These days, the growing number of green building, renovating, decorating and sustainability options and choices can be overwhelming for many people who want to be greener at home or in the workplace. But it doesn’t have to be so confusing. Start with the things you use the most and which are easy to make changes. The top areas to think about when going green are saving water, saving energy, reducing waste and food, and gardening.
Even some of the new ‘green language’ can seem confusing, but keep it simple. Saving water, power and waste, plus gardening, means saving you money and saving your environment at the same time. It’s simple. Don’t worry about the vocabulary. Just know that whatever green changes you make at home or work is good for you and the planet. Every little green step you take is significant in the bigger picture of helping the environment. So, where to begin?
Australia is no stranger to drought. The positive is it’s taught us to be more water smart. Some tips to help you save more water include: mulch your gardens, fix dripping taps, install dual-flush toilets, buy water-efficient appliances, take shorter showers and install rainwater tanks. Next we’ll look at power.
Switch to GreenPower to cut greenhouse gas emissions. GreenPower comes from renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind, instead of coal burning. When you choose GreenPower, you receive electricity exactly the same way, with no change in supply. Almost all power companies offer GreenPower. It does cost a little extra, but think of it as your donation to a charity – the Earth. My energy provider in Brisbane, Origin Energy, offers 25% GreenPower for approximately less than $15 per quarter. Using 25% GreenPower is equal to 3 months of not using standard electricity – which means big greenhouse gas reductions. The better option of course is solar electricity, and most power companies are now offering very reasonable payment plans to make solar power more affordable.
Some simple tips to help save power include: turn down the temperature on your hot water system, avoid overcooling or overheating your home/workplace, store fridges/freezers in a well-ventilated, cool position. Switching appliances off at the wall, including standby, will cut around 10% off your bills and save 115kg of greenhouse gases a year. Next is waste and food.
Australian households produce an average of 1.14 tonnes of waste per year, and about 70% of it goes into landfill. It is second nature for most people to use their home recycling bin these days, but did you know?
- Composting your food waste cuts your waste by around 330kg a year
- Avoiding excessive packaging when shopping saves 170kg of waste a year
- Not receiving junk mail stops 1,000 pieces of junk mail from going to waste per year
- Donating old household/business goods to charity saves 100kg of waste going to the dump
Australia, like most developed nations, has a huge problem – we love throwing things away. But there is only one Earth, one planet. Everything we throw away must go somewhere, and once it leaves our possession, it is still our responsibility where it ends up and what it does to the planet.
Food is also a huge concern. Australians throw away around $5.5 billion worth of food annually – including fresh food, uneaten takeaways, leftovers, unfinished drinks and frozen foods. The next time you throw food away, remember that 27,000 children die of starvation daily in the world. These days, I feel guilty wasting even a few grains of rice, so we compost and recycle all our food scraps – to the garden or our chickens. When you throw away food, you’re not just wasting the food – you’re wasting all the water, energy and other resources that go into producing the food.
Some great tips to help prevent waste include:
- Think about what you need when cooking and eating
- Check what’s in your fridge, freezer and pantry before you waste food, eat out or get takeaway
- Start an organic garden – if space is limited, use pots or styrofoam boxes
- Plant Australian natives to support native wildlife
- Use only natural, non-toxic fertilizers and sprays – remember that toxic sprays kill the goodies, including frogs, as well as the pests
- Use only manure, compost and other organic materials
We are facing an environmental crisis and individual efforts in your home, work and community do add up to help the planet. There’s a lot more you can do to make a green difference and a great place to start is with the Australian Conservation Foundation. You can download a free copy of their GreenHome Guide at www.acfonline.org.au