13 February 2013
By: Lisa Reid (BEng(Environmental))
As a family of four, we really don’t generate much waste. We rarely have more than one bag of rubbish in our bin for the weekly garbage collection. I thought this was a pretty good achievement, until I took into account our overflowing compost bin and worm farm. While we don’t tend to throw out a lot of non-recyclable waste, the amount of food scraps that we throw out is more than I’d like.
It would appear that my family is not alone. According to recent calculations, each Australian household throws out on average $1036 worth of food, or 585 kilograms per year (source)!
To determine exactly what we were discarding, I did a stocktake of all food thrown out or put into the compost bin or worm farm over a one month period. By pinning the list on the fridge, I was able to see exactly what was not being eaten.
I was surprised to see that it was small portions (often leftovers or veggies that weren’t part of our usual menu) that just weren’t getting eaten, so were going off and clogging up our fridge. Not only was this wasting perfectly good food, but time (in cooking and preparation) and money. By being more mindful of what I bought and how I used our food, I was able to significantly reduce the amount of leftovers and food scraps that were going to waste. The biggest help was to plan our weekly meals in advance. That way I could buy only what we needed for the week, then plan how to best use the leftovers. The best thing is that I take some of the stress out of the end of the day, as I generally know the answer to the all to common question of “What’s for dinner Mum?”
So here are some ways that I’ve found helpful to reduce food waste:
- Plan your meals on a weekly or fortnightly basis – this means you can tailor your shopping to your meals and ensure your family has a variety of meals.
- When planning your meals, take into account food that needs to be used up quickly and how you can use the leftovers.
- Store perishable food correctly to prolong shelf life. Purpose vegetable containers are much more effective than your fridge's crisper compartment.
- Use your freezer – if you cook for an army, but only have a few mouths to feed, then freeze the leftovers. This way leftovers can be used rather than clogging up (and potentially stinking out) the fridge.
- Shop on a weekly or fortnightly basis, rather than every day, so you aren’t doubling up on items and overstocking your fridge or pantry.
- Keep stock of your pantry/fridge to make sure you always have staples for easy meals
About the Author: Lisa Reid is an eco mum and environmental engineer and resides in Melbourne with her husband Tim and young children Jacob and Edith. Lisa is working to reduce her family's eco footprint by using cloth nappies, growing her own vegetables, using less chemicals and making her home more energy efficient.
7 January 2013
By: Laura Trotta
Travelling at the best of times can be exhausting. Travelling with babies and pre-schoolers in tow is even more so!
Living in Outback South Australia away from our family in Adelaide, Victoria and Queensland, we consider ourselves seasoned travellers. Whether it’s driving the 1200km round trip to Adelaide or flying the two plane legs to Melbourne or Brisbane, we have refined our travelling “procedure” over the past few years since the arrival of our two sons.
If you’re thinking of taking a holiday with your children or just looking for ideas to make your regular travel a little simpler, read on for my top tips to make travelling with babies and young children as easy as possible:
- Baby carriers are truly worth their weight in gold in general and in particular, in airport transfers and when travelling to regional areas where travel strollers and prams just can’t handle conditions such as beaches and gravel paths.
- Babies really are very portable, particularly if breastfeeding. Maximise free (or reduce fee for international) air travel for infants less than 2 years of age. After that age, air travel really does add up!
- Breastfeeding on the go is so much easier if you have your pillow with you. If your babies’ ears are susceptible to changing air pressures, feed on takeoff and landing.
- Don’t skimp on airfares. By that I mean fly different legs with different airlines. The few dollars you may save isn’t worth the hassle of collecting and re-checking in baggage mid journey. Not to mention the risk of missing your second flight if the first one is delayed. Book with the single carrier and check your baggage the entire way through.
- Have healthy snacks on hand for you and your children. Don’t rely on having time between flights to purchase something. Often a nappy change and feed can take up all available time.
- If you have more than one child, assign a parent to each child/ren as toddlers can quickly become lost in a busy airport.
- Be ready with a sick bag if your tot suffers from motion sickness. Pack an extra outfit for them and yourself in your carry-on luggage, particularly if you have a connecting flight.
- Travel as light as possible as extra baggage can cost a fortune. Best to do a load of washing or two during your trip rather than put your back (and wallet) out with extra baggage. Consider hiring or borrowing items such as car seat, portacot and stroller at your destination rather than travelling with them.
- Don’t be shy in asking people for help. Whether it’s putting a nappy bag into the overhead locker or taking a bag off the carousel, many other travellers are only too happy to help a struggling parent.
- If you require a hire car, book well in advance to ensure you get the required infant / child seats fitted.
- Try to schedule flights at times your child would normally be asleep.
- Plan adequate stops on your journey to stretch legs, have a break etc. Parks and playgrounds (including McDonalds) are the best option here, particularly if you have an active child.
- Pack plenty of healthy snacks in individual lunchboxes for all on board. If different children are sleeping at different times, it may be easier to eat in the car, swap drivers and keep driving rather than stop and risk waking children.
- Our three year old is quite content to listen to music and look out the window for hours in the car (reading or other activities give him motion sickness). While we don’t have a portable dvd player or tablet, many friends of ours rave about them for long road travel.
- If travelling in more remote areas, pack a potty as they come in handy for those quick pull ins into rest areas.
- Car games can provide hours of entertainment. Games such as Eye Spy, counting windmills and car cricket (eg. you get a run for every car you see, six for 4WD, out when you see a motorbike) are always in fashion!
- Accept that travel can be a time of both excitement and anxiety for young children. It’s common that a “good sleeping” child may wake up more often when away in a strange bed / location.
- Don’t over-schedule your days. Often one activity a day while away from home is exhausting enough.
- We prefer self catering accommodation so we can cook our own healthy meals and snacks. Even by preparing a simple breakfast and lunch each day you can save unnecessary dollars and calories. Cabins in caravan parks are usually reasonably priced and facilities such as laundry, playground and swimming pools are usually included.
Given that more and more families these days are living interstate and even overseas from extended family, travelling with young children has become a way of life for many. Hopefully the tips above can make your next family holiday or trip away that little bit easier.
About the Author: Laura Trotta is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She has lived interstate from her family since 1999 and has honed her procedure for travelling with her young children since her first son Matthew was born in 2009.
16 February 2012
By: Laura Trotta (BEng(Enviro), MSc(Enviro Chem))
Changing our habits and rituals is difficult and is best done incrementally. Rather than going for change ‘cold turkey’ we can up our chances of sustained change by gradually modifying our behaviour.
I’m a big fan of the Federal Government’s Swap It, Don’t Stop It campaign. Targeting Australia’s obesity epidemic, this campaign promotes healthy eating and active lifestyles for all Australian’s by suggesting small and relatively easy food and exercise swaps. Individual swaps are easy to make and quickly accumulate to build momentum into sustained behavioural change and a healthier lifestyle.
The theory behind the program easily transitions into the environmental sphere. It is here where the focus shifts from changing our consumerism-based and waste-intense lifestyle to an existence that is more simple and sustainable. The benefits of making simple eco swaps are profound on our health, wallets and the health of our environment.
Using the Key Four Pillars of the Swap It, Don’t Stop It campaign, here are a few simple eco parenting and lifestyle changes you can make:
Swap Big for Small
• Rather than buying your children a mountain of presents each birthday, purchase one quality item that will last
• Drive a car with a smaller engine and hire something larger for occasions when you need it
• Close internal doors so you’re not heating/cooling the entire house
NB: You can also swap small for big by purchasing items in bulk (saves packaging).
Swap Often for Sometimes
• Introduce a vegetarian night into your household each week
• Swap single-use disposable nappies for cloth or only use disposables when travelling
• Have a go at making your own infant food and children’s snacks rather than buying commercial and heavily packaged varieties
Swap Sitting for Moving
• Walk or cycle into town instead of driving
• Get active in the garden and grow your own vegetables and herbs. Read why gardening is great for kids here.
• Use local parks and the pool to entertain your child rather than the TV
Swap Watching for Playing
• Plan one activity per day to do with your child. Activities such as constructing a nature collage or baking some biscuits together are easy, enjoyable and free!
• Get your toddler involved in your daily household tasks such as picking up their toys and watering the garden. Toddlers learn by mimicking adults and they thrive on helping out around the home.
• Involve your children in food preparation and they will learn vital skills that will help them live a healthy and sustainable life.
Change is a continual process and even the greenest of us can improve. Here are a couple of eco swaps I’ve made recently to further reduce my family’s environmental footprint:
- Using reusable fruit and vegetable bags at the supermarket rather than the thin plastic bags on offer (am loving the Aussie made Greensacks)
- Switching from eco cleaning detergents to Enjo products to further eliminate cleaning products from our household (their bathroom gloves in particular are the best!)
- Using everyday household items such as bicarb soda, vinegar and eucalyptus oil in the laundry rather than detergents.
What are some of the eco swaps you’ve made recently or plan to make soon?
Note: This article has also been published at connect2mums.
About the Author: Laura Trotta (BEng (Enviro), MSc (Enviro Chem)) is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She lives in Roxby Downs with her husband Paul and son Matthew.
19 January 2012
By: Lisa Reid (B.Eng(Environmental))
For many Australians, Summer is all about long, hot days with weeks, even months, of temperatures above 30°C. While the hot weather can be welcome relief from the chilly winter months, there is often the real need to stay comfortable by cooling your home. The most common way to cool a home is the use of air conditioners or fans. In fact, 67% of Australian households in 2008 had an air conditioner or evaporative cooler.1
Air conditioners, while a generally effective way to cool a home, are energy intensive, and can result in high energy bills and excess greenhouse gas emissions. Heating and cooling can account for up to 40% of household energy use.2
Here are some practical steps that you can take to stay cool this Summer and reduce your energy use and bills:
Insulation is a straightforward way to prevent the escape of cool air from and heat into your house. Generally, the easiest and most accessible area to install insulation is in your roof cavity. If you are doing renovations, also consider putting insulation in the walls and under the floor.
Draught-proof your home
While your house may be insulated, the effectiveness of this may be compromised if you have draughts entering your home. Typically, draughts are felt through gaps in windows, door frames or gaps in floorboards. There are many low cost products available from your local hardware that don’t require building expertise to install. Draught-proofing can be as simple as using a door snake to seal a gap between a door and the floor or using an adhesive draught stopper to seal around a window. Filling gaps in floorboards may require a bit more work, so if this isn’t possible, you could buy a new rug or carpet off-cut to reduce draughts in your flooring.
Cover your windows
Single glazed windows have minimal insulative properties and when uncovered allow heat in (in fact 15 times more than an insulated wall2), making your air conditioner work harder. In Summer, external shading of windows (particularly north-facing) is important to keep direct sunlight (and therefore heat) from passing through the glass and heating up your house.3 External shading could be using canvas blinds, awnings, roller shutters or shade cloths or fixed shading such as eaves and pergolas.3 Specifically, shading is necessary for north facing windows, although you want to be able to allow the low angle winter sun in during the cold months. Shading can also be beneficial for east and west facing windows too.
Keeping curtains closed can also help to keep your house cool in summer. So installing heavy, floor length curtains can help. Remember to close north facing curtains during hot days to prevent the sun’s heat from entering the house and open all curtains as it gets cooler and darker in the evening.
Principles of passive cooling design can be used to keep your home cool during Summer. Use plants to shade your home and prevent glare and heat gain. In addition, reduce the amount of concrete or paved areas around your house by planting ground cover. This will reduce the ground temperature, which can add heat to your home.4
Cool only the rooms you are using
If you spend most of your time in the living room, perhaps it would be smarter to invest in a small energy efficient fan for that room rather than using central cooling which cools the rest of the house. If you already have an air conditioner, use it wisely and to its capacity. Close doors to keep the cool air in the area you are using.
According to the Sids and Kids, providing your baby is dressed appropriately for the season, it is not necessary to run cooling all night. So dress your baby as you would in Summer and use common sense.
Once it’s cooled down, open windows in your home to let the cool air enter. Try to get a cross-flow effect by opening windows on two opposite sides of the house to make the most of the cooler air.5
Use air conditioners efficiently
If you do have an air conditioner (the most energy inefficient cooling appliance), LivingGreener recommend the following methods to save energy and reduce your electricity bill:
• Clean the air filter regularly.
• Set the room temperature between 25 – 27°C and check regularly to make sure its working properly. Turning the thermostat up or down by one degree can add to energy consumption by about 5 to 10%,6
• Turn the air conditioner on early in the day, as it operates more efficiently when the outside air is cooler.
• When using a reverse cycle air conditioner, keep windows and doors closed. When using an evaporative air conditioner, keep windows open, as some air flow is necessary.
Finally, if you still need to cool down on those hot days, why not set up a wading pool in the shade, use a spray water bottle or use a wet face cloth to cool yourself down.
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 05/02/2010, Feature Article: Climate Change in Australia
2. Living Greener, Heating and Cooling
3. Moreland Energy Foundation, Sustainability Advice: Cooling
4. Your Home Design Guide, Shading
5. South Australian Government, Designing an Energy Efficient Home
6. Your Home Design Guide, Cooling
About the Author: Lisa Reid is an eco mum and environmental engineer and resides in Melbourne with her husband Tim and children Jacob and Edith. She is a current accredited Home Sustainability Assessor under the Green Loans/Green Start program. Lisa is working to reduce her family's eco footprint by growing her own vegetables, using less chemicals and making her home energy efficient.
10 January 2012
By: Laura Trotta (BEng(Enviro), MSc(Enviro Chem))
It’s currently peak holiday season across much of Australia and many families are travelling to have their annual downtime.
If you've never really thought about eco-friendly holidays, it may surprise you to know that you won't need to compromise on style or experiences. Simply follow our tips below to ensure your holiday is easy on the environment.
Before You Leave
- Ensure all household appliances are turned off at the wall to minimise standby power consumption.
- Empty and turn off your second fridge (if applicable) so you’re only running one while away.
- Set your automatic watering system to only water in the evenings to minimise evaporation.
- Pack only what is necessary as the more you pack, the more fuel you will consume. Space cases are more aerodynamic than luggage on a roof rack or in a trailer.
- Thoroughly sweep out the inside of your vehicle and wash the outside before you leave home, paying particular attention to the tyres and mud guards, to remove any mud or soil that can transport weed seeds.
- Drive to the speed limit and pump your tyres up to 42psi to minimise fuel consumption.
- If renting a vehicle, opt for smaller, more fuel efficient models (resist the luxury car upgrade!).
- Offset your flights.
- Pack your own snacks / sandwiches in reusable containers for consumption during the flight rather than eating highly packaged airline food.
Travelling with Baby
- If using disposable nappies while on holiday, opt for biodegradable varieties such as Moltex. Use biodegradable nappy bags for soiled nappies only and organic/biodegradable wipes rather than the conventional variety.
- Stay in self-catering accommodation so it’s easy to make your own food including baby purees (use the potato masher if no stick blender is present).
At Your Destination
- Stay in registered eco-friendly accommodation if possible (see suggestions at base of article) or camp sustainably.
- Use resources wisely as you would at home - keep showers short and turn off lights when not in use.
- Don’t stray from walking / 4WD tracks as this can damage delicate vegetation systems and cause erosion.
- Do not feed local wildlife – keep them wild.
- Use sustainably-sourced firewood for campfires rather than collecting your own from nearby scrub.
- Observe Total Fire Ban days.
- Participate in environmentally-friendly activities such as wind surfing, kite boarding, cycling, snorkelling, board games/cards, reading, walking/hiking, swimming or bird watching. Steer clear of activities such as sky diving, jet skiing, jet boating and 4WDing.
- Leave the complimentary toiletries in your hotel room. These packaging-intense items usually end up straight in landfill or cluttering your bathroom cupboard. Instead, fill small reusable bottles with your own body products from home.
- Buy local produce to save on food miles and support local business.
- Take litter (or recyclables) away with you if no local disposal/recycling facilities exist.
- Thoroughly sweep out the inside of your vehicle and wash the outside before you leave your holiday destination, paying particular attention to the tyres and mud guards, to remove any mud or soil that can transport weed seeds.
Ecotourism is a blend of conservation and tourism: it’s planned to be sustainable, with the least possible impact on the landscape and environment being visited. As one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism worldwide, there is no shortage of quality eco-friendly holiday destinations and here’s a small number of quality destinations that we recommend:
Huon Bush Retreats is a carbon positive ecotourism village overlooking the Huon Valley in Tasmania’s beautiful south east, just 45km south of Hobart. Established in 2002 when private investors purchased and saved a forest earmarked for logging, Huon Bush Retreats funds the conservation of the forest it calls home. Guests can choose to stay in contemporary cabins or deluxe tipees. Camping and van sites are also available. All accommodation facilities have been built to harmonise with their environment and incorporate solar power, composting toilets and natural rainwater storage. Like the name suggests, this is a true retreat destination and a long list of organised activities simply doesn’t exist. You can walk the interpreted walking tracks and check out the abundant wildlife if you desire, or you can simply slow down and reconnect with yourself and the environment.
**Mention this article and children will stay FREE on your 2nd and any subsequent nights.**
Rawnsley Park Station is well worth a visit if you’re heading to the glorious Flinders Ranges in South Australia’s Outback. Located 430 north of Adelaide, Rawnsley Park is a working sheep farm come award-winning tourism facility overlooking the southern side of Wilpena Pound. The wide range of accommodation available ranges from campsites through to the most luxurious eco villas, making Rawnsley within everyone’s budget! Four-wheel drive tours, scenic flights, hot air ballooning and mountain bike hire are all available and there is a network of excellent bushwalking trails located on the property. I can personally recommend the Flinders Ranges as one of the most scenic and colourful landscapes in Australia and it’s a place that I return to time and time again. Rawnsley’s Woolshed restaurant also dishes up a yummy feed!
The Great Ocean Ecolodge is located within the grounds of The Cape Otway Centre for Conservation Ecology, at Cape Otway in Western Victoria. Adjoining the Great Otway National Park, wildlife abounds on the property. Delight in the koalas in the treetops or play a vital role in saving the Tiger Quoll. The Ecolodge is designed and operated sustainably, with solar power, solar hot water, pure rainwater and organic dining. All profits are reinvested into wildlife conservation so you can relax, unwind and do your bit for the local environment! Children are welcome.
O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is based in the World Heritage Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland, just 2 hours drive south west of Brisbane. Visitors can stay in a variety of accommodation from the guest house-style Rainforest Retreat through to the private luxury of self contained Mountain Villas. Couples and families will delight in the variety of activities on offer including bushwalking, Australia’s first Tree Top Walk, Segway Safari Tours, Birds of Prey Flight Show, guided 4WD tours and bird feeding. A 190m flying fox ride over the picturesque Morans Creek will thrill the young and young at heart!
NEW SOUTH WALES
Honeycomb Valley Farm in Nabiac is 3 hours drive north of Sydney and is an ideal farmstay for families or couples. Children and adults will be delighted by the variety of rare animal breeds farmed here, including miniature Galloway cattle, Saanen dairy goats, Suri alpacas and Black-headed dorper sheep. Check out the variety of rare breed chickens living in recycled caravans and enjoy food from the largest solar oven in Australia. All natural farm made balms and soaps using the farm's goat's milk, honey and beeswax are available for purchase so you can take some of Honeycomb Valley home with you.
About the Author: Laura Trotta (BEng (Enviro), MSc (Enviro Chem)) is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She currently lives in regional South Australia with her husband Paul and son Matthew. She lived in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland prior to SA and has travelled extensively throughout these States, generally through National Park walking trails with a heavy backpack. Her most memorable eco-friendly holiday was hiking the 8 day South Coast track in Tasmania (pre-motherhood).