Posts filed under ‘Sustainability’

Flushing out the greenwash

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from the ThinkingShift blog but you can still find me on the DailyOxford and ChinchillaBluePhotography blogs as well as on Twitter. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on doing a special post for a ThinkingShift reader who asked me why is it that people aren’t concerned about privacy. I am doing that post dear reader but – the Christchurch earthquake got in my way, as well as huge winds that are a frequent occurrence in the Canterbury region. So I’m way behind but it will happen as they say.

My favourite media company contacted me recently and I must blog on this issue because it’s quite a compelling, if not disturbing, story. When you think about sustainability, saving the planet, recycling and so on – do you ever stop to think about toilet paper packaging? You would think that if the packaging says “100% recycled paper” or “sourced from sustainable plantations” that you are buying a product that is environmentally friendly. But perhaps not.

A Choice investigation has found that environmental claims on toilet paper packaging are sometimes vague, leading the consumer into the trap of believing they are buying a superior product that protects native forests and biodiversity. Choice sites the example of a new toilet paper on the market that claims to be made from bamboo, straw, reeds and cotton – but cotton is a water and chemical-intensive crop and should be avoided for a single-use product such as toilet paper.

And then there are some toilet paper products that display an eco-label, such as Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), but a number of conservation foundations and societies say that this particular eco-label is meaningless as PEFC lacks on-ground auditing of forests and meaningful stakeholder engagement. So the consumer cannot be confident that the fibres sourced for the toilet paper are in fact environmentally and socially sustainable. Choice also could not find any toilet paper products that carried the The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) global eco-label, which is supported by Greenpeace, ACF and The Wilderness Society. An FSC label would indicate that the product is made from certified virgin fibre sourced from sustainable forests.

The Choice investigation found that most toilet papers do not use an eco-label yet claim the fibre is sourced from sustainably managed forests. But when asked to verify the source of the fibre, the companies are vague or cannot back up claims. Most toilet papers claim to use a process known as “elemental chlorine-free bleaching”. Supposedly this is an environmentally-friendly bleaching process to whiten, but it uses chlorine. A far better choice is unbleached toilet paper because this is chlorine-free.

Another eye-opener is the triangular recycling symbol with the number four and LDPE acronym you often see on toilet paper packaging. It signifies that the product is low-density polyethylene. But Local Councils in Australia prohibit LDPE film in their recycling bins. The consumer is also led astray when it comes to logos of environmental organisations displayed on toilet paper packaging, saying that profits go to certain environmental projects. The problem here is that these environmental groups do not always audit environmental impacts or fibre source. Sadly, Choice concluded that most toilet paper manufacturers’ claims about sustainable forestry are unsubstantiated and those using the PEFC eco-label are not supported by some major environment groups.

So is there any particular toilet paper that the consumer can be confident is a sustainable product? Choice gave a 5-star rating to the following (in order of sustainability):

  • Coles Green Choice, which has 100% recycled content from used office paper;
  • Dandy Enviro Friend, which you can buy from Aldi. Funds environment groups and projects;
  • Envirosoft – elemental chlorine-free bleaching or unbleached;
  • Naturale – Wastepaper from process is recycled; and
  • Safe brand.

Singled out for favourable comment was Kleenex Cottonelle Toilet Tissue. Choice acknowledged this toilet paper for environmental innovation with its waste reduction strategy for kids. A puppy is printed on every three to four sheets, letting kids know when to tear off.

So next time you go to the supermarket, read the toilet paper packaging carefully and be a more informed consumer with the help of Choice.

October 13, 2010 at 4:01 am 3 comments

The Big Move

I’ve been poised to announce this news for some time but it wasn’t until the last week or so that everything has been finalised. So here goes. I am within weeks of leaving Australia permanently. I will be making the hop across the Tasman to New Zealand, to the South Island. I’ve already plonked the kiwi symbol on the blog, along with Made in New Zealand.

What the? I hear you mutter. There are many reasons for this decision but primarily:

  • I believe in climate change (anthropogenic or simply a natural warming cycle, doesn’t matter, it’s going to heat up). I believe Australia will be in for a pretty harsh time – ongoing drought, diminishing water supplies, hotter weather, wilder weather patterns and so on.
  • Australia has changed. Yes, things move on, I know that. I’m not a rusty old goat yet. And I like the mix of all the different cultures here: we now have far more variety in food that we did when I was a kid. But I don’t relish the thought of the population growth that Australia will be going through: from its current 22 million to a projected 35 million in 2050. I’m not great with big cities stuffed full of people, which is why I actually live about 2 hours out of Sydney, in the bush. To accommodate the growing population, Sydney is densifying – building high rise apartment blocks along the Pacific Highway for example, which leads into Sydney from the northern suburbs. So there go the quiet leafy streets and quarter acre blocks I grew up with. I visited the street I grew up in recently. It used to be lined with blossom trees that flowered pink and white in summer and modest homes with large front and backyards. All gone. Replaced by huge McMansions spreading from fence to fence and the surrounding area has sprouted apartments that march up the streets towards the main arterial way.

Readers of the ThinkingShift blog well know that I often blog on a darker future – one full of skirmishes over water and food and how tensions will rise due to climate change. Readers will also know that I’ve often talked of living a simpler life – growing my own food, having my own water source, being frugal and away from the hideous shopping malls of contemporary life.

And so after much searching, we have settled on New Zealand and particularly the South Island. I prefer cold weather and I’m sure to get hit with a lot of that in NZ, along with wind! At one point, we were seriously considering Portugal but the economic state of the country had us worried along with the bizarre antics of the EU when it comes to privacy. We considered Spain at one point and also Brazil (my hubby is Portuguese). But in the end, we decided on New Zealand because it is less likely to be hit by climate change (although there will be some heating up), it has a much smaller population (around 4.3 million, which is roughly Sydney’s population size), higher rainfall and is just a gorgeous looking country with very, very friendly people. We have a chance there of having property where we can grow our own food and live a more sustainable life.

I will be living just out of Christchurch, in a village called Oxford, which has around 2,000 people who live mainly on farms. I will be surrounded by dairy farms, deer farms, alpaca farms and, of course, the ubiquitous sheep.

I am swapping a really lovely, architecturally-designed home that overlooks Lake Macquarie and is nestled in the bush for a fairly run-down wooden house. But the land is magic – it’s flat, has a view to the Southern Alps and the previous owners were growing their own fruit and veg. Within the property, I cannot see another neighbour’s house. I can walk up to the main street of the village, which has everything, and every Sunday, all the farmers from the district come in and sell their produce in the local organic market. There is not a shopping mall in sight. The nearest one is in Christchurch and I doubt I’ll make the trek into Christchurch too often. And I’m quite excited that I can walk to Seager‘s and attend the Cook School – Jo Seager is a celebrity chef who moved from Auckland to Oxford in 2006.

So it’s about a more sustainable, quieter lifestyle. Eventually, once we understand the landscape, how the sun moves, how cold the winters are and so on, we will knock down the existing house and build a small home from rammed earth and generate our electricity from wind power. I hope that we will do this within two years.

This is a HUGE decision, particularly because I will be leaving a job I’ve been in for 7.5 years (in Knowledge Management). I’ve never not had a job. And no, I am NOT retiring – I’m not old enough and I don’t think I’d want to. I have plenty of schemes for things to do, not the least of which is to restore the property to what it once was – a horse farm. On the property are run-down stables and an all-weather arena for training and exercising horses. The irony here dear reader is that I know nothing about horses and have never ridden one in my life but give me 10 out of 10 for chutzpah – I have the confidence to believe I can learn and do it. The previous owner will be helping me and she will remain living in the area so I can call on her, phew.

I’ll have to learn about cows too – a local farmer has already asked us if he can plonk his three cows on our land in return for fresh milk and he also wants to use one of the paddocks to grow lucerne hay – a big thing in NZ I’ve discovered.

So I’ll have to swap the corporate clothes, shoes and handbags for sturdy boots and farm clothes (not sure yet what this looks like but I’ll let you know!). I will continue my KM work, most likely through the odd consulting gig or workshop.

There are some things I’ll miss about Oz:

  • the wonderful wildlife. I feed wild rosellas and lorikeets every day. We have a wallaby that visits from time to time. But the new owners of our house are dead keen environmentalists and love birds, so I know they will be looked after.
  • the sun and bright blue sky. Although I hate hot weather and the 40 degree days Sydney can experience, I do like the shiny, happy, bright blue days. I’m not sure how much sun Oxford gets but I suspect nowhere near as much.

But what I won’t miss is:

  • having to travel on third-world, tired, rattling old trains (yes, CityRail I’m talking about you) and having to fight to get on or off a train amidst the hordes of tired travellers.
  • bogans – do they have bogans in NZ? The area where I currently live is just outside of Newcastle and seems to be populated by bogans. I hope to never see another mullet again.
  • the broad Australian accent with its “how are youse?”, “she’ll be right mate” and the inability to pronounce words like knife and life (which become knoife and loife).

Meanwhile, I am busy brushing up on how to speak New Zillund. I’ve been using this guide to practice, along with learning these slang words (I now know that a tramp isn’t a homeless person walking the streets).

I have some advantage as my parents, grandparents – heck, in fact the entire family – were from New Zealand (via Wales and Russia) but too long in Australia has resulted in (so my relatives told me) the dreaded Strine accent. Australians are quick to laugh at the Kiwi accent but the Kiwis can sling a shot or two at the Aussie accent let me tell you.

I will be starting a second blog – The Daily Oxford – which will chronicle my adventures, musings and observations of life in rural NZ.  I’ll get that blog going soon and provide the link. I’m sure it will be full of photos like “Kim falls off horse as horse tries to run away”; “Kim tries to figure out how to grow zucchini”; “Kim stares at goat hoping it will milk itself”.

I’ll be posting photos of the property on the new blog too. We’ll be leaving Oz in early May. Our entire house load of stuff will arrive one month later after a leisurely crossing of the Tasman by cargo boat. We were going to be living on mattresses in the Oxford house but a friend has asked us to mind her place in Christchurch for a month – it’s a gorgeous house, so I’m quite excited. I know I’ll have internet connection there and also in Oxford so downtime for this blog and the new one shouldn’t be too long. In fact, we’ve gone with Telstra Clear who managed to link us up to Internet, home phone and cell phones all in one afternoon. That included me carrying on about how I didn’t like my new mobile number and could they please issue another one. Fast, no fuss service.

So farewell Oz. Hello Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa.

April 9, 2010 at 2:00 am 12 comments

What’s in the patty?

I’m reading a book that is freaking me out. It warns us of a future where countries that have dried up their rivers and aquifers to water the crops we’ll need to sustain some 9 billion people by 2050, will need to import water via an international water market. Water will become a globally traded commodity. I won’t even go into the horrors of reading about how analysis of a hamburger patty revealed the tissues and bits and pieces of 1,000 animals (yep, you read that correctly: 1,000). And forget about swine or avian flu – the three dangerous emergent pathogens we have to worry about are – Salmonella enteritidis, campylobacter and the deadly Escherichia coli O157:H7.

Here are a few snippets from the book:

  • “humanity will still need at least 17% more fresh water to meet all of its food needs than is currently available…just to produce the extra grain the world is forecasted to need by 2050 will require us to somehow come up with as much as a trillion tons of additional water – a challenge that may simply exceed our technical, political and physical capacities”.
  • “we know that the climate is changing, and we know that oil could very easily be at $250 a barrel tomorrow if the Middle East blows up…So if we are really scientists, we should at least be asking ourselves what kind of agricultural system could produce the food and fiber we need in a world where oil is $250 and where we have twice the severe weather but only half the water that we have now. What kind of agriculture could we come up with? It’s an entirely reasonable question to ask, and yet, no-one wants to touch it, because when you get down to it, no one has a clue”.
  • Since 1980….more than 1.1 million square miles of forest – an area larger than India – has been cleared, much of it to make way for pasturelands and croplands, especially soybeans, corn and palm oil plantations.

I reckon that Lester Brown has been spot on with his forecasts. Have a read of his 1995 work, “Who will feed China?” – because a lot of meat-hungry Chinese are now demanding a Western-style diet and this means more corn has to be grown to feed the cattle at increasingly cheaper costs; all the crops necessary to feed our expanding global population leads to soil erosion because of massive use of pesticides and fertilizers; water is getting scarcer; peak oil is fizzling out (and grain relies on cheap oil for transport and so on).  You can read a synopsis of Brown’s work here and the book is here.

July 8, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Environmental stuff

I thought I’d share with you some interesting environmental stuff I’ve come across recently – in no particular order.  First up, the Swedes have just released some guidelines for climate-friendly food in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Jointly drafted by the Swedish National Food Administration and their Environmental Protection Agency, the guidelines will be circulated around the EU for comment. There are no surprises to the advice: eat meat less often; eat seasonal, locally-produced fruits and vegetables (remember when we used to do that?); and avoid bottled water (the plastic may contain chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A, which seep into the water).

It’s good to see the Swedes taking the lead in Europe and helping consumers think through their food choices. Given that one kilo of beef contributes up to 15-25 kilos of greenhouse gases and that Swedes’ meat consumption has grown by an average ten kilos per person over the past ten years and now totals 65 kilos, it’s a smart move promoting healthy food choice hand-in-hand with helping the environment.  And you only have to read this report (by the Joint Research Centre) to learn that meat and dairy products contribute on average 24% to the environmental impact of total final consumption in the EU 27, while constituting only 6% of the economic value. Click here to read the guidelines in English.

And speaking of things seeping into your water or food, if you want to freak yourself out, go here to find out what pesticides are on your food. I decided to use the site to check out if my favourite poached pears might be suspect. Holy Guacamole as they say! 28 pesticides are found on pears – 6 known or probable carcinogens; 13 suspected hormone disruptors; 8 neurotoxins; and 3 developmental or reproductive toxicants. I’m reading Paul Roberts’ book, The End of Food, and he goes through the history of when we lost the plot and starting growing our crops smothered by chemical fertilizers and pesticides and injecting animals with antibiotics so they’d grow faster. Frightening. I have no doubt that in 100 years (if humanity hasn’t knocked itself off by sheer stupidity), future generations will shake their collective heads and call us the “chemical age”.

Meanwhile, Houston is going to erect a dome over the city. Well, engineers are thinking about it anyway. The idea is that a giant geodesic dome, stretching over 21 million square feet, might protect the city from its grim environmental future of fierce hurricanes and baking heat. You can watch a video on the Discovery Channel and explore the dome. I’ve pinched the photo below from the Discovery Channel.

The dome won’t be made of glass as that would be too heavy. It may be built from a light polymer, called Texlon® ETFE, invented over 25 years ago and called the “climatic envelope”. It’s 99% lighter than glass and can withstand winds of more than 180 miles per hour (more than the strongest category 5 hurricane). Apparently, an army of dirigibles would be used to construct the dome since everyday city life in Houston could not be interrupted.  But what about insects, birds and rain – how would that work inside the dome?

And finally, I was out in the garden the other day muttering about pests that had attacked some flowers. I don’t want to whip out chemicals so I hunted for some homemade recipes to beat them off and found this excellent FAQ sheet from Gardening Australia – a heap of recipes using things like soap flakes, bicarb and molasses to get rid of pests like caterpillars, grasshoppers and mealybugs. I tell you: it’s a war zone out there in the garden!

June 30, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

The Earth is hiring

I sure wish I was in the Class of 2009 at the University of Portland. The commencement address was delivered by Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author. I want you to read the full speech – you will be inspired!  I am sure many of the students present will go on to consider careers that will help make this planet a better place to live on after hearing this speech.

Here are some snippets:

  • “There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.”
  • “Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.”

Damn, I wish I’d written this speech!!

Photo: NASA Photo Gallery Earth

June 1, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Maps of the future

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has produced some maps that look at signals of change, trends or disruptions in the future. The first map, 2008 Map of the Decade, looks at patterns and activity that help to make sense of our possible future within a ten-year forecast. You can download the map from the IFTF site.

There are five key foresights around:

  • diasporas: emerging new economies
  • civil society: the evolution of civic infrastructure
  • food: the flashpoint
  • ecosystems: management in the context of life
  • amplified individuals: the extended human reality

The diasporas cluster is interesting. With increasing global migration, diasporas will no longer be defined by geography. New disasporas will be defined by shared identities brought about by social networks, activities and events. And the future flashpoint (which I’ve said many times on this blog) will be the global food supply. As the climate changes and as our planet groans under the weight of a world population predicted to be 9.2 billion in 2050, global food supply will be disrupted and this will be accompanied by water woes. At the same, I certainly think that we’ll see the rise of localisation – a return to growing food in local communities and a call to return to the planet large areas of wilderness that were previously destroyed by humankind.

Also from Institute for the Future is a Map of Future Forces Affecting Sustainability that provides foresight for navigating “the complex business sustainability landscape from 2007 – 2017, with a focus on environmental health and safety strategies”. The Institute describes this map as a “sensemaking and provocation tool” to help businesses shape their strategies in a future world driven by sustainability concerns.

You can download and enlarge the map here.

As this map points out, we are moving from a world of problems to a world of dilemmas in which sensemaking capabilities will be important along with an ability to deal with uncertainty (yeah, well the GFHF is certainly helping us get this skill!). The map helps to identify dilemmas within the driving forces of People, Regions, Built Environments, Nature, Markets, Business and Energy and I think if you look at it carefully, you’ll see it can help businesses and individuals to elevate the conversation around sustainability.

Finally, from KnowledgeWorks Foundation and The Institute for the Future is the Map of Future Forces Affecting Education, which you can download.  The trends this map highlights confirm what I’ve been saying – a revival of localism but also of interest is Gen Y’s smart networking capabilities:

“Their experiences with shared presence through instant messaging and video chat, gaming as a structure for thinking and interacting, and multiple digital and physical worlds will create new modes of work, socializing, and community learning that stress cooperative strategies, experimentation, and parallel development.” 

You can view all the trends for this map here.

January 15, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

No nasty stuff

PR company, Bang, contacted ThinkingShift recently. Bang are the PR gurus for Ecostore, a NZ-based company that produces household cleaning and body products, which they say contain no nasty chemicals. They offered to send me some samples of products. Frankly, I expected those tiny little sachets that contain a miniscule amount of whatever the product is. You hope there’s enough for one shampoo!

Bang excelled themselves and sent me a box full of products – plant-based laundry powder; Vanilla Shampoo with no harmful Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS); Vanilla, Lemongrass and Coconut soaps containing essential oils and natural coconut; Rose and Cardamon hand wash with certified organic essential oils; and other products for brightening clothes or getting your bath sparkling.

Bearing in mind what I said recently about green capitalism, I approached these products with a bit of cynicism to be honest, despite being an NZ’er!  As readers well know, I don’t decorate the ThinkingShift blog with horrid ads or pimp products unless I truly believe in them (and that has been few and far between).

I’m prepared to give some feedback on these products though. One of my biggest hassles is laundry powder as I often get nasty rashes or eczema. So to really “road test” the laundry powder I did something that could have been a stupid move – I handled the powder and I dragged out some aged, yellow bedsheets that a nuclear bomb would probably not shift the sad colouring from. Well…I’ve survived and can tell you that the laundry powder gave me no skin reactions and those sheets after one wash – well, razzle dazzle white.

The soaps are creamy and don’t have that artificial fruit or cheap aromatherapy smell. The hand wash was soft on my hands with a very subtle smell. One thing I find with so-called organic, natural products is their strong smell. Not so with Ecostore stuff.

The only product that didn’t quite do it for me was the Vanilla shampoo.  But then that’s more about my hair than the shampoo I think. I have super fine hair that the slightest amount of shampoo can flatten to my head like a pith helmet. But the shampoo had a delicate smell and I will say left my hair looking a bit shinier (maybe my eye sight is hoping it’s shinier anyway!)

Now, I’m no scientist and don’t have a home lab to sniff out the ingredients but I’m an expert in the sorts of things that send my skin into eczema hell or make my eyes water. Two weeks with these products and no problems.  I checked out the Ecostore website to learn more – this is what they say:

“We use sustainably sourced plant and mineral based ingredients to create safer, healthier products that do the job just as effectively as the petrochemical based ones.”

Ecostore products are widely available in Australia. Go here to find out where. My usual so-called “green laundry powder” has now been given the turf and replaced with the Ecostore version. For those like me obsessed with ingredients, I was impressed with the transparency around the ingredients used in their products.

I know that many ThinkingShift readers are concerned about the environment, so you might want to check out Ecostore stuff. Now, if they could just produce THE best moisturiser that doesn’t erupt my skin into hives, bumps or rashes, I’d be one happy girl.

November 13, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

How to save $1 billion

If you are a Russian company thinking of putting an oil pipeline through say Lake Baikal in Southern Siberia in Russia, you might get a tad annoyed if heaps of protests cause you to shift the pipeline’s route costing you $1 billion.

But if you had looked up the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT), you would not have wasted $1 billion. IBAT is a new database that offers integrated up-to-date information on globally important biodiversity areas and legally protected sites, as well as detailed maps and data on endangered species.  Most conservation groups keep data of this sort but IBAT offers the first, integrated source, which is targeted at business. It will allow corporations to include conversation data from the start of project planning.

There is good coverage of information available with users being able to find data about individual parks, reserves, indigenous and communal areas. Sites considered globally important (protected or unprotected) are also identified, as well as areas that might contain vulnerable species.

If the Russian company had used IBAT, it would have discovered that Lake Baikal is home to four species of birds that are threatened, including the greater spotted eagle and the lesser white-fronted goose. It would also have found that the critically-endangered Siberian crane flies through the Lake Baikal area on its way to summer nesting grounds.

IBAT is a no brainer really. It will allow corporations to screen potential investment areas; develop considered action plans to address biodiversity impact; assess risks with investing in targeted areas; report on corporate social responsibility and bioversity performance.

Businesses need to register to use IBAT but from that point onwards, everything is anonymous and no records are kept. BHP recently used IBAT to check whether areas it was considering for exploration were ecologically sensitive, without alerting competitors to their interests in specific areas.

IBAT is the result of a conservation partnership between BirdLife International, Conservation International and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. How smart is this partnership!!  It will be officially launched at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, which is being held as I blog.

Source: The Economist & IBAT

October 6, 2008 at 1:37 am Leave a comment

What are your food crimes?

When I was growing up, my mother used to freak me out with “bubble and squeak”. When I was REALLY young, I used to fret that the “squeak” part had something to do with mice. As I got older, I realised that there was a lot of brussels sprouts going on in this B&S business (and this is a vegetable I don’t like)!! Basically, my mother (and her mother before her) adopted the first form of food recycling – taking the leftovers from the Sunday roast or last night’s dinner and frying them up. Potatoes, brussels sprouts, pumpkin, peas, carrots, cabbage – anything left over, would be tossed into a frying pan for a fry up (in butter: my mother loved lashings of butter).

Over the years, I forgot about B&S until my mother came to live with us in 2005 (at 88 years old). I was then reintroduced to all the stuff I had grown up with: tapioca, junket, trifle (making use of left over jelly) and….bubble and squeak. She thought we wasted a lot of food, so even at 88 years old, there she would be at the stove frying up the B&S. My husband (who is Portuguese) was frazzled by the whole B&S thing as it was never a part of his childhood but he came to love it and he took seriously my mother’s comment about food wastage. Especially, when one day he cooked a roast pork dinner and threw out the leftovers including some pork and my mother glared at him with a face of disapproval you would have to see to believe.

So now we “recycle” food a lot more. We make huge pots of soup stuffed full of vegetables and this gives us many, many meals. We’ve cut way down on consumption of meat. I am now a whiz at making junket (did you know that junket tablets in Australia have been reintroduced due to popular demand? well, junket powder this time around).

Have you ever really thought about how you waste food? Let me give you some statistics that might get you thinking. According to Notebook magazine, every single Australian throws away 145kg food a year. Let’s pause for a moment: that’s 145kg of food in a world where some people have to exist on $2.00 a day and often starve!

Worse: for every five bags of groceries Australians buy per week, one of those bags bites the dust – it goes straight into the garbage bin. So almost 20% of the food Australians purchase ends up being tossed, wasted. And as a nation, that is over $6 billion worth of food items.

The Editor of Notebook magazine, Caroline Roessler, says: “Food waste in this country is an environmental and financial disaster. When you consider that we are throwing away at least one out of five bags of groceries every time we go shopping, we might as well throw away the money it was bought with.”

Notebook has started a Stop Food Waste! campaign, which not only brings the shocking fact of food wastage to our attention, but also provides practical ideas on how to plan, shop and cook food without unnecessary wastage. I sure will be reading the September issue!

Sadly, Sydneysiders are the major food wasters in Australia with some of our garbage bins containing 50% food stuff. A November 2007 study found that homes in the ACT were throwing out 4.2 kilograms of food every week – up from 3.7 kilograms in 2004.

Jon Dee has joined forces with Notebook. He is of course an environmentalist and founder of Planet Ark. Dee comments that our attitude to food has changed over the years and now: “We leave it lingering in the depths of our fridges and cupboards, unused and unloved. When we do use it, we use too much and even then we don’t use the leftovers“. Whereas once people’s relationship with food was one of saving and reusing leftovers, food has now become a part of the throw-away society we live in. And here’s something else Dee says that we should really take note of:

When food waste rots in landfill it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than the CO2 pouring out of your car’s exhaust. If we don’t mend our wasteful ways, we’ll be eating ourselves out of an environment that can sustainably support future generations of Australians.”

And here’s some more facts for us to digest:

  • the $6 billion of food we toss away each year is enough to feed Australia for three weeks
  • we seem to keep the chocolate and the junk food but toss out fresh fruit and vegetables
  • meat, fish, bread, dairy produce, rice and pasta are all in the top most wasted foods
  • according to CSIRO data, dumping a kilogram of beef wastes the 50,000 litres of water it took to produce that meat
  • throwing out a kilogram of white rice will waste 2,385 litres and wasting a kilogram of potatoes costs 500 litres

I remember when the “use by date” was introduced, my father thought it was a smart ploy on the part of supermarkets to make you buy more items because you would freak out if the milk, for example, was due to expire today. So you’d rush out to buy more milk. My mother when living with us usually ignored the use by date and consumed the item. She never succumbed to food poisoning! And it is certainly true that our food portions have increased over the years. So both use-by-dates and increasing portions have led to food wastage.

My grandmother often told me about how food portions should relate to items, so a piece of meat should be no larger than the palm of your hand for example. But with the introduction of the “all you can eat, stuff your faces” buffets, seems we’ve lost the ability to eyeball food and know what is a reasonable portion. And so we end up cooking and consuming too much and tossing out the leftovers.

So whilst we are busy worrying about the planet heating up or future water shortages, let’s not take our eye off the fact that we are facing global food shortages (which of course drive up food prices). And every time we toss out food, we are not only being irresponsible humans, we are contributing to global food crises. Carolyn Roessler has a Stop Food Waste! blog, which shares her experiences of composting and cutting food waste in her own kitchen – check it out.

Thx to Sydney-based PR company Zing for bringing Notebook to my attention and giving me the information to blog about food wastage. I have shamelessly ganked the photo from Notebook that accompanies this post.

Get thinking now about how to Stop Food Waste! What are your food waste crimes? Leave a comment if you have some ideas or tips on how to stop food waste.

August 30, 2008 at 3:33 am 1 comment

I’m moving to Utah!

No, I’m not becoming a Mormon. Utah is up to something interesting. The US State is conducting a year long experiment. Starting from August 4, Utah will close Government buildings on Fridays, moving to a mandatory four-day working week for its 17,000 or so Government employees (80% of the State employee workforce).

The aim? To reduce the State’s energy costs by 20% by 2015 and cut employee fuel expenses by about US$300,000. Airconditioning, lighting and heating will be switched off in 1,000 out of 3,000 buildings (essential services such as police, prisons, courts and public schools will not participate). Utah is hoping the move will save US$3 million a year. State employees will work 10 hour days, Monday through Thursday and will be paid the same. The move to a mandatory four-day working week has already occurred in Marion County, Florida and Hawaii has just started a trial.

Not so sure this sensible move will happen any time soon in business when you hear one CEO quip that he gets 10 hour days five days a week out of his employees: ”Why would I want to give up an extra day of productivity?’‘ he asks. Of course, the cynics amongst us would suggest that private enterprise could cope if it managed client expectations and ensured that weekly goals were understood and met by its employees.

Would you work longer hours for four days to have one day off?

Source: USA Today

August 17, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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