Thursday 30 May 2013

a green trash fling

Who would have thought that the blog post I write about the week I move from Australia to the USA would be about trash?

Well, I suppose I was starting to understand the amount of trash we accumulate as I was separating my apartment into piles of 'Keep!' 'Donate!' 'Sell!' and 'Toss!'.  That toss pile grew larger than I'd like to admit, but if an item wasn't of sentimental value and wasn't in good enough condition to donate, it was heading to the landfill - I wasn't about to send old chipped mixing bowls and a leaky kettle to America.

When all was said and done, we had about 3 large boxes of rubbish and other random bits and pieces like old mops and lamps and our mattress to dispose of responsibly. So after handing in our keys and saying farewell to Manly-town, we hopped in GoGet's Bob the Van, loaded him up with our trash, and made our way to Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre.

We weren't the only ones with stuff to get rid of!

So many different sections (I didn't have time to visit the eco-garden,
but it looked cool from the car!)

At first, I was terribly excited. This huge facility is located among gorgeous bushland in Sydney's northern beaches, and there are sections for safely disposing of oil, bulk recycling, electronic waste collection, and furniture collection.

My hubby taking our e-waste to the collection site.

Then we drove around to the rubbish pile to fling our waste onto a pile of more rubbish (the least green flinging I've done in a long while!). I hadn't expected to feel so blue. It was the strangest feeling, when we pulled up to that pile my heart felt heavy and I couldn't even help my hubby throw the stuff out of the van. I made an excuse that I was cold, but really it was so depressing to see all that excess stuff in a massive pile among the natural beauty of the bushland. Kimbriki staff go through much of it, to try and recover any bits they can recycle, but coming face to face with that pile was like consumer society giving me a big ole kick in the gut.

So depressing . . .

Next we drove over to the pile of mattresses. Wow. I'd made some phone calls about getting ours 'refurbished', it was fairly new, but truthfully it was all a bit too hard, even for this greenie. So I had to be content to bring it to Kimbriki knowing they will at least take out the metal to be recycled.

One of two mattress piles.

All in all, that final moving day was a stark reminder of all this stuff we accumulate, and real food for thought as I start to set up house in America.

Remember these! I was so excited when my Uni put them
all throughout the computer lab at the library.

And now I'm in idyllic Hawaii, visiting my Dad and his family and enjoying a bit of R&R in paradise. (Yes, I'm totally spoiled. Thanks for living here, Dad!)

Yesterday we went on a hike along the northwest side of Oahu. Shortly into our walk my hubby spotted a plastic bag on the ground so picked it up to throw away later, and I soon found two more. Next thing you know, my gorgeous little brother and sister were helping us collect rubbish all along the coastal walk. Sadly, there was so much that we had to limit what we collected to plastic, rubber, metal and aluminum, leaving paper (hoping it will disintegrate) and glass (unsafe for little hands to collect).

My little brother putting some rubbish in my hubby's bag.

By the end of our walk we had three heavy plastic bags full of rubbish and recycling. We are happy to do our small part, but it is still so sad to see so much trash around the island. I am a big fan of the Take 3 campaign in Oz, encouraging people to take 3 pieces of rubbish every time they leave the beach, but sometimes it pays to take more than three - especially when the first three things you collect are plastic bags!

The garbage collectors! I'm sporting my Aussie hat with pride!

Hawaii was the first state to ban plastic bags throughout the entire state, and it's easy to see why it's so important here, but the law doesn't come into full effect until July 2015. I'm hoping the retailers start transitioning early, so next time I come down to visit the family I see fewer plastic bags flying around the beach and into the ocean.

Well, I've had quite a tiring week, physically and emotionally. I'm off to the beach to enjoy my last full day in Hawaii before flying to California tomorrow.  I'll send you updates on what green things I find in San Diego, and a lot from the Sustainable Brands conference the first week of June!


Friday 17 May 2013

a green moving fling

It's official, my hubby and I are moving back to the United States after nearly 9 years in our adopted home of Australia.

Watch out America!

Now, I know moving house is known to be one of life's most stressful events, right up there with death, divorce and starting a new job.I've moved a lot, and I'll admit it's more stressful the older I get, but I don't know if I'd rank it higher than getting married, writing my book or finishing my Master's degree.

But . . .

Moving overseas has ramped up the stress level. Add to that wanting to make the move as sustainable as possible, and stress levels may rise higher than a regular move across town.

As we enjoy our final week living in idyllic Manly Beach and soaking up as much time with our beloved friends as possible, we are also in the thick of the "Keep!" "Sell!" "Donate!" or "Toss!"game that comes with moving.

At first the idea of sending anything back to the US seemed ridiculous, but 9 years is a long time, and we have accumulated some sentimental stuff we'd like in our new home (like from aforementioned stressful wedding, for example). So, we are sending some things on a boat to America, but what to take?

I wasn't about to engage in a Life Cycle Analysis of sending each item on the boat (though I sure wish there was an app for that), so unless an item has high sentimental value, we have to decision to make.
  1. Can we sell it?
  2. Is it in good enough condition to donate?
  3. Can it be recycled?
  4. Is the only place for this landfill? 
  5. Should it come on the boat?
Here are just some of the choices we've made so far . . .

Anything with an Australian plug had to stay, so that was easy, and luckily I was able to sell all of our major appliances. So happy they will be reused!

This 4.5 Energy Star fridge was popular on Gumtree!

Much of our furniture is in excellent condition, so I'm pleased so say we sold a number of items via Facebook and Gumtree and the remaining will be picked up by the Salvos next week.

Remember these chairs? I will be sad to part
with them after my handiwork!

This is coming with me - after my loving refurb
I can't bear parting with it!
Mattresses are understandably not an item you can donate, though can occasionally be refurbished and are recyclable. Ours is only two years old (and made with organic fabric!) and last year sat in storage unused for 6 months, but it's going to be recycled. There is even Mission Australia program run in the south of Sydney recycling and refurbishing mattresses as a social enterprise that provides and training in the Illawarra region called Soft Landings.

Small household items
Many small appliances and household goods are being 'gifted' to friends (blender! space heater! iron! microwave!), and the remainder will be donated. The idea of 'offloading' my cooking tools and laundry basket among other small items makes me cringe as I know many charity shops receive more donations than they know what to do with (for certain items, not furniture, though, they always need good furniture). The only thing making me feel better is the knowledge that I live in a transient neighbourhood of travelers so I feel confident most items will get a second life.

But I look around every day and see something else that I'm just not sure about, though. I mean, you can't really donate a toilet scrubber, can you? So inevitably some of these things will end up in the (ugh) landfill...

Truthfully, for a so-called 'fashionista' my wardrobe has never been smaller. Thanks to cleaning out last year ahead of our travels and generally not over-purchasing, I don't have that many clothes. I'll do a final clean out and most items will come in my luggage wit large winter items winning a spot on the boat.

photo: The Guardian
Clothing is typically donated to charity shops in huge amounts, and in the US shops receive 5 times the amount of clothes than they can donate. So remember, buy fewer clothes, buy quality items, and when you do donate, make sure it's in the best condition.

You know that drawer in your house filled with old electronics, wires, chargers, phones and laptops? Well now I really have to dispose of those items. I've been holding onto them, knowing they don't go into the landfill, but time is running out. I need to call TechCollect or take them to my local collection point at Kimbriki.

Globally we throw away anywhere from 20 million to 50 million metric tons of eWaste each year, with only 10-18% getting recycled.  Next time you upgrade your computer, television or mobile phone, first see if anyone else can use it, then make sure to recycle it safely.

Bits and pieces
Since I'm moving out for good, all the little things will need to be dealt with - lightbulbs, leftover laundry detergent, spices, dish soap - I've done the best I can to not over-purchase anything during the past few months, bu there will inevitably be a lot going into the bin unless I can offload it onto friends and neighbours. I think all the things that will be thrown away is the most stressful part of this move for me - so unsustainable! 


As I'm writing this and looking around my office, I see so many items I still need to make decisions on - sketchbooks with only 5 pages used, my stack of eco-magazines (Green Living, Peppermint, Green Lifestyle), pillows on the daybed, my stack of photos from those photography courses I took five years ago. And what about that cool free postcard I picked up to stick to my inspiration board? Has that earned a place on the boat?

I realise, perhaps more than most, how these things create our identity. We use items to portray ourselves a certain way, and a stack of partially used notebooks or old magazines may look like rubbish to an outsider, but they really contain pieces of me.

Right, this is why it's a stressful occasion.

At least I got the big things taken care of - I better get cracking on the rest.  If you have any tips (or are in the market for any household items!) please get in touch, I'll take all the help I can get right about now.


Friday 10 May 2013

a green freshie fling

Who would've thought that one of the city's greenest arcades would be found in Freshwater? Well it is, I suggest those of you on the south side hop on the ferry and have a fabulous green day in Manly tomorrow. The Manly Fair Trade Markets will be on, and then it's a lovely 30-minute stroll to Freshie. Lovely!

I spent the morning in this eco-friendly alley (officially 12-14 Lawrence Street).  I had a hair appointment at the fabulously-eco salon Atsi for a lovely touch up of Original & Mineral colour.

Across the way is Wild Ginger Beauty, offering holistic beauty treatments. I haven't tried the salon myself, but I know they use Butter London nail polish, a leader in eco-polish due to the lack of Formaldehyde or Toluene. The salon uses Anna Lotan skin products, which claim to be free from animal cruelty and use natural ingredients, though I haven't seen a full ingredients list.

I then spent a good hour hanging out with Carlie from Indigo Bazaar at Darley Collective - the pop-up store was wildly popular in Manly this summer and the team has joined up again to bring us ethical and local fashion.

Darley Collective is the team of sustainable fashion online retailer Indigo Bazaar and local designers Linda Smyth of Betty Browne, Holly Turnbull of Masinissa and Linda Tahija of Linda Tahija Jewellery.

I'm always talking about Indigo Bazaar, and it's because their sourcing criteria are some of the most stringent out there, earning the company a Highly Commended Ethical Fashion Forum Source award for best practice in curation, marketing and sale of sustainable fashion.  Well, that and owner Carlie Ballard has amazing taste, so I know I'm in good hands.

Here's a peek at my new sustainable pieces.

KissinCussin black tank
Patterned pants by Indigo Bazaar

Lalesso skirt

Betty Browne organic cotton singlet

I'll be attending the Sustainable  Brands conference this June in San Diego, what better excuse to stock up on fabulous ethical fashion? Drop me a line if you'll be at the conference, I'd love to connect!

You can also see Indigo Bazaar at the Manly Fair Trade markets - tell Carlie I say hello and pick up a pair of the limited edition patterned trousers!

Tuesday 7 May 2013

a green TED fling

I made it onto the stage at TEDxSydney!

Thanks to my friend Mel from Sustainability at Work
for the photo.

How in the world did I manage that?

Somewhere between buzzing with emotion documented in my last blog post and feeling the ideas-love coming from the rest of the delegates, I found myself pitching my 30-second 'Idea worth sharing' to the organisers and landed myself on stage with a dozen other brave and clever souls.

I won't lie, I nearly didn't pitch my idea. I mean, 2200 audience members in the flesh and who knows how many more watching the live stream. I didn't feel like I had enough time to really polish my idea. Would everyone think "well, duh, that's hardly original"? But I gathered up my courage and pitched my idea, and soon after found myself on stage at the Sydney Opera House with Gretel Killeen holding my microphone.

So, what was my idea?

"Do you know where your top came from? Or your dress? Do you know where it really came from?

Wouldn't it be amazing if we had truly sustainable fashion? I can't wait for the day when I pick up a garment at any shop and it is required to have a label that tells the entire story with complete transparency, including:
  • Where the materials were produced or grown
  • Where the fabric was produced
  • Who sewed it
  • Where and in what conditions
  • The full environmental cost of the garment
Perhaps when we can all be fully informed purchasers, we can demand responsible practices from our labels, suppliers and retailers, and we will finally see the end of tragedies such as last week's Bangladesh garment factory collapse."

I was nervous, so I'm sure it didn't come out as smoothly as that, but you get the point. And afterward I had many people come up to me and say they liked my idea, that I was brave to get up there, and not to ask them where their dress was from. Ha ha - cute!

I'll try and get a better photo and/or video, but for now, score 1 for spreading the message about sustainable fashion!

Me and Gretel onstage. For the record, I was wearing
a PeopleTree Fairtrade, organic cotton dress and
secondhand shoes (thanks Em!).

Friday 3 May 2013

can we please say enough is enough?

The death toll from last week's Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Savar, Bangladesh is well over 400, with over 2500 injured. Last year the same region suffered the loss of 112 individuals killed in a garment factory fire at Tazreen Fashions near Dhaka.

Can we please say enough is enough?

Rana Plaza collapse : Andrew Biraj REUTERS
After reading hundreds of articles and seeing innumerable heart-wrenching photos I cannot begin to understand how the loved ones of the victims must be feeling. I am devastated that we live in a world where this type of event happens time and again. And why? For the luxury of cheap fashion. I know if I were to ask you fellow fashion-lovers whether you thought it was fair for people who made your clothing to work in dangerous conditions the answer would be a resounding 'No!', yet this is just the latest bad news from a number of dangerous factories dotting the globe.

Please tell me we've reached the tipping point and these conditions are no longer acceptable?

Waiting on news of rescue efforts: Andrew Biraj REUTERS
I understand and respect those who felt compelled to boycott Primark in the UK over the weekend because of their connection to Rana Plaza, but boycotting cannot solve this complex issue. The garment industry represents 80% of Bangladesh's exports and employs 4 million people - to boycott the brands may ultimately cause them to pull out of Bangladesh altogether, when what we need them to do is stay there and fix the situation.

There is a lot of finger pointing happening at the moment, with brands and retailers blaming poor regulation, and factories blaming brands and retailers for being too demanding.  It seems the largest problem is poor governmental regulation in Bangladesh; unsafe buildings are not shut down, reportedly made worse with numerous cases of owners buying building safety approvals. In the case of Rana Plaza, a building with visible damage and safety warnings from local police, it's widely known the owner was heavily politically connected.

Given the shaky state of regulation the only hope for change rests with the companies using garment factories. It will cost a lot of money to get these factories up to safety standards - money the factories don't have, but Western companies do. It's time our labels paid the full price of the garment they are ordering by ensuring the buildings are up to high safety codes even if that means paying for the upgrades themselves. Please charge me $5 more for my t-shirt or $10 more for my dress so you can make this happen.

It's clear there is a huge problem with Corporate Social Responsibility programs when these events occur. I have no sympathy for companies' lamentations about the difficulty of managing their supply chain, particularly from the large labels reportedly coming out of Rana Plaza (Primark, Mango, Matalan, Bonmarche and others) . I understand there are many stages to production, but that doesn't mean companies don't have a responsibility to inspect these stages and the site(s) of production. As a woman with a business background I can't understand how these business leaders can ignore such an important part of their business. Unsafe working conditions in factories is hardly a 'new' phenomenon and it's simply bad business to assume a place is safe based on a certificate, particularly from a country with shaky regulation.

It's time for retailers and fashion labels to step up, and it's time for us fashion-lovers to let them know we won't tolerate irresponsible behaviour any loner. So, how can you make a difference?

Sign this petition on to demand compensation and action by the brands involved and the Bangladesh government. Primark has already stepped forward to compensate victim's families, and is asking other brands involved to do the same. 

Buy Fairtrade certified clothing as much as possible. I remain a strong proponent of voting with your wallet - demand Fairtrade and over time it will be easier to find these products. A couple of my personal favourite Fairtrade labels include People Tree, ALAS and Kowtow.

Purchase ethical and sustainable labels.  I love certification, but I also know that many small organisations struggle to meet all levels of Fairtrade certification even though they are fully committed to safe and healthy work conditions. I like to shop with Indigo Bazaar in Australia and Fashioning Change in America because they have done the hard work for me in researching beautiful items I can buy with a clear conscience. You can reference other brands via the Ethical Fashion Forum website.

Demand transparency from your favourite brands and retailers. It's time to get active people, and I mean in the activist sense of the word. Start conversations with companies about how important it is for them to behave responsibly by knowing their entire supply chain and the conditions at each level. Let them know you're willing to pay a little bit more to ensure safe working conditions for garment factory workers all over the world.

Buy less and wear your clothes longer.  Fashion is a luxury item, no matter what the cost. Buy good quality pieces, launder them carefully, and treasure them. Remember, someone made it for you!

Remember this story when you're making your next clothing purchase. Look at the labels, understand the brand, and consider beyond the price tag. It's simply unfair for anyone in the world to suffer for the safe of our lifestyle.

Garment workers at a Fairtrade cotton factory.