In ‘Recycling’ Category


Towards zero-waste: Howe it’s done

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Don Batson and Sophie Liu’s dream holiday on Lord Howe Island included a tour of the waste management facility—that’s a ReNew kind of holiday! They describe the amazing work done to reduce waste on this pristine island.

WHEN you live on a crescent-shaped island 11 km long and only 2 km across at its widest, you need to be mindful about limited resources—and as we found out, that can lead to innovative sustainable solutions for all sorts of things, including how you think about and manage waste.


Recently we were lucky enough to have a holiday on Lord Howe Island, a tiny speck in
the Pacific, 600 km east of Port Macquarie, with a population of 360 plus a maximum
of 400 tourists at one time. It’s an island with UNESCO world heritage status and we
were drawn there to experience this pristine environment with its unique plants and
animals. The last thing we expected to be excited about was the waste management
setup! Yet somehow, on our third day there, we found ourselves having a three-hour tour
with John, the manager of the island’s waste management facility.

From speaking with locals, we got the sense that a life cycle assessment of everything
brought onto the island happened almost unconsciously, by necessity. The high cost of
bringing in a product and shipping out any waste requires a less ‘disposable’ approach to purchasing. For example, to bring a new car onto the island, you must first arrange to have the old car removed.

The island also has a wonderful food cooperative— a great community and social
enterprise. It offers bulk foods for sale in recycled and reusable containers, so there’s less packaging to be disposed of. This was ‘zero-waste’ heaven, with all sorts of nuts, dried fruit, grains, flours, cereals and even spices sold in bulk. They also had dairy items bought in bulk then portioned up for sale, homemade dips and locally made cakes and biscuits. We were in awe of the simple, effective system set up so customers can return empty jars and containers, which are then washed and reused. As visitors, we were actively encouraged to participate.

Our curiosity about the recycling systems began at our accommodation. The kitchen had
three bins: one for non-recyclable rubbish, one for recyclables such as glass, cardboard and plastics, and a small bin for food waste (with pictures noting that meat scraps and fish bones could be added). Intrigued, we asked one of the staff there about the food waste: did they compost all this on site? Melissa explained that it went off for processing at the waste management facility on the island. And, she added, if we were interested we could get in touch with the manager, John, and perhaps arrange to see it.

Read about their tour in ReNew 138.


Product profile: Recycled plastic furniture

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REPLAS has been making recycled plastic products for many years, but most of their products are more oriented towards commercial applications.


The Brunswick outdoor chair and table set is just as suited to domestic uses, and is available with bar stools, bar seats, plus a table which can be freestanding or fixed. The furniture is available in five colours for both slats and frame—black, brown, grey, blue and green—so you can specify them to your preferred colours. The slats are a solid 40 x 65 mm profile, making the furniture very robust. The setting is easy to clean and virtually maintenance-free and should basically last forever.

The stool/seat height is 740 mm while the table stands 1040 mm high. Weight is 20, 25 and 45 kg for the stool, seat and table respectively.

Another neat piece is the Laguna outdoor lounge, which features a galvanised and black powder-coated steel or stainless steel frame and recycled plastic slats (40 x 65 mm) in brown, grey, blue or green.

The Laguna is 1800 mm long and weighs a hefty 80 kg, so it isn’t going to blow away easily and can simply be left in place.

RRP: POA. For more information go to

Read more product profiles in ReNew 138.


Small things matter too: Simple reuse DIY projects

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In everyday life we are surrounded by materials that are usually thought of as rubbish. But most can be reused for other purposes with a little DIY effort.
By Lance Turner.

We hear a lot about reduce, reuse and recycle and, while most people make an effort with basic recycling, the first two parts—reduce and reuse—are really more important.


Reducing is simply a matter of choices—if a product comes in too much packaging or non-recyclable or environmentally damaging packaging materials (read plastic), then simply look for an alternative that is better packaged.

While it’s great to be able to reduce your waste load by careful shopping, some products are simply not available in anything other than plastic or plastic composite packaging. You can opt to simply not buy the product at all, but a particular product may be a requirement, for example, for health reasons, or it might be required for your job.

Given that most people will end up with at least some packaging that local recyclers don’t take, the best option is to try and reuse the material. This has two advantages—it reuses rather than recycles, and it offsets the purchase of new materials/products that would otherwise be bought for that purpose. It’s not just packaging that can be reused, there are many other sources of useful materials, from pallets to old electronic devices.

So just how can you reuse items that might otherwise seem like they have no use? In most cases, just a small amount of effort and DIY skill is required. On the following pages we present a few ideas that are simple and effective, and quite obvious once you see them.

Read the full article in ReNew 134.

PV panels - pvcycle

A recycling round-up

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Lance Turner considers the evolving recycling options for some of the common technologies in households: solar panels, lights and batteries.

Solar panel recycling
Up until recently there have been no official schemes for recycling solar panels in Australia. However, as the number of broken and otherwise failed panels begins to grow, so has the need for recycling.


But how much solar panel waste is there at present, and what are we looking at down the track when the current explosion of solar panel installations come to the end of their working life?
Although figures are hard to come by, one typical example is that of Japan, which has seen considerable growth in PV installations in recent years. According to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, by 2040 770,000 tonnes of solar panels will need to be recycled. The ministry has stated that, in conjunction with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and industry organisations, it will begin to implement measures for “removal, transportation and processing of solar power generation equipment” before the end of this fiscal year, in March 2016 (from

In Europe, requirements have already been added to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, bringing in a take-back and recycling scheme to deal with solar panel waste. The program, PV Cycle (, provides fixed collection points, collection services for large quantities, and collection via distributors.

The WEEE directive means that solar panel manufacturers not only have to ensure collection and recycling of their products when they have reached their end of life, they will also be required to ensure the financial future of PV waste management.

Looking at Australia, there is currently (as of March 2015) 4.1 GW of installed capacity of solar PV. Assuming around 250 watts per panel (a common size), that’s around 16 million solar panels. With an approximate weight of 18 kg per panel, you are looking at 288,000 tonnes of solar panels, or around 11,500 tonnes per year (assuming a lifespan of 25 years) needing to be recycled. Of course, many PV panels will have a greater lifespan, while other, lesser quality panels will die sooner, so these figures are really just ballpark.

Regardless, that’s a great deal of materials needing to be recycled, most of which is glass, silicon cells (a glass-like material) and aluminium.
Aluminium framing is easily recycled in existing aluminium smelters. However, without a system of collection, transportation and dismantling of solar panels, these materials are currently going to waste, usually ending up in landfill.

Read the full article in ReNew 133.

container parents retreat

Storage, study, sleeping: Container convert

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Tammi Jonas is definitely a convert to container homes. Motivated by reuse and sustainability, their light-filled container conversion has also proved a joy to live in. Here she describes the conversion process.

In May 2011, we had a moving/storage/accommodation challenge. We needed to move all our material trappings from Melbourne up to our new farm near Daylesford, but store them for four months while we traipsed across America, and then accommodate our growing (vertically, not numerically) family in a small three-bedroom house on the farm. The obvious solution was a shipping container for all three jobs.


That’s how we came to buy a used high-top 40-foot (12 m x 2.4 m, 2.9 m high) container (from eBay) rather than simply hiring one to do our move. It cost us $2500, plus $500 to get it delivered to us in the suburbs and then hauled up to Daylesford.

The day the container arrived, we watched in trepidation lest the truck’s cranes broke the low wires overhead. Then we filled it up, to the top, grateful we would have an enormous shed at the other end to supplement our new little house.

Our intrepid truckie, Bluey, arrived to collect the now-heavy container, and drove it through the rain and up our slippery, narrow driveway onto the farm. I held my breath the entire time, certain there was a very expensive towing bill in our near future. But Bluey was amazing, and our life’s treasures were planted carefully in front of the shed to wait out the winter while we gallivanted off to a life-changing northern summer.

A full season later, we returned to commence our new life as farmers. Our design for the interior of the container was inspired by the RockVan (a 1977 GMC motorhome) we’d used on our holiday in the USA. The RockVan has terrarium-like windows that made us feel constantly connected to the outside world. I wanted my bed’s placement to replicate the RockVan pleasure of waking to the gentle visage of trees and sky.

I had imagined cranes and costs and the stress of working with contractors to move the container into position as our new bedroom/office with ensuite, but my partner Stuart had better ideas. All we had to buy were some pine fence posts, which we needed anyway for, well, fencing, and borrow Stuart’s folks’ 4WD.

Stuart dragged the container into place, using eight round fence posts as rollers. In total, he had to move it about 50 metres, and 90 degrees. He then jacked it up and put pad footings with brick piers under each corner.

The building commenced in earnest then, with the roof we pulled off the house’s superfluous, low carport becoming a feature on the container—and reducing the heat load on its roof.

Stuart bought double-glazed, aluminium-framed windows and doors direct from China, for both this and a second guest container. The windows in fact arrived in the soon-to-be guest container! The total cost was around $5500, including delivery, of which about $3500 was for the container.

Dealing directly with Chinese suppliers meant the windows were much cheaper, but it can be tricky, as quality can vary and the logistics require a lot of knowledge and time. However, Stuart already had 10 years experience dealing directly with Chinese companies, so for us this went smoothly.

Read the full article in ReNew 133.

Collecting Rubbish in West Java

Peak plastic: The proliferation of plastic

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Dorothy Broom tells a personal story of the history and sociology of consumer plastics. She is 70 years old; her lifespan encompasses the development and proliferation of petroleum-based consumer plastics.

MY training is in social science, not natural science or chemistry, so I won’t try to tell you anything about marine biology, biodegradation versus photo-degradation, how big the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become, or why we have minute plastic beads in toothpaste and face wash.


When I was a child, we had practically no modern plastics—certainly no single-use plastics. I remember food packed in plant-based cellophane, waxed (not plastic-coated) paper, alfoil, glass and cardboard. Grocery bags were paper. Food and beverage containers were returned and refilled, including the metal pie plates from the local bakery. Drinking straws were glass, metal or cardboard. Take-away drinks were sold in glass bottles or metal cans or cardboard cups with no lid. I remember getting my first few plastic bags in the 1960s which were scarce and robust so we washed and dried them so they could be reused. Cling wrap was around, but it was an expensive luxury. If anybody was concerned about pollution or harm from plastics, I didn’t know about it.

By the late 1960s there was an awareness of air and water contamination. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I knew about air pollution from personal experience. Rivers in industrial areas were catching fire. After university, I read books such as The Population Bomb (1968) and Limits to Growth (1972) and began to worry about what we humans were doing to the planet. I joined small, grassroots community organisations which lobbied for environmental protection, retaining deposits on beverage containers and municipal recycling. One group took a field trip to the local tip. It was deeply disturbing to see the astonishing quantity of potentially useful material being discarded by a university town of only 30,000.

My activism on environmental issues continued after migrating to Australia in 1971. I was part of a team that prepared a research paper on beverage containers for a parliamentary inquiry. I sewed calico bags for friends and was naïve enough to think that threats to the environment were the result of ignorance. I thought that when the potential hazards were documented and better known the problems would disappear. The task was to raise consciousness. For me, plastics remained an occasional convenience but were not yet on my radar as a particular concern.

Around the 1990s I noticed that plastic was everywhere, including in a lot of places it didn’t belong such as waterways, around the necks of sea turtles and in the gullets of pelicans. Always a lover of the ocean and its inhabitants, I found the images of dead and suffering marine life enormously distressing. Efforts to ban plastic six-pack rings (seen to be a significant culprit) provoked push back from the plastics and packaging industries.

Read the full article in ReNew 133.

Ghanians working at an e-waste dump in Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana.

A toxic legacy

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Mountains of e-waste continue to grow, and much of it is still ending up in landfill. Kirsten Tsan looks at what’s happening here to address the problem.

Australians are among the most prolific technology users today—and some of the most wasteful. From 2007 to 2008, an estimated 15.7 million computers reached their ‘end-of-life’ in Australia, but only 1.5 million were recycled. The rest went to landfill.
E-waste is any electronic equipment that requires electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to function that has reached the end of its useful life. Up to 2011, we were sending over 90% of our e-waste to landfill, endangering not only the environment, but ourselves; computers and televisions contain materials that are hazardous to humans, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and zinc.


Worse, we were wasting the materials in this electronic junk—the majority of which could be fully recycled and used in other products. To give an example: the amount of gold recovered from a tonne of electronic scrap from PCs is more than can be recovered from seventeen tonnes of gold ore! These valuable and non-renewable resources are lost when they are thrown into landfill, and so are the resources that were used to make them, like water and oil.

National recycling scheme

To address these issues, in 2011 the federal government launched the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) under the Product Stewardship Act. The scheme states that the companies and businesses making computers and televisions are also, to a certain extent, responsible for funding their product’s recycling programs around Australia.

The NTCRS is a stepped implementation and will take place over a number of years. It started in 2012–2013, with the aim that industry would take responsibility for 30% of the collection and recycling of their products. The ultimate goal? By 2021–2022, industry will have taken 80% of the responsibility for the recycling of computers and televisions.

Before the NTCRS was launched, a 2010 report stated that industry funded 17% of the recycling for that year. In the first year of the scheme (2012–2013), a total of 40,813 tonnes were recycled by industry—98.8% of the scheme target and almost double the estimated levels of recycling prior to the introduction of the NTCRS.  In the latest report (2013–2014), out of 131,607 computers and televisions that reached their ‘end-of-life’ in Australia, industry was required to fulfil a 33% target (43,430 tonnes). By the end of the year, industry recycled 52,736 tonnes, which was 7% over the scheme target, and 40% of the total recycling that year—a marked improvement. Liable parties—the companies within the television and computer industry—were also reported by the Department of the Environment to have mostly complied with the scheme, with an impressive 99.2% complying in proportion to the weight of liable imports.

Read the full article in ReNew 133.

Burning wire

Keeping electronics out of landfill

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Jeff Angel, executive director of the Total Environment Centre, describes the complicated process of getting e-waste recycling happening in Australia.


We can see the discarded TVs and PCs on the verge and we know there are lots of old computers and monitors at the back of the office along with retired mobile phones in the drawer. And there are millions of batteries in consumer products. We know they contain important resources such as rare earth minerals and that the plastic, lead and glass can be recycled. Yet there are over 230 million electronic items in or on their way to Australian landfills. So how do we stop this mountain of waste?

Until recently Australia did little to recycle e-waste—the bigger items and their peripherals. There were voluntary schemes where you had to pay when you got to the collection centre. Some councils began drop-off days—and the flood of materials was astounding. Developing producer responsibility in Australia has been slow, with tepid approaches endorsed by bureaucrats and industry, and feel-good media releases from ministers wanting to appear to be doing something.

A complication has been the desire to have a national regime rather than starting off independently at the state level. The force of federalism is strong despite several states such as NSW having strong product stewardship laws and promising action. Consequently, environment ministers met interminably—discussing proposals for studies, receiving reports on trials, issuing communiques.

This was the policy landscape for e-waste during the early 2000s. However, a campaign by the Total Environment Centre and Environment Victoria over seven years finally brought the issue to a crunch point.

Initially, industry was resistant—some didn’t like green regulation and some wanted to protect the market differentiation they gained from brand-based recycling schemes. An understandable requirement of industry associations is that there should be no free-riders; otherwise, those that are participating, with a cost burden, believe they are at a competitive disadvantage to non-participants. There is also the usual opposition to adding a (small) additional cost into the price of products to cover the recycling program.

A combination of media and public information programs by environment groups, actions outside recalcitrant departmental offices, the use of social media to lobby ministers, as well as the release of recycling plans based on successful overseas models, eventually brought the problem to a decision point.

Read the full article in ReNew 123

cleaning bricks

Finders keepers: the whys and hows of reuse

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Walking into the Hobart tip shop shows you just how much stuff can be salvaged from what people throw out. Stacked up outside are piles of metal roofing, timber and windows. A quick search around the tip shop reveals light fittings, carpets, tiles and more.


Finding and using second-hand materials can get addictive. Perhaps it’s the thrill of the chase for a beautiful or functional material or maybe it’s the heroic feel of wresting something from landfill. Whatever the appeal, using second-hand building materials is rewarding, and when you reuse, you’re not only saving materials from ending up as rubbish, you’re also saving energy and emissions. And it’s fun, unexpected and creative—what’s not to love?

In Australia, building materials make up about half of all the materials that we consume. The embodied energy and wastage associated with this consumption is enormous. Your Home Technical Manual explains embodied energy as the measure of the energy used in the mining, manufacture and transport of a material. The energy embodied in the current buildings in Australia is equal to ten years of the nation’s energy consumption.* Reusing building materials rather than using new materials will reduce the embodied energy of a house by up to 95%.

Reuse is the process of lengthening the life of an item by using it again. Reuse centres are packed to the rafters with timber, windows, doors, tiling, roofing and more.

Recycling reprocesses a material to become a raw material once again, a process that requires fossil fuels, water and other resources. Building materials that include a proportion of recycled materials include plasterboard, carpet, bricks and concrete.

To the landfill rescue
With the consumption of building materials comes the production of waste, and the Australian government website Living Greener notes that building materials make up 40% of our landfill mass.

The Hobart tip shop salvages over two tonnes of reusable goods and recyclable material directly from the tip-face each day. On top of this, they started a demolition company four years ago that diverts building materials to be reused or recycled before they even get to the tip-face.

Read the full article in ReNew 122.

Skinners Adventure Playground South Melbourne

Shipping container homes

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From pop-up shopping malls to low-cost housing, shipping container construction offers creative and energy efficient possibilities, writes Kathryn Kernohan.


More than 420 million shipping containers set sail each year, criss-crossing the globe as they transport goods from port to port on ships the size of small countries.

But with little financial incentive for empty containers to be returned to their origin, many inventive businesses and architects are finding ways to recycle and reuse them. The idea makes sense on several levels—shipping containers are cheap, easily transported and provide a blank canvas for creativity.

Keeping business contained
From a business perspective, opening shop in a converted shipping container provides a clear point of difference to the usual high street stores.

East London is home to Boxpark, an eco-friendly shopping mall constructed of 61 shipping containers. Dubbed the world’s first pop-up shopping mall, the moveable centre opened in late 2011 on a five-year lease. Its thickly insulated walls mean air conditioning is not required, and the entire centre was assembled on site, eliminating unnecessary waste.

Accessory manufacturer Freitag—well known for making bags from recycled truck tarps—implemented its environmental ethos in its flagship store in Switzerland, made of 17 reclaimed shipping containers stacked 26 metres high.

Closer to home, trendy Melbourne bar Section 8 sits in two containers in a quiet city laneway.

Self-contained and portable
The ever-constant search for affordable and sustainable housing has led to a spike in the number of Australians working with the form.

Read the full article in ReNew 122.


Earthships downunder

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In ReNew 122, Martin Freney presented his research on the performance of earthships. Here, he provides additional information on earthship design for Australian and New Zealand conditions, and planning issues.

Download the PDF here.


Or read more on the performance of earthships in ReNew 122.

The RED project: recyling + education

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So much of our waste ends in landfill, and plastics such as shopping, bread and pasta bags are no exceptions. A project called RED aims to turn this waste into recycled furniture and signage and to engage schools and communities along the way.
Recycling education is the focus of the school-based RED project. This project aims to encourage Australian school students to collect and recycle food packaging. The organisation provides education workshops to schools to inspire recycling of plastic bags and other plastics at Replas. These plastics are then turned into outdoor furniture and signage that are sold at a lower cost to participating schools. Visit their website to register your (or your child’s) school.

My computer

DIY: Make that old PC run like new

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Every year, many thousands of computers are replaced by new ones in Australia. But is this really necessary? Lance Turner explains how to make that old PC run like new.

THE BIG problem with so many computers being replaced is that most areas of Australia still don’t have convenient recycling facilities. Sure, councils offer hard waste collection, but most of that goes to landfill. For computers, especially older ones which contain toxic materials such as lead and brominated fire retardants (BFRs), placing them in landfill is about the worst thing that can happen to them, as the toxic materials will eventually leach out and end up in groundwater.


But is it possible to make an older computer run much faster—fast enough to compete with a more modern machine? Provided you’re not into heavy video editing or gaming, the answer is, yes, you can. If you’re like the average person and mostly browse the web, write letters and edit your happy snaps, then an older machine can easily take the place of a newer model. Even for more demanding tasks, an older PC can be made to perform very well.

What slows them down?
Computers get slower for two main reasons.Firstly, the demands on them increase over time. As new versions of software are released with more features, the amount of code in the software and hence the memory it requires to run also increases. Whether it is your operating system or one of your favourite applications, new releases can slowly degrade performance until the computer feels like it’s running at a snail’s pace.

Also, many people have a habit of installing software they simply don’t need. Google, Yahoo and Ask toolbars in browsers and iTunes, Google and Adobe updaters are common forms of this, but there are many others. And what makes things a whole lot worse is that many of these applications will load part or all of themselves when the computer first boots. If you are not using that application, then it is running for no reason and simply sucking up computer resources (memory and processor time) for no reason. The more programs running on your PC at any one time, the slower it runs.

Read the full article in ReNew 120.
tipping 400px

From waste to electricity

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Filling an old open cut mine with Sydney’s garbage is actually better for the environment than dumping it at the tip. Julian Edgar explains why.

When it comes to municipal waste, there are no easy answers. Even with householders diligently sorting their garbage for recyclables and green waste, cities still produce enormous amounts of rubbish that require disposal. The traditional approach has been landfills, where the waste is piled and compacted, over time forming unsightly mountains of dirt-covered garbage. And it’s not just the visual blight that’s associated with traditional landfills: there’s also atmospheric methane emissions and potential toxic leachate to ground and surface waters.


But there is another way.

Woodlawn Bioreactor

It’s not perfect but it’s an option that is better for the environment and can also be used to produce electricity. It’s called a bioreactor and is more than just theory: a bioreactor is currently being used to dispose of 400,000 tonnes per year of Sydney’s garbage.

Located near Goulburn in New South Wales, the Woodlawn Bioreactor is run by Veolia Environmental Services. Based on a disused open cut mine, the 6000 hectare site is currently being used to dispose of municipal waste and generate electricity. Aquaculture and horticulture facilities are in trial phases.

The site was originally a copper, lead and zinc mine with major open-cut and underground mine workings. The mine closed in 1998 and Veolia took over the lease for the site in 2004. In addition to the workings, the site is extensively degraded with large tailings dams and unvegetated areas that once housed crushers and other industrial facilities. The underground shafts are abandoned but the huge 25 million cubic metre open-cut pit is being used as the new rubbish repository.

But how does the garbage get to the Woodlawn site, 250 kilometres from Sydney? The major transport component is by train. The garbage is compacted into purpose-built shipping containers at Clyde Transfer Terminal in Sydney. Each container takes the equivalent of three garbage trucks of material. The containers are then placed on railway wagons—no less than 56 of them carrying 1500 tonnes of waste per train.

The train, hauled by three diesel locomotives, leaves Sydney early each week-day morning, arriving at the Crisps Creek Intermodal Transfer Station, near the hamlet of Tarago, at 6am. At the transfer station, built specifically for the bioreactor, large forklifts place the containers on trucks that transport the garbage to the bioreactor, about 10 kilometres away.

Read the full article in ReNew 114


Join the freecycling sharehood

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Meet the organisations that give a second life to stuff destined for landfill, bringing the community together at the same time. Kate Allsopp reports.

A key tenet of a sustainable future is a reduction in consumption. The western world consumes too much, and if the developing world consumed at the same rate we would be in real trouble. So how do we go about reducing our consumption without impacting too much on our quality of life? Some new online-based initiatives can help us in our quest to consume less and live more sustainably. One was born and developed in Australia, while the other is a product of the United States. Both show how a good idea, some hard work and the internet can make an impact towards improving our sustainability.


Imagine you live in a rental property with no lawn except the nature strip. You don’t own a lawn mower and can’t see yourself ever buying one. So what’s the best way to solve the dilemma of an overgrown lawn? Well Theo Kitchener had a similar problem—he didn’t own a washing machine. On the way to the local laundromat in Melbourne he wondered how many of the houses he passed would have a washing machine they would be happy to lend him. He set about letterboxing his local area to see if there was any interest in a local sharing network. He developed a website and The Sharehood was born. Theo’s solution means there is an easy solution to my lawn mower problem. I recently joined my local Sharehood at to see what’s on offer.

Sharehood started in Australia over two years ago, is slowing spreading worldwide and is proving to be a great way to access goods and services while helping to build a local community spirit. There is even a thriving Sharehood in Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Sharing resources means less production, packaging, waste and transportation, resulting in less greenhouse gases produced and less landfill.

To learn more about this initiative I spoke to Michael Green, Sharehood volunteer and a founding member of his active and happening local Sharehood. Michael explained that The Sharehood has two main aims; building community and reducing consumption. It almost gives you an excuse to get to know your neighbours, and many benefits can flow from this. As Michael says: “Having a sense of belonging to the place where you live is profound—it can have a big impact on wellbeing”. His local share-hood holds regular events such as movie nights (where they set up a projector in a park for their own moonlight cinema), soccer games and, of course, sharing of resources.

Read the full article in ReNew 115

From church to solar home

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Alec Taylor explains how he did up a 100-year-old church with an off-grid solar power system bought in India, recycling it into a new dwelling.

The Bates Memorial Church was originally opened in March 1908 in a small Queensland country town called Lakeside/Mungore Creek, with the original furnishings provided by the settlers of that time.


For reasons I am unsure about, the church was moved in 1941 or 1942 by bullock dray to a small timber town called Brooweena, where it served as a Methodist church and the main place of worship. When the timber in the area began to deplete and there were only two parishioners left, the church was sold for removal and became part of Utopia Environmental Reserve, where it was used as a residence. The new owner carried out some minor alterations to the altar area which became a very basic kitchen and added a half-finished mezzanine floor above the kitchen area.

When we first looked at the church back in 2001 we realised it was going to take a lot of work, dedication and cash to get it to how we wanted it to be. One of the first hurdles we had to overcome was electricity as there was none connected and the nearest grid mains supply was about six kilometres away. As some of the other residences on the reserve had solar power, it became obvious that was the only way to go.

One of the first tasks was the installation of a dam on the three hectare site. In hindsight it was a great decision as it is now used for watering the garden and ensuring the veggie garden keeps producing, with lots of capacity to spare. Later we installed a solar pump on the dam to push the water up to a tank at the rear of the church. This was powered by a 12 volt pressure pump, the same as the ones used in yachts and other small boats. It did not deliver huge volumes of water but it was constant so long as the sun was shining. The overall setup was powered by two smaller solar panels with the use of a 12 amp maximiser kit—a great investment as it eliminated the need for batteries.

A new job meant I had to work overseas, so we closed up the place and headed off, dreaming of our new purchase and making plans for the refurbishment. On one of our annual leave return trips we decided to complete the mezzanine floor, which would eventually become our bedroom, and install a stair case which I purchased in kit form from a South Australian company.

Solar from India

We purchased our solar power system while living in India on a two-year work assignment. I wanted to purchase a system that would comfortably cover just about all the needs of a normal house, so I eventually purchased a system that was capable of a 3.6kW output. The system included fourteen 114 watt panels, a charge controller and a Latronics inverter. At the time, the Indian government had little or no sales tax on solar power equipment to encourage people to purchase systems, as their power generating infrastructure was inadequate to cope with the demand on the grid. We put our new solar system into storage for eighteen months until I came home to retire in March 2008.

Read the full article in ReNew 115
TV in grass

Reuse your television competition

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What to do with e-waste? ReNew magazine welcomes your big ideas!

WIN $200 worth of sustainable products from Enviroshop


As we prepare to switch to digital television in the next few years, televisions are popping up on nature strips across the country, ready for someone to take them away. Sadly, a lot of these boxes end up in landfill, leaching polluting metals and toxins.

Send us your ideas, realistic or completely mad, for reusing these old idiot boxes. Describe in 100 words or less what an old television can be recycled into for the good of the planet: the main aims are to keep it out of landfill and to be something fun, useful or completely ridiculous. Ideas for what to do with particular parts are welcome too.

Entries close May 1, 2011, so email your ideas now to
Diagrams or photos at high resolution 250 dpi are welcome
The winning entry receives a $200 gift voucher from Enviroshop!

Yarra Road Primary School’s cubby house includes natural ventilation, rainwater tank and solar panels. It was exhibited at the Sustainable Living Festival.

Welcome to the eco-cubby

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It’s best to start early, and small, when it comes to (play) house design, writes Jacinta Cleary.

The pre-design phase of any new home should be extensive. Research on building materials is carried out, those new to sustainable design will bury themselves in books and magazines, drawings are made, and maybe even a model of the dwelling. Of course, a lot of these stages are skipped today, but at least some school children will be able to tell when you’re cutting corners.


When Professor Rob Adams, Director of City Design for the City of Melbourne, won a prize several years ago, he wanted the money to go towards a new interactive architecture project. Regional Arts Victoria, in collaboration with the City of Melbourne’s ArtPlay team, had an idea that triggered Adams’ imagination, one that could teach children the fundamentals of sustainability.

Eco-Cubby, now in its third year, teams architects with primary schools to plan a cubby house together. Adams says Eco-Cubby’s charm is in the hands-on learning process: “It’s about communication, working together, mathematics—what’s soft and bends, what’s hard and doesn’t.”

There’s an agenda here, after all, cubby houses have traditionally been places of play, not formal education, with the biggest reference to sustainability being the hard rubbish collection that the materials were collected from. However, incorporating smart cubby house design into the school curriculum is an interactive way to teach the basics of passive solar design and, from the look of it, is lots of fun.

Architect and school

Architect Lisa Brennan worked with grade four students at Yarra Road Primary School last year. Accustomed to working in her own practice and as a lecturer at Melbourne University, this was the first time her expertise was brought to younger students. The school was already advanced in environmental education, and cubby house design, with a treed area called the Sanctuary being a place for students to build their own cubby houses with found objects such as branches, rocks or discarded timber. The first class involved Lisa watching how the children play in the Sanctuary, where they have their own currency, trading in gum nuts.

Next, Lisa and the students pondered big questions such as where to locate the cubby? How to build it? And who will use it? Four possible sites were selected with students assessing each one according to size, view, northern orientation, current use, whether it is flat or sloped, treed, and a general feeling as to whether that site was where they’d want their cubby house.

A tranquil spot called the frog bog was selected over others such as the basketball court and oval. Over around a dozen sessions, Lisa and the students measured the area, drew a site plan, and discussed and workshopped ideas on sustainability and design including features that their cubby would include, building materials, and how to build the final design.

Students split into four groups to translate their drawings and ideas into a model; one to build the model, one for environmental considerations, another group to make the plasticine people that would be included in the model, and the final group to document the project.
The final dream cubby house model looks ideally suited to outdoor living, with lots of open windows and garden play area. The rainwater tank is made from a box and the pipe going from the roof to the tank is a drinking straw. Importantly the roof is sloping to ensure the solar panels get a good hit of sunshine every day. The plasticine people are made to scale and dressed in purple to replicate the student’s uniform.

Eco-cubby at festival

Models from last year’s participating schools were exhibited at ArtPlay in Melbourne as part of the Sustainable Living Festival in February. Geelong East Primary School added a wind turbine to their cubby house, while the water conservation message has remained strong post-drought, with all models including rainwater tanks; one of the more imaginative tanks was made from an old plastic wine glass more commonly used at picnics.

Geelong East Primary School noted that they learnt about renewable versus non-renewable energy sources, climate conditions, passive heating and cooling and orientation. Their clever design includes a main structure which is the winter cubby, where it’s warmer inside thanks to thermal mass capturing the sun. Underneath, accessed by ladders, is the shaded summer cubby, a place benefited by cooling breezes.

Hard to build
These imaginative models are one step from reality though: the building process. Regional Arts Victoria’s Emily Atkins says that only two cubby houses have been built, with the  emphasis being on the design and learning phase rather than a finished structure. While the backyard cubby house is relatively cheap to build, especially when out of the eye of authorities, these Eco-Cubby designs are subject to more stringent assessments when built at schools. “Surveying and building costs can be as much as $40,000,” she says, with the main expense being surveying.

Understandably, to build one of these dream cubbies requires some serious fundraising, often beyond what a cake or plant stall can deliver. The University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre opened their Eco-Cubby last spring, a recycled timber and mud brick structure that hit a bureaucratic snag or two during the building process. The kindergarten students made their own mud bricks with their parents, only to be told that the mud bricks were an irregular size, and couldn’t be used to build. Pre-made mud bricks were bought (which apparently weren’t that much different in size) and the old mud bricks used in the garden instead. The second cubby house, a chook shed cubby, is at Barham Primary School near Kerang, with plans for another at the Olive Phillips Kindergarten this year.

Emily says the results with just paper, cardboard, tins and pipe cleaners have been abstract enough. “They’ve displayed amazing ideas, especially in regards to sustainability.” She says that hearing kids say ‘it has to face north so that it warms the house and that’s passive ecology’ is proof enough of the program’s success.

A new batch of schools have embarked on their Eco-Cubby this year. Follow their progress at
Haase maize anaerobic digester Author: Alex Marshall, Clarke Energy Ltd October 2007

More aerobic ways to farm

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Like it or not, livestock farming continues to grow. Alisa Bryce explains how anaerobic digesters could help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

When we think green house gases we think global warming. The words global warming and climate change often conjure up images of smoggy filled cities crammed with exhaust emitting cars. Whilst there is truth to the impact of modern life on the climate, there are also seemingly innocent sources of emissions.


Agriculture is one such example. Agriculture contributes 16% of Australia’s gas emissions, second only to the energy sector (75%). Of this 16%, livestock contribute to about 70% of Australia’s agricultural emissions. The predominant livestock emissions are enteric fermentation (fermentation that takes place in the digestive system of ruminants) and manure.

Between 1990 and 2007, livestock related emissions declined by 7.5%. This reduction was predominantly a function of changes in stock numbers due to the fluctuating market, rather than smarter farming techniques to reduce emissions. Therefore, an upward trend in the ruminant industry is likely to increase the number of animals, and hence emissions.

To support world populations, the agricultural industry will continue to grow. And as such, emissions are expected in increase. Although Australia’s population is declining, other populations such as China, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates are expanding. And it is these countries which buy our produce. Whilst agriculture in Australia only accounts for 3% of the GDP, agriculture accounted for 35% of Australia’s merchandise exports from 2004 to 2008, compared to imports a fifth of this value.

Smarter farming
Increasing agricultural production doesn’t necessarily mean clearing more land for farming, but smarter farming techniques. Maximising production, increasing yield and above all, sustainable agriculture. Sustainable farming has been, in some minor form, a part of agriculture since agricultural practices began. The technique of inter-cropping to stave off weeds and pests was at the forefront of native American agriculture. Yet the importance of the techniques and intense research have only been the focus for the last 30 or so years.

Today, common and simple measures such as fallow stages, crop rotation, planting of leguminous crops, no-till farming, retention of native vegetation, water use efficiency and stubble retention are widely adopted practices halting the demise of the already degraded Australian land. These initiatives are, for the most part, easily adopted with little cost to the producer.
But there are newer technologies making their way onto the world’s technology carpet.

Anaerobic digestion is just one example. Anaerobic digesters essentially work by reducing waste to gas, solids and liquid stream. During  anaerobic digestion, aerobic micro-organisms ferment biodegradable matter to a variety of usable products, the most popular the biogas mixture of methane and carbon dioxide.

The use of this technology is becoming more popular, particularly in the United States and Europe, where below freezing temperatures cause a sizeable electricity bill. With the ability to not only produce their own heat and power, but to also sell excess power back to the electricity company, anaerobic digesters are gaining considerable favour.

The beauty of the process is that each of the by-products can be utilised in some way. Biosolids can be used for bedding or as a soil amendment, and the liquid stream as a fertiliser or if treated, for animal consumption. As the process removes the odour from the waste, the solids and liquid stream can be spread during the warmer summer months without the resulting unpleasant smells. Finally, if production is on a large enough scale, the process can provide enough biogas power to run the property. In the case of excess, this can be sold back to the power company for a profit.

The biogas produced offsets carbon dioxide emissions by displacing fossil fuel combustion i.e. reducing the dependence on fossil fuel for energy. As with any alternate energy, anaerobic digestion reduces the use of the finite and continually depleting fossil fuel stores.

Berrybank Farm Piggery, Victoria, is home to 15,000 pigs, producing 275,000 liters of sewage effluent each day. After installing a Total Waste Management System in 1989, the farm is now saving $435,000 a year by converting the effluent into biogas and fertiliser.  The process consists of seven steps, from waste collection to biogas conversion to heat and electricity.

Once collected, the waste is subjected to sedimentation to remove grit, thickened, then sent to the primary and secondary digesters. Here the waste is broken down into the gas, liquid and solid forms. Scrubbers, trappers and dehumidifiers then remove sulphur from the biogas, before it can be used for electricity and heat. Through this process, Berrybank Piggery produces a daily output of 2900 kW of electricity, equivalent to $125,000 per year.

An example of outputs and use from anaerobic digestion

Why such a low uptake?

As a seemingly self-sustaining process, the question persists—why doesn’t every ruminant property in the country have a digester? The high initial cost is probably the biggest factor holding back this technology. The capital start up required is close to $400,000, not including the costs of maintenance and general day to day running expenditures. Berrybank Piggery spent $2 million dollars setting up their Total Waste Management System. However the costs can be recovered in as little as five years, providing the scale of operations is large enough.

Risk is the second critical issue with the technology. Biogas produced is typically 40% methane and 60% carbon dioxide, but small amounts of water vapor, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen are also produced. As biogas does not contain any oxygen, asphyxiation is a potential danger, as well as the danger of fire and explosion. The hydrogen sulfide converts to corrosive sulfuric acid at low temperatures, and engines must be designed accordingly to cope. And overall, it’s a biological process. Changes in the system, such as animal feed, can upset the process.

Anaerobic digesters are not suitable for every ruminant enterprise. The system relies on waste being easily available. In intensive enterprises, such as feedlots, where waste is easily collected from the one point source, the labour required to run the digester is minimised. However if the animals are kept across a vast area of land, collation of waste will be labour intensive.

Naturally occuring process

The concept itself is not new. Anaerobic digestion is a process which occurs naturally, and is well known in the bottom of ponds or lagoons. The process has also been used for over a century to process sewage biosolids. As such, anaerobic digestion is not limited to ruminant farm use. Any composting can be essentially utilised for biogas production, from vegetable and wine process, other livestock such as chickens and pigs and municipal waste.

Though relatively unknown now, anaerobic digesters, in some form, are filtering their way into the Australian market. For now, yes, it’s expensive, but the same thing was said about solar panels 40 years ago. Further research and development fine tunes the processes and technology, resulting in a safer, cleaner and often less expensive product.

Alisa Bryce is an Environmental Scientist with the URS Corporation.

A good diet…

There are other methods available to reduce livestock gas emissions, such as controlling diet quality and quantity. The higher the fiber content of the feed, the higher the gas emissions. Cattle grazing low quality pasture are likely to emit higher amounts of methane and cattle on greener higher quality pasture. This highlights the importance of high quality agriculture, and sustainable farming to maintain quality land.


Rubbish free duo return

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ReNew’s rubbish free duo are back writes Sarah Dailey, this time with tips on how to do it yourself.


Back in 2008 we chronicled the efforts of a New Zealand couple who managed to go an entire year without producing any more than a few fistfuls of rubbish (see ReNew 103). It was no mean feat and after a frugal year of making their own well, everything, the couple were escalated to expert heights of self-sufficiency.

After 365 long days of growing their own food, baking their own muesli bars, mixing their own toothpaste and generally avoiding everything that comes wrapped in anything not recyclable or compostable, the couple have become rubbish-free enthusiasts to this day.

Lucky for us, Matthew and Waveney have created a personal website to share all their savvy tips on just how they did it, and continue to do it still! If you’re feeling a little guilty about all those disposable water bottles and plastic shopping bags, their website is certainly worth a look-in. has an A – Z index of common household products, and offers handy solutions on how to avoid the packaging associated with them. And they really have thought of everything, from replacements to all that Blu-Tac destined for landfill, to the best places to buy eco-friendly deodorant and even explaining how the most avid potato chip addicts can satisfy their foil-wrapped cravings!

Matthew and Waveney love people asking them tricky questions and handle them with the utmost wit and decorum, even offering rubbish-free solutions for the slightly more fraught with complications areas of contraception and toilet paper. It really makes for an interesting read!

Also on the website is an online store where you can order some nifty things like environmental toothbrushes and biodegradable dental floss. Simple solutions to help all of us achieve a life with less rubbish in it!