May 28, 2011

Live greener - reducing waste and power use at home

As the world's environment is under more and more pressure it can feel overwhelming, making you feel powerless - how to help, how to make a difference, what to do when your children are worried about the state of the world?

So we started at home - the one place you do have control over. We chose reducing packaging and waste, reducing food miles, and reducing plastic and processing of foods. 

It is also more frugal and thrifty - save money, save the world, save your sanity.

Feel powerful
Oh, and we have 100% green electricity and a 1kw. solar feed-in system. As more than 50% of every family's greenhouse emissions come from electricity, by signing up to "100% GreenPower electricity" it means you can reduce your family's emissions by around 50% - significantly reducing your impact on climate change.

In fact, if you could only do one thing this month - make it changing your electricity supply to green sources through your power supplier. Our household power is mostly wind-generated power from South Australia - it works like a voucher system. Read more about it here in Australia.

Here is a list of things we do as a family:

  • recycle as much paper, plastic and food cans as possible through our domestic local council collection
  • recycle metals other than food cans directly at our local recycling centre: this has included pedal bins, broken lamps, brackets, hinges, wire, off-cuts of metal etc
  • reuse old broken appliances: we have 3 old dishwashers in active service as garden storage and chicken grain storage containers. They are water and vermin proof.
  • resist buying plastic containers wherever we can: I feel increasingly concerned about plastic leaching from food packaging so have slowly moved unrecyclable plastic containers out of the kitchen for storage of nails, screws, craft materials etc. 
  • re-use glass jars for leftovers and pantry storage of bulk foods as well as when freezing: I realised that all the organic food we buy and grow was then placed into plastic for storage! Crazy.
  • buy bulk where possible and do a big supermarket shop once a month
  • take our own bags, boxes, esky (cold box with ice blocks) and cool bags shopping: as soon as your bags are emptied in the kitchen put them STRAIGHT away back in the car : )
  • buying milk directly from the dairy and placing it from the vat into glass jars with metal lids: by far our biggest waste reducer. Along with the $ savings for the milk itself we save 8 x 2 litre plastic containers every week - although recyclable these plastic bottles are huge users of electricity to process to make the first time (that is, the burning of coal for power) and the subsequent re-melting for recycling of the plastic IF indeed they are all recycled. Think of the fuel costs for each litre from farm to milk depot and processor then out again in plastic bottles to the supermarket depot then out to the individual store. Urgh.
  • make our own butter and yoghurt and ice cream: also in glass or ceramic containers, no freight other than from the dairy cow on the farm then directly home in our car.
  • home baking when possible: sourdough bread, biscuits, crackers, cakes
  • home brewed ginger beer and also low alcohol beer: a great homeschool exercise in measurement maths, following recipes, temperature maths, the chemical changes in yeast and sugar to create carbon dioxide, label making craft, as well as the environmental benefits, and...patience as the kids' ginger beer takes 2-3 weeks to ferment ready to drink! (I think Mike really enjoyed guilt-free beer drinking while accumulating enough bottles for his brew!)
  • buy locally grown fruit, nuts, vegetables and meat at our local weekly farmers market 
  • grow our own fruit and vegetables where possible
  • keeping our own chickens for eggs
  • give food scraps to the chickens
  • compost other food scraps like coffee grounds, tea leaves, potato skins, citrus, onion skins, meat bones to reduce land-fill rubbish
  • buy bulk and cook it up: November is exploring cooking at the moment as her current interest is in doing family "chores" - oh yes, I never thought I'd be writing that sentence! - and this week it was processing 10 kilos of tomatoes into soup. We ended up with 9 litres which saved buying some 20 cans of soup. It cost $33 in ingredients - which along with our time meant half price soup that is at least twice as good.

The best part of this is it is fun and healthy. We exercise minds and bodies (lugging fruit and vegetables home from the markets is good for everyone!) and make good choices.

If you are starting out on this "greener life" path with your family, I suggest you take it one step at a time. We have been living most of this style of "green life" for at least 10 years, but keep adding little "top-ups". Our recent top-ups in the last 6 months have been raw milk from the dairy, and banishing plastic from food storage (as much as possible without having conniptions - anxiety over the occasional slip is NOT helpful here).

Let me know - how is living greener working for your family?

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