Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bob the Builder (can we fix it!)

I mentioned in a previous post about minimalism that rather than buy furniture we would buy quality materials and make our own. Or should I say my boyfriend would make it. I wouldn't know the first thing but somehow he's a natural. So the first thing he decided to build was a coffee table. We took a trip up to a sawmill about a month ago and he bought some nice Macrocarpa wood. Macrocarpa is an untreated New Zealand exotic timber and is one of the most eco friendly timbers in New Zealand.

Our new coffee table

Nick and I love wood with a bit of character so while selecting the large piece of Macrocarpa we looked for as many interesting knots and 'flaws' as we could find. Back at home Nick sawed and sanded it down into the pieces we needed. After staining it with a nice dark stain to match our dining room table he bolted it together with brackets. In total it took a few weeks but we had to be careful as we don't have a garage so we didn't want to annoy the neighbours too much.

The detailing

The outcome was fantastic, I couldn't be happier. The coffee table looks great, it's the perfect size and along with being a more sustainable option it also has a lot of sentimental value so I know we will want to keep it forever. Next up is some bookcases! I can't wait.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Product Review: Earthwise Laundry Powder

Another new product switch has been in my laundry. I decided to try Earthwise Laundry Powder (fragrance free). A plant and mineral based laundry powder that is safe for grey water and septic tanks. It is advertised as 2x concentrate so you only need a small amount to successfully wash your clothes and they tell the truth. I have been pleasantly surprised by how long one box has lasted. All my clothes and towels have come out perfectly clean and there are no strong artificial smells.

I was disappointed when I first opened the box to find the powder inside was contained within plastic so I contacted Earthwise who in response to my query replied "the plastic bag we use is fully recyclable" so I'm happy enough with that result.

Overall I found the Laundry Powder to be a great product and will definitely continue to buy it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rachel Botsman at HP Tech@Work 2011

I love listening to Rachel Botsman talk about collaborative consumption. Rachel recently presented at the HP Tech@Work 2011 conference in Melbourne, Australia.

I absolutely love this quote from the video "there's a whole generation where experiences are better than stuff or where access trumps ownership" (04:55)

That is what I strive for. A life where experiences are better than stuff.

Watch on vimeo or embedded below


Rachel Botsman at HP Tech@Work 2011 from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How minimalism can help the environment

Minimalism can be defined as

"One who believes in or seeks a minimal state; one who seeks to minimize or reduce to a minimum."

The minimalism movement is certainly nothing new, however there has been an explosion of bloggers touting the minimalist lifestyle in the past few years. I have been following a selection of these blogs and find myself drawn to minimalism for a different reason to most. Many find a minimalistic lifestyle a form of meditation, a way to slow life down and create a calm space. I see the potential to create a better environment.

People seem to swing all along the minimalist pendulum; there are those who challenge themselves to live with less than 100 things, others who live (or wish to live) in tiny houses or who strive to live in one room in their house. And yet there are others who simply want to de-clutter their lives.

The current thinking is we should own more and more. Everything is disposable. Something breaks? Oh well just buy a new one. Have some clothes/gifts/souvenir that you get home and find you don't actually like? No problem, it didn't cost much just throw it out. This kind of mindset creates waste on a large scale. Our landfills are overflowing, our ocean has become a plastic rubbish tip and yet we are still buying and throwing out things we don't need. But a minimalist life forces you to re-address the way you live. I may never limit my life to 100 possessions but I can certainly care more for the things I do own.

A minimalist lifestyle asks you to reassess the worth of the things you own. It asks you whether you really need all the possessions you have and all the possessions you want to have. Many who read these blogs might think - hold on, they're throwing everything out. How can that be good for the environment? For me, the core to minimalism isn't about simply getting rid of the things you have (although there are plenty of great re-use and recycle options for your current belongings) but it is about changing the way you think to reduce the amount of disposable items coming into your house in the first place.

My mantra is to buy higher quality less often. This doesn't mean buying the most expensive thing you can find. On the contrary it means finding the best quality product for a great price. It's about looking at the labels of your clothes and buying good quality material that won't warp or shrink in the wash. Clothes that will last and are worth mending if a seam splits of a button falls off. In fact many of my clothes are from second hand stores but I still look for good quality, long lasting material whether I'm buying new or second hand. It's also about buying quality made furniture, or as we are trying to do more of in our household, buying high quality materials and building our own furniture.

Souvenirs are the perfect example. How many times have you travelled overseas or to another city and bought a keyring / mug / hat / shirt (insert tacky souvenir as appropriate)? Where are they now? Sitting in a box at the bottom of your wardrobe? Maybe they were thrown out long ago? It's about changing the way that you look at your purchases. I have travelled many parts of the world but rather than come home with a bag full of temporary keepsakes I have a tonne of photos and an array of experiences stored in my memory. I did decide on one item for each place I visited - a postcard. One beautiful postcard from every place I have been which will be created into a wall mural, so it is never hidden away and not seen or used.

Here are some ideas on ways to bring minimalism into your life.
  • Think before you buy. Try not to impulse buy. Leave it for a day or even a week. If you still need the item after that impulse has passed than you know you will actually use it.
  • Buy good quality products. Ask yourself will this last. Is the material good quality. Is it solid and well made. Is it a timeless style which I will still like next season/year. Will I still have this or be able to resell it in 10 years time?
  • Does it have multiple uses. Especially kitchen items, too many people buy single use items that often rarely gets used. How many of these do you have in your kitchen drawer? Don't buy these kinds of items in the first place. Look for innovative ways to reuse items you already have.
  • Give experiences not things. This is such a difficult one. You know what I mean, those wonderful thoughtful gifts that sit in the bottom of a cupboard for the rest of their lives. Start asking your family and friends to buy you experiences rather than throw-away things. Movie tickets, a day at the thermal hot pools, home made baking; there are so many options. Start giving these kinds of gifts in return, they'll soon get the idea.

The important thing is to change your habits to reduce the amount of short term items that come and go out of your household. Many of the blogs focus on de-cluttering and getting rid of your "stuff" however if you don't change your habits you will just replace that stuff with more stuff. So instead of focusing on minimising what you already have, minimise what you will have.

Do you live a minimalist lifestyle? What about it appeals to you? Do you have great ideas for reducing the amount of disposable items that enter our homes? I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Product Review: Eco store shampoo & conditioner

I have slowly been switching as many products as I can over to environmentally friendly options. About a month ago I switched my shampoo & conditioner over to ecostore shampoo and conditioner for normal hair.

These products are made from all plant based ingredients so not only are you putting less chemicals down the shower drain, it is also much better for your skin.

I used both for awhile, and I noticed that my hair was getting a little more oily and just generally a little more lacking. I also found myself washing my hair twice as often as I normally do. This turned out to be my biggest problem as I was going through the shampoo twice as fast as my normal shampoo, and as it is more expensive it was quite a concern. I also did not like that it doesn't lather as well as my normal shampoo which means it was difficult to get it deep into the roots of my hair and down the full length of my hair (I have very long hair).

I knew my hair may need time to get used to new shampoo so I did give it a long time before I made up my mind. Unfortunately my hair never returned to it's normal fullness. So I decided that unfortunately this shampoo was not for me. I do however love the citrus smell of it so I decided to try combining a shampoo that I know works for me with the ecostore conditioner which had such a lovely smell. This seems to work perfectly for my hair so at the very least I am converted on the conditioner, but sadly the shampoo just wasn't for me.

I love that eco store have created such a broad range of products and that most of them are available in local supermarkets. I hope to try their skin care range next however I need to wait till I run out of my current moisturisers :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Could you live in a one car household?

What? Some of you extremists are saying? One car? You should be trying to live without cars entirely!

Okay one step at a time. Let's be realistic here. In a town without an extensive public transport system or car sharing schemes the reality for many of us is that we need our cars.

But! How many cars do you have in your household? Maybe you and your husband each have a car? Maybe a parent lives with you and they have a car? Maybe you have a teenager of driving age (or 2) and they have cars? What is your number? Now think, how many cars do you really need? No, really think about it.

Unfortunately for some of us the answer right now may have to be yes we do. But maybe there are things you could change in your life so eventually you won't need every car you own? Baby steps people, baby steps.

In my household there is just my partner and I and we have de-sized to just one car. The biggest struggle was convincing my other half that we didn't actually need two cars, easier said than done. But we are in the fortunate situation that we work close together (within a 15-20min walk) and we both have public transport options to work, if we didn't have one of these options I think I would have lost the one car battle but as luck would have it we have both.

So we have a bit of flexibility in our working day. If I need to be into work early I take the bus however if I get a bit of glide time in my day then we both go in together. Same with coming home. 

Yes there is the need for compromise. Sometimes I need the car after work and my boyfriend will need to bus home (or he works late and I come back to pick him up) and vice versa but we give each other plenty of notice so we can work around the things we want to do.

Weekends are definitely the easiest as we mostly are spending time with each other so we can share the car. So for now we are quite comfortable in our one car household and with any luck we'll keep it that way.

The biggest advantage? Only one set of maintenance costs. The costs to maintain a car - warrant of fitness, registration, yearly service, insurance - really add up and the difference is noticeable.

Here in New Zealand we have the highest car ownership rate in the world. There are 2.5 million cars for our 4 million people! Since 21% of our population is under 15 and are unable to drive that actually means there are approximately 2.5 million cars for 3.2 million people. A bit of an approximation but you get the picture.

I want you to ask yourself - Could I get rid of one of my cars? or What could I do in my life right now that would get me one step closer to getting rid of a car?

Do you already live in a one car family? Or are you living without a car? I would love to hear your experiences.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Could you live rubbish free?

Approximately 6 months ago I came across Waveney and Matthew's journey to go rubbish free for a year http://www.rubbishfree.co.nz. I thought it was one of the most inspiring things I had seen and is quite possibly what drove me to try and be the eco consumer I am attempting to be. The premise was quite simple, go rubbish free for an entire year. They did give themselves a little bit of a break and had one rubbish bag for the year but they tried everything they could not to fill it! I love to read what these two are up to and their latest blog post doesn't disappoint. They were approached by Unilever to create a challenge for their 12 executives, something they did with gusto. And what goals have Unilever given itself?
"by 2020 they plan to have halved the environmental footprints of their products, source 100% of their agricultural raw materials sustainably and help one billion people take action to improve their health and wellbeing"
What a great start.

Worm Farms - a how to guide

As I mentioned earlier in my reducing your rubbish post, after reviewing some of the options out there I decided a worm farm would work the best for me. When I started I knew absolutely nothing about worm farms but thanks to my local community centre I was able to learn the basics and from there it has just been a bit of research and hands on experience. So I would like to share what I know, starting from the complete basics.

Setting up the bin

 

The first step for most people is to buy a bin. You'll see the type I bought on the left so I will explain using this example but they all work to the same principles. Firstly the black bin on the bottom is used to catch the worm tea (also known as worm urine). It comes with a tap that can be used to extract the tea. Notice this is a cheaper variety of bin so there are no legs but you can simply prop it up on some bricks or on a low table to make it easier to remove tea from the tap.

There are two green layers also known as working trays, this is where the worms live and where you will get your castings (essentially worm poo). The idea behind the stacking layers is that you can easily remove castings when a bin is full by giving the worms another bin to move into where they feed.

Between each layer is a lid with holes in it. In the bin shown there are large holes which go between layers and a lid with smaller holes which sits on top. Also in the black bin you place an upside down bucket (which comes with the bin). This allows any worms that might fall through the holes into the black bin to climb back up into the green layer and reduces the risk that they might drown in the worm tea.

Step one: You only need one green layer to start. Sit the other one in the garage or somewhere out of the way, you don't need it until the first layer is full. Make sure that you have the lid with big holes between the black and green layer and the lid with small holes on the top.

Step Two: Now you need to create a bed for your worms. One of the most popular is coconut husk/fibre. They love this stuff and it gives them just the right diet to get them started. You should be able to buy this where you get your worms. Other options are hay, shredded damp paper or cardboard. With coconut husk it comes in a hard lump. You need to soak it in water (it will expand a lot) and then you can place it in the bottom of your green layer. Once you have the bed, spread your worms evenly over it (here in NZ we most commonly use Tiger worms). You will need about 1000 (250g) worms but you can use 2000 if you want to get your worm farm up and running faster.

Step Three: After the first couple of days start feeding them. The most important thing at this stage is not to overfeed them. Worms eat approximately their own weight in food a day. So for 250g you should only be giving them about 200g of food a day. It can be exciting to finally have your worm farm and it can be tempting to put all of your food scraps in the bin, but I have learned from experience that this is not a good idea as you will end up with rotten food and your bin will start to smell and attract fruit flys. So start slow!

Step Four: Cover up. It is a good idea to cover food scraps with damp newspaper to limit bugs and odour. Also a worms diet needs to consist of 30% carbon so it is important to feed them ripped up damp newspaper  and small dry leaves.

Step Five: When your first layer is almost fill place your second green layer on top (make sure to switch the right lids around), add another worm bed and then start adding food. Your worms will slowly migrate into the top bin where the food is and when the worms have left the lower bin you can remove it to get the castings, switching the top layer where your worms are to the bottom.

That's it! You should now be ready for some great benefits including a lighter rubbish bin and some great fertiliser for your garden. Here are some tips that might also help you along the way.

Tips
  • Choose a well sheltered spot for your worms. They need to be away from sun, wind and rain. Carports or sheltered porches are ideal locations for your worms.
  • Chop up food into small chunks. Most food has a natural barrier (example the skin of apples) which protect it from things like worms. So to make it easier for your worms chop all food into small pieces providing easy access to the fleshy parts of the food.
  • If it gets really cold in winter wrap some old carpet around your bins to keep the warmth in. This will help your worms stay active over the winter season.
  • When using your worm tea dilute it about 1:10 so it gets the colour of weak tea
  • Worms need air but not light (which is why they will hide away when you open the lid)
  • Worms need a moist environment. Dampen any newspaper, leaves or coconut husks you add.
  • It can get too wet though (which is why you keep them out of the rain). If you grab a handful of castings and squeeze them and water pours out then it is too wet. Add some dry newspaper strips and leaves to get it back to a moist level.
  • Worms are best in a 10-30degC range so be careful if where you live constantly goes out of this range.

Worms Like

Worms Don't like

Most fruit and veggie scraps     

Spicy food, onion, garlic
Coffee grounds and teabagsCitrus/acidic food
Aged Horse ManureMeat and milk products
Dirty PaperShiny Paper
Crushed EggshellsFlour products
Vacuum cleaner dustGarden Waste
Hair / nail clippingsLarge amounts of cooked food

Okay that may seem like a lot to remember but worms are a bit more resilient than you think. They aren't going to die if you throw in the odd lemon wedge or onion piece, it will just sit there for a rather long time before they eat it.

Common worm farm problems


Problem

Cause

Solution

Rotting food     

Too much food / wrong food / pieces too big
Feed Less and chop smaller
Fruit flies or small white bugs and wormsToo acidicCover food with damp paper. Add lime to increase pH
Worms climbing up sides. Worms fat & pale.Too wetAdd paper and dry leaves
AntsToo dry or acidicAdd water/lime
No worm teaNot enough waterAdd water

So there you have it. A step by step guide to your worm farm. I hope it has helped you and it encourages you to take that step to starting a worm farm of your own. Just remember you don't have to buy a worm farm, you can make your own but that may need to be a post for another time.
Anybody else have some great tips for worm farms they want to share?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What is Collaborative Consumption?

A week ago I had never heard of collaborative consumption and now I am seeing it everywhere. Collaborative consumption is the idea of trading, swapping, sharing or renting access to products and services rather than individual ownership. Although the concept has been around for awhile it has really taken off thanks to an explosion of new technologies such as smart phones and provides a new economic model for our consumer driven world.

Transport is a great place to find examples of collaborative consumption. Car sharing web sites provide the ability for city goers to get rid of their cars and only rent a shared car when they need one. Some of the companies provide the cars such as http://www.cityhop.co.nz/ (NZ) and http://www.zipcar.com (US) providing hourly rental rates where cars are parked all over the city ready for pickup. Renting is as simple as booking the car and using smartcards to unlock and drive away. Other sites go even further and provide true peer-to-peer sharing services such as http://www.whipcar.com/ (UK).

Bicycle hire is a fast growing initiative in many cities around the world. Centred on the idea that commuters rent a bicycle from one location and drop it off at another bike stand location across the city. It is a fantastic system for reducing short distance car and bus trips and greatly improves a cities transport options. London (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/14808.aspx) and Paris (http://www.paris.com/tourism/bike_hire_in_paris) have both implemented cycle hire systems and Paris has even gone as far as providing the first hour free. I would love to see this concept rolled out across all the cities in the world. Hey if London can successfully implement this initiative even with it's high bicycle theft rates than any city can.

http://www.landshare.net (UK) is one of the ideas that I think has real potential to change the way we live in this world. Building on the concept of community gardens and allotments (something there is simply not enough of), Landshare matches up people who want to grow their own food with others who have land to spare. I am a huge advocate of eating locally produced food in order to improve your local economy and reduce unnecessary long distance transportation and Landshare provides a way to not only buy local but to actually grow it yourself no matter what your living arrangements.

Accommodation is another area in which new collaborative communities are growing rapidly. http://www.couchsurfing.org/ connects travellers with locals allowing members to host travellers in their home. People can offer anything from a spare room to a couch for their visitors. CouchSurfing relies on a trading principle as hosts don't request payment, instead hosts will invariably use the services of some other host when they travel somewhere in the world. Whereas http://www.crashpadder.com provides the ability for people to hire out a room in their house just like a hotel.

And then there are the numerous product swapping sites out there from clothes (http://swishing.com) to books (http://bookmooch.com/) and new takes on the old library system such as toy libraries which are popping up all around the world http://toylibrary.co.nz/.

One of my all time favourite sites at the moment is Donate NZ (www.donatenz.com) which matches donators who have time or goods to give with charities who need them. You can browse all of the wishes of current charities at any time to see if you can help. It can be anything from a charity needing a new laptop to needing someone to help them paint a room (http://www.donatenz.com/Donate/BrowseWishList.aspx). 

Collaborative consumption is a movement that is being driven by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers through their book: What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. I'll be tracking down the book at my local library so watch this space for an update. Also known as the "sharing economy", collaborative consumption could provide a new economic approach allowing us to move away from the consumerism nature of our society providing a more sustainable, community driven way of life.

References
http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com/
"Share Options" in Big Issue UK