Mar & Mark as Volunteers

musings on our lives as volunteers….

Archive for the ‘Waste Management’ Category

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

that’s just rubbish! Here’s a much better thirst quenching option….

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One of the things I often ranted and raved about when we lived in Ghana was the pervasive use of plastic bags…. in particular the use of water sachets….  they were a very affordable option for poor people to have safe water to drink.  Regrettably, one consequence of the affordability of these bags (about 5 or 10 Aussie cents for one 250 ml sachet), was that many foreigners who could easily afford (and would know how to, and in many cases, are even provided with the means) to safely filter their own drinking water, would use the “sachets”, thus contributing even more to a significant pollution problem in Ghana.  (and setting a bad example for the locals!)

Regrettably, so many otherwise beautiful villages in Ghana were teeming with litter

This was coupled with a culture which did not seemingly value the proper disposal of rubbish, and many otherwise beautiful villages were often strewn with litter, as you can see in this photo of an otherwise delightful traditional community just outside of Tamale.

We have recently returned from Egypt, where by comparision, the streets are virtually litter free (certainly compared to Ghana, anyhow!), and we often saw street cleaners sweeping up the sidewalks.

On the Nile, I did wonder, as i gazed out of our cruise boat where we “lived” for four nights… what happened to all the litter?  

boat collecting litter from the cruise ships on the Nile

 I found out one day, as I was musing on the upper deck….  this boat was going from cruise ship to cruise ship, collecting all the trash….   not sure where it went from here, but I must say that overall, I was impressed with how Egypt is coping with the millions of visitors it has every year.

For us, one of the simple things that we did, that ensured we did not add to the multitude of plastic water  bottles being disposed of, was bringing along some “Puri Tabs” which we used with local water.  We just added these tablets to our water bottles, and voila!  safe water to drink, without the rubbish disposal issue of yet another plastic bottle.  It may seem “cheap” at the time (less than an Aussie dollar for a 1.5 litre plastic bottle of filtered drinking water), but it is the long term cost  to the planet that doesn’t make such choices that much of a bargain….

Written by Mar(k)

January 26, 2011 at 8:36 am