Strategies for minimising your footprint
A sustainable home and community is one which supports itself and its surroundings. It is the practice of reducing our impact on the earth’s natural resources, reducing our carbon footprint and living healthier lives. Although we’ve made great improvements in our waste disposal habits over recent years, there are still lots of ways we can do more.
Of the 2.7 tonnes per capita of waste generated in Australia each year, over half (1.4 tonnes) is generated from municipal or construction/demolition sources. Although recycling rates have continued to increase, our rising population and single use/throwaway culture mean more and more material is being sent to landfill. Exacerbating this problem, as of 1 January, 2018 China has stopped taking much of Australia’s recyclable plastics, causing many to declare Australia’s recycling industry in crisis.
Home remodeling and construction can be one of the biggest contributions we will make in our lifetime to the waste stream. Much of this waste can be avoided by on-site reuse, re-sale or reprocessing of materials.
In every aspect of our lives we need to rethink our relationship with stuff, and always think of the four Rs: refuse (single use or throwaway items), reduce (the items you consume), reuse (items you own or buy used items) and recycle (think about the end of life of anything you consume).
There are many reasons to recycle your household waste: recycling reduces the amount of raw materials and natural resources needed for new packaging and products, saves water and energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces landfill and creates jobs.
Although many things in your home are recyclable, recycling facilities may not be available, either kerbside or elsewhere, in your area.
And, recycling is important, but how we recycle is equally important. The adage “when in doubt, throw it out” exists because putting the wrong thing in recycling bins can contaminate the stream, causing many recyclable items to be diverted to landfill.
Recycling rules change, and each council has different rules, so it is a good practice to check your local council’s website often and familiarise yourself with what can be collected kerbside, or what can be accepted at nearby transfer stations, or other collection points.
Each state and territory (except NT) also provides resources about waste reduction and recycling: ACT, NSW, SA, TAS, VIC, WA
Another good resource is Planet Ark’s RecyclingNearYou website, which provides information on most household goods, with collection locations by postcode.
Build without skip bins
Owner-builder Greg O’Byrne found he could all but eliminate landfill and even went without a skip bin when constructing his sustainable home.Read more
Construction waste: Low hanging fruit
Stripping buildings of their reuse components before they are demolished can reduce demand for new materials.Read more
A Sydney semi is renovated using a palette of sustainably sourced materials and bricks and timber salvaged from the original house.Read more
From earth, cans and tyres: Earthship Ironbark
It took a few years, but Australia's first permitted earthship has set sail in its new life as B&B accommodation, and as a living laboratory. Owner-builder Martin Freney describes the voyage so far.Read more
PV recycling – Where do all the panels go?
What do you do when a panel comes to the end of its useful life? Moreover, what do you do with billions of them?Read more
Recycling analysis – Options for lithium batteries
In a research study at ANU, Matthew Doolan and Anna Boyden considered the full life cycle of lithium ion batteries and their recycling options to assess environmental pluses and minuses. They present a summary here.Read more
Howe it’s done – Waste not, want not
Don Batson and Sophie Liu’s dream holiday on Lord Howe Island included a tour of the waste management facility. They describe the amazing work done to reduce waste on this pristine island.Read more
Material benefit: Specifying eco building products
Vetting the green credentials of building products is difficult for everyone. We find out how the experts go about this tricky task.Read more
Mottainai vs methane – The case for textile recycling
Sarah Coles explores the environmental and social benefits of diverting textiles from the waste stream.Read more
Downsize by design
Downsizing can be an emotional as well as logistical challenge, but such a mega transition can be made easier when the new home is designed to last a lifetime.Read more
Made of strawbale, recycled tyres and earth, this owner-builder project has paved the way to a whole new career.Read more
Salvage it: Top ten waste items to recover
Julian Edgar names his ten favourite parts to recover from waste items.Read more
The too-hard bin
Rechargeable lithium batteries are critical for our modern world, but they do have a somewhat variable safety history. Lance Turner looks at the issues and what to do about them.Read more
Eco-concrete case studies
Adored for its thermal mass benefits and durability, concrete remains one of the most popular building materials in the world, but its shockingly high embodied carbon footprint cannot be ignored. Luckily, there are now a number of greener alternatives available. Jacinta Cleary examines how they have performed in three different homes.Read more
Sustainability in the mix: The latest in eco-concrete
Concrete is a beloved building material for its thermal mass benefits, versatility, strength and durability, yet comes at the cost of shockingly high embodied carbon. Happily, more environmentally friendly mixes are coming online. Experienced sustainable designer Dick Clarke looks at the problem and some of the latest solutions.Read more