15 WAYS TO LIVE MORE SUSTAINABLY
We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so far to go in limiting our environmental footprint.
by: Carolyn Boyd
As a nation, Australia has come a long way in recent years in trying to help the environment.
We have increased our household recycling rates, and the nation’s rooftops are being transformed by an influx of solar panels. Yet we still use much more than our fair share of the world’s natural resources.
A recent report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found Australia has the world’s 13th largest ecological footprint per person. If the rest of the world lived like Australians, it noted, the earth’s population would need 3.6 planets to sustain itself.
Making changes won’t reduce your quality of life but will create a more thoughtful way of living, says Dr Martin Taylor, WWF’s protected areas and conservation science manager.
Nearly all Australians (98 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics) take steps to help the environment. Chances are you’re trying hard to recycle at home – albeit, if you’re like many Australians, making a few mistakes such as putting styrofoam containers in the kerbside collection.
Here are 15 ways to help the planet. You can also take our quiz to find out how environmentally friendly you already are.
1. Seek out ethical investments
The responsible investment sector market is growing rapidly. Total funds under management in Australia and New Zealand in this category increased by 13 per cent to $153 billion over the past year, according to WWF figures. To find out more about responsible investing, contact the industry’s peak body in Australia and New Zealand, The Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA).
2. Be efficient
Study appliance labels to choose the most water- and energy-efficient option you can afford. Over 10 years, an inefficient 1.5-star, 519-litre fridge-freezer costs about twice as much to run ($1652) as an efficient 4.5-star fridge of a similar size, according to www.energyrating.gov.au, a website that allows you to compare models.
3. Design savvy
One of the biggest impacts you can have on the environment is the design of your own home and how you live in it. Well-designed homes should have the living areas to the north to take advantage of the winter sun, and eaves (overhangs) to block out the higher-in-the-sky summer sun. They should also have windows on opposite sides of the home, and an internal layout that allows for cross-breezes to cool the home naturally. Building materials make an impact, too. All homes, including those with double-brick walls, should have at least ceiling and wall insulation. To find out more about designing your home for the climate, seewww.yourhome.gov.au
4. Transport focus
Australia's 11 million cars produce more than 46 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), so your choice of car and how you use it can make a huge impact.
Walk, cycle or take public transport when you can. When buying a car, look for the most fuel-efficient option with the best emissions rating. Keep vehicles well serviced so they don’t use excess oil or fuel. And an often-forgotten fact – maintaining your tyres at the correct pressure can cut fuel consumption by 10 per cent.
5. Fly right
Air travel to and from Australia is soaring. In the year to June 2014, there were 32.6 million crossings of Australia's international borders (about 1.4 crossings per Australian) compared with 18.6 million border crossings 10 years ago. The increase in air travel is having a significant effect on the climate. The David Suzuki Foundation says air travel accounts for 4 to 9 per cent of the total climate change impact of human activity. You can compensate for air travel with carbon offsets. Most airlines offer this option with your tickets. The funds are invested into projects that reduce the equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emitted by your trip.
6. Extend product life
Quality products that last the distance won’t have to be replaced so often, a mantra sometimes forgotten when so many products, including fashion, have throwaway appeal. It’s fairly obvious that you should repair and re-use items instead of replacing them when you can. Note though, for older appliances, it can sometimes be better to send them to the recyclers and buy more efficient replacements.
7. Takeaway packaging
When recycling bins aren’t available, take the packaging from takeaway food home with you and recycle it yourself.
8. Seek out recycled content
Buy products such as office paper and carpet underlay with recycled content, as this creates a market for recyclers. While 68 per cent of all office paper in Australia is recycled, only one in six reams of paper purchased actually has any recycled content. To combat this, Planet Ark and Reflex paper have recently begun a campaign telling consumers to “close the loop” by purchasing Australian-made recycled paper.
9. Reduce packaging and plastic bags
Every Australian household produces more than a tonne of waste a year. Reduce this by avoiding products with excessive packaging or items packed in difficult-to-recycle materials such as foam trays, which often end up in landfill. It’s also worth taking your own reusable bags when shopping, rather than accepting disposable plastic bags. Australians use 3.9 billion plastic bags a year. Making those bags consumes enough petroleum to power a car around the Earth's equator 112,000 times. A common misconception is that all of the bags are reused as rubbish liners, when in fact many end up dumped in landfill or as litter. More than one in four (28 per cent) Australians thinks plastic bags can go into household recycling bins. They can be recycled, but not in the conventional recycling stream. They must be taken to a supermarket and placed in the soft plastic bags recycling bin.
10. Water miser
Australia is the most arid inhabited continent on Earth and is prone to droughts. Look for front-loading washing machines, dual-flush toilets, and taps and showerheads with high efficiency ratings. You can also install rainwater tanks, plant drought-tolerant plants in the garden and use landscaping items such as screens and sculptures to add some interest. An inefficient showerhead can use more than 20 litres of water a minute compared to just six or seven litres for a good quality WELS-rated version. Fixing leaks saves an astounding amount of water – a slow, barely visible leak can waste more than 4000 litres a year.
11. Sun worship
It makes good sense to take advantage of a free resource like the sun. The price of solar systems has dropped dramatically in recent years despite rebates being slashed, which makes them a viable option for households with a pay-off period of about six years for an average-sized system. In Australia, one in five households has solar electricity or solar hot water installed, and the proportion is continuing to rise.
12. Compost food scraps
Food scraps and green waste are among the worst household rubbish items we can send to landfill, as they contain liquids that cause toxic by-products that leach into the surrounding soils. Figures from the ABS show that nearly half (47 per cent) of all waste from households is organic. Some councils now allow you to put food scraps into the green waste bin, or you can set up a home compost system. One of the easiest to use is a compost tumbler on a stand, which are available from most hardware stores. It’s a good idea to buy two, so when you’re filling one you can rest the other. Once full, it will take about six weeks to break down into compost for the garden.
Australians buy more than four million computers and three million televisions annually, and how we dispose of them is becoming a huge problem. These devices contain hazardous materials such as lead, cadmium and mercury, which are dangerous in landfill. They also have components made from valuable non-renewable resources including gold, steel, copper, zinc, aluminium and brass.
Historically, Australians have done a poor job at recycling e-waste. Of the 15.7 million computers that reached their 'end of life' in Australia in 2007-08, fewer than 10 per cent – 1.5 million – were recycled. To find the nearest location for e-waste recycling, seehttp://recyclingnearyou.com.au
14. Flex your consumer muscle
Choose sustainable products when you can and, if you don’t find enough on your supermarket shelves, ask for them. “Consumers are a very powerful force. If they are concerned about where their produce is coming from, and whether it’s free of deforestation or land degradation or whether it’s safe for wildlife, they should make themselves known to the supplier because believe me, suppliers will be listening,” says Dr Taylor. If you are buying timber-based products - from garden chairs to toilet roll, paper and envelopes – look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)label. A similar certification applies for seafood, called the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification mark. It signals that the seafood is from well-managed sources, which is important because three-quarters of the world’s global fish stocks are either over-exploited or fished to their limit.
15. Make a big impact
Individual actions are important, but government approaches offer the quickest path to change. Understand how government policies affect the environment and lobby for change.