Monday, 21 May 2012

And the winner is....


Yup, we won a brand new Daikin heat pump thanks to More FM and Coldrite.  They'll be giving us a call today to organised getting it installed - perfect timing too as the weather has started to get really cold now.

We're very excited, but best of all was that we really enjoyed the challenge to change our behaviour and researching new ways to be more sustainable.  Thanks for all your support!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

This is the end, my friend.

Well, perhaps the end of the beginning, if that makes any sense at all.

Today the judges are coming to meet us at home and have a look at our recycling habits and complete a survey - about what exactly I'm not sure!

Over the 5 days of Living Green, we used an average of 11.4 kWH electricity per day.  According to the Ministry of Economic Development the average household use in NZ is 22.3 kWH per day, so we managed to use half.  I'm pretty happy with that, especially as I always wanted this to be about sustainable behaviour change, so we didn't stop using electricity - we were just more careful about it.

The winter veges are planted, the rainwater collection tank is hooked up and we wait to hear how we've gone.

The things I missed most last week were: Not much really!  I did miss my weekly soak in a hot bath, and the guilty pleasure that is Shortland Street, but apart from that I was pleasantly surprised.  And I'm pleased to say we will definitely be continuing many of our new behaviours well into the future.

Waggs and Amy will be calling the winner at 7:40am tomorrow, so please keep everything crossed for us!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

It's not easy being green...

Kermit the frog was wrong.  Well, maybe not completely wrong, but being green doesn't have to be that hard either.  We've been making an extra effort this week for sure, but for me it was always about sustainable behaviour change - not one extreme week that made others think how terribly hard it was to love our planet and conserve resources.

We couldn't go without power - Mr 2's room needs heating at night and electricity is currently our only option for that; we needed to cook and I think our electricity is "greener" than using gas.  We also need hot water - my staff and clients are unlikely to be impressed if I stopped showering.  Vehicle use was necessary at times too.

I set a goal at the beginning of this challenge to produce no more than a supermarket bag full of rubbish - and we did it!  It was actually more like HALF a small bag, and it was so light that it didn't even register on my scales.
Usually in a week we'd fill both these bins - one with recycling and one with landfill waste - but what you see sitting on top is all we produced in the last 5 days!

Mr Neats has come up with a cunning plan today - he's going to rig a rainwater collection system by placing a 200L drum under a downpipe.  Obviously in winter this water won't be needed for the gardens, but we plan to use it for washing the car and other jobs.

Making a cup of coffee this morning reminded me that we always try to buy Fair Trade products where possible, and this week is actually part of Fair Trade Fortnight where people are encouraged to take part in Oxfam's Biggest Coffee Break which raises awareness and funds for their work towards a fairer and more sustainable world.  It sounds silly, but my coffee always tastes better when I know it's farmed sustainably.  You can look for certification on all sorts of products - All Good Bananas are another example.  See what else you can find.

On my way to collect our office mail this morning I realised I haven't mentioned walking yet.  Walking is a sustainable form of transport as well as being good for body and soul, and whenever we go for a walk it always makes me sad to see how much litter is discarded in our streets.  So I pick it up and put it in the nearest bin (or take it home for the recycling).  Mr 2 now picks up litter wherever we go and puts it in the bin - he's so proud of himself too.

I'll be back tomorrow to update our electricity use, then on Monday the judges are coming to visit and see how green we are around the home.  Meanwhile, keep your fingers (and toes) crossed that they like what we've done!

Today's tips:
Harvest rainwater - easy and free!
Buy Fair Trade
Pick up litter - be a tidy kiwi
Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Green Guilt

Ever had it?  I got green guilt this morning because I had to drive to work.  I really really wanted to bike, but I have been training new staff all day and had a huge amount of material to take to the training venue and it just wasn't going to fit on a bike.  I also got a bit of green guilt last night when I went to a function 25km away, but we managed to minimise by carpooling - 5 of us in a vehicle is certainly less wasteful than meeting everyone there.

Mr Neats got green guilt last night when Mr 2 needed a bath (he's a bit difficult to wash properly in a shower), so his compromise was to join him in the bath - at least if it was going to be run then it was washing more than 1 person!

I think it's important to remember all the good decisions you make and not beat yourself up too much when you can't take the "greener" option.  As long as you're making a good effort and are aware of your impact on the environment, you're probably doing the best you can.  This week for me hasn't been about being "extreme green", but about making some important lifestyle changes that our family can maintain long-term.

Following my thoughts about excess packaging and buying less, last night Mr 2 and I made some muesli bars for our lunch boxes (well, OK, Mr 2 really just "mixed" messily and picked out the yummy bits to taste, but he did have fun).  We did this while Mr Neats was making dinner - then we were all in one room with only one set of lights on.

I mixed 1/2 cup of quick oats with 1/2 a cup of dried fruit, nuts and seeds (cranberries, sesame, pumpkin, cashews, almonds), then heated 1/2 a cup of honey and about 60g of butter on the stove (simmer until it thickens).  Mix the melted ingredients into the dry and then press into a tin or moulds and refrigerate.  The amount produced perfectly filled my Tupperware T-Bar moulds, but you could easily make it in a tray and slice it up.  Just make sure you simmer the honey and butter until it thickens - I was a bit impatient and didn't wait long enough, so my bars are a bit soft (but VERY yummy!).  We all have them in our lunchboxes today (in containers, not wrap - remember we're a gladwrap free family) so I'll be interested to hear how Mr 2 and Mr Neats found theirs.

Mr Neats did some cleaning this morning with our homemade products, and they all worked really well.  I won't see him until tomorrow morning (late shift) so it'll be good to find out what he thought of them.  We have wooden floors in our house, so it's easy to sweep rather than vacuum (saving electricity) and only one rug in the lounge.  I have borrowed an old fashioned carpet sweeper to use on the rug and it brought make memories of my childhood - we had a bright orange one that our wee fox terrier used to hate!  As well as saving electricity, they're a great workout!

When cleaning we also use rags instead of paper towels to reduce waste, and buckets to rinse in rather than running the tap.  Tipping the used water out on the garden prevents it going into the wastewater system and soil is a fabulous natural filtration system - that's how septic tanks work!

We also always wash our cars on the grass - washwater entering the stormwater system off our driveways goes untreated straight into the nearest stream, along with all the dirt, soap and contaminants, but that soil filtration takes care of all those pollutants before the water reaches the underground aquifers.  Actually, that's a wee bit of a lie.  Usually we just don't wash our cars, but when we do it's definitely on the grass.

Tomorrow is the last day of our challenge, and it's gone really quickly.  Too quickly for me to try all of the new things on my green list!  But I'm going to carry on well after this wee adventure is over, whether we win a heatpump or not, and meanwhile we have tomorrow to make the most of!

Today's hints:
Bake for lunches and don't use gladwrap!  Reusable, recyclable containers all the way.
Carpool, bus - there are options other than biking or walking if the weather or distance precludes it.
Where you can't eliminate impact, minimise it - make the most of resources you do have to use - share baths.
Only rain down that stormwater drain - keep pollutants out of outside drains.
Don't beat yourself up when you can't be as "green" as you would like - do the best you can for your situation and we'll all be a lot better off.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

My Butt Hurts

I guess that's what you get when you cycle to work two days in a row after weeks (OK, months) of relative inactivity.  An extra 15 kilos on the bike for part of the journey certainly adds to the workout too!  Excellent - not only am I living greener, I'm burning buttfat as well - yay me!  Mr Neats picked his bike up from the shop last night, so he's biking today as well.  Unfortunately for everyone in this family really cold miserable weather is forecast later today so we may be biking home in the snow!

One of my personal goals for this week of living green was to buy less, so last night I set about making some lunches for the next few days.  (after Mr Neats had cooked us a huge dinner so we could freeze half for later - reheating uses less energy than cooking).  In my cupboards I found some tins of creamed corn and bread, in the fridge were some ham chunks and in the freezer was a lonely sheet of pastry.  With the addition of some free range eggs from the in-laws chickens, I made a batch of mini pies (and a big pie for Mr Neats) that actually turned out OK (those who know me are aware of my shortfalls in the kitchen - I love baking, but am not much chop as a cook).

Mr 2 was pretty happy to pop one in his lunchbox this morning.

While cooking I pondered the energy used in doing so.  When we started this challenge, someone suggested that we do all our cooking on the BBQ to save electricity.  While that would certainly help my meter reading at the end of the challenge to be lower, using gas would be burning fossil fuel so I was a bit confused.

It is better to use gas to cook at home than use electricity generated by burning fossil fuel.  This is because some of the energy is lost through transmission from the power station to your home.  However, most of our electricity in NZ is produced from renewable sources such as hydro schemes and wind farms, so where does that leave us? I decided to use electricity to cook all week, but it's something I'll be doing more research on for sure!

While I was in the kitchen, I thought I'd try some of Wendyl's recipes for cleaning products (you can find them on her website).  I made up some spray cleaner and some hand dishwash liquid which both seemed to work well and smell great!  I'm going to make some laundry liquid too, but just have to wait for my Borax to arrive (I bought it off TradeMe as it was HEAPS cheaper than from the chemist).

This did require a wee bit of shopping during the day for ingredients, and a happy discovery for me - Binn Inn!  I got that enormous container of baking soda for only a couple of dollars, as well as a big jar of glycerine and some neem powder (which I'm going to try for it's medicinal and skincare properties).  You can have your own container filled and a lot of the products work out much cheaper than buying at the supermarket too.  And it's walking distance from my work.  I also checked out our local organic shop, Cornucopia.  I'm tempted to try soap nuts for the laundry and there are all sorts of other wonderful products there too (and a fabulous cafe!).

All this mixing and making made me think a bit more about our shopping habits.  We always try to buy locally produced food, in season.  This means less carbon has been produced in both it's production (heating greenhouses to grow tomatoes in winter etc) and it's transport.  We do usually have bananas in the house, but this week have gone banana free (actually, the banana industry has a lot going on behind the scenes - for an interesting read on this and all sorts of other products we use in our daily lives, I highly recommend reading Confessions of an Eco Sinner - it's written in a way that will make you think, but won't depress you too much).  We also try to support local business - you can't have a healthy environment without a healthy economy and a healthy community, I truly believe the three are dependant on each other and we need ALL to live well.  Some deep thinking going on without the telly!

I have to admit that the house is a bit too quiet without the TV on in the background, so we have been listening to the radio (uses less power at least!), but of course it's only been More FM!

Today's hints:
Shop well - buy local and in bulk, with less packaging and transport involved.  Maybe you could start a collective - swap some of your homegrown veges for eggs from a friend's chooks.
Take packed lunches - in reusable containers not plastic wrap.  If you can't take your own, buy without packaging - I take my own container to get sushi, subway or bakery food and they are all very happy to use it instead of theirs.
Try making your own cleaners - it's fun, cheap and easy!  Wendyl also has ideas for cosmetics and lots more, and I'm sure a hunt around the net would yield lots more great sites.
Think and read about your impact - be aware and try to improve where you can.  But don't beat yourself up too much, if we all do a little it will make a big difference.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Thinking Green

So all the actions of the past couple of days have certainly made Mr Neats and I use our brains a bit differently.  When I got home from work yesterday (he works shifts and was on a day off) he'd been doing a bit of green living too.  He'd checked all the lightbulbs in the house (they are all Compact Flourescents except one, which is in our least used fitting and will be changed to a CFL when it blows), lit the fire to warm the house and put a pot of water on top to see if we could make more use of the heat produced (I used the warm water for Mr 2's nappy changes - we use cloth wipes as well as cloth nappies), boiled the jug once in the morning and put the hot water into thermos flasks to use throughout the day (it was still hot enough for our after work cuppa) and sorted out our bicycles (his to the shop for a minor repair, and mine had tyres and gears checked ready for this morning).  Well done Mr Neats!

Of course, since the effort had been put into getting my bike all in order, I had to ride to work this morning.  Since Mr Neats is on early shift today and started at 7am, this also meant I had to drop Mr 2 at daycare on the way.  He has a groovy little seat (called a Weeride) that fits onto my bike between me and the handlebars and he loves riding with Mummy.  So much so that when I dropped him off this morning he refused to take his helmet off! 
(I'm just posing for a photo here, not riding.  Always wear a cycle helmet - and shoes help too!)

I am now sitting in my office looking out at the rain and hoping it clears before hometime.

With no TV I got thinking about a few other sustainability issues last night too:
  • Driving short trips - we tend to walk or bike, but at night (especially in winter) and when it's wet we still use the cars a lot.  I'd like to cut down, so will be investing in some cycle lights and reflective gear next pay day.  Also planning trips to minimise vehicle use is important.
  • Packaging - since having Mr 2 especially we've become pretty bad at buying packaged convenience foods.  I need to get back to buying in large containers/bulk lots and dividing things up myself.  Saves money and waste to landfill.  We do have reuseable grocery bags, but the fruit and vege section often requires using plastic bags.  I also need to make sure we have mesh or lightweight alternatives.  By the way, if anyone wants to see what really happens to your waste, Hastings District Council often run landfill tours - I really recommend going on one to make you reassess your waste generating habits!
  • Doggy doo - I know, what an unpleasant thing to be thinking about, but we usually pick all this up in a plastic bag and put it in the rubbish bin, so it goes to landfill - yuck!  there has to be a better way.  I found this information from Masterpet, so went hunting a bit more and found this great guide to making your own dog poo composter at home!  Definitely going to give this one a go.
So today's tips:
Grow something!  Veges if you have room, but even a few herbs or some mesclun in a pot is a great start.
Compost - again, a bin if you have room, but try Bokashi if you have limited space - you can put it under the kitchen bench!  Available from the Hastings Environment Centre in Russell Street.
Save power - heat only the room you're in, turn things off at the wall when not in use, set your hot water cylinder at 60 degrees and use thermostats and timers.
Save water - tap off when brushing teeth, showers rather than baths, use greywater or roof runoff for water the garden and washing cars (or just do what I do and don't wash cars).
Reduce waste to landfill - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and rethink!
Mondays are a bit mad in our house.  Not only do they always seem to arrive well before I'm ready to start the next working week, but I also have a regular commitment on Monday evenings that means the end of the day is a rush as well.  Never the less, we managed to achieve a bit of "greening" around the house last night.

On the way home I stopped in at the garden centre and bought some vege seedlings.  Our vege garden is currently an overgrown and neglected jungle, but I am determined that this challenge will be the start of growing at least some of our own food.  I realised we probably didn't have enough time to prepare the ground and get the plants in last night, but at least having them at home meant when we did have time, we also had plants!

We did have enough time to start a compost bin.  I am ashamed to say that despite growing up in suburban NZ I have never had my own compost bin.  When I was young I think Dad had one, but it seemed to me like more of a place to dump lawn clippings and dog poo than a valuable resource.  I also tried Bokashi once, but having no garden to speak of and a dog that was trained to find fruit (he's a retired Biosecurity Detector Dog) it never really came to anything.  So we bought a bin, read the instructions and got started.  The first layers were some well rotted leaf litter from under the trees in the front yard, some shredded paper from my office and our food scraps and tea bags from yesterday.  Mr 2 really enjoyed helping and I'm looking forward to refining my method and reaping the rewards for the vege garden in months to come.

Yes, that's the overgrown vege garden in the background.

That's not all he enjoyed helping with - keeping with the waste reduction theme, we also decided it was time we stopped the amazing amount of junk mail that arrives in our letter box on a daily (or more frequent) basis.

While we were on our sign-making kick we decided to try and save more water too, so Mr 2 helped me make and put up a notice for the toilet.  Yup, it says what you think it does:

This got me thinking about other ways to save water, and as I was about to put a load of washing on I decided to put a bucket under the outlet to collect the water.  I'm going to use it to water my potplants this afternoon.  Since I was getting buckets out I popped on in the bottom of the shower too - this can collect water while we're waiting for it to warm up and I'll use it to flush the toilet.