap on the worm farm. I’ll cover that when I describe the worm farm.

The tubs are small enough to use on the kitchen bench but large enough to fit the peelings for preparing the evening meal. If preparing a roast dinner fills the bin several times over with vegetable peelings, it just means a couple of trips to the worm farm.

The Bokashi bin digests the meat and fat trimmings so these are carried straight to the Bokashi, dropped in, and covered with a layer of the Bokashi enzyme powder and the lid re-sealed. The two vegetable tubs can sit on the kitchen bench half full between lunch and dinner but the Bokashi waste has to be disposed of immediately. If we’re busy, sometimes the waste heading to the Bokashi goes into a container in the fridge until we’re ready to open the Bokashi.

Posted in Zero Waste | 3 Comments

Covering Verges With Artificial (Plastic) “Grass” Out Of Touch With Environment

The following pamphlet has been produced by Oliver Crosthwaite of South Perth.  He and others are concerned about use of fake “grass” on verges instead of waterwise gardens for the good reasons outlined.  If you, too, are concerned about having nature friendly verges, please let your councillors know and pass this on to others in the City of South Perth.

Some property owners in the district of the City of South Perth have laid artificial “grass” on their adjoining street verges without the permission of the City. 

While it is understood that the City has ordered these owners to restore the verges, any further action against them appears to be pending the City Council’s re-consideration of its Street Verge Policy in respect to the use of artificial “grass” on these areas of public land.

With greater urban density in inner city areas like South Perth and the consequential loss of vegetation from private property, natural vegetation on verges plays an increasingly important role in maintaining our streetscape amenity.

We need your help to impress on the City of South Perth councillors (see contact details below)  the need to continue to prohibit artificial “grass” on street verges in line with the City’s “green and leafy” streetscapes and environmentally sustainable philosophy.

Why we shouldn’t have artificial grass on street verges:

  • made from unsustainable/environmentally unfriendly petrochemical plastic;
  • transported large distances with environmental consequences;
  • artificial “grass” is laid on a base where the top soil is removed and replaced with compacted road base/blue metal up to 150mm thick.  Cement may be mixed with the road base/blue metal where vehicle traffic might be expected such as on street verges.  All these treatments effectively kill the microbiology present with natural cover and prevent the effective take up of nutrients and precipitation and increase runoff into stormwater drains, carrying pollutants with it;
  • artificial “grass” on verges lead to street trees and other plants being deprived of water subjecting them to stress and even killing them;
  • artificial “grass” heats up and adds to the ambient temperature (a study in USA indicates artificial “grass” is around 85% hotter than natural grass and, surprisingly, 28% hotter than bitumen) (an average natural front lawn has the cooling effect of around 6000 watt worth of air conditioning);
  • artificial “grass” can burn skin (especially that of children) where it is placed in the direct sun(eg when air temperature is 34C, natural grass will be 40C, bitumen 58C and artificial “grass” 74C) and it can cause serious grazes to the skin where a person falls on it;
  • artificial “grass” does not absorb carbon dioxide or produce oxygen (150m2 of natural grass can convert as much CO2 as the biggest tree in the world)(15 square metres of natural grass produces enough oxygen for one person);
  • artificial “grass” removes the microbiology necessary for the sustainability of our native fauna such as magpies, ravens, mudlarks and ibis;
  • artificial “grass” does not filter pollutants and, contamination from animal faeces and urine will take considerably longer to break down in contrast to the processes that occur with natural turfs, grasses, sedges and other ground covers.
  • artificial “grass” is more expensive to install and has a finite life span under normal use.  The lifespan may be shortened where it is subjected to abnormal wear and tear and may not even reach the 7 to 10 years guaranteed by many manufacturers;
  • damage to artificial “grass” (eg wheel indentations, skid marks, tears, wear, discolouration from oil, grease etc) is much harder and more expensive to repair than damage to natural grass;
  • where artificial “grass” is poorly laid or becomes loose it may scrunch up and become a tripping hazard as well as look unsightly;
  • artificial “grass” is not biodegradable making it difficult to dispose of or recycle and, tonnes of road base would have to be removed if ever vegetation was to be re-established; and
  • artificial “grass” can make accessing service infrastructure (gas, water, electricity, and communications) difficult.

Artificial “grass” is not the answer to low rainfall/water restrictions and maintenance issues.  The answer lies in water wise plantings and other treatments that may not only be cheaper but more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Councillors contact details and Oliver Crosthwaite, 3 Edinburgh Street, South Perth, 9368 1308 olivercrosthwaite@yahoo.com.au

Posted in Climate Change, Recycling, Waste, Water | 2 Comments

Zero Waste Observations

I’ve been participating in our sustainability group Zero Waste Challenge over the past weeks and learned more about what we waste and strategies to reduce our contribution to City waste.  The exercise is to test if it is possible to have no waste collection from our rubbish bin but we have a way to go to achieve that. We were already composting, maintaining a worm farm, and using a Bokashi bin but we saw pretty quickly how much plastic food packaging is used to maintain even staple perishable food;  cheese, meats, nuts, pasta, etc. This has been the biggest obstacle for us to have a zero waste contribution.

We started collecting baseline data (yes, weighing the rubbish before putting it in the 240 litre bin outside) to understand our existing waste stream before attempting change. We ended up  collecting baseline data over six weeks or six rubbish collection cycles and found that the amount of rubbish can vary quite a lot depending on circumstances. Some of our observation were:

  • In week 1 we filled the 240 litre bin with bougainvillea and rose prunings because their thorns make it difficult to handle them in the compost bin.
  • After week 1 our rubbish volume was between 20 and 30 litres.
  • For three of the six weeks we broke a drinking glass which was quite a contribution to our total rubbish weight.
  • The only food that we put into the bin was chicken bones because these aren’t recommended for disposal in the Bokashi bin.

Finally we considered ways to reduce our waste and, in our Zero Waste week, managed a 27% reduction in waste compared to our best (lowest) waste baseline week. The un-compacted volume was 10 litres.

Our conclusion is that random events create rubbish (broken objects) that means we can’t achieve Zero Waste unless our recycling options expand to include household items made of plastic, glass, and porcelain. We have used a local farmers market to buy loose produce but many competitively priced perishable foods from the supermarket have packaging that can’t be recycled. One example was our two preferred brands of yougurt; one had a recyclable tub and lid whereas the other only had a recyclable tub. If a small price premium meant the second yougurt used a recyclable lid then then we have a way to reduce our waste. Similarly, we haven’t found any liquid (detergent, shampoo, etc) containers which have recyclable lids or pump dispensers. The guide for the yellow top recycling bin also excludes lids so there may also be an issue with handling small items in the recycling stream.

The Zero Waste Challenge has shown us what we are already achieving and what we might do to improve our waste but if food distribution cannot use recyclable packaging then some treatment or conversion of plastic wrapping and contaminated paper is needed to divert it from landfill.

Posted in Green Bin, Recycling, Waste, Yellow Top Bin, Zero Waste | 1 Comment

Be Active Five Dams Challenge

I participated in the Be Active Five Dams Challenge on Sunday and really enjoyed the cycling through some of the Perth Hills bushland. The checkpoints at each dam were a good opportunity to take a break, refresh water bottles and food, and also have a look across each of the dams. The low water levels were a sobering reminder of the finite water resources we depend on in metropolitan Perth.

After a recent Productivity Commission report about water resources, we’ve had local media discussion about waste water recycling and a large infrastructure project to bring fresh water from the Kimberley region.

The alternative is to take responsibility for our consumption and make our own choices about using water wisely. Grey water systems divert water onto the garden rather than using potable (scheme) water on the plants. Despite our reducing rainfall, we can harvest rainwater and use it either for toilet and washing water or onto the garden.

Careful use of a pool cover also helps reduce evaporation loss from swimming pools.

So there are many ways we can choose to sustain our own households. If our response to scarcity of local water supply is to create a huge infrastructure to source more water from a remote environment then maybe we’re not thinking in a sustainable way.

For information about water use and more sustainable household choices, visit the Sustainable Living Fair in the new City of South Perth Civic Centre Hall on Saturday 14th May between 1pm and 4pm. This is a free event and will have experts available to talk with your family about products and sustainable living strategies.

Posted in Environmental Sustainability, Garden, Grey Water, Human Sustainability, Rainwater, Water | Leave a comment

Knowledge is power

Peter, one of our participants in the sustainability group, sent me the following experience with power usage meters. I’ve posted it with his permission because it is one of the issues we would like to explore further. I’ve invited Peter to contribute directly so we can continue the discussion. For now, here is his experience:

We are all being urged to reduce energy consumption in our homes as part of the fight against global warming but there is a slight problem in achieving this aim.  Most of us have no actual idea as to how much energy is being consumed by the individual appliances that we use every day, so the first step in any energy reduction program is to find out where the energy that comes down the power lines into our homes actually
goes.  Is it that beer fridge in the garage, the new plasma TV or the pool pump in summer?

Fortunately a cheap, easy-to-use solution is at hand. It is called a POWER USAGE METER. A basic power usage meter can be purchased for around $45 from groups such as the Alternate Technology Association. Plug the unit into the electric outlet, plug an appliance into the unit then switch on the power and let the meter do the work.  It can measure the power used by appliances such as computers or televisions when they are being used continuously or leave it connected for 2 or 3 days and it can calculate the average power consumption of appliances such as refrigerators that cycle on and off throughout the day.  Leave it connected to a computer, stereo, VCR or TV that is not turned on and it will calculate how much power is being used in stand-by mode.

If you enter your cost per kW hr of energy the meter can calculate the cost per appliance for an hour/week/month or year.  The results may well surprise you!

Armed with this information you will then be in a position to makes some informed decisions as to how you can start to reduce the amount of energy needed to get you through each day.

I agree with Peter that the results are surprising. Often an appiance that has “standby” power consumption, and is always turned on, is using more power than an appliance that seems like it would use a lot of power but, because you use it so infrequently,  it doesn’t contribute much to your consumption.

I purchased one of the PowerMate Lite meters (a more expensive but more accurate meter) because I wanted to look carefully at standby power. This is the easiest power saving to make because all you need to do is switch the appliance off at the wall socket. We bought our PowerMate Lite from Environment House in Bayswater who have other sustainable living products too.

Someone advised me that councils make power usage meters available through a library loan which is a good way for residents to quickly and cheaply test their power usage. One critisism I have is that the instruction manuals are terse descriptions of the buttons and functions and assume too much knowledge about how to make and interpret power usage measurements. I think if the City of South Perth were to consider loan power usage meters then a more informative and easy to follow booklet would assist residents with their exploration of power usage around the home. The alternative is finding an existing book about energy efficiency, adding an insert to describe the power usage meter for loan, and bundling the meter and book as a loan item. We could also prepare (or find) some worksheets for download from the blog that residents could print out and use to survey their power usage.

Posted in Appliances, Energy | Leave a comment

Sustainable Living Strategy for the Community of South Perth

The City of South Perth has recently been working on the development of a Sustainable Living Strategy for the community. When the City did its visioning exercise in 2008 – residents overwhelmingly asked the City to provide more information on how to live “more sustainably”. In response, the City is developing this strategy.

Here’s the important bit…..As residents – we all have a chance to get involved, have a say and make this strategy what we want it to be. Have a think about the sorts of things you may like to learn or know more about (if anything) that may help make your footprint on the earth a little lighter – like for example growing your own veggie garden, reducing your energy/waste/water, installing greywater, making our neighbourhoods more livable/safer etc etc.

If you have any questions about the project or want to get more involved, there is a reference group which has been put together for the next 6 months and will meet probably 3 times over this period. You can find out about this group by contacting the City. Otherwise – you can feedback into the project via the link below (where there is also more background info on the project).

Pass this information on to your neighbours and friends who live in the City of South Perth – that is anyone who lives in Como, Kensington, South Perth, Manning, Salter Point, Karawara or Waterford!

http://www.southperth.wa.gov.au/news-and-events/news/2010/November/Sustainable-Living-Strategy-–-Get-Involved

Posted in Sustainability, Sustainable Living | Leave a comment

Battery recycling bin doldrums

I went back to Centro Victoria Park recently to buy some batteries and to recycle the ones that I was replacing and I couldn’t find the battery recycling bin. The space where I originally saw it had been occupied by an iced tea kiosk and I knew the bin had been moved to the side of the kiosk.

Centro battery recycling bin moved away from main pedestrian trafficWhen I approached the security person to ask about the bin, I spotted it down in the corner of the centre near an emergency exit door and well away from pedestrian traffic. His observations matched my own; that the bin seemed to be getting more rubbish in it than batteries and that he thought I was one of only a handful of people who were using it to recycle batteries. Not good.

Putting the battery recycling bin out of the way to avoid rubbish wasn’t going to improve it’s attraction for recycling either so I emailed the Town of Victoria Park about it’s demise. They responded promptly to say that they would follow up my observation and I think they are genuinely wanting to make the collection bin work.

Battery and CFL recycling in KalamundaI forwarded them this photo someone had sent me of the collection point in Kalamunda township which has additional signage that looks like it is part of the battery recovery project.

The Shire of Kalamunda is part of the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council who are very active in promoting recycling and waste minimisation. My partner and I went to a Sustainability Day held at Carmel College in the hills a few years ago and the EMRC had a stand and an enthusiastic staff member providing brochures and happy to discuss the EMRC programmes.

I think the signage and bin would work well alongside the shopping bag recycling bin near the Woolworths checkouts at Centro. It would not be in the immediate traffic path but it would be clearly visible to anyone using Woolworths; possibly the only battery supplier in Centro Victoria Park.

Full battery recycling bin in KalamundaI’d been sent the photos by a hills resident with a warning that they had attempted to use the recycling bin and had trouble getting the batteries into a full bin. I can see a real risk here. If the battery recycling facilities don’t keep pace with the community willingness to use the programme then it could get dismissed as another good idea that was poorly executed.

For now, overflowing (with batteries) recycling bins wasn’t an issue for us either in the Town of Victoria Park or the City of South Perth. It will be a success to have that problem to solve when we get to it! There is still a way to go.

Posted in Batteries, Recycling | Leave a comment