Eco-hacks- Episode 2 – Toilet paper trade-off

Category: Reducing single-use items.

It seems like another lifetime ago, but in March 2020 things went wonky in the supermarket aisles. The shelves were empty; denuded of basics like rice and pasta. If you had canned soup on your shopping list? Think again, there was none available! The lack of food staples was nothing compared to the hullabaloo happening away from the fridges and freezers, away from the breakfast cereal and flour.

Over in the paper goods aisle, there was some really serious shit going down.  People were panic-buying toilet paper in preparation for self-isolation. They were fighting over the last eight pack. Enraged shoppers were swearing at the cashiers. Rumours were fueling rushes on shops. “Coles at Figtree has toilet paper! Quick! Too late!”

The world went genuinely crazy! Over toilet paper? Yes, over toilet paper.

IMG_4764
Empty shelves: Woolworth’s Figtree March 22nd 2020

NOT ME! I was sitting pretty, because, in January, ignorant of the impending doom of Corona, I had bought a year’s supply of toilet paper (and paper towels, toothpaste and all those non-perishable, non-food type things) as I intended on only going to the fresh food market. I planned to stay out of Woollies for the year and save some money. I had made my estimates, done my calculations and bought in bulk. It was all part of my big Year of Zero. My plan to cut back, par down and save money.

Worth its weight in gold?

Bazinga!

I had a goldmine in my linen press! I decided not to cash in. In fact, I went the other way and thought “well how can I make what I have last even longer”? I was spurred on by an article in the Guardian about reusable “toilet paper” or rather, washable wipes that can be reused and potentially eliminate toilet paper from your shopping list and our environment.

Ever resourceful, I got a large towel from the op shop and used my overlocker (serger) to cut it into small strips about 12  x 8cm. From one $2 bath towel I got 66 little tiny towels. I bought a small flip-top bin with a well-sealed lid for $8 and I’m set. That ten measly bucks sets me up for the next five years! (or until I need to replace them)

I will still use some toilet paper because I am not gutsy enough to use the tiny towels for faeces only urine. (Thank god I hear my friends sigh!) The used wipes get tossed in the little bin, and I wash them with non-clothes items like towels or sheets and hang them in the bright UV-laden Australian sun to dry. It turns out these small reusable towels are called “family cloths” and are big business on Etsy! Family cloths sounds a bit ooky to me, so I’m sticking with tiny towels.

I’ve used two double-length rolls of paper in the last six months. I hasten to add that my bathroom habits are… umm… shall we say, healthy and regular, so I’m not under-using my stash.

On top of the financial benefits, there are loads of eco-warrior princess points to be won here. Toilet paper typically comes packed in plastic, uses high-quality virgin paper and water in its manufacture. Although it breaks down quickly in the sewerage system it is still a single-use product that is chucked out. Sewage treatment is a significant drain on our community’s coffers and not one we can scrimp on if we are to keep safe and healthy.

Toilet paper is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it takes just one virus to brings us to our knees and create chaos.  I wonder how many people have got a truckload of unopened paper in their garage?

Toilet Paper Hoarder?
It turns out this buyer also bought the stash before COVID. Incorrectly ordering 48 boxes instead of 48 rolls. Image from Courtesy US NEWS and Report.

The history of toilet paper

This sort of crisis gets you (well me anyway) thinking about what did people do in the olden days before the invention of snowy white toilet paper?

Sticks and stones as it turns out. Snow, seashells, wooden scrapers, communal sponges on sticks, flat rocks, leaves, moss, lambswool and fingers have all been or are still used as cleaning/drying implements after the business is done.

Ewww,  if the thought of washing a little tiny towel grossed you out, think of those alternatives!

Toilet paper, as we know it is a relatively recent invention. The first commercially produced toilet paper landed in the grocery store in 1857.

If you’re interested, these websites have some interesting stories on the history and commercial development of toilet paper.

https://www.history.com/news/toilet-paper-hygiene-ancient-rome-china

http://www.wonderbarry.com/TP%20Site/index.html

So how much will I save?

Back in January, I calculated that I was buying a four-pack of double length toilet paper every month. So I figured I’d need 48 rolls for the whole year. I paid about $6-7 a pack. So my upfront expenditure was about $90 tops for the year. My current rate of use sees me using 6 rolls over the year, let’s say $10. Over 5 years I’ll save ~ $400. (Maybe)

It’s not really about the money; it’s about reducing my footprint. In terms of eco-princess brownie points, this is right up there! I’m doing my bit to save trees, water and electricity and come the second wave I’ll be doing fine!

Toilet paper cartoon
A hot commodity?

Yuck factor?

The title of the Guardian article referenced above refers to the ‘yuck factor’ of reusable solutions to cleaning or drying ourselves up after we have been to the toilet.

Now, for you fellows out there here is a bit of private women’s business. We use toilet paper every time we wee. All things going well, it’s really just a little dab to wipe a few drips. For this little bit of liquid I have known some women to use more than ten sheets! What a waste!  Why have we become so separated from our bodily functions?

Personally, I am still not ready to go commando and use the wipes for faeces as well. I am not done analysing the reasons why as I was a cloth nappy mum and it’s not the poo that worries me…just my poo I guess. I have also proven my poo-brave face by doing voluntary faecal analysis to see what bugs I have in my gut and for a bowel scan. Maybe I’ll get there but I won’t tell anyone.

Anyways, if using your own reusable wipes is a step too far, at least switch to a more eco-friendly option. Seek out paper made with at least some unvleaced,recycled paper  in paper wrapping. Bidets are also a very good alternative if you have access to one. The water used in the bidet is a fraction of that used in the manufacture of paper and the washing of tiny towels.

Check out “Who gives a crap” a socially responsible company who makes good toilet paper and gives back to the community. It’s not white and snowy but then neither is your bum!


PS: Visiting friends and family? Don’t worry; the guest bathroom is stocked with the real deal!

 

Saving the planet – one pair of socks at a time.

I am balancing precariously on the intersection of two conflicting intents. The conflicting intents? Saving money so I can retire and saving the planet.

Personal savings intent:

I am 59, and I have a huge mortgage as a result of getting divorced and needing to start again. I don’t want to downsize as I am already in a small villa. I want to retire by 62. I have set myself a goal of saving a little over a third of my net pay for the next four years. This should get the mortgage paid off and means I won’t end up homeless.

I am achieving this through a number of strategies which I set out in my Year of Zero Post. Essentially I’m saving money by:

  1. Placing an embargo on buying new things and only replacing stuff if it gets broken or wears out.
  2. Being much more frugal in terms of food, entertainment and lifestyle in general.

Saving the planet intent:

I want to be a more sustainable and ethical buyer. I want to buy from smaller companies, not multinationals. I want to buy local more often and hyper-local wherever possible. I want to buy from people who have bonafide planet-friendly strategies. I want to buy Australian made and Australian owned.  I want to buy from those companies whose triple bottom line includes, profit in terms of money, environment and people.

My dilemma? I need new sports socks. The ones I have are disappearing inside my shoes as I run.

Weighing up the options

I can go to the local chain store KMart, and get three pairs of socks for $2. I won’t buy those because I know they won’t last long and are probably synthetic and will end up smelly. I can afford to splash out and get 3 pairs for $12. KMart has an ethical buying commitment. They are establishing a framework to ensure their suppliers’ employees are paid a living wage.   Their sustainability policy concentrates on sources of cotton and cocoa, social responsibility and saving energy by installing LED lighting. Their environmental bona fides are not great, but they are working towards it. They’re are thinking about it, but they are not there yet.

On the other hand, I could buy from a company like Boody. Boody is an Australian family company which manufactures underwear and socks from ethically and sustainably sourced bamboo. Their environmental credentials are impressive. The bamboo is grown and treated in China. Some of their products are made in Australia, but from their website, it is hard to tell where the items are actually knitted or stitched together.  They employ local people, pay a living wage,  and have a close to zero waste production cycle. They give to planet-friendly charities. They tick the environmental boxes but not the manufactured in Australia box.

Given the KMart socks are also not Australian made, this factor can be cancelled out.  BUT one pair of bamboo socks will cost me $10! I can get a discount if I buy five pairs. This brings it down to $8.80 a pair.

The Decision?

And here is where I get stuck. This is, I fear is where most people get stuck. Do I spend 400% more buying the eco socks or stash the cash in my own account? What wins? The now or the later? My economic future or the future of the planet? What legacy do I want to leave?

The answer becomes clearer when it’s personalised, and I think about my own family. What impact will my actions have on my offspring? What impact can I have as one person?

The journey has to start somewhere, and this time I am going to give the eco-socks a try. My desire to ensure that this one planet remains liveable and viable for my grandson has won the argument.

DISCLAIMER: I have no connection to Boody. They just came up when I searched Google for ethical and sustainable socks.


Nearly $60 later; the socks arrived, they’re soft and fluffy and good quality.  They are labelled “Made in China”. I hope they last!

 

Go Solar!

In my quest to reduce my carbon footprint I am seriously considering installing solar panels. I am coincidently doing a unit of work on energy with my Year 7 Science class.  Since our school is “learning from home”,  I  had time to play with some new apps and techniques to prepare a lesson for remote learning, I put this clip together as a bit of fun. Three parts learning new skills, 3 parts lesson prep and 4 parts just fooling around!

Video footage using my iPhone, screen capture using Loom. Music from Purple Planet. Adobe Sketch with an Apple Pencil and iMovie to put it all together.

 

Corona Zeitgeist?

Does the Age of Corona signal a time for the zeitgeist to shift? Zeitgeist, there’s a word I don’t think I have used in a real sentence before. It is defined by the interwebs as:

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
“the story captured the zeitgeist of the late 1960s”

If you have been trawling the “socials” more closely than usual you will have seen things shift over the last month. There has been a real change in tone.

At first, it was “What’s the fuss?”

Followed quickly by “Hang-on perhaps this is more than the flu.”

Followed by there being no toilet paper in the shops. Or rice or pasta or dried milk powder. All the things you need to hunker down and isolate. My post in January about Disaster Prepping now seems apocryphal.

Once everyone was in lock down the funny new lyrics to classic songs started. Some good, some bad and some very professional. Plans for the “recovery” are starting to emerge now that China and Italy are beginning to lift their restrictions.  The memes changed to “what will be the first thing you’ll do when we get back to normal?”

What’s the rush to get back to normal? Normal was killing our planet. It was killing us.

Screen Shot 2020-04-15 at 12.26.52
From Facebook: March Australia

Opportunity for Change

The latest trend has been memes of the earth sighing and enjoying a break. This is the shift in zeitgeist I am talking about. Just as I was formulating in my own mind a desire to not return to “normal” but a “better new normal”, I have been seeing more and more posts calling for the same shift. I don’t think Facebook has developed mind-reading yet, it would seem I was very much not alone in my thought patterns.

This article is an example. It outlines how we should be prepared to be gaslighted by corporations as they try to catch up on all the missed revenue. To return to our old habits of spending money on things we don’t need.  While you have been in isolation, you have probably been busy Kondo-ing your physical possessions, consider Kondo-ing your whole life. Be deliberate and thoughtful about the things you bring back. Take this chance to recreate your life.

Screen Shot 2020-04-15 at 09.17.17
Facebook post from Dana Dimi

I think we can use this Corona-induced “Big Pause” as a time to reorder our personal economic circumstances and have an impact on the world’s economy. Yes, it will be painful. Yes, people will lose their jobs, some businesses will go bust. Others will rise in their place.  We probably won’t ever get an opportunity to hit the reset button again.

Those of us who are privileged enough to make the choice to consume or not consume can have the most impact. Do you need 50 white t-shirts? Does your phone really need upgrading? Should we pay scientists more and celebrities less?

Make some choices!

Become hyper-local when you consume. Rather than returning to the large multinational corporation for your quick meal, support a local take away shop or small restaurant. Pay a bit more for locally sourced milk. Buy from the source. I’ve discovered a beekeeper who lives (literally) around the corner.  It makes me smile to think the honey on my toast may have come from my own flowers.

Travel locally, keep the sky blue! Have you noticed how blue the sky is? No planes, less traffic, less photo-chemical smog.

Think about a barter economy. What can you do that you can swap with others? Time? Unwanted goods? Services? Mow someone’s lawn in exchange for a home-cooked meal?

Grow some of your own food. Keep making bread from scratch. Share it.

Continue to work from home. (The kids will eventually go back to school.) Convince your boss that you don’t need to be in the office every day. It will save them money too.

Let’s use this devastating global event as a catalyst for positive change. Let’s not waste the chance.

EDITED TO ADD
Another one from today:

https://www.facebook.com/yongootieno.wycliffe/posts/2587443628133872


STAY CALM, STAY AT HOME AND WASH YOUR HANDS!

Mini-Doc of the Week 7 – Sustainable Tourism.

Sustainable tourism?

This week’s mini-doc looks at one isolated aspect of sustainable tourism.  Millions and millions of people visit Niagara Falls every year.  This obviously puts an incredible strain on such a beautiful area but is no doubt essential to the local economy.

A big part of the experience is a cruise up river to view the falls close-up. The ticket price includes a plastic poncho.

I’m left wondering exactly what do they do with all those ponchos? While I am sure some get kept as souvenirs, the majority would end up in the bins at the end of the gangway.

Are there other options? I don’t know what the answer is beyond getting wet. What did they do before plastic ponchos were invented? I guess people brought their own raincoats. Could Maid in the Mist (on the US side) or Hornblower (on the Canadian side) have reusable ponchos? Or sell heavier duty ones which were not single-use? Perhaps there could be a discount for people who don’t use the poncho and bring their own?

 

The footage was shot in 2016 and repurposed for this clip in March, 2020. Shot with a Panasonic FZ1000 and edited using iMovie on my iMac.  Music from Purple Planet. 

Canada was a spectacular place to visit and I could happily go back again. I have shared other stories about my time in Canada in these posts:

The road-tripping photographer (one of my favourites!)

Canada – Just like Australia except with Mountains and Bears.

Winning the lottery at Moraine Lake – you never know who you’ll meet!

Five out of six ain’t bad  – AirBnB gone wrong!

 

Recycling Humans?

Chemistry as it applies to the human population.

Recent bush fires in Australia have had me thinking down some very black roads.  Some related to politics, capitalism and how the world could have been better if we had taken advantage of different “sliding door” moments.

I have reflected on climate change, sustainability, the death of native animals, destruction of houses and communities. I thought about the moments in history which have led us here to this time and place.

…And then I got to thinking about thermodynamics. About available energy and matter.  The fact that there is a finite number of atoms on this Earth.

The big question in my mind then became “How many people could live on this planet without ruining it?”

As a chemist, I have studied closed system reactions. Our earth is essentially a closed system.  A closed system only has a certain number of atoms available so once you use them up the reactions have to stop. Rearranging atoms usually uses up energy. Energy is also limited.

These limited atoms are used to make up all the things on Earth including humans. There are an estimated 7,656 million people on the planet. Let’s say the average mass of a human is around 80kg. That’s 612,480 million kilograms of humans. (1 kilo = 2.2 lbs)

If we wind back the clock just 300 years to the 1700s, the estimated upper limit[1] of the human population was 680 million. That means there is an extra 558,080 million (558,080,000,000) kg of human flesh on the planet now compared to then.

Most of those extra kilograms have come from other living things in our closed system because we eat them.  There has to be a time when we simply run out of atoms and energy to keep making more humans. The majority of the energy we are using now has come from the stored energy of ancient living things – a.k.a fossil fuel.

While some of the atoms in current humans may have come from recycled humans (i.e. the return of nutrients to the soil through decomposition) most of the time we don’t generally “recycle” humans. We put them in sealed boxes in burial grounds off-limits to agriculture where the nutrients can not be returned to the system. Cremation adds to the carbon in the air.

We waste and misuse so many resources. As consumers, we salve our conscious with the catch-cry,  reduce-reuse-recycle, but that is unlikely to be enough to stop or reverse climate change.

Is it time to stop being humans who recycle to humans who are recycled?

Is it time to start thinking about burial practices so the nutrients in humans are available for other uses? I’m of course not the only one thinking about this sort of thing; burial trees pods have been mooted for a while.

It’s all sounding like Soylent Green may not be such a bad idea after all! By the way, that movie, where people were recycled to make food for other humans was set in 2022.

I also believe that those of us in developed economies, who use a lot of resources, have a moral imperative to reduce the number of children we have. We need to seriously consider limiting our population through natural attrition so that some of the atoms can be returned to make other things.

Instead of “one [child] for mum, one for dad and one for the country” how about just one for the planet?

[1] https://www.ecology.com/population-estimates-year-2050/

Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day

Is Valentine’s Day even a thing in Australia? For some of us yes, for others it’s another capitalist plot to make us spend money.

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Capitalism is fed

As Hallmark scams you!

According to a 2019 survey conducted by Relationships Australia, more than half of all adult Americans and a third of adults in the UK celebrate Valentine’s Day in some way. Eighteen per cent of the 1700 Australian respondents in this survey said they had never celebrated Valentines Day because they don’t believe in it. I am with that 18%.

Valentine's day

Another Australian survey conducted in 2015  by Canstar Blue says that of the 2050 respondents they questioned, 46% said they intended on doing nothing for Valentines Day. Of these people, 54% did not celebrate it because they didn’t believe in it.

I don’t think I have ever received a Valentine’s Card. Well, at least I don’t remember if I have. I don’t know of many of my peers who make a fuss over the day either. From my casual observations, it seems to be celebrated here by people who celebrate Halloween or who think Black Friday is a sale day and not a day to commemorate tragic bush fires in Adelaide!

On a personal note, I see it as another way to get people to spend money on things they don’t really need. Or perhaps spend money on things they should be doing anyway, such as spending quality time with people they love or have significant relationships with.

Approximately 131 million Hallmark cards were exchanged on Valentines Day in 2016 raising more than a $1 billion dollars.  Not to mention the money spent on roses and chocolates.

Valentine's Day

On the other side of things, it singles out single people. This might make them feel sad or SAD! A counter-movement called Singles Awareness Day (SAD) is ‘celebrated’ on February 15th and accentuates the positives of being single. I’m with them!

Maybe we should start another movement and channel all that money into showing our love for our planet. Instead of buying a single long-stemmed red rose grown in a greenhouse, think of ways to lower your own greenhouse emissions. Instead of giving a whole bunch of roses that will die in a few days, plant some trees which will last more than a lifetime. Instead of giving chocolate which leads to the destruction of rainforests, spend time with the people you love and volunteer together to help clean up your local area.

Make February 14th (and every day) LOVE Day. Love Our Valuable Earth Day

 


 

Mini-doc of the Week 2

Early Morning in Narooma

Continuing on the theme of fires on the NSW South Coast. Once again this clip is from Narooma, a village about 4 hours drive from Sydney. I used to spend holidays there in my early 20’s. I have plenty of fond memories.

These areas rely on tourism, especially in our summer school holiday period so they will be doing it tough. The main crisis has passed now, but the people in this area need to put their lives back in order.

Support them if you can.

 

All footage on iPhone SMAX edited using iMovie on my phone.

Disaster prepping: Are you ready?

Prepared for disaster?

With much of the south-east coast of Australia experiencing horrendous bushfires these last few months, I have been thinking a lot about my preparedness for a disaster. I live in a very urbanised area, a long way from any fire risk, but on the other hand, I do live in a zone that is affected by frequent flash flooding, and I am in the inundation risk zone for a tsunami if one ever hit.

The disaster may not end up weather-related, who knows? There could be a flu pandemic, civil unrest or an earthquake. Heaven forbid there could be a war or mass-scale terrorist attack. The IA bots might take over. At least in Australia, I don’t have to add nuclear meltdown to the list since our only nuclear reactor is small and is not used to produce electricity.

“We live in an era that, within 15 minutes’ notice, nuclear weapons could be crossing the continents bringing about great devastation. Yet we deny this, go about our business, we go on teaching, we drive our cars to work. We repress to the point where we don’t give it any real conscious thought.” Associate professor and author Mick Broderick in The Guardian 28/10/18 original article by Sarah Szabo

Endgame: how Australian preppers are bugging out and hunkering down

The disaster could come from anywhere and at any time, but there is very little gain in being in a constant state of high alert, that would be too mentally taxing. But it is worth thinking about what would you do to increase your readiness if anything does happen.

How to prepare.

You can’t be prepared for everything, but there are a few low-key non-stressful actions that could make a difference.

1. Know your risk

Where do you live? What are your local risks? Fire, flood, cyclone or earthquake? If you move to a new area, make sure you know what the most likely events are. Your local council should have Disaster Planning documents that you can read.

2. Have an alternate source of power for your devices.

In our increasingly technological world, many problems arise from power blackouts. We can’t communicate (for long), keep our food fresh, get fuel out of the underground tanks or even get cash if there is no electricity.

You maybe like me and run your car down to empty before you refill it. I heard reports during this current state of emergency this caused issues for residents who needed to be evacuated. Their fuel tank was near empty, and they did not have enough to get to the evacuation centre. As there was no power, there was no way to fill up at the local service station either.

It is vital to have a functioning mobile phone so that you can get fire alerts and other warnings. Without electricity, how will you keep your phone topped up? You can get hand-cranked chargers or make sure you have charged portable power banks.

If you have a BBQ with a gas cylinder, keep a spare or don’t let it run to empty. You might need it for alfresco meals and boiling water. You can at least fill gas cylinders up without power but not without cash!

So make sure you have some stashed emergency cash on hand – always! ATM’s and EFTPOS could be offline. No point having the Wallet App on your flat phone with no internet!

3. Have non-perishable food and a supply of drinking water.

Supermarkets on the South Coast of NSW were quickly denuded of fresh food. Deliveries could not get in to restock because the main roads were closed due to fire. Milk and bread were the first things to go. [After some thought, I wondered why people thought these were essential items. I’d be going for the canned baked beans, peanut butter and crackers.]

How long could you last on what you’ve got in your cupboard? I often joke with friends that I have enough food in my house to last several months. I would need to use it strategically, but I do have a bit put by. Not because I am prepared, but because I overbuy food. It turns out that may not be such a bad thing!

If you know the power is going to be out for a few days, make sure you use the food in the fridge first. Keep the freezer closed shut! The food in there will stay safely cold for a couple of days IF you don’t keep opening it.

Consider keeping a twenty-litre container of drinking water handy and refresh it regularly.

One of the things the “Being prepared for bushfires” pamphlet tells you to do is to fill the bath with water, this is not for you to get into BUT rather have a source of water ready to put out fires caused by ember attacks. For other sorts of disasters, it would also be useful to have a large, available source of water for drinking and hygiene. Consider filling up the bath in circumstances other than fires.

4. Have a prepacked emergency kit

An emergency kit contains things like a first aid kit, a flashlight, spare batteries, copies of important documents, extra clothes and a portable radio. This allows you to have everything in one place in case you need to evacuate or if you need to stay and shelter.

The contents will depend on the nature of the risk that you face. The NSW SES provides an example on their website, and there is a more exhaustive one on the Queensland Government’s site which includes a suggested food list.

5. Have a plan

It may never happen, and you may never need it, but have a plan. A “what-if” plan? Talk about it with your family and neighbours before disaster strikes. Write your plan down. Keep it in the emergency kit. Keep a copy on the side of the fridge.

If something bad does happen, you want to be able to act quickly and purposefully and not dither about what to pack or where to go. Make sure everyone knows where your plan is and what it says. Consider adding a visual/cartoon-like story if you have little kids. Teach your children how to ring 000.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has a 4 step planning tool on their website, which could be adapted for other kinds of disasters. The NSW SES also has a step by step online process for floods, storms and tsunami available (most relevant for NSW residents) which could be adapted for other areas. Once you complete the steps, you can print out your plan.

“Prepper’s” online resources aplenty

While preparing this post, I went down a rabbit hole exploring websites of various “preppers”. Preppers are people who are preparing for the end of civilisation. Some are even going to the extent of burying food/supply caches in rural areas so they can “bug out” when the apocalypse is nigh. They call it the “SHTF” moment.

Survival Mastery suggests you be able to survive at least 72-hours holed up in your own home giving time for the initial panic to pass and the emergency services time to move in.

The ChilliPreppers is an Australian site that seems to be a moderate voice which provides links to a good collection of downloadable fact sheets on preparing for disasters from various government agencies. They are available free, and there is also a link to a download of what is labelled “Federal Government Disaster” manuals for $3.95.


My take-home message, as an Emergency Service volunteer, is to do more than think about a plan. Talk about what you would do in an emergency with your family and then put a plan in place

You never know what may happen. Don’t let it cripple you with anxiety but believe me it’s too late when you can see embers on your lawn or when there is water lapping in under your door.