The Spiral Garden
The legacy of our pre-zero waste life October 07, 2016 08:00
We all accumulate "stuff". Some of us more than others. Anyone with a hobby, actually, anyone trying to meet basic needs, will at various times buy, make, inherit, borrow, create, and/or otherwise "get" things. Some of our stuff lasts a lifetime or longer, like great-grandma's ceramic hand mirror, or that wooden heirloom shoehorn, handed down for generations. But the trend towards things not being built to last, the trend towards planned obsolescence - means that things break, lose their function and become waste.
For anyone switching to a low-waste or zero waste lifestyle, there can be the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that you haven't created any new waste in the last week or month or more. But what about all that other stuff that fills your home; belongings from the glory days when ignorance was bliss, when we bought and wasted with reckless abandon and still have a legacy of "stuff" to show for it. What about when our nylon clothes fall apart, when the washing machine breaks, when those "sturdy" plastic storage tubs snap, when the dog chews the elastane out of your slippers, when you find that drawer of old mix tapes that no-one would ever want to hear again? How do we live a zero waste life when we still live in a house containing items from our past that will at some point lose all function and become waste?
Ahh, sweet regret. Why did we say yes to the crappy plastic toys that accompany those McDonalds happy meals for the kids? Why did we buy that plastic weed mat, that seems to attract weeds more than suppress them, only to create a hulking mass of plastic and unwanted plants? Why did we choose the cheaper plastic-handled frypan rather than the long-lasting cast iron one? Such is the benefit of hindsight. We can all lose our minds dwelling on past purchases, on our past adventures in wasteful frivolity. Or, we can be practical and do our best to deal with the mess we've made.
Our family of five have been trying to live without (new) waste for a year now. So far we haven't created enough to fill half a rubbish bin. Leading up to that one year milestone of sorts, we reflected on what waste we still had around the house from the pre-zero waste days. And it actually amounted to quite a lot! We've been in this house for nearly 10 very busy years and raised three children and a menagerie of animals and tried to be resourceful and generally survive through life, all the while accumulating 'stuff' to help us grow and learn and live.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ~ Maya Angelou
We already had a pile of 'junk' down the side of the house, long intended for a skip bin, and a bit of spring cleaning identified other odds and ends of waste around our home. As a sort of final transition of sorts, we agreed to collate our legacy waste and dispose of it as best we could - we sold some items, donated others and have retained some 'waste' items for later re-purposing (e.g. we've kept our old toilet to use as a garden plant pot, and a super-rickety cane chair to grow plants over).
We ended up filling a small skip bin (2 cubic metres to hold 10 years of legacy waste is probably not too bad!). What did we put in it? Well some of the culprits included: old degraded weed mat, perishing and torn sheets of plastic that had covered mattresses when bought, torn kiddies inflatable wading pool, cheap laminated CD stacking shelves that we'd intended to donate but had been left in the rain and rotted, a child's car booster seat (used by all our kids, but well past its safe use condition), the rusted and twisted metal parts of a cheap plastic green house that had exploded in our back yard in a strong gust of wind, some rusted parts of an old gas barbecue (we kept the main bbq unit for a potting bench!)… mostly degraded plastics that held their desired form for only a short time, when you consider that tiny little toxic particles of that plastic will be existence on our earth for centuries.
There were lessons learned as we (reluctantly) transferred our legacy waste to the skip bin - we acknowledged the relatively short life span of many items that we think should last a long time, and we realised lack of waste-free options for some items (e.g. the kids car seat), and the wastefulness of buying the 'cheaper' option (I'm looking at you, broken cheap plastic/metal green house). We talked and ruminated over it and felt some sadness and regret over the waste that we made before, but felt reaffirmed in our criteria for any new things that come into our home...
Where possible, buy to last, buy compostable, and remember to look after your 'stuff'.
That includes looking after stuff in that time between when you've finished with it and when you've found a new use or home for it - leaving stuff out in the elements to weather and rot is no good to anyone (except maybe the guys on American Pickers!). One big positive for us is that our owlets are now part of the decision making process and are well aware of the consequences of our past mistakes. Hopefully this means that their legacy will be minimal and conscious choices will be their normal.
Transitioning legacy waste is an important part of switching to a waste-free lifestyle. It is not necessarily something to feel guilty about, but should strengthen your resolve to 'do better' and shop smarter, and live with less waste. We now move into our second year of waste-free living, producing very close to zero new waste and with much less legacy waste. Over time, we anticipate that the legacy waste will drop too, as we switch away from most plastics, and clothes with nylon/acrylic parts, and stuff we realise we just don't need to live happy, abundant lives.
~ Oberon & Lauren.
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
Zero Waste Celebrations :: 11 tips for a waste free Christmas and birthdays September 26, 2016 08:00
Times of celebration can inspire us to forget our waste-free ways and give in to the urge to splurge. We want to show our loved ones how much we love them and many of our traditional ways of doing that - the ways we've grown up with, can make us feel like it's ok to let ourselves off the hook just this one time. In Australia, it is estimated that waste volumes increase by 30%at Christmas time. We also use 100% more glass (party drink time) and 53% of Australians admit to throwing out one unopened gift each year. Food waste contributes hugely to the waste pile too. But it's actually not that hard to celebrate without waste, and do it well. It might mean creating some new traditions, slowing and simplifying a little. From our experience, that makes it seem all the more special.
Here are some things we've found helped reduce our waste output at Christmas and birthdays:
1. Start the conversation. Talk to your friends and family. Let them know what you're attempting to do and why. Suggest low-waste alternatives they might like to consider for gift-giving and meal planning. Be gentle and listen to their concerns or reflections. Lead by example, choosing low-waste alternatives yourself. Be respectful, patient and gracious around the waste brought into your home by loved ones and focus on taking responsibility for yourself.
2. Choose experiences over 'things'. Gifts that get you out and about experiencing new things can be just as special and enriching as the ones that can be played with or sit on a shelf at home. Even better if the gift-giver can experience it with you. A camping trip, special dinner at a restaurant, classes in a new skill… We've been lucky to receive tickets to TSO's family classics season for the last two Christmases and it's a wonderful treat we've all enjoyed.
3. Choose great quality, useful gifts. Something practical that can be used over and over again, making the recipient's life easier or more joyful, is great. They'll enjoy thinking of you when they use it, play with it or wear it, for years to come.
4. Choose second-hand. Spend the time to seek out that super special vintage gift that you know your recipient will love. Or have something you've loved fixed up and hand it down. Our owlets have all loved receiving treasures from us and the stories that come with them.
5. Choose compostable. Give some thought to what will happen to the gift once it's time of usefulness has been served. Avoid battery operated gifts if you can. Something that can go back to the earth is ideal. Give some thought to packaging too and whether it can be re-used, composted or recycled.
6. Make it by hand. Something you've grown, cooked, knitted or sewn with your own hands is wonderful. The love and thought you've put in to create the gift from scratch really shows. Even better if its something the recipient particularly likes or needs.
7. Get into Furoshiki! These traditional Japanese wrapping cloths can be so beautiful and a wonderful way to wrap gifts without waste. We've found its also quieter and quicker - which is great for late-night, last-minute wrapping sessions. Buy traditional furoshiki or make your own using second hand vintage fabrics, organic cotton, old pillowcases, drawstring bags or trims that reflect the recipient's style and favourite colours. Afterwards, collect the fabrics and keep them in your stash to use next time!
8. Eat seasonally. The best Christmas celebrations we've had are the ones where we've taken advantage of the abundance of berries, garden veggies and seafood available to us locally. Have a look at what's available around you, or if there's something you really yearn for out of season, do some forward planning to source and preserve it for the day. Looking forward to your favourite foods makes celebrating with them even more special.
9. Make your own drinks. Have a go at home brewing or make seasonal cordials and fruit champagnes. Kombucha, ginger beer and lemonade are wonderful options too. Alternatively, some micro-breweries will happily refill your bottles, meaning you can save lots of glass waste.
10. Ditch disposables. Serve your food on real plates and drinks in real glasses. Use the good china and silverware. Use real cutlery and cloth napkins, and a real tablecloth. Ditch straws, or find reusable ones. Budget options might include plates collected at op-shops and jars to drink out of, napkins stitched out of vintage bedsheets. If you party regularly, you might like to set aside a box of your collected party-ware for those special occasions. Celebrate the times you come together with the people you love and take the time to wash up and laugh together after the celebrating's done!
11. Choose natural, compostable decorations. Flowers and foliage collected from the garden makes beautiful seasonal decorations with minimal effort. Compost them when you're done. Make ornaments and decorations by hand from compostable materials. Christmas crackers from old toilet paper rolls and recycled paper you've decorated yourself. Hand crafted party hats. Choose a tree that will last for generations, grow one in a pot, or go for a drive and harvest a weed tree. Pine trees often escape from plantations and grow on land nearby. Check regulations and harvest weeds on public land if it's safe to do so. Compost the tree when you're done, or try your hand at hugelkultur!
By planning ahead just a little bit, and looking at what's available to you when you celebrate, you can avoid creating a heap of waste. You may find you slow down a bit and enjoy the simpler things and time with your loved ones. You'll be treading a little lighter on the earth too, which is cause for celebration in itself.
What are your tips for creating less waste while celebrating?
Are you making any special gifts by hand?
What's your favourite party food?
~ Lauren. xx
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
10 tips for waste free flying September 20, 2016 14:00
The world is a way more connected place for humans than it used to be. In the good old days (I’m talking pre-19th century), few people ventured far from their home turf, except for intrepid explorers, merchants, pilgrims, and military folks. But since the advent of aviation, or rather the advent of affordable aviation, millions of people have been scooting around the world with nary a care. So, before I get to my plastic waste gripe, I’ll just remind you that Australian airline travel contributes approximately 3% of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions (yay, climate change! *sarcasm*). So we’re already off to a pretty wasteful and polluting start, even before the snacks are served.
The problem of airline waste
Our family have been playing the waste-free gig for about a year and in that time we’ve well and truly developed our waste goggles, spotting single-use plastics from a mile away. Last week I travelled to Sydney (from Hobart) and was sickened by the waste I saw at airports and on planes and other places. But let’s just focus on the planes, and the in-flight menu.
Once the plane gets to cruising speed on, the air stewards roll their meal carts down the aisle and dish out snacks. On longer domestic flights, you might get a more substantial meal. Usually, there is also an in-flight food menu available. In all cases (that I’ve observed) there is waste, lots of it. Confectionery wrappers, plastic coffee stirrers, cling-wrap, plastic milk pods, headphone wrappers and other assorted single-use waste. Ugh. On a single long haul (international) flight, there can be 500 kg of waste produced!
Domestically, how much waste are we talking about here? Well in the financial year ending 2016, there were 58.44 million passengers carried on domestic flights in Australia. So, what appears as small amounts of waste (to the individual), can add up to quite the waste monster when multiplied by 10s of millions (per year!). And it would be typical for the average punter to receive or purchase at least one item of food and one drink (bottle, can and/or plastic cup). As I took my seat on a flight from Hobart to Sydney (a Virgin flight), I saw the bagged up waste from the previous flight leave the runway on a motorised flat-bed trolley. Two very large garbage bags full of what appeared to be plastic cups, bottles, cutlery and other miscellaneous waste – the result of (presumably) one short domestic flight.
A waste audit conducted by Qantas found that 54% of in-flight waste (by volume) was recyclable, but sent to landfill. This gives you an idea of how (relatively) easy it should be to reduce airline waste by at least 50%. Similar proportions (45-58%) of recyclable material waste were reported in 2003 for international flights.
Attempts to reduce airline waste
What are the airlines doing to reduce waste? Well I did a bit of keyboard-warrior googling and found out some interesting things. Qantas (who also owns Jetstar) have made attempts to improve their waste management – they reduced their waste to landfill by 20% between 2009 and 2014. By 2020 they want to reach 30% waste reduction (over 2009 levels). It’s a start, I suppose.
Qantas also have on-board recycling on ‘some’ flights and they are moving towards plastic-free headsets. They claim to have reduced plastic packaging on many of their on-board amenities to reduce waste and weight, which in turn reduces fuel consumption. They have also installed recycling bins in public spaces in all major Australian Domestic airport terminals that they occupy. Their Australian Packaging Covenant Action Plan (2010-2015) also notes that they have replaced polystyrene cups with 35% recycled contentand recyclable packaging.
Virgin airlines (who also own Tiger airways in Australia), like most large Aussie companies, are also signed up to the Australian Packaging Covenant, and their action plan (2011-2016) sets out some of their waste reduction initiatives. Note-worthy initiatives (to be completed by 2012) include ‘reviewing’ of all existing catering product packaging, implementing a policy to mandate the use of sustainable packaging guidelines when designing and implementing all new products, and setting up recycling facilities in their lounge. Now, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but these seem like small fry plans for a major airline – to my mind, they don’t demonstrate serious efforts to reduce waste, rather they sound more like token green-washing.
Unfortunately, none of the major airlines have really tackled the in-flight food waste packaging to any great extent. I understand the small steps approach (airlines don’t want to upset customers and risk damaging their profits merely for the sake of protecting the little old environment!). And I am somewhat comforted that there are initiatives to ‘do better’, however it’s going to need more action from us too (see below). I’m glad to see initiatives to increase recycling of in-flight food, drink and newspapers and I expect that will continue, and hopefully will become the norm on all flights. Whilst the airlines' initiatives are not ‘zero waste’, but rather less waste to landfill, they do reflect steps in the right direction.
Tips for waste-free flyingWe don’t have to leave waste management up to the airlines. We can do a lot as individual passengers to reduce this huge waste problem. Here are my hot tips for flying waste-free:
1. Take your own snacks in your own home-bought container. I took snacks from home on my trip away, and then I bought a lemon tart at the airport, put directly into my container for the trip home. Choose foods that don’t require utensils (as you’re unlikely to be permitted to take your own on the plane!)
2. Carry your own drink bottle. I use “klean canteen” bottles, but there are many brands. These can be filled at the airport – free water can be found in the bathrooms or at water fountain stations. I’m not sure if the wash taps in the bathrooms on planes are designed in a way that drink bottles could be refilled – does anyone know?
3. Carry your own fabric napkin or serviette, for those turbulent spills.
4. Say no thanks to wasteful airline food. You have the power of choice.
- Zero single-use plastics;
- 100% of food and drink waste is composted;
- 100% of packaging is compostable and diverted to a composting facility (and actually composted!); and
- Encouragement for customers to bring their own food and drink, with guidelines and tips provided for doing this.
Tackling waste in a refugee crisis August 16, 2016 19:00
With all the talk of asylum seekers and refugees in the news recently, we got to talking about waste (a common topic around our house!) and how that relates to refugees. I asked Big Owlet "How do you think refugees manage their waste?" She said "It depends where they are staying - most often I don't know if they'd have enough money to even produce waste. I'd want to give them food from the bulk food place, instead of lots of plastic wrapped food." I followed with "What would they do with any waste they produce?" and she replied "They'd need portable water bottles (but they're expensive, right?), hmm maybe make something that could hold water, without being disposable, but the water might be polluted so they couldn't refill it... hmm, maybe they could use special bottles that filter water? I'd go to a refugee place and hand out special bottles for filtering water and bulk food." This left us with lots of questions about the waste that might be associated with refugees and so we sought to learn more.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, by the end of 2014 there were approximately 60 million people worldwide who had been forcibly displaced from their homeland (the highest level since WWII). The waste generated by this displacement is phenomenal. For example, it is estimated that 340 tonnes of waste is generated daily by Syrian refugees fleeing into Jordan (read more here). These are people who need to eat, be clothed, go to the loo, be housed, and be supported to rebuild their lives in a strange new land. There are many ways that aid money can be used to assist refugees with meeting their basic needs, and some are inevitably going to be more wasteful and environmentally harmful than others. Also, asylum seekers in transit may have few options available to them for discarding or managing any waste they accumulate, such as plastic water bottles, nappies, food packaging and broken or heavy items (e.g. see here).
As at June 30th, 2016, there were 3,496 people living in detention under Australian authority. These folks are spread between Manus Island, Nauru, Christmas Island, and a few detention centres within mainland Australia. All these locations are effectively ‘food deserts’ – where provisions need to be shipped or flown in from far away. We know very little of the waste generated or managed in Australian detention centres (that information is generally not publicised), however concerns have been raised about groundwater contamination through effluent disposal and waste management on the detention centre on Nauru (as reported here). Poor waste management within refugee camps can create terrible hygiene issues, leading to spread of sickness and disease.
Elsewhere, disposal of waste accumulated within refugee camps can vary. At its worst it is left where it was discarded, burned (polluting the atmosphere and local inhabitants), or trucked away to be dumped illegally in local rivers. The World Health Organisation offers a guide to managing solid waste in emergencies (e.g. in refugee camps) which includes disposal into family 'waste pits' (i.e. a hole in the ground with a lasagne like bed of waste and soil/ash) (see the guide here), however, there do not appear to be any solutions offered for high density refugee camps, such as the Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon (carrying more than 20,000 people). Aid agencies do what they can to help meet the basic needs of asylum seekers in temporary camps, but a consequence of that can be huge amounts of waste from the disposable items (plastic bottles, plastic packaging etc.) provided.
Having the capacity to sort, recycle and appropriately dispose of waste within camps will help to alleviate some of the health risks. In some instances, recyclable items can be sold to industry and funds raised can be directed back to support local communities. Where incineration is the norm (e.g. Greece, Jordan, Kenya) switching to energy-generating combuster incinerators may be a small step forward (as described here), although it is unclear how such technology incinerates plastics without releasing chemical pollutants. There are also numerous options for low cost, environmentally-friendly toilet systems that could be applied, depending on local resources (e.g. see this discussion).
On the Australian-run detention centre on Christmas Island, there are no recycling options available (i.e. all collected waste is sent to land fill - see here). Such a lack of services is similarly apparent in many remote Aboriginal communities, where greater support is also needed to minimise and better manage waste (learn more here). At the detention centre on Nauru, there are reports of poor handling of provisions of food and bottled water to detainees, leading to excessive waste production. To avoid these sorts of waste (and human health) problems, I think it would be more beneficial to support greater integration of asylum seekers into local communities, where fresh food can be accessed (or even grown, such as in community gardens), where they can be supported to be more self-reliant, with access to more permanent services (e.g. running water from taps rather than bottled water). In Melbourne, organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre help to assist with such resources (see their Foodbank info here).
There are aspects to waste management in refugee camps/detention centres, that I would like to see discussed much more - I'd love to know of the feasibility of composting of organic waste, using compostable natural fibres over synthetics (e.g. in tents, clothing and other gear provided by aid organisations), alternative modes of water provision besides single-use plastic bottles, and extended responsibility by aid organisations and contractors for the waste-generating products they provide to refugees. This is particularly relevant in areas where people are provided with food and resources in 'temporary' camps, but where there is a high likelihood that refugees will stay in those camps for long periods (years to decades). It should not be up to refugees to solve these problems, and we as a species have the know-how to minimise the waste that refugees generate and discard, for their own health and for the environment.
Wherever systems are broken, there will inevitably be waste. As individuals, we may not feel that we can do much to fix a broken system (e.g. war, rampant consumerism, and human-accelerated climate change, are all consequences of broken systems). Indeed, we can only do the best that we can do, given our own station in life. In my position as a privileged, white, male in Australia, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to enact positive change. We can also try to understand broken systems and look for solutions and options for repair. A lot of the repair will need to be grounded in a position of peace, and empathy for others. We have all kinds of tools at our disposal to communicate our feelings about the world’s injustices; it’s social and environmental problems, and offer our solutions to governments and to other decision makers. So let's do that!
I talked with Big Owlet about some of these learnings and asked her what she’d like to do with respect to asylum seekers and their struggles. She said she’d like to start by making or donating food and clothing (e.g. woollen knits or sewn clothes from second hand fabrics) for refugees in Tasmania. We are also going to (re)watch the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From to learn more about the stories of asylum seekers.
Here are some other things you can do to help:
- Learn more about the plight of those people seeking asylum, their needs, and the challenges they face so that you can speak up about those issues. We are presently doing this with the owlets, and working out what other helpful actions we can take.
- Start a group similar to Bellies Beyond Borders (based in Europe), which is acreative foodwaste kitchen-on-wheels to welcome refugees (see here).
- Join a refugee support or action group, to help communicate messages of support for refugees, and identify way to assist people in need.
- Donate to an aid organisation that has a good reputation for directing helpful resources to the people that need it most. It's worth reading up on an organisation before sending wads of money to it.
- Devise novel ways to reduce waste and communicate those solutions to the aid organisations you support.
- Other helpful options are suggested here.
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
Living like things don't exist August 15, 2016 09:30
We've developed a bit of a habit in our family, of living like certain things don't exist. It began with choosing to have our second baby at home. Later, we decided to home educate our owlets and, through our school-free adventures, we gradually forgot school was such a big part life for so many. Living without it quickly became so normal for us, we were surprised every time the school holidays happened and there were children everywhere again!
For us, it was surprising just how quickly we adapted to a world where single-use plastics and products don't exist. We started to always remember our water bottles, remember shopping bags, coffee cups and straws if we thought we'd need them. Even the owlets were totally on board with it... And so zero waste life became very achievable. There are still a couple of things we'd like to remove from our realm of options - they're a work in progress. Some are used based on their ability to compost in our garden, or fill our bellies in a way that works for us right now. For now, we are comfortable with them, but I'm interested to see how we go down the track.
Feel like playing along with us? We have a Facebook group called Zero Waste Tasmaniawhere we run these weekly challenges for people to pretend single-use things don't exist for a week each.
It can be fun to test the boundaries of what you're comfortable sometimes and seeing things from a different perspective, don't you think?
~ Lauren. xx
Zero Waste is impossible. But it's worth striving for, anyway. May 12, 2016 10:00
We've been living waste free for over eight months now and although it's brought challenges, we're really happy with it as our way of life. The natural changes that have come to our life by focussing on this one permaculture principle, "Produce No Waste", are astounding. Aiming for zero waste is a shift towards a simpler, more minimal life. It's a shift towards working with the seasons and deepening our understanding of food and how it grows. It's a shift towards building connections with the community, through engaging in conversations and being resourceful through bartering, sharing and swapping. It's a shift towards actually making a difference to the planet we inhabit and creating a new normal for our children.
The term "zero" is, of course, a misnomer. Through the manufacture and production of most things in our waste-free home, there is inevitably waste. We visit the bulk food shop where products have been transported in large plastic bags which go on to be repurposed or recycled. There's less packaging and only purchasing exactly what we need. But there's still waste. When household items break beyond repair and have outlived their usefulness, if they're not compostable they are recycled, or worse. There's still waste. There's inevitably some degree of waste in the connection between us and our food and the things we need. But does that mean we shouldn't strive for zero?
Zero-waste living is a mindfulness practice. One of Huz's favourite analogies is that buddhists practice meditation even though they may never reach enlightenment. Another is that we might never be Beyonce, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't sing or dance. There's value in the process. Zero keeps us honest and accountable and even though we probably can't meet that absolute target of zero, it's a wonderful optimistic goal to strive for. And what the world surely needs now is some optimism.
What are you feeling optimistic about right now?
Have you ever aimed for something you knew you'd never absolutely reach, but went for it anyway?
Have you seen our latest e-course offering? Zero Waste Families begins on June 1st and we're taking enrolments now. It's filling fast!
~ Lauren. xx
Our Permaculture Advent Calendar November 25, 2015 07:30
One of our favourite family traditions is our activity advent calendar. For us, December is a time to celebrate, reflect and find moments in amongst the busy to be together and have fun. It's also a time to think about people around us and prepare our garden and home for long summer days. This year, we're shifting our focus to the permaculture ethics; earth care, people care and fair share - they're a perfect fit for the season. We thought we'd post our list here, just incase you feel like joining in too, or borrowing some inspiration. It's going to be a super fun few weeks!
Let us know if you join in too. We'd love to see what you get up to!
~ Lauren & Oberon. xx
How to shape & care for a bolga basket October 30, 2015 13:30
Possibly our most favourite things for going out and about are our bolga baskets. My mama basket travels everywhere with me. Part handbag, knitting basket, picnic basket, shopping basket, it's always on my arm when we leave the house. The owlets like theirs for carrying lunches, toys or art materials, or for collecting eggs or beach treasures. At home, they make pretty useful toy storage - we love that.
Bolga baskets are one of our favourite products in Spiral Garden too. Fair trade, handmade and compostable, they tick so many boxes for us. They're woven by hand from the elephant grass that grows in the flood plains of the White Volta, near Bolgatanga, in Northern Ghana. When they arrive though, they're a bit squashed from their journey. A bit flat and wonky, and this is how our customers receive them too… But one of our other favourite things about these gorgeous, round baskets, is that the new owner gets a chance to participate in moulding them just the way they like. It's quite a gentle, tactile process that we love… Here's how to do it:
Fill the sink (or bath for a big basket) with cold water. Hold your basket underwater for about one minute, leather handle and all.
Remove from water and start moulding it to the shape you like. You might like a rounded bottom, or something flatter. You might like your basket to be squat or elongated. It's totally up to you! A symmetrical basket will keep weight evenly distributed though so aim for that. This is a fun process for kids too.
Once you're happy, sit your basket in the sunshine. If it's a windy day, pop a rock inside so it doesn't blow away! Your basket should be dry and ready to use in about 30 minutes!
If you've had your basket in use for a while, it may start to look a little lived in (not unlike the baskets in the top picture. You can complete the process above to keep your basket in good shape anytime in the future. The leather handle will most likely stay well polished with regular use, but it can be cleaned and kept in good condition with some boot polish or leather conditioner - a good natural version we've heard of is lemon essential oil rubbed on with a soft cloth. Try not to carry super heavy loads in your basket because it can weaken it over time, but look after it and it'll be looking beautiful for years to come!
You can find Mama baskets and Small bolga baskets at Spiral Garden, here.
~ Lauren. xx
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
Sustainably Challenged :: Waste Free October 25, 2015 08:30
Last week we posted about the Sustainability Challenge we're taking part in. After a week full of reflection and research, this past (almost) two weeks, we've gone head on towards living a somewhat different life. The biggest challenge we set ourselves was to live waste free and although it has made us think LOTS, it hasn't been as difficult as we expected. And there have been some pretty awesome discoveries along the way.
What zero waste means to us
There are a few definitions out there of what zero waste means. For us, it means bringing nothing into our home that we can't consume, compost or repurpose. It means not contributing to landfill, or to giant floating islands of plastic. It means little to no recycling and refusing biodegradable plastics too.
Recycling can mean a portion of our waste is moved to local depots where it is sorted, often added back to landfill, or moved on and sold to companies who purchase and re-purpose it as a raw product. For plastics, this means a downgrade. So a milk bottle doesn't become a new milk bottle, it becomes something else and eventually ends up in our system as a single-use plastic item. That's a whole lot of plastic for the earth to digest. Biodegradable means the plastic breaks up into tiny particles, still floating around, polluting our water and soils.
So for us, this challenge means not being complacent about where our waste and recycling goes. It means thinking. Lots of thinking. And refusing what we can't put to good use. We want to take responsibility for everything we bring into our home.
But rather than focusing on the zero in the whole equation, the refusal, we're choosing to focus on what we can use, and how. Instead of asking is it landfill, or is it waste, we're asking "Is it compostable?" Earth is losing soil at a rapid rate, so anything we can do to help build it up is hugely valuable. Making choices that help us build up the soil in this little patch of land we're care-taking is important. And we've only scratched the surface.
Living without waste.
There are loads of simple choices everyone knows about, that we're making everyday. We're trying a little harder to remember them. Here's what we're doing:
Always carrying water bottles,
Remembering the shopping bags, stashing extras in our bags, pockets and car, just in case.
Shopping at bulk foods stores and taking our jars along.
Using lightweight cloth bags for produce.
Avoiding produce with stickers
Taking containers along to a butcher/fishmonger to place meat, poultry or fish in.
If we're caught short, paper bags are acceptable for us - we can compost them or use them for heat.
When eating out, taking our own chopsticks along and finding take away food available in paper or compostable packaging and bringing it home to compost.
Making our own toothpaste and cleaning products.
Using compostable, wooden toothbrushes and cleaning brushes.
Using cloth everything. From hankies, to family cloth (although guests have an ethical, recycled flushable toilet paper option!).
Knitting our own kitchen cloths. This one is made from an old t-shirt.
Composting everything we sweep up or vacuum. Compost heaps don't mind dust.
Remembering to compost the dog and cat poo in the special pet waste worm farm, rather than throw it out in a plastic bag into landfill - yuck!
Making our own pet food.
Making our own tea.
Getting our ferments happening again.
Getting our yoghurt and cheese making act together.
Using and making home made seaweed tea for the garden.
Learning more about the plants we grow and expanding our medicinal herb garden.
Re-evaluating the processes in our business.
Things we've found challenging
Produce without stickers is hard to find! This is why growing our own is important.
Dairy is almost always packaged in plastic, foil, or coated cardboard. We're having to compromise by bringing home only what we can repurpose. We're allowing ourselves a maximum of 3L of fresh milk each week and repurposing the packaging to make things we can use in our garden, like seedling containers and plant tags. We have powdered organic milk as back-up too. Our dairy consumption has dropped dramatically, which is a good thing environmentally too as it takes about 1000L of water to make 1L of milk. When our beloved Elgaar dairy is back up and running in a few months, we'll be happily drinking ethically produced milk and using reusable glass instead.
Shop assistants may try to help, but not quite understand what we're doing here. Like the butcher who was happy to sell us a plastic-free chicken - once he'd removed it from the bag. Or the cheese seller who we suspect may have just removed the glad wrap, rather than cutting a fresh slice of parmesan for us. You need to be on the ball when shopping.
In Tasmania, we don't really have a one-stop shop where we can buy everything under one roof. We're travelling to the whole foods shop, the butcher, the farmer's market… We're using the car a little more and being conscious of fitting more into each car trip. We need to look into whether bike or bus travel are viable options for our whole family. At the moment, for a family of five, the car is coming out on top as the best use of energy, money and time.
Shopping in small whole foods shops with multiple children is challenging! We tend to all pile up on each other and cause traffic jams by the quinoa. We're thinking of frequenting a smaller shop with a garden where we can park the owlets for a moment while we shop. We're getting better each time we do it.
Carrying all the jars is pretty heavy and requires preparation. But once you've done it a few times, it gets easier.
Medicines, vitamins, bandaids, hardware, gardening products, postage products… even sustainable products like compostable tableware… are all wrapped in plastic. Even the food that we've bought at the whole foods shop has most likely been wrapped in plastic at some point. Our lives are so tangled up in it. So, we work harder to consume a diet that doesn't require supplementing or medicating. We take our own tableware along. We make our own and we find the very best alternatives we can, when we can. If we can't we're going to ask businesses to think about their practices and re-examine just as we are doing. Plastics and packaging create convenience that keeps a whole lot of industries in business, so we can keep them accountable by asking them to change their practices, choosing alternatives or creating our own.
What are the benefits?
Traveling and frequenting different shops means we're engaging with our community a bit more. We're having conversations with real people and finding out more about where our food comes from. Which is a definite win.
We're more mindful of what comes into our home. There's no waste to deal with. We're saving time and life's getting simpler. Its feeding into other areas of our lives where we're thinking more minimally.
When we unpack the shopping, it's already in the jars we intend to keep it in for freshness, so we just pop it straight in the cupboard, fridge or on the bench. It saves time! Plus jars are kind of lovely food storage.
Food tends to be healthier. Even though we cooked mostly from scratch before and our diets haven't changed hugely, I'd say the way we value our food has changed and we're definitely focussed on the good stuff.
Shopping is more enjoyable. It's quicker. There are fewer choices and fewer decisions to make. There is no advertising or excess packaging to deal with. Once you've got it sussed, it saves you lots of time and it's generally more pleasant.
We thought shopping this way would be more expensive. We're still trying to tally all the exact sums on that, but so far it's not! We have managed to stick to budget and feed ourselves well. We've found there's actually savings to be made on certain items we've always bought. And we're not paying for packaging which makes up part of the cost of most pre-packaged foods. Awesome.
Our soils are improving! By focussing on what we can compost, we're staying mindful of things that feed and nourish the soils that nourish the plants that nourish us. Which may lead us to the final frontier of waste one day… humanure. Possibly the only way we can really, truly live waste free. Baby steps though, right? ;)
Where to from here?
Well, before we began this challenge, we put all the items that came in non-refillable containers into lockdown. We were fortunate that it began at the end of a pay cycle, so the fridge and cupboards were absolutely empty, so much of our waste had already left the building. Things like shampoo bottles and tea bag packets remained unfinished. Things we could replace with a more ethical, compostable version. Now we've replaced them, and know it's easy enough to live without them, we'll phase them out completely.
So we'll be filling our rubbish and recycling bins one more time. We may even hire a small skip for some bits and pieces we really can't repurpose, sell or give away. Decisions we made earlier that we wouldn't make again now. And we'll be letting them go, learning and moving on. Now we know our version of zero-waste is totally achievable, and actually not as huge a leap as we first thought, we'll be continuing along this path from now on.
We'll be making changes to Spiral Garden, which remove the need for our customers to worry about this stuff, as much as we can. We'll be thinking about how Christmas and birthdays might look for our family over the next few months. We'll be composting and gardening and thinking about some of the other things we might change too, staying positive that every tiny change we make is a step in the right direction for our planet. It's all a bit of an adventure!
Here are some extra links you may like to look at:
Zero Waste Home
Trash is for Tossers
The Story of Stuff
Put Down the Plastic
Have you ever given much thought to waste, or a zero-waste lifestyle? If you have any questions, we'd be happy to answer them. Have a gorgeous week, whatever adventures you're on!
UPDATE! We've learnt so much more in our zero waste adventures since this post was written and we've decided to share lots of that information in a supportive and fun space in our new e-course at zerowastefamilies.com! Join us for four weeks as we help you move towards zero waste living.
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
So you think you're sustainable? October 16, 2015 08:30
A little while ago, I entered a competition I stumbled across on Facebook. It was a challenge set by Sustainable Living Tasmania, and a few other local organisations, to live as Sustainably as possible for a couple of weeks. We had intended to make some big lifestyle changes this year, which well and truly fell by the wayside as life and winter happened. We got pretty slack...
So it was with some enthusiasm that we welcomed the news that we were finalists in the challenge. We won some awesome prizes to get us started and we're in the running for some pretty impressive window sash treatment for our old 1950's nest. Mostly we're just grateful for the motivation to get started doing something and the owlets are super pumped too!
When the energy assessors came to visit, and we understood what was in store for us, we figured the extra challenge here was that we were already living pretty sustainably. All our food was composted or fed to the chooks. We were pretty conscious about things. Surely there couldn't be much more we could do that would make a difference, could there? We knew we'd slackened off a bit, but we'd have to work extremely hard. So we set out to see.
We timed our showers and were surprised at just how many minutes (and litres!) we lost while daydreaming. On average 8 minutes, but up to 18, which translates to 180 litres in our shower. That's a whole lot of water going down the drain. We kept a rough food diary, which reflected how hurried our days had been and how convenience played a part in our consumption. We tallied all the waste we produced, both rubbish and recycling, and although people have told us the amount seems small to them for a family of five, to us it is far too much for one planet to consume, week after week. Don't you agree?
We'll be blogging and instagraming our findings and reflections over the next couple of weeks, as we find a way to make this work, not just for two weeks, but for life. We've got some pretty big goals and we'll be tackling things like reducing our energy consumption, producing zero waste, family cloth, composting, animal poo worm farms, using less water, and grey water. There's always room for improvement!
If you'd like to join the challenge, you can find it here. If you're in Tassie, you can take your challenge worksheet along to the Sustainable Living Festival and enter into the draw to win a solar hot water system - what we wouldn't give for one of those! Let us know how you go!
~ Lauren. xx
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
Our Garden Re-design :: Spiral vs Line September 29, 2015 07:00
A few weeks ago, I looked out the kitchen window and said to Huz "I think we need to remove the spiral. We need straight beds if we're going to increase our yield". He shrugged and wasn't particularly fussed either way, a little sceptical about how much food we could actually get from our garden anyway. He'd never had much interest in growing veggies, despite his enthusiasm for everything else permaculture. Then a week later he spent the day diving into skills for growing food with Good Life Permaculture. He learnt everything from composting to market gardening, realised he already knew a bunch of stuff with his ecological background and years of gardening, and it all just clicked. He decided it was all about two things: tools and straight lines.
Initially we chose a spiral shape for our vegetable garden in an attempt to slow the flow of nutrients, water and ourselves through the garden. We actively sought something whimsical that would take us out there and slow our own energy flow a bit, inviting us to linger. Knowing spirals to be pretty whimsical and therapeutic, it seemed perfect. An experiment in energy and growth and playfulness within a permaculture system.
The spiral worked really well for a while. We'd converted a large expanse of lawn to something productive. We'd managed to find a system of rotating guilds that flowed though the spiral with the seasons. It was pretty hippy-dippy ace. But it wasn't as productive as it could have been and the difficulty of integrating animals, particularly chooks, into the veggie garden bothered me. Plus a curved line can be harder to cultivate and a crop-rotation system in spiral format seriously messes with your head! Plus we'd managed to find that slowing of energy we craved, that space to daydream, around the edges of the veggie garden, in the food forest.
So right now, along with everything else in our lives it seems, we're going for a complete overhaul. Hundreds of convict bricks have been pulled up again and paths are being re-defined. We've begun the back (and arm!) breaking process of double-digging the soil as we create long, straight beds, slightly reminiscent of a French market garden.
It's the first time we've really dug a garden bed, always opting for raised beds in the past. But we're hoping to give ourselves just a little extra topsoil in our mega-heavy-clay-soil garden. We're observing and chatting about the history of certain patches of soil, what grew where and how and why the soil is the way it is. It's surprising the difference chooks can make to a small patch of heavy clay soil in just one month and how, even months later, you can tell that they've been there by the way the solid crumbles in your hands. We're thrilled that every little bit of effort we've put in so far has paid off. There are some seriously lush areas of topsoil there! We're so glad that our years as custodians of this particular patch of soil haven't been wasted, as slow as the progress seems to have been. It's also surprising how when you've lived somewhere for many years, you can still find remnants of those who've lived there before - old pipes, rusty pliers, broken teacups hidden beneath the soil. We're taking note and learning more as we go.
We're spending long days in the garden, working around the clock to make sure we get it going as soon as humanly possible. Each of us getting involved and taking a role into the construction of something we hope will help feed us and help the budget stretch a little further. We're buying way too many tomato plants at the RTBG fundraiser tomato sale. Huz is nerding out, planning crop rotations and putting his love of spreadsheets to good use. We're making sure we harvest the little bits we can from what's left from the winter garden, and feeling super excited to watch our spring garden evolve through future seasons.
How does your garden grow this spring?
Have you ever created a garden you loved and dug it up to begin again?
Don't forget our next Seedlings Permaculture for Families e-course begins on October 1st - that's two days from now! A perfect time to dig deep and find your permie mojo.
It's really important to us that Seedlings is accessible to as many people as possible. So before we begin, we're offering two full scholarships for this round. If you, or someone you know, would like to join in but isn't in a position to afford it right now, please email us at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you!
~ Lauren. xx
This post was originally published on our personal blog, Owlet.
Spiral Garden Review :: Crayons June 03, 2015 08:00
Since beginning our work at Spiral Garden, we have undertaken a great deal of research into the products we stock, wanting to bring our customers the best quality range of ethical and environmentally friendly products we can find. We've sought out the products we'd love to use most in our own home. We've asked why our popular products are so popular and what our customers love about them best. We've also looked into their manufacturing, shipping process and ingredients lists, where possible.
It's not always an easy task to find the nitty gritty on certain products. And many we take for granted as being "safe", "non-toxic" and "harmless", when a little further research suggests perhaps they are not 100% so... It's quite an eye-opening process and as such, certain products may not be re-stocked as we find they do not meet our expectations. Or, we'll continue to stock them but let you know their credentials as much as we can. With all that in mind, to begin with, our attention turned to art supplies in Spiral Garden and today, I'm going to tell you all about our range of crayons and the process we've undertaken to understand them and create the range we have.
The first product we bought from Spiral Garden, as customers many years ago, was a tin of Stockmar Beeswax Crayons. They are so beautifully packaged in their sturdy little tin. Their bright rainbow colours in block or stick form... They smell like honey! And they last a series of toddlers, as our set can attest. These are artist quality crayons, meaning the colours are bright and bold. They glide onto the paper and their colour stays fast. Unfortunately it stays fast to the walls too, another fact our series of toddlers have demonstrated...
The shape of the Stockmar Block Crayons is fantastic for small hands to hold and begin drawing and experimenting with colour. Our children held them and enjoyed making their first marks on paper at only nine months! If you want a great to use, artist quality beeswax crayon that will last forever, these fit that bill. Something our research has turned up is that, while Stockmar crayons do contain pure beeswax, they also contain a minimum of 10% paraffin (we've heard it may be even higher than this), among other chemicals which are used to help the colours stay fast and the crayons non-sticky and solid for years. Their pigments are often reported as "food safe" and "natural" when in actual fact they are pigments safe for use in food packaging, not food itself and some pigments are organic, while others are inorganic.
Paraffin in crayons, whilst being non-toxic and safe for human use, is made from petroleum, which in itself is toxic and not something I'm super comfortable with my toddlers ingesting and is one reason we've avoided buying commercial brands of parrafin crayons.
But its only a little alarming, when I consider many of the other things our toddlers have ingested... Overall, we love these crayons. Stockmar is an ethical company as far as we can tell and while not all product information is displayed transparently, basic information is generally accessible. They are made in Germany and shipped to a distributor in Australia who ships them to our supplier in Melbourne, who ships them to us... there's a fair bit of handling involved.
After assessing all this information about Stockmar Crayons, we needed to understand the crayon making process. We procured a block of local beeswax and made our own and learnt that we are not so great at making attractive crayons ourselves! They were patchy and a bit lumpy and we'd need LOTS of experimenting to refine them, but they worked, so that's the main thing! But, we did understand more about the process, the chemicals and how they work to get the colour onto the paper.
Busy Bee Beeswax Crayons
Next we found the most natural crayon we could. Busy Bee Beeswax Crayons are made with Beeswax, natural pigments and clays. That's it. They are sticky to touch, so the wrapper is handy. We're thinking they may break a little more easily than Stockmar crayons, although this hasn't happened yet. Their colours are very natural looking. So natural that they lend themselves very well to drawing nature and in particular, the Australian landscape. The colours remind us of Tasmania.
These crayons are not what I would describe as artist quality. They are more transparent and they don't have the same glide as Stockmar crayons which we understand from our crayon-making experiments... But they are still beautiful to use and in the hands of an artist, any tool can create a thing of beauty. They smell like honey! And they come direct from the hive, being made in the US by a family company with natural parenting values akin to our own.
Brilliant Bee Crayons
These crayons are triangular, which is a great ergonomic design for owlets who are learning to write. They also come in a selection of 24 colours - the latest we stock. This is handy for owlets who want access to more realistic colours for whatever they are drawing, and more choice in general. They contain beeswax, and are non-toxic, although we're sure they contain some paraffin and non-organic pigments if that is something that bothers you. Their packaging, although reusable, contains plastic, which is something we avoid if possible. In this case, it ors help to secure and hold the crayon selection well and is sturdy enough to last, so we're happy to accept it. These are a bright, vivid crayon and very easy to hold and use. Perfect if you need access to a big range of colours.
Looking at our crayon range so far and Spiral Garden's historically most popular products, we decided to reintroduce a vegan option. And we are thrilled with Crayon Rocks. They are bright, great quality, fun to use... They look like jelly beans! They come in a gorgeous red velvet or muslin pouch which adds a little magic and is super transportable - perfect when we go outside to draw and can throw them in a bag or basket. Crayon Rocks are made from soy wax, and a mix of other waxes including carnauba wax, mineral pigments and limestone. They are kosher too.
Crayon Rocks are made ethically, by a small company in the US. They work fantastically for little growing hands and have been recommended by occupational therapists for helping to develop children's tripod grip, ready for pencils and pens as their skills develop. They are best used with supervision and are not recommended for children under 3yrs because they are a choking hazard, although our toddler has been ok with them as she's moved past popping things in her mouth. We just love that they are so special and fun, and offer something different for our art supply cupboard.
Filana Organic Beeswax Crayons
Late last year, we believe we found the crayon we've been looking for all these years. Realising how beautiful Stockmar Crayons are to use, but wanting a more natural alternative, a family in the US set about making some organic beeswax crayons. Filana Organic Beeswax Crayons are beeswax and soy based. Filana's makers based them on Goethe's colour wheel and created colours used in many Waldorf Steiner schools for crayon drawing. Like Stockmar, these come in a block or stick form. They are robust and the colours are vivid. But what's amazing about these crayons is that they've taken the best bits about all our favourite crayons and created something we find even better! We were actually pretty surprised the first time we used them. The colour and pigment of Stockmar's crayons combines with the smooth, glide-ability of Crayon Rocks. And they're organic and made by hand by a family company! They also ship directly to us, keeping handling down and costs low. And their packaging is compostable - a super important factor for us. We really can't find flaw with them and of all the crayons in our crayon bowl, these are the ones that get the most use nowadays. An instant classic and a lot of fun to work with. You can see them in action in a video review of them, by Sarah Baldwin, over here.
We leave crayons in a space where the Owlets can easily reach them. Near sketch books or paper, they use them readily as they play and make art learn about colour. They pick and choose the right crayon for the job, as do we - crayons are fun to work with! Whether used on their sides, or as finer points for linework, we all enjoy using them to put colour on a page, quickly and expressively.
How do you use crayons in your nest?
Do you have a favourite?
You can find our complete range of crayons and drawing materials here.
This week, you could win TWO sets of our Filana crayons - one block and one stick 12pk. Just sign up to our Spiral Garden newsletter to be in the running! Go here to sign up!
~ Lauren. xx
Permaculture :: Growing + Learning April 24, 2015 17:30
We've been talking permaculture in these parts for a while now. Our owlets are well versed, having been guinea pigs for our Seedlings e-course, and living with two passionate permie parents, they've totally picked up the lingo. It's hilarious, and pretty amazing to watch how they absorb it so intuitively when we begin talking. And it's an awesome moment when you realise they're getting it, growing with it. Everything's going to be ok with earth stewards like them in the ranks.
On the practical side of things, our permaculture design is probably one third of the way implemented. We're slow and lazy gardeners, but motivated by bursts of work between bush walks and work days. We have a chook orchard and a small food forest that are going gangbusters. The veggie spiral is bubbling away as we experiment with crop rotation, succession, guild planting and a whole lot of soil improvement. We've slowed the flow of water and nutrients from our garden, created topsoil where there was none, and learnt so much. But we have a heap more lawn to convert into productive space. There's that back corner that's just made for a studio of some sort if we can forego the Hill's Hoist. The front verandah could do with some sort of pergola to grow grapes up and we need to move the side gate. Bees will be arriving in Spring and I'm hoping ducks won't be too far off. The house is another matter entirely, with lots of improvements to be made and water harvesting to be improved. The front garden is yet to be touched, although it's an established mostly-indigenous garden now. Although not as fast as we'd like, it's getting there.
One of my favourite permaculture principles is Use Small and Slow Solutions. Our current group of Seedlings are looking at it now and hopefully finding some comfort in it too in their busy family-filled days. It's the one that reminds you to just work on things one bite at a time. Things will get done eventually and by slowing down, playing, working, observing, you can appreciate the process so much more. Only realising further down the track what you've achieved. Much like parenting owlets. You just need to trust the process.