Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Waste Management’ Category

Five Tips for a Simple Thrift-mas

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How did the silly season arrive with such rapidity this year? Egads, I was in the CBD earlier this week, and ALREADY there were Christmas shoppers out there, running around like headless chooks! With that in mind, I thought I would try and do my bit for a simpler, greener, less stressful holiday season. In no particular order, here are five things that you can employ that will make your holidays more enjoyable, less stressful and easier on the pocketbook! (“Thrift-mas” – you’re welcome).

  1. Learn the Art of “No”.   You simply don’t have to do it all!  Yes, there will be invites to things – but think of the amount of times that you have said “Gosh, I’d really rather not go to XXXX (insert boring social event of your choice)”.   Well, don’t!   I know you can come up with a lot of excuses as to why you CAN’T say no…. but try and challenge yourself!   And by doing that, you can be honouring yourself.  Saying no can be done graciously.  Here are a few ways to say no politely:
    • Thanks so much for the invite!  Unfortunately I/we won’t be able to make it.  But have a drink for us!
    • I would really love to come to X, but I have already made plans for that morning / afternoon / evening (NB:  even if your plans mean curling up with a book and listening to music!)
    • I am feeling pretty overwhelmed at the moment with all the holiday planning, and I really need to take a step back from all these social engagements.  Have a great time and send me a photo!   (and thanks for thinking of me).
  2. Remember the motto “It is better to DO, than to HAVE”.   If you still have present obligations, remember that the gift of TIME is always an appreciated one!   You can prepare little “gift certificates” that provide your friends and family with quality time with you (big night in, complete with movie of choice and popcorn, anyone?), or assistance for people who may need it (“this voucher good for one hour gardening time”).   This can also be extended to providing gifts of experiences, rather than buying more “things”.   Examples are movie vouchers, dinner vouchers, or even sporting experiences that you can share together (trips to the local swimming pool, or an indoor skydive?).
  3. Wrap with the REUSE in mind.   I always save wrapping or tissue paper when I can.  If you ARE wrapping up a gift, try to use wrapping paper that has already had a good life.   So much waste is generated during the holiday period, it is good if we can minimise where we can.  And no-one is going to care if their gift is wrapped in paper that is on its second life.   Trust me.  And if YOU get given a gift that has beautiful wrapping paper surrounding it, keep it and reuse it yourself next time!  Ditto for the ribbons.
  4. Remember those less fortunate.  This is a tough time of year for a lot of people.  Instead of buying “things”, think about making a donation to a charity in a friend’s / family member’s name.   Or get the family involved in making a “reverse Advent calendar” (where you put a new item in every day up until Christmas, then gift that to a worthy charity.  One very worthy charity in Perth can be found here).
  5. Get all old school and give home made gifts.  Spending some time baking yummy treats and then packaging them up in festive (recycled) ways are always a hit.  Made with love, the old-fashioned home baked goodies are definitely appreciated.  This year I am doing gingerbread muffins, festive shortbread, and fruit drops.  (my first Xmas batch of protein rich bliss balls shown below are already out the door!)

Remember to take the time to relax during this festive period.  Happy holidays everyone!

Pictured: Home made bliss balls. Always a hit! Heck, they even kinda look like snowballs (and these are about as close to a snowball as we are going to get in Australia in the middle of summer!)


Written by Mar(k)

December 5, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Plastic Free July – some trials during Week 1 (and a win!)

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We decided to sign up for Plastic Free July. We already “do” a lot of the things to minimise our waste, particularly plastic. But it is always good to have something like this to keep it at the forefront of your mind and raise your general level of consciousness about plastic waste.

Interestingly, we had already “failed”, only hours into our July! Saturday morning dawned, and we had only just the previous week signed up for an eight week subscription to have our newspapers delivered on the weekend. Bad choice! Might have saved some money, but every Saturday and Sunday, we get the delivery of our papers wrapped in plastic! eek! Wasn’t really part of the plan. A good learning though, so we certainly won’t be renewing this (temporary) subscription.

On on! Later in the day, as we headed off to get some groceries, it was a no-brainer to bring our grocery bags, which are always in the car, along with our onya fruit and veg mesh bags. Had to remember to pack along our “keep cups” though, so that we could have our takeaway coffee and stay within our “plastic free” July and away from the evil disposable coffee cups!

Another challenge met us the following day, however, as I started to think about packing for an upcoming trip. I tend to use my “daily disposable” contact lenses when I travel, but alas! It is throw away plastic. Argh. Not sure about this one. Haven’t yet decided if I am going to bring along my usual monthly disposables, or just live with the (guilt?) of daily disposables while I am away.  A bit of a summary on the good, the bad and the ugly on disposable contact lenses, versus glasses, etc…  can be found here.

Porridge sachets – a no no that we hadn’t considered!

The other challenge on the Sunday morning was for Mark, as he was fuelling up his body for the 100 km or so cycle ride he was about to embark on. He just popped a porridge sachet into a bowl (something warming on these cold winter mornings!) but alas! More throw away plastic. Damn!  (Update:  I went onto the site for our porridge sachets, and I see that although they sell plain old rolled oats in a cardboard box, none of their (yummy) instant porridge with various delicious add-ins are available in “bulk”.   Bummer!)

voila! ready to use. Will happily keep on with this idea after Plastic Free July is done.

HOWEVER!  Not all was lost this week.   I took advantage of our (plastic covered) weekend newspaper, and made a bunch of paper bin liners.   A bit of origami fun, and it will be an easy transition to keep doing this long after July.  Here is a bit of what it looked like for me:  (NB:  I have kept a plastic bag in the rubbish bin in case of wet spills, but I am not expecting any huge dramas!)

A bit of creative origami that even I could do!

Popped these newspaper liners in with a plastic bag in case of wet spills.

If nothing else, this month is certainly highlighting for us where we can improve. It is also highlighting that maybe we aren’t as good about being “plastic free” as thought!   On on to Week 2.

Prepackaged Japan

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Sometimes we buy our dinner meal at a supermarket, as a way of keeping costs down, getting fresh fruit and veg, and trying local foods. There are many pre-packaged meals that are ready to eat, healthy and delicious. However, enjoying these meals certainly comes at an environmental cost. The Japanese love their packaging.  
Everything is wrapped. Bento boxes, rice balls, salads. All in plastic. Soy sauce, wasabi? Available. In tiny little plastic sachets. Chopsticks? Yup. Wrapped (think also massive deforestation, as the takeaway business is big business here. Thats a lot of wooden chopsticks that get chopped down from trees). Plastic spoons and forks. Plastic wrapped in plastic.  

The Japanese also love their beautifully wrapped presents, often food stuff from specific regions, highlighting the specialty of the area. They make great looking gifts, but inside is _______ (insert whatever the food stuff is here), often again individually packaged. Think a dozen sakura (cherry blossom) shaped biscuits. All in a gift box, wrapped in plastic, then put in a plastic bag, and EACH INDIVIDUAL biscuit is also wrapped, once you get inside the box! It seems crazy to us.

Even when we go to checkout at the supermarket, and bring our little reusable shopping bag, it is often met with some disbelief. But hey. We are kind of getting used to that look. Because it is very similar to the look we get when we tell people here that we are vegetarian. On, on! 

Even the bananas are individually wrapped! WTF?!?

Toilet Talk – why we think WASH issues are the key

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Having access to clean toilets is something we might just be taking for granted.

Having access to clean toilets is something we might just be taking for granted.

In the development work that we have done, we have come across a lot of different issues that have an impact on people’s livelihoods.  Education, health, sanitation, poverty, work.   It is all important.   But often times the task of helping others can seem quite daunting – where do you start?

We acknowledge the inherent difficulties with trying to figure out a complex “chicken and egg” situation.   But one thing that seems clear from the places we have visited, the projects we have seen, and the issues that are out there, is that having good outcomes in the WASH area (in the development world, this is usually regarded as WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is really the starting place for other key areas (like education) to be able to take place.

This video here shows briefly why WASH issues matter.

And for our Australian readers, we don’t usually plug any particular “thing to buy”, but we are big fans of Who Gives A Crap – who are saving lives from the bottom up!   Who knew buying toilet paper could be so cheap, easy AND socially responsible?!    Here is what their website has to say about their business model:


Flush Poverty Down the Loo
At present, 40% of the world’s population don’t have access to a toilet. This is a leading contributor to endemic poverty and is a major drag on economic growth in some of the world’s poorest countries. Diarrhoea related illnesses fill over half sub-Saharan African hospital beds and globally kill over 2,000 children under 5 every day. We think that’s pretty crap. That’s why we give 50% of our profits to WaterAid to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
Make Every Wipe Count
We believe that the need to wipe shouldn’t mean we wipe out the planet. That’s why we only use 100% recycled post consumer waste fibres in our toilet paper. It saves on trees, water and landfill which means you’re doing your bit to help keep our planet great.
Be Good for Your Bum
We don’t use any chlorine, inks, dyes or weird perfumes in our toilet paper. We just pulp the clean fibres at super high temperatures to make WGAC biodegradable, safe in septic tanks and as strong as it is silky soft. And since it’s only tested on the finest human bottoms, our toilet paper is as good for your bum as it is for the planet.

Okay, everyone!   This is a product that we ALL use, and trust us!   It’s great quality, and a great idea.   Free shipping to most Australian cities, and they deliver every where else for a song and a dance.   Don’t flush this opportunity away!

Written by Mar(k)

September 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Sharing Ideas @ TEDxPerth

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During breaks, the conversations continued out in the courtyard where Q&A sessions were held

During breaks, the conversations continued out in the courtyard where Q&A sessions were held

Hopefully some of our readers already know all about the wonderful TED initiative.   These Ideas Worth Spreading have been going on since 1984, and over 1500 videos are available here free to charge to peruse.  They cover a wide range of topics, emanating from the original TED nucleus of Technology, Entertainment and Design.  This past weekend Mar(k) had the opportunity to attend the TEDxPerth talks, which were truly inspiring!

TEDx encouraged us to meet new people, and the people I met at the coffee breaks and over lunch, and even sitting next to me in sessions were interesting and amazingly diverse.   Here is a sample:

  • Brodie, who runs Spacecubed, an innovative place where people can collaborate on ideas.
  • Two women (Renae and her boss – the Marketing Manager) for the Art Gallery of WA
  • Martin, a lawyer who immigrated from Hong Kong as a child, and is also the Secretary of the Chung Wah Association in Perth.  His long association with this great organisation goes back to his childhood, when he remembered teaching some of the older Chinese folks English.
  • A student who has her masters in Anthropology but is now going back to get her masters in Law.
  • A lady who was passionate about sustainable living, growing broad beans and raising chooks in suburban Perth.

The speakers were all first rate, and inspiring.

From musical performances to talks about complementary therapy for cancer patients, sustainable communities, and dealing with refugees in a humane way – it was a great day out.

On the verge of…. gross excess??!

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When Alice in Wonderland slipped through the rabbit hole, she found herself in a place she could not believe was real.   I think that many refugees, recent immigrants from developing countries, and visitors to Australia may sometimes have that same experience…..  when they see what is being thrown out during “verge collection”.

people are so helpful, they even put notes like this on perfectly good items!

This concept is not a new one….   about twice a year the local council organises a special pick up of rubbish that enables people to have a big clean out of their sheds, garages, and gardens!  This makes sense and as the collection date looms, you start to see more and more “stuff” on the verge.

But really, when you think about all the great stuff that will ultimately end up going to landfill, the mind boggles.  What must a new immigrant or refugee think, when they see people throwing out perfectly good, workable items?  Fridges, stoves, sinks, washing machines, dryers, sofas, tables, chairs, outdoor furniture, children’s toy’s, kitchenware, gardening tools, cleaning materials, the list just goes on and on!  All of the photos you see here are pictures that I took within 300 metres of our home!  

But what is great to see is that people do have a “sticky beak” (as we say here), and may pick up some great finds on the verge during this time.  Mark will hopefully be working with refugees very soon, and I know one of the things he is keen to do is to let these people know about verge collection times!   Lots of people could literally fill a house with much needed items without it costing a cent!  And that verges on a really great idea, I reckon…..

Written by Mar(k)

April 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Public Toilets: A Wee Comparison

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In our travels, one of the interesting indicators of a country’s relative wealth seems to be the availability of public toilets.  The wealthier the country, the easier it is to relieve oneself when in public.  Once a suitable place has been located, one can then start to make additional comparisons which include such things as availability of running water (or not), ability to sit down (or squat), electricity (or not), and so on. 

When in Ghana, we certainly noticed that the availability of public facilities was very limited.  In the main area of Tamale, public facilities were virtually non-existent (this in a town of over 350,000 people).  Certain restaurants may have had facilities, but even then the quality of such was questionable at best.   I recall even at the hospital (Kabsab – a private hospital), when asked to provide a urine specimen, I was sent out to the urinal (separate for males and females) and had to do what I had to do there.   No running water, no hand towels, nothing.

Things were the same where we worked.  There was a shared male/female urinal facility that many of the nearby offices shared.  There were no doors, so Mark used to have to stand guard outside, while I went in (as most workers are male, and would cruise in to either urinal without hesitation).  The set up was essentially a trough – slightly sloping so that the liquid would run into the exit hole.  Which was fine, unless leaves and other debris prevented this from happening.  Not a pleasant sight or smell when the temperatures would be in the mid 40’s!

However, on a visit to a community within a few hours of Tamale, I did need to use the loo, and I was most impressed with its comparative luxury!  Here it is here.  A nice cylindrical design, all very new and shiny!

It should be noted, of course – that all of these options are suitable for weeing only – no facilities available for #2!!!   The standard options available to us were to either take a shared taxi home if the need arose (preferred and used option), or to do what many locals are forced to do – and “free range”… meaning to go into some nearby bush and find a spot that has not already been used by others.   Needless to say, such areas were not conducive to health!   Illnesses like typhoid and cholera are not surprisingly common in such circumstances. 

All  joking aside, globally an estimated 1.1 billion people defecate in the open, and about 1.5 million children die every year because they simply don’t have access to safe hygiene, sanitation and water.   A World Health Organisation (WHO) report confirmed what we had experienced.  2.6 BILLION people worldwide are without improved sanitation (i.e nearly 40% of the population).  Ghana is one of these countries. 

Recently we were in Egypt, and we both commented on how many more public facilities were around.  This certainly seemed reasonable, as the wealth in Egypt was palpably higher than in Ghana.  Of course, the large number of tourists also provide a strong demand for such facilities;  many of which are used by visitors, but never benefit the local people.

And then we get to Perth….  Australia is sometimes called the Lucky Country, and we were absolutely blown away by the public loos that exist at a public library that we sometimes frequent.  Let me give you a brief overview of what this palatial loo is all about.  The lights are controlled by motion sensors, so the energy-efficient lighting comes on when you enter the area, and automatically turn themselves off after a suitable time of no movement within.  Each loo has a sink above the toilet itself.  When you flush, recycled water comes out of the sink, so that you can wash your hands immediately.   Of course, paper towels are provided for drying. 

All of the water in this facility is recycled grey water.  So the water cycles through the system, gets appropriately treated, and then is used to water the beautiful gardens outside.  Solid waste is also treated and used as fertiliser. 

We were blown away with the cleanliness, environmental friendliness, and appropriateness of the whole system!  Well done to Peppermint Grove Library for working so hard to achieve a sustainable solution for a public facility.  It was a far cry from what we lived with in Ghana, that’s for sure!

Written by Mar(k)

March 27, 2011 at 8:19 am