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Guest blog #2: The Rogue Ginger writes about living plastic and waste free

Erin Rhoads, aka the Rogue Ginger, has lived plastic and waste free for over a year. She writes a popular blog about her experiences, offering cool-as tips and techniques to reduce plastic usage and overall waste in our everyday lives. We've asked Erin to shed some light on how she does it. 

By Erin Rhoads

I blog about plastic and waste free living and have been invited to write on the Sustain Me Blog ‘Sustainable Living’ about the consequences of irresponsible plastic use. 

I can hear you ask ‘What is irresponsible plastic use?’ I consider irresponsible plastic use as most of our day to day items, that are not needed. The throwaway stuff.  I am not anti plastic, simply anti the misuse of plastic. Plastic has made vast contributions to medicine, improving the quality of life for many people. Something like a throw away plastic straw, has not made much of a contribution other than continued pollution.  

Recently, there was a story in news of a turtle, with a plastic straw lodged in its nasal cavity. The images were devastating. Stories like this, and many others, are what prompted me to start fighting the misuse of plastic. If we are going to use up a valuable resource like oil, why waste it on a plastic straw?  

Our oceans are filling up with plastic. According to analysis by Project MainStream, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean. The affects will be felt across the world if we don't do something now.  

Living plastic free all began with one step. It can be hard to eliminate plastic all in one go, but here's a couple steps for you to reduce unsustainable plastic use. 

SIP WITHOUT THE PLASTIC 

Saying NO to plastic straws takes practice and if you don't remind the waiter you might end up with a useless plastic stick in your drink. Yuck! Here is a handy tip: when the waiter takes your order ask them to write down your request. Some drinks call for straws so why not invest in a reusable straw. I carry one around with me (including a spoon, fork and knife).

If you enjoy going strawless encourage your local cafe to put the straws under the counter. Then ask the cafe to only give out straws if patrons ask. 

NO MORE PLASTIC BAGS 

Many supermarkets now offer their own reusable bags. If you don't already have some then I suggest purchasing a couple. I also carry a fold up bag in my handbag for moments when I need a bag. Human beings have been living without plastic bags for hundreds of years. Reuse a bag and let's save our rivers and oceans from them. 

SAY NO TO PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES 

If you are serious about lessening the impact of plastic in your life then you will want to invest in a refillable bottle. I have had no trouble asking for cafes and restaurants to fill up my bottle for free when I need it. With a bottle tucked away in your bag you will save money and realise how silly paying for bottled water is.  

DITCH TAKEAWAY COFFE CUPS

Does your morning not start until you have had your coffee on the way to work? Like to keep warm with a takeaway chai? Next time the need for a takeaway hot beverage comes knocking ask for no lid or take 10 minutes to sit in to have your coffee in a mug. You can also take your own coffee cup.  

I offer this tip as a way to start you on your journey, today. I don't advocate the use of takeaway, ever. However, saying no to a plastic lid is a good start. 

Plastic lids easily end up on busy streets creating unwanted pollution. If you are a daily take away coffee drinker saying NO to a lid each day could save you up 20 bits of plastic from entering your life and the environment each month.

Remember that paper coffee cups are not recyclable and go into a bin for landfill. 

Saying no to plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic water bottles and unnecessary takeaway, sends a message that these items are not needed. Our consumer power is just as powerful as voting. Our great grandparents thrived and survived without these four items in their day to day lives, and I know we can too.

Why recycle?

Recycling isn't sexy. We've been told for decades now that we should recycle, we've been given countless different instructions, we've been told throughout school to 'Do The Right Thing'. But. These quick slogans lack a tad of depth. We come away knowing we ought to recycle, but not necessarily why.

I first started thinking strongly about recycling because it was a way to reuse your waste, reduce demand on natural resources and - I mean - if we can use what we've already got, then we can reduce our consumption, right? Right.

But that sounds a bit boring.

And I've always found that the most difficult question. Preserving the environment will allow for the preservation of the human race. But that is so abstract and dramatic, that it feels a tad out of place.

We've filmed for our crowdfunding campaign (that's set to be launched really very soon) and in it, I have to give a little spiel about why recycling matters. What does it mean for people in the real world?

Also, having been working in this space for a while now, I've met my share of climate skeptics. I don't want to come across as airy-fairy - I want to make sense and give real examples of why this all matters.

Also, being stared at by the camera is really demanding. It's like: 'Say something good - now! Make it so good so that we can hit our fundraising goal!' So, pressure.

In my head, it was like a thousand thoughts and emotions were popping up at the same time. And out of this, an explosion of my own personal reality. (I won't say what I eventually said on the crowdfunding campaign clip, I won't ruin the surprise.)

The reason I recycle is because:

- I can't sleep at night knowing that I willfully live in a manner that harms the environment.

- I love my friends, family and I want them to have a temperate planet to live on.

- I love trees and plants and am disheartened, heart broken, knowing that climate change is making it difficult for many species to survive.

- I actually do panic every time I hear the amount of extinctions of animals that has happened over my life time.

- Because while I am captivated and mystified by the environment, I am also petrified. Because it is, and always will be, stronger and bigger than me.

 

What do you think? Convincing?

 

All that aside, happy new year and welcome to 2016. A year in which I have already turned another age, got a cat and written at least a blog post. 

 

Peace x

Day 3 of 25 Days of Waste

To celebrate our 3rd day of the 25 Days of Waste, I am thinking about bags. Bags, bags, bags.

The whole reason why this blog post came about is because I Google searched for an open-licensed image comparing calico bags and plastic bags in some way. There weren't any. 

But then I got hooked reading up about all these cool, sustainable options for Christmas shopping. Finding out about new ways to reduce my impact on the earth really does make me feel all warm inside. A bit like Christmas. 

Anyway. So I thought I'd do a post-collage of the fruits of my research. Here it is. 

5 WAYS TO AVOID NEEDING A PLASTIC BAG THIS CHRISTMAS

1. Make yourself a calico-style bag out of your old T-shirt. This no-nonsense clip will show you how.  

2. Put a little bag inside your usual hand-bag, or your car, or your pocket. Make a commitment to yourself not to leave the house without this.

3.  Decide to yourself that you will not take a plastic bag to carry home your shopping for the rest of the year.

4. Do a Kris Kringle and buy fewer gifts so as to reduce your need for a bag. 

5. Ask yourself: "What would work? What would be effective in helping me refuse plastic bags at the shops?" When you have an answer, do that.

And that, my friends, brings home our 3/25 Days of Waste for this festive season. 

Sustain Me shortlisted for Banksia Sustainability Awards

Sustain Me Grouphas been shortlisted for the Banksia Sustainability Awards, Smart Technology. 

I am so excited. 

Yesterday, I ran 35km because I am training for a marathon next week. And this is relevant because my legs hurt a whole heap - walking down stairs is a real struggle. Well, I forgot about my hip flexes when I got this news. I jumped up and down like it's nobody's business. (They're beginning to hurt again now). 

What this means is that we have been assessed by a panel of expert judges to determine organisations that show

"...demonstrated leadership and innovation in the development and application of technology, which directly promotes a more sustainable world" Banksia Foundation Press Release 08.10.2015

It is an award that recognises leaders in sustainability efforts, across numerous categories, all over Australia. 

That's right. We are sustainability leaders in Australia. This is a big deal. We're being recognised. 

I am so excited. 

Winners are announced in November.

Action and inaction

I was speaking with a friend this week and explaining how much I was affected by learning about landfill-decomposing times. I told her that I just couldn't believe that I had contributed to soft plastics, glass, metal going to landfill. I had done so in ignorance - I didn't know how much of an issue this was. 

For example, I only just learnt that in Australia we only have landfills secured on average for the next 15 years. After this, garbage trucks will have to travel hundreds of kilometres out of the city to dispose of our waste. And in addition, landfill carbon emissions account for 3% of all of Australia's carbon emissions. 

Yeah. 

So we can make a sizeable difference by reducing what we send to landfill. 

Between my recycling bin, my soft plastics recycling bin and my worm farm, not much goes to landfill. I must look up whether or not carbon emissions are released from worm farms. 

Anyway. 

Back to my friend. I was telling her my worries and she asked me the most brilliant question: "Oh ok, so what have you done then to change your behaviour?" 

Action. Don't just talk about it. Do action. 

And I am doing action. The soft-plastics recycling bin (i.e. a plastic bags of plastic bags, bread bags and other soft plastics that I drop off at the supermarket where they turn them into seats for parks and sea-side walkways) is new. I have also been seriously looking into buying bulk. A friend of mine has a flour maker (i.e. a machine that crushes up wheat and spits out flour). And I've also been thinking about making my own bread, tomato sauce, that kind of thing. I haven't decided which are worth the time and effort from my view yet, I suppose future Eleanor will figure that out. 

I have an action request from you: if you read these emails/ blogs but haven't download the app, or don't use the app - can I ask a question? Why? What is it that keeps you from using the app? Feedback from you is the most important of all. So you're only helping by telling. 

Thanks! :) 

p.s. In other news, we applied for the Banksia Sustainability Awards today. I spent the last week writing the 2,000 word report. Up until last night, it was 3,000 words.

Glass bottles take 1 million years to break down at the tip.

Stephen and I went to school this week to create some inter-generational change. We spoke to 30 odd year ones and twos. At first, I was terrified. Something about their age (being between 5 and 6), and their strength in numbers, rattled me. Children of that age tell you right away if they're dead bored of you. And, like a horse, they can smell your fear. 

Despite these fear-exciting qualities, they were a bit cute; plus, their teacher was sitting behind them. So they had to be good. 

Stephen created an excellent teaching plan and in the process taught me a thing or two. One of the activities included getting the students to guess how long it takes for an every day house hold item to break down in landfill

So for a banana peel, it was between 3-4 weeks. 

For a paper book, it's 3-4 months. 

For tin cans it's 200 odd years. 

For plastic bags, it's 1000 years. 

For glass bottles, it's 1 million years. 

Ok, fine, so according to this article, due to varying conditions within landfills, results can range ridiculously. So it depends. 

But the take home message here is that we don't have enough space on earth to put our waste in big holes. This is not sustainable. 

Think about it - plastic beverage holders (six pack rings) take 400 years to break down. It lives 4 times as long as you could, and we all will use countless six pack holders throughout our lives. Actually, if you drink too much beer, the six pack rings might live 5 times as long as you do. 

This is a first, but I am cut and copying the following from Charissa Struble's article on Be Healthy Relax's webpage because of how striking the details are. This is how long it takes your junk to decompose. 

Take a look. 

  • Train Tickets: 2 weeks
  • Paper Towel: 2-4 weeks
  • Orange Peel: 2-5 weeks
  • Newspaper: 6 weeks
  • Apple Core: 2 months
  • Cotton Shirt: 2-5 months
  • Cotton Gloves: 3 months
  • Waxed Milk Cartons: 3 months
  • Thread: 3-4 months
  • Ropes: 3-14 months
  • Canvas Products: 1 year
  • Plywood: 1-3 years
  • Wool Clothing: 1-5 years
  • Non-Waxed Milk Cartons: 5 years
  • Cigarette Butts: 10-12 years
  • Lumber: 10-15 years
  • Painted Board: 13 years
  • Plastic Film Container: 20-30 years
  • Leather Shoes: 25-40 years
  • Nylon Fabric: 30-40 years
  • Foamed Plastic Cups: 50 years
  • Rubber Tires: 50-80 years
  • Rubber Boot Soles: 50-80 years
  • Foamed Plastic Buoys: 80 years
  • Batteries: 100 years
  • Hairspray Bottle: 200-500 years
  • Plastic Beverage Holders (Six Pack Rings): 400 years
  • Plastic Beverage Bottles: 450 years
  • Engine Blocks: 500 years
  • Sanitary Pads: 500-800 years
  • Monofilament Fishing Line: 600 years
  • Polyurethane Seat Cushions: 1,000 years
  • Automobile Windshield: One million years or longer
  • Tinfoil: It does not biodegrade.

Let's deny the concept of waste. Never waste an opportunity to recycle. I know: it can annoying and boring and you often don't have the time. But you have an app for that now, so it's easier.

Dear Wonderful Supporter, Thank you

You'll know by now that we had created a form on our website, this website (haha) that allowed people to pre-register for the app if they wanted to. Well, I just emailed everyone who had pre-registered before the release of the app. In the process of writing that email, I realised something. It really was a wonderful realisation. And I just had to tell someone about it. So, naturally, I wrote about it in the pre-registers email, and I'm writing it here for yourself, as well.

Let me tell you a story: I am emailing you from my personal email account and not from Mail Chimp because I think a lot of the emails I've been sending out have been going to the spam box. As a consequence, I had to format each email address (and there a couple of hundred of people I'm sending this email to, including YOU!) What this meant was I had to go through and put a comma next to each email address. At first, I was devastated when I realised how much work was involved. I had to make myself an extra coffee, and put a candle on, just to motivate myself to do it. But then, as I started going through all the emails, I startedreading the email addresses. I realised just how many friends have pre-registered to download the app. I realised just how manysupporters. It was the most beautiful story of friendship and support that was unfurling in front of me. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me and Stephen to create this recycling app. 

I've recently come back from an inspirational week away, where creative and new ideas around communicating new projects were discussed. Amanda Palmer's Art of Asking TEDTalk offers one such idea: that people want to help, but it's your job to communicate what that help looks like. 

In spirit of this, if you do want to help us further, there are two clear actions you could take. Firstly, tell people about us. You could forward this email to three friends, you could text them the link to Google Play or the App Store, or you could discuss it over dinner tonight. Secondly, we are about to start a crowdfunding campaign and would love to hear your advise on how we should best go about this. If you don't have advise, but you do have a couple of bucks, then get them ready and we'll notify you when it's time. 

For me, the game just changed. We are no longer creating a recycling app; we have created a recycling app. Now it's all about getting it to the people. I'll be blogging about this and what ever randomly goes through my head here

Thank you, thank you, thank you, 

Eleanor and Stephen

Thank you for your support, now's for celebration! 

Quick, before it's out: What you want to see in the app?

The app is nearly ready to be released. 

There has been struggles. There has been heartbreak. There has been joy. And soon there will be a Sustain Me recycling app on Google Play and the Apple Store. 

That's right, folks. Snap. 

We have had a very big week, with agreements being formed with two major agencies (to be announced soon). And in celebration, we'd like to reach out and offer something back. 

What do you want to see in the app? Do you really just need to know about plastic bags? Or maybe a couch is a thorn in your side? Have you ever tried to recycle a bike lock? (I have). Well, tell us!

Tell us through:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sustainmerecycling 

Twitter: @SustainMeGroup

Carrier Pigeon:

Carrier Pigeon.

Carrier Pigeon.

Your message could read something like this:

                        Hi Elle, 

                       It's Lucy Sky here, I'd really like to know how to recycle kaleidoscopes, please.

                       Thanks! Peace out. 

You know, just an idea. 

Anyway, let's hear from you now and we'll make sure it is in the app! 

Until then:

(The images in this blog post were sought from Pinterest). Cheers. 

We fight over plastic bags.

My boyfriend, Laurence, and I agree on a great many things sustainable. We agree on all the good reasons we should take the train to work; we agree on the problems with eating meat, with buying from supermarkets, and so on. We aren't ideologically opposed. It's just one of us - I won't say who - is a little more, let's say, pro-active about sustainability than the other. 

Imagine supermarket check-outs, imagine shiny floors and packaged goods. Imagine the odd loose lemon: everything piled high in our supermarket basket. It all begins with a question:

"Should we get a plastic bag?"

"No, we don't need one". Comes the reply.

"Really? There's too much here to carry"

"It's fine, look: I've picked up everything now anyway. Can you grab the milk?; and we're done". 

 

I lost the argument the other day when we had gone shopping right before I was getting on the train to the city. 

"We're going to need a plastic bag". 

"You know what I think about single-use plastics," I say jokingly, not really thinking about it. "Look, it's fine." I flexed my dexterous fingers. "I got this". 

"How am I going to get it all up the stairs?"

"I'll help - ..." My eyes shot to the left, like they do when I've just realised something. "Oh."

Laurence picks up the plastic bag, triumphant. "Thank-you-very-much". Never before has a plastic bag been so cherished. 

That is, until we used it as a bin liner. (Couldn't resist, sorry Sweetheart).

 

I read a blog a little while ago that said "Break Ups on the Rise: Over Tissues". Apparently, according to this blog, people are reporting breaking up over trivial sustainability measures, such as whether or not to recycle tissues. Looking at Laurence's and my supermarket routine, I can see how the regular, everyday-demands of living sustainably in a non-sustainable culture can be heavy demands indeed. Especially if one partner is really pushing it more than the other. This is a source of tension among families, I'm sure, and among friends. The relationship space is not immune. 

In my view it is the good old not-seeing-the-forest-for-the-trees syndrome; people can get caught up over trivialities like recycling tissues and the odd single use plastic bag without recognising that, as a society, we live in a unsustainable way. We are raised to consume heaps, buy more, buy bigger. We are guilty about the rotting food in the fridge, but too busy to do anything about it. Broadly speaking there are large changes we need to make in our lives to help us be more sustainable. In Laurence's and my own situation above, we've actually tried to not shop at the supermarket at all, and have a CERES food box delivered to our house. This forgoes the need for plastic bags (it's delivered in a cardboard box that we recycle in our kerbside recycling bin); and the food is locally sourced. Going even broader, it would be great if Victoria went plastic bag free like SA, NT, NSW and Tassie. (According to this blog, Queensland is committed to being the next). So, government leadership would be great. Right about now.... :/ 

Failing that, there are some useful sustainability initiatives popping out of the ground like daisies in spring time. Take One Step, run through Greensteps at Monash University, encourages people to think up one thing they can do that lessens their impact on the earth, and the program then encourages people to then act out these steps. Similarly, Climate For Change seeks to create a climate for change in Australia's politics-scape; they (also) help you identify and then act on achievable actions that help us unite to create a social mandate our leaders can't ignore and thereby bring about good action on climate change. 

Here are a few ideas about how we can avoid the matrimonial warnings not worth ignoring about plastic bags and all things sustainability. 

 

EDIT: Laurence has just googled whether or not you can recycle tissues. Answer: yes if unsoiled. Compost it (or worm farm) if it is soiled.

Why am I making a recycling app again?

Why are we doing this? Why a recycling app? Well, there are two tightly-connected reasons. The first is because I want choice in how I consume: in 2013, when this project began, there was no utensil I had access to that would help me search how to recycle my waste items, and as a conscientious participant of consumer culture, that annoyed me. I can't but help but consume: I buy supermarket bought clothes, I leave the house and emit carbon to travel to work, I drink coffee shipped from overseas. If I am to continue doing this, then I want the option of reducing the consequential carbon emissions through recycling. 

The second reason is a little more serious. Everyone in our society, in those societies around the world positioned to effect change, has to collectively work together to reduce our carbon emissions to combat climate change. In order to do this, in Australia, we need the tools to do so. I didn't know anything about recycling before I began working on Sustain Me, I had no real reason to be an expert on it. But I didn't want to wait for someone else to make it. Anyway, it seemed pretty straight forward - get recycling information, make app. Done! Ha ha. Well, maybe not that easy, but thems the breaks.

It'll be worth it. 

29 to go

It is with joy and happiness that I write to you today. Yes, we have a launch date for the app. We will launch it on the Google Play and the App Store on the 29th of July. We have a launch date for the app…!

What the hell? It has taken such a long time to get to this point, and one thing we’ve definitely learnt is to not mind the odd set back or two. And here we are, 4 weeks out from launch.

Between you, me and the fencepost, I have been so anxious about setting a date. What if, what if! But here it is, the date! The 29th of July. 4 weeks from today. Come good, bad or evil, the app will be here.

So what the hell happened? Well, we’ve been working quite a lot since the start of the year to finalise the production of the app and we have finally got the go-ahead from our app developer, the wonderful Alex Portlock, that the app is about to be ready for release. There’s been a lot of managing and juggling different tasks and deadlines behind the scenes, and so it has been very difficult to put a date on release. Indeed, my family has pointed out more than once that the app has been ‘almost ready for release’ for a little while now. For someone like me – always impatient to just get on with the job – waiting has been a hard process. But I am content with the knowledge that we’ve done what we can to produce the best app we can. 

It’s going to be in your hands so very soon.

29 days. Go.

In search of Ruby

When I was growing up, I had a dog called Ruby. She was the best and most loyal dog one could ask for. And she was mine. Unfortunately, dogs sometimes understand loyalty in view of protection. And sometimes they are very sensitive to their need to protect you. So Ruby would bite people a lot. Mainly men; sorry guys, I think she had daddy issues. Well, as I am sure those with a nippy puppy can relate, it caused a little anxiety. But that was fine because it meant that I could just keep her all to myself.

She really was the coolest dog. And I have so much love for her.

Well, anyway. At one point, my mum moved from our hobby farm and had to find a new home for Ruby. Mum did this after I had left for university, and so I missed my chance to say goodbye to her.

I have ever since been in this strange place in my mind: should I seek her out? Should I depart upon a journey in search of Ruby? Part of me feels that I should; she was, after all, my dog. She loves me just as much as I loved her. We were buds. She probably misses me a lot and feels sad all the time.

But then I also know that her new family really rather love her (not sure if she bites them too, but I don't think she does). And if I go and see her again, maybe she'll get all confused and feel a little lost in the world.

The other thing is that I think I'd have to travel a long way to find her. And I don't have an address. So, as most mystical and romantic adventures go, it really would be a journey. I'm thinking road trip movies (like Thelma and Louise) where the main characters end up different (and often better) people at the end of it. But petrol, guys. That stuff's expensive.

Anyway, that all came to an end this morning. As all good stories go, there is a plot twist. And it's about to hit you. It occurred to me as I walked to work, that Ruby is probably dead. She was my childhood dog. She'd be way into, and beyond, her arthritic years. And she died before I got to say goodbye.

Now you're probably thinking: this blog is a blog of a website that tries to tackle climate change through increasing the amount people recycle. How is she going to turn this story around and make it relevant to its cause?

Well, I'm not. You just did.

Let's save the world before it's too late.

I shall never embark upon my journey in search of Ruby, because that ship has sailed.

Eleanor's Plastic Free Day

I trialed the Plastic Free Day campaign ahead of Saturday's official #plasticfreeday, hosted by the Foundation for Young Australians. The idea around the campaign is to encourage people to think about how much plastic we consume. The suggestion isn't that we should all give up plastic entirely (though I have heard of people who get metal containers and refill their hair shampoo into these containers from source). The suggestion is that we consume a lot of plastic for single use. It's surprising how much. Here's my story. 

My self-imposed restriction on plastic was really apparent as I was grooming myself in the morning. I couldn't use my shampoo, my bodywash, my toothbrush, my deodorant. My sunglasses had to be left at home. Luckily my perfume bottle was not made of plastic, so I was able to leave the house smelling reasonably ok. 

Beyond the potential for BO, the worst was my phone. I have a Samsung Galaxy, and parts of the casing are made from plastic. I couldn't use my mobile phone....!

Having left the house, I knew I couldn't drive my car given the amount of plastic used in that thing. Instead, I took my bike and rode to the train. Because I rode my bike that day, I also took a backpack, instead of the usual handbag. 

The day's events were slightly unusual and given this, I had not choice but to use plastic. You see, I was signing a house lease that day and I had forgotten to acquire a metal pen. I had to use a plastic pen to sign on the dotted line. 

But other than that, once I had left my house it was pretty easy to avoid plastic. I ate sit-in Japanese for lunch, and was not required to use plastic to eat it, (but of course the ingredients that went into that sushi would have at one stage been packaged in plastic). I ensured I had a sit-in coffee. I rued being without my phone. 

But, you see, I failed.

Even as I was trying to actively avoid plastic, it surrounded my every activity. I mentioned I took public transport - my myki is made of plastic. I mentioned I purchased lunch - with plastic-coated money. In celebration of signing our new lease, my partner and I went to have a coffee.

ha. Woops.

ha. Woops.

We got take-away. (When I realised, as I walked away from the cafe, that I had just willingly accepted a plastic, single use, take-away coffee cup, I cussed. Loudly.) 

I also mentioned above that I took my bike, and backpack, both of which I later realised were in part made of plastic. My helmet was also made of plastic. I was switched on enough to brush my teeth without my toothbrush (awkward, make-do finger brushing was poorly attempted). But I was completely oblivious to the fact that the toothpaste tube is made of, you got it, plastic! 

Damn. That plastic stuff. It is a very versatile product. It's everywhere. It even coats the Fredo Frogs that I am currently eating. It comes in so many different forms and sizes, how might we know just how to dispose of this all sustainably?

Pre-register for the Sustain Me app, and find out. 

17.12.2014

We need 4 earths to sustain me.

I don’t own a car. I eat very little meat and even less fish. I recycle everything I can. I ride my bike or pt it everywhere. I carry my takeaway coffee cup – for which I am guilty about accepting – with me until I find a recycling bin. I buy carbon neutral hair shampoo and have a worm farm to recycle my food scraps. I source my household electricity through renewable energy. I founded a social enterprise that helps people recycle more. And, according to the WWF Footprint Calculator, we need 4 earths to sustain me.

The WWF Footprint Calculator tells me that because I buy packaged goods, often from major supermarkets, often when they are out of season or not easily grown in Australia (and so are shipped in from Asia and trucked long distances), I am living unsustainably. While I don’t eat much of it, I still eat meat. I drive my partner’s car. I fly. I drink coffee, milk and all. I live a considerable distance from where I purchase food, where I work, where I meet friends. I consume.

But what is all this about carbon emissions? Which bit about my life style causes carbon to be released?

Each of these behaviours burn fossil fuels.  Driving obviously does. The food shipped from Asia is fossil fuel fuelled. The animals I eat require huge amounts of resources to sustain them, so that they sustain me. When we burn fossil fuels to power our lifestyles, waste products such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. To get science-y on you, these gases absorb energy from radiation from the sun, which cause the gases to “move” more. When they “move” more, they become warmer. This process is known as the greenhouse effect and is a natural, normal thing that warms the earth’s surfaces and oceans.

However, too much carbon emissions means too much heat is created. What happens is that these gases absorb more energy from the sun’s radiation (as would make sense) and now there are just heaps of these gases building and building and building in the atmosphere.This level of greenhouse gases has caused an increase in the average global temperature and is often referred to as climate change (Climate Council, 2013; IPCC, 2013; Sturman and Tapper, 2006).  Since the pre-industrial era, there has been an increase in carbon dioxide of 40% in the atmosphere. There are exciting and new methods and technologies being created that may release carbon emissions into space, but to my knowledge, this is not an available option yet. (Ideas, thoughts on this, welcome).

So we want to put less carbon emissions into the atmosphere so that less heat is trapped and climate change is less severe.

How?

The Sustain Me app. The Sustain Me app was created out of frustration; we try to recycle our stuff but it’s either too hard (like batteries) or we do it wrong and it goes to landfill anyway (like plastic bags). Once you’ve consumed something, like a coffee cup or water bottle, there’s no going back. Those greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. But you can use that product as an opportunity to avoid creating more demand. If you recycle something, then you reduce demand for that item to be created again.

The Sustain Me app will count how many tonnes of carbon emissions you’ve saved by recycling that item. It tracks what you’ve saved and rewards you. Well, you reward yourself by reducing the amount of heat in the atmosphere, but the app tracks the good you are doing thanks you for it.

You might think that this is futile. Climate change can hardly be saved if just one person starts recycling more. You’re right. If just one person starts recycling more, then we’re screwed.

No, it’s going to take for you to recycle more.

 

*Much of the information regarding the greenhouse effect and global warming were sourced from Sturman and Tapper, 2006 and Meyer, 2014. Credit and thanks goes to Ananta Neelim, Sarah McElholum and Mitch Jeffrey for perfecting the science-y bits.