The Gift of Thrift

At this point, everyone is familiar with the catch-cry “Reduce, reuse, recycle”. It has been written, read and said so many times that its reuse is becoming somewhat ironic. Yet, given the UN’s April declaration that not enough is being done to combat climate change, the need for sustainable living has never been greater.

The textile and clothing industry has a huge impact on the environment around the world. The reliance on workers and factories in developing countries means that often the production of these items is undertaken with little to no concern when it comes to environmental sustainability, requiring and producing a horrific list of chemicals. All linens are treated with formaldehyde, most other fabrics are treated with bleach. Huge quantities of clothing dyes run into and pollute rivers while nylon manufacturing pumps nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide) into the sky. Not even natural fibres are without their detriments; cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world. It would be great if we didn’t need clothes but Adam and Eve put paid to that a little while back so we may have to look at other options. Perhaps recycled clothing is a possible avenue for sustainable living. And where might one find such clothes?

For decades, thrift shops have been a bastion of counter-culture; consigned to a motely crew of retro-philes, savvy pensioners and big-game antique hunters. This changed drastically in 2012, when rapper Macklemore somehow squeezed an anti-consumerism message into the self and wealth obsessed world of pop culture. His song “Thrift Shop” shattered the barrier that had been holding many people back from “thrifting”. If you’re not one of the 500 million people who have already watched it on YouTube, then it might be worth it just to marvel at the effect one icon can have; in the sort of reversal you only see in fashion, counter-culture became pop culture overnight.

Those living in Sydney – and near the hipster epicentre of Newtown especially – are spoilt for choice when it comes to buying clothes sustainably. There are dozens of stores filled with millions of skirts, shirts, shoes, and shorts simply waiting for the environmentally conscious bargain-hunter to come along. These clothes reduce the impact of the clothing industry on the environment, come as cheap as they get, and now – thanks to a shift in pop-culture Feat. Macklemore – won’t draw odd looks. Never has there been an easier way to begin your journey towards being more environmentally conscious.

You don’t even have to buy from thrift shops to begin living more sustainably; donating is just as worthwhile. That replacement pair of runners that were the catalyst for finding the lost pair, those old Hawaiian shirts from Bali and even the star-spangled shirt from China can all be given a second life. If you’re not already donating old clothes to charities such as St Vincents, the Salvation Army (with which Newington has close ties) and the Red Cross, then there’s no better time than now. The collection bins are never far away with some sitting just on the other side of Stanmore station as well.

So, unleash the savvy, fashionable, charitable, environmental warrior within and dive into the world of thrift shopping, you never know what you might find.

Canvassing Ideas for Real Change

When it comes to recycling, it seems that Australians are steadily rising off the proverbial couch of apathy. There remain, however, a number of issues that have seemingly fallen between the cushions.

Last year, more than 4 billion plastic bags were used in Australia. Roughly 85% of these ended up in landfill sites while millions of others were cast to the wind to live out their non-biodegradable afterlife on the ocean floor and in the stomachs of ocean fauna. Many Newington students and parents have been involved in Clean Up Australia day for several years. In 2014, the event falls on the 2nd of March, and organisers are predicting the collection of more than half a million plastic bags. Around the world, more than 1 trillion plastic bags produced are manufactured each year.

There have, of course, been a number of positive steps made in the last decade; one of the most effective was an Australian retailer program of reducing plastic bag use by 50%. It was successful in achieving this objective but when the program ended in 2006, bag use immediately increased by 17% within just 12 months. Since then, very little progress has been made. To see this, we only need look so far as an article from the Sydney Morning Herald titled: “Plastic bags join endangered list” (See link below). In it, Environment Reporter, Ben Cubby says “Peter Garrett [then environment minister] is likely to impose either a levy on each bag handed to shoppers, or to ban them outright within 12 months.” And we might be very happy to pat ourselves on the back, except for the slight complication that the article is from January 2008… more than 6 years ago. In that time, no such levy or ban has come any closer to being established.

Having said that, the push has not been quite so spectacularly becalmed across Bass Strait, with Tasmania having had a ban on plastic bags for nearly 6 months. South Australia took the plunge even before that. Further afield, Los Angeles, last month, enacted a citywide ban on the use of plastic bags in large retailers (with smaller retailers being given a transition period of 6 more months). Such action is undeniably possible.

Luckily, it is not the only route to success. Change can be just as effectively implemented without the need for new legislation. In fact, all it requires is a little bit of consideration on your part. Forget hedge funds, super and the stock market, a few dollars spent on several canvas bags is one of the best investments you could make. Turn your loose change, into real change. Sturdier transportation, less cluttered streets, less polluted oceans and another step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The plastic bag has had its time, now is your chance to put it to rest.

And once you’ve done that, consider:

Clean Up Australia Day
When: 9-12am, Sunday March 2
Where: Meet outside Centenary Hall
Bring gloves and closed shoes, parents welcome.

The sadly out dated article:

Worming Your Way Into Sustainable Living

Environmental action in parliament has been lacking of late. But while our representatives are being influenced by the whims of corporate giants as big as Gina Rinehart – and some less big – we see that there is still a lot that can be done on a small scale, contained within our own individual societal ecosystems. It’s quite possible in fact, that spineless critters are both the cause of the problem and one of the solutions.

While we’ve had politicians for a long time, my family only got a worm farm this year. It was a source of significant excitement for my parents, so much so that, by the time I found out we were getting one, we already had it. This particular one is a little over 1 metre tall, composed of several layered sections and looks very much like a small water tank. You put organic refuse in and – by the ecological machinations of worms – you receive a nutrient rich fertiliser for your plants and soils, charmingly named “worm juice”.

It was an interesting choice by my parents. I had always seen a worm farm as being an addition to the backyard, the sort of thing that you’d find beside the veggie patch. Living in a converted warehouse in the inner west, we had no garden (and none has sprung up since) yet the worm farm is surprisingly at home. There are four reasons that might be preventing a household from opening the not-so-proverbial can of worms and starting such a farm.

1. Everyone one would have a worm farm if it were cheap so it must be expensive, right? Wrong. You can buy a triple-tiered worm farm as well as a starter pack of 500 worms for around $100 from Bunnings and for even less from other specialist stores. This is more than enough for most households. Ah, well then it must be expensive in terms of time? Nope, unlike dogs these worms don’t require daily walks, and unlike cats they don’t require worshipping. Once you’re set up, your duties are kept to giving them your scraps and a few litres of water once a week, collecting that worm juice and occasionally lifting the lid to ogle at all the wriggling.

2. Sometimes the fear of “eau de worm” can prevent this leap into sustainable living. Rest assured, after several months, my mum (whose office is right next to the garage and worm farm) has no complaints. Bad smells are from rotting materials, but the scraps of food are so quickly consumed that this is never an issue. The only way that smell can be a problem is if you’re putting in much more food than can be digested.

3. “I wouldn’t know what to feed them.” Unsurprisingly, these little guys are not picky. They will eat paper, cardboard, leaves, eggshells, almost all other organic waste, even hair. It’s much easier to learn the few things they won’t eat: things that are acidic, spicy or dairy products. Any household has more than enough organic material (that would otherwise rot at a dump) to sustain a worm farm.

4. The final reason you might be holding back is that you don’t see enough of a need for the worm juice to want to bother. If you have a garden at all, then worm juice is perfect, being one of the best fertilisers money can buy. If you don’t have a garden (like my family), it’s just as useful. You could improve the aesthetic of the whole street by using it on the kerbside greenery. You could give it to a neighbour or a relative. You could even sell it if you were so inclined. One litre is usually around $20. The average worm farm produces this in a week.

Given the huge amount of political rubbish going around, it might be the perfect time to start putting yours to good use.

A fact sheet with information on getting your worm farm up and running: