7 October 2016

The legacy of our pre-zero waste life


We all accumulate "stuff". Some of us more than others. Anyone with a hobby, actually, anyone trying to meet basic needs, will at various times buy, make, inherit, borrow, create, and/or otherwise "get" things. Some of our stuff lasts a lifetime or longer, like great-grandma's ceramic hand mirror, or that wooden heirloom shoehorn, handed down for generations. But the trend towards things not being built to last, the trend towards planned obsolescence - means that things break, lose their function and become waste.

For anyone switching to a low-waste or zero waste lifestyle, there can be the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that you haven't created any new waste in the last week or month or more. But what about all that other stuff that fills your home; belongings from the glory days when ignorance was bliss, when we bought and wasted with reckless abandon and still have a legacy of "stuff" to show for it. What about when our nylon clothes fall apart, when the washing machine breaks, when those "sturdy" plastic storage tubs snap, when the dog chews the elastane out of your slippers, when you find that drawer of old mix tapes that no-one would ever want to hear again? How do we live a zero waste life when we still live in a house containing items from our past that will at some point lose all function and become waste?

Ahh, sweet regret. Why did we say yes to the crappy plastic toys that accompany those McDonalds happy meals for the kids? Why did we buy that plastic weed mat, that seems to attract weeds more than suppress them, only to create a hulking mass of plastic and unwanted plants? Why did we choose the cheaper plastic-handled frypan rather than the long-lasting cast iron one? Such is the benefit of hindsight. We can all lose our minds dwelling on past purchases, on our past adventures in wasteful frivolity. Or, we can be practical and do our best to deal with the mess we've made.

Our family of five have been trying to live without (new) waste for a year now. So far we haven't created enough to fill half a rubbish bin. Leading up to that one year milestone of sorts, we reflected on what waste we still had around the house from the pre-zero waste days. And it actually amounted to quite a lot! We've been in this house for nearly 10 very busy years and raised three children and a menagerie of animals and tried to be resourceful and generally survive through life, all the while accumulating 'stuff' to help us grow and learn and live.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ~ Maya Angelou




We already had a pile of 'junk' down the side of the house, long intended for a skip bin, and a bit of spring cleaning identified other odds and ends of waste around our home. As a sort of final transition of sorts, we agreed to collate our legacy waste and dispose of it as best we could - we sold some items, donated others and have retained some 'waste' items for later re-purposing (e.g. we've kept our old toilet to use as a garden plant pot, and a super-rickety cane chair to grow plants over).

We ended up filling a small skip bin (2 cubic metres to hold 10 years of legacy waste is probably not too bad!). What did we put in it? Well some of the culprits included: old degraded weed mat, perishing and torn sheets of plastic that had covered mattresses when bought, torn kiddies inflatable wading pool, cheap laminated CD stacking shelves that we'd intended to donate but had been left in the rain and rotted, a child's car booster seat (used by all our kids, but well past its safe use condition), the rusted and twisted metal parts of a cheap plastic green house that had exploded in our back yard in a strong gust of wind, some rusted parts of an old gas barbecue (we kept the main bbq unit for a potting bench!)… mostly degraded plastics that held their desired form for only a short time, when you consider that tiny little toxic particles of that plastic will be existence on our earth for centuries.

There were lessons learned as we (reluctantly) transferred our legacy waste to the skip bin - we acknowledged the relatively short life span of many items that we think should last a long time, and we realised lack of waste-free options for some items (e.g. the kids car seat), and the wastefulness of buying the 'cheaper' option (I'm looking at you, broken cheap plastic/metal green house). We talked and ruminated over it and felt some sadness and regret over the waste that we made before, but felt reaffirmed in our criteria for any new things that come into our home...

Where possible, buy to last, buy compostable, and remember to look after your 'stuff'. 

That includes looking after stuff in that time between when you've finished with it and when you've found a new use or home for it - leaving stuff out in the elements to weather and rot is no good to anyone (except maybe the guys on American Pickers!). One big positive for us is that our owlets are now part of the decision making process and are well aware of the consequences of our past mistakes. Hopefully this means that their legacy will be minimal and conscious choices will be their normal.

Transitioning legacy waste is an important part of switching to a waste-free lifestyle. It is not necessarily something to feel guilty about, but should strengthen your resolve to 'do better' and shop smarter, and live with less waste. We now move into our second year of waste-free living, producing very close to zero new waste and with much less legacy waste. Over time, we anticipate that the legacy waste will drop too, as we switch away from most plastics, and clothes with nylon/acrylic parts, and stuff we realise we just don't need to live happy, abundant lives.

~ Oberon & Lauren.
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26 September 2016

Zero Waste Celebrations :: 11 tips for a waste free Christmas and birthdays




Times of celebration can inspire us to forget our waste-free ways and give in to the urge to splurge. We want to show our loved ones how much we love them and many of our traditional ways of doing that - the ways we've grown up with, can make us feel like it's ok to let ourselves off the hook just this one time. In Australia, it is estimated that waste volumes increase by 30% at Christmas time. We also use 100% more glass (party drink time) and 53% of Australians admit to throwing out one unopened gift each year. Food waste contributes hugely to the waste pile too. But it's actually not that hard to celebrate without waste, and do it well. It might mean creating some new traditions, slowing and simplifying a little. From our experience, that makes it seem all the more special. 

Here are some things we've found helped reduce our waste output at Christmas and birthdays:

1. Start the conversation. Talk to your friends and family. Let them know what you're attempting to do and why. Suggest low-waste alternatives they might like to consider for gift-giving and meal planning. Be gentle and listen to their concerns or reflections. Lead by example, choosing low-waste alternatives yourself. Be respectful, patient and gracious around the waste brought into your home by loved ones and focus on taking responsibility for yourself.



2. Choose experiences over 'things'. Gifts that get you out and about experiencing new things can be just as special and enriching as the ones that can be played with or sit on a shelf at home. Even better if the gift-giver can experience it with you. A camping trip, special dinner at a restaurant, classes in a new skill… We've been lucky to receive tickets to TSO's family classics season for the last two Christmases and it's a wonderful treat we've all enjoyed.

3. Choose great quality, useful gifts. Something practical that can be used over and over again, making the recipient's life easier or more joyful, is great. They'll enjoy thinking of you when they use it, play with it or wear it, for years to come.

4. Choose second-hand. Spend the time to seek out that super special vintage gift that you know your recipient will love. Or have something you've loved fixed up and hand it down. Our owlets have all loved receiving treasures from us and the stories that come with them.

5. Choose compostable. Give some thought to what will happen to the gift once it's time of usefulness has been served. Avoid battery operated gifts if you can. Something that can go back to the earth is ideal. Give some thought to packaging too and whether it can be re-used, composted or recycled.

6. Make it by hand. Something you've grown, cooked, knitted or sewn with your own hands is wonderful. The love and thought you've put in to create the gift from scratch really shows. Even better if its something the recipient particularly likes or needs.



7. Get into Furoshiki! These traditional Japanese wrapping cloths can be so beautiful and a wonderful way to wrap gifts without waste. We've found its also quieter and quicker - which is great for late-night, last-minute wrapping sessions. Buy traditional furoshiki or make your own using second hand vintage fabrics, organic cotton, old pillowcases, drawstring bags or trims that reflect the recipient's style and favourite colours. Afterwards, collect the fabrics and keep them in your stash to use next time!



8. Eat seasonally. The best Christmas celebrations we've had are the ones where we've taken advantage of the abundance of berries, garden veggies and seafood available to us locally. Have a look at what's available around you, or if there's something you really yearn for out of season, do some forward planning to source and preserve it for the day. Looking forward to your favourite foods makes celebrating with them even more special.

9. Make your own drinks. Have a go at home brewing or make seasonal cordials and fruit champagnes.  Kombucha, ginger beer and lemonade are wonderful options too. Alternatively, some micro-breweries will happily refill your bottles, meaning you can save lots of glass waste.

10. Ditch disposables. Serve your food on real plates and drinks in real glasses. Use the good china and silverware. Use real cutlery and cloth napkins, and a real tablecloth. Ditch straws, or find reusable ones. Budget options might include plates collected at op-shops and jars to drink out of, napkins stitched out of vintage bedsheets. If you party regularly, you might like to set aside a box of your collected party-ware for those special occasions. Celebrate the times you come together with the people you love and take the time to wash up and laugh together after the celebrating's done!







11. Choose natural, compostable decorations. Flowers and foliage collected from the garden makes beautiful seasonal decorations with minimal effort. Compost them when you're done. Make ornaments and decorations by hand from compostable materials. Christmas crackers from old toilet paper rolls and recycled paper you've decorated yourself. Hand crafted party hats. Choose a tree that will last for generations, grow one in a pot, or go for a drive and harvest a weed tree. Pine trees often escape from plantations and grow on land nearby. Check regulations and harvest weeds on public land if it's safe to do so. Compost the tree when you're done, or try your hand at hugelkultur!

By planning ahead just a little bit, and looking at what's available to you when you celebrate, you can avoid creating a heap of waste. You may find you slow down a bit and enjoy the simpler things and time with your loved ones. You'll be treading a little lighter on the earth too, which is cause for celebration in itself. 

What are your tips for creating less waste while celebrating?
Are you making any special gifts by hand? 
What's your favourite party food? 

Cheers!

~ Lauren. xx


23 September 2016

Mama Nurture: Run away sometime...


Winters are long here. Days are short and cold. Tempers shorten too, and it's hard to stay cheery every day. We hibernate and see our friends less often, opting for time by the fire as opposed to the beach or playground. Huz barely sees daylight and we sleep longer, forgetting the longer days of summer and the extra gardening time... Then, of course, there's the busy spring-summer season in our shop and our garden, where we're working and learning and volunteering and gardening and it all gets a bit much. We get so caught up with the busy that we can forget to breathe.


There's a breaking point for this mama. I try and pay extra special attention to all of our energy levels, but especially my own. Sometimes we all need a break, but me especially... I'm nearing days when running away on my own, or with Huz, might become a reality (eek!). But my absolute favourite thing is when we all run away together. Sometimes we plan ahead and go on a weekend adventure, but occasionally we take advantage of Huz's flexible and family-friendly workplace and steal away for the day mid-week. Often our adventures are very last minute and happen on a whim. That seems to add to the excitement. I'll wake up and suggest we run and no-one takes much convincing.


Usually, running away means a day-long adventure somewhere. The kind where you pack a thermos and sandwiches and visit a favourite spot. There might be some exploring, bushwalking, taking in the scenery. Maybe some foraging. Definitely chatting and laughing and blowing away the cobwebs.


Probably the day finishes with fish and chips, sandy toes, windblown hair, and a promise to return soon, as we drive home while the sun sets. We arrive home to a darkened house, hungry pets to be fed, showers to be had and hopping into bed rather than lighting the fire. We all sleep soundly, deeply, refreshed and ready to begin a new day, and deal with normal life tomorrow. It's usually just what we need to set things right in our little world again.

As part of my Mama Nurture Project, I'm resolving to run away more often. Just as soon as I shake off this spring cold. I'm going to eat some bowl food with a little of that seaweed we gathered on the last adventure, and hopefully that'll help knock it on the head. At the very least, it'll remind me to run away sometime and collect some more.


How are you travelling right now?
Do you have the urge to run away?
Any weekend adventures planned?

Love and gentle nurturing hugs,

~ Lauren. xx


20 September 2016

10 tips for waste free flying

The world is a way more connected place for humans than it used to be. In the good old days (I’m talking pre-19th century), few people ventured far from their home turf, except for intrepid explorers, merchants, pilgrims, and military folks. But since the advent of aviation, or rather the advent of affordable aviation, millions of people have been scooting around the world with nary a care. So, before I get to my plastic waste gripe, I’ll just remind you that Australian airline travel contributes approximately 3% of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions (yay, climate change! *sarcasm*). So we’re already off to a pretty wasteful and polluting start, even before the snacks are served.





The problem of airline waste


Our family have been playing the waste-free gig for about a year and in that time we’ve well and truly developed our waste goggles, spotting single-use plastics from a mile away. Last week I travelled to Sydney (from Hobart) and was sickened by the waste I saw at airports and on planes and other places. But let’s just focus on the planes, and the in-flight menu.

Once the plane gets to cruising speed on, the air stewards roll their meal carts down the aisle and dish out snacks. On longer domestic flights, you might get a more substantial meal. Usually, there is also an in-flight food menu available. In all cases (that I’ve observed) there is waste, lots of it. Confectionery wrappers, plastic coffee stirrers, cling-wrap, plastic milk pods, headphone wrappers and other assorted single-use waste. Ugh. On a single long haul (international) flight, there can be 500 kg of waste produced! 


Domestically, how much waste are we talking about here? Well in the financial year ending 2016, there were 58.44 million passengers carried on domestic flights in Australia.  So, what appears as small amounts of waste (to the individual), can add up to quite the waste monster when multiplied by 10s of millions (per year!). And it would be typical for the average punter to receive or purchase at least one item of food and one drink (bottle, can and/or plastic cup). As I took my seat on a flight from Hobart to Sydney (a Virgin flight), I saw the bagged up waste from the previous flight leave the runway on a motorised flat-bed trolley. Two very large garbage bags full of what appeared to be plastic cups, bottles, cutlery and other miscellaneous waste – the result of (presumably) one short domestic flight.


A waste audit conducted by Qantas found that 54% of in-flight waste (by volume) was recyclable, but sent to landfill. This gives you an idea of how (relatively) easy it should be to reduce airline waste by at least 50%. Similar proportions (45-58%) of recyclable material waste were reported in 2003 for international flights.



Attempts to reduce airline waste


What are the airlines doing to reduce waste? Well I did a bit of keyboard-warrior googling and found out some interesting things. Qantas (who also owns Jetstar) have made attempts to improve their waste management – they reduced their waste to landfill by 20% between 2009 and 2014. By 2020 they want to reach 30% waste reduction (over 2009 levels). It’s a start, I suppose.

Qantas also have on-board recycling on ‘some’ flights and they are moving towards plastic-free headsets. They claim to have reduced plastic packaging on many of their on-board amenities to reduce waste and weight, which in turn reduces fuel consumption. They have also installed recycling bins in public spaces in all major Australian Domestic airport terminals that they occupy. Their Australian Packaging Covenant Action Plan (2010-2015) also notes that they have replaced polystyrene cups with 35% recycled content and recyclable packaging.


Virgin airlines (who also own Tiger airways in Australia), like most large Aussie companies, are also signed up to the Australian Packaging Covenant, and their action plan (2011-2016) sets out some of their waste reduction initiatives. Note-worthy initiatives (to be completed by 2012) include ‘reviewing’ of all existing catering product packaging, implementing a policy to mandate the use of sustainable packaging guidelines when designing and implementing all new products, and setting up recycling facilities in their lounge. Now, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but these seem like small fry plans for a major airline – to my mind, they don’t demonstrate serious efforts to reduce waste, rather they sound more like token green-washing.  


Unfortunately, none of the major airlines have really tackled the in-flight food waste packaging to any great extent. I understand the small steps approach (airlines don’t want to upset customers and risk damaging their profits merely for the sake of protecting the little old environment!). And I am somewhat comforted that there are initiatives to ‘do better’, however it’s going to need more action from us too (see below). I’m glad to see initiatives to increase recycling of in-flight food, drink and newspapers and I expect that will continue, and hopefully will become the norm on all flights. Whilst the airlines' initiatives are not ‘zero waste’, but rather less waste to landfill, they do reflect steps in the right direction.



Tips for waste-free flying


We don’t have to leave waste management up to the airlines. We can do a lot as individual passengers to reduce this huge waste problem. Here are my hot tips for flying waste-free:

1. Take your own snacks in your own home-bought container. I took snacks from home on my trip away, and then I bought a lemon tart at the airport, put directly into my container for the trip home. Choose foods that don’t require utensils (as you’re unlikely to be permitted to take your own on the plane!)



2. Carry your own drink bottle. I use “klean canteen” bottles, but there are many brands. These can be filled at the airport – free water can be found in the bathrooms or at water fountain stations. I’m not sure if the wash taps in the bathrooms on planes are designed in a way that drink bottles could be refilled – does anyone know?


3. Carry your own fabric napkin or serviette, for those turbulent spills.

4. Say no thanks to wasteful airline food. You have the power of choice.

5. Utilise on-board recycling facilities (if available). Otherwise, hold onto your waste until you find a suitable recycling location for it afterwards.

6. Keep food scraps for composting later, but only if you’re allowed to bring those food items into your destination location (some don’t due to quarantine laws). You may want to carry on a lightweight bag or container for storing food scraps.

7. Take your own headphones – really, why does anyone need those free in-flight ones? – they are crappy quality anyway.

8. Take your own reusable keep cup for your hot drink of choice. I’m not sure if you can get these filled during your flight (no harm in asking though!) but most caf├ęs in airports should accept them. 

9. Offer solutions to your airline - you may want to let them know that you would like them to reduce their food and packaging waste (e.g. request that they provide in-flight recycling or composting facilities, waste-free snack and meal options, plastic-free options).

10. Support airlines that are accountable for the waste they produce, and which demonstrate significant positive actions to reduce waste. 

I would like to see an airline that offers the following on their flights:
  • Zero single-use plastics;
  • 100% of food and drink waste is composted;
  • 100% of packaging is compostable and diverted to a composting facility (and actually composted!); and
  • Encouragement for customers to bring their own food and drink, with guidelines and tips provided for doing this.
Do you think this is too much to ask? What other waste-free flying tips can you share?

Happy and safe travels!

~ Oberon. 

30 August 2016

Mama Nurture: Fill Your Bowl



I've always had a bit of a thing for bowl food. They're my favourite for when we're relaxing and eating and spending time together. There's something about filling a bowl with nutritious, yummy food and taking a moment. I think it might go back to those eating-one-handed baby days, where a bowl filled with nourishment was essential and probably all I could manage... If someone would hold the baby for a moment while I grabbed it... A bowl of breakfast, a bowl of leftovers, a bowl of soup, a dessert bowl… Always so hearty and not too fancy. We've even been known to resort to the Sunday Roast Bowl here (look away Mum & Dad). Bowls are pretty much the greatest. 

My Mama Nurture Project has seen me fill a bowl regularly. Little Owlet gave me a beautiful handmade Japanese bowl a while ago, which has half-jokingly been dubbed "Mama's Soul Bowl". It's the total truth though. One beautiful bowl to fill up each day with food to feed just me. It's off limits to anyone else - a rarity in an owlet filled house. I take my time to fill it, making sure I pack in as many nutrients and flavours as I can. It's the actual best. Everyone needs a soul bowl. 


I've been perusing beautiful Buddha bowls on Pinterest for a while, and got my hands on this lovely book recently, so I'm looking forward to more beautifully filled soul bowls in my future. But this recipe is my breakky/lunch/whatever go-to. It takes about 3 minutes to gather from the garden and another 3 to cook, and it's totally worth doing, even if it means cooking a meal separate from everyone else's. It's super nutrient dense, keeps my tremor at bay and my belly happy most of the day. With plenty of greens and eggs in the garden, it's what got me though the winter. 


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Green Eggs Soul Bowl


2-3 cups of kale/silverbeet/broccoli/cauliflower, trimmed and stalks removed. 

Weeds/greens and herbs from the garden (whatever's at my feet as I wander round).
3 eggs, beaten.
2-3 tablespoons butter - I know it seems like lots, but it's totally nourishing and super yum. 
1 garlic clove, crushed or sliced.

Chop up greens while you heat the pan. 

Melt butter in the pan, then add the garlic and greens. 
Toss the greens in the buttery pan until softened, then push to the side of the pan. 
Pour eggs in the pan and scramble, mixing with the greens if you like. 
Pop greens and eggs in your soul bowl. 
Add any spice or topping you like. I like to add some or all of these...

1-2 tablespoons seeds - sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, linseeds, buckwheat - whatever's in the pantry, and toasted if you like. 

Dried seaweed - we foraged some wakame and this is perfect sprinkled on top.
Chopped up avocado.
Kimchi/sauerkraut or any other fermented veggies you have on hand. 

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Are you a lover of bowl foods? What's your favourite recipe?

What nourishes you through the day?

Much love,


~ Lauren. xx




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27 August 2016

Less is more :: Downsizing for light, space and dancing room


Spring is coming, so we've been welcoming the light and giving ourselves a little extra space. A smoky, dark winter left us feeling crowded in and thinking that we'd like to move to a bigger house again. But the thought of a much larger space, and all that entails, doesn't seem quite right for us. We're happy with a modest home and our garden is more than enough for us to tend. Our needs are simple. But still, there was this issue of space.

Much of our furniture was inherited when my parents downsized their home and generously passed half of their furniture on to us. I've grown up with it. We've always lived with it, and it's served us well, but it's never quite fit in all the houses we've lived in. We all have loads of interests and hobbies, so we need room for those. Also, we're running a shop and a school here. Our nest is well lived in! Every six months, we'll experiment with moving the furniture all around, trying to find the perfect spots as everyone grows and changes. Our spaces need to be flexible. Six months ago, it cycled around until everything was in the spot it started at! The owlets are growing so much bigger and our need for space was becoming very real, until a week ago.

My Mama Nurture Project has led me to fixing and unravelling my body and, through thinking about movement, and with a nudge from my osteopath, I found my way to the work of Katy Bowman. I'd been aware of her work before and thought her furniture free lifestyle to be intriguing. We needed flexibility in more ways than one. So naturally I suggested we try it. Accidental minimalism. A little more living like things don't exist, which is our favourite thing to do when we're questioning and challenging ourselves. The answer is usually less. Live with less. Expect less and find more. So we did.



Last weekend, we moved our rather large couches out of our lounge room. They're as old as Big Owlet and a little worse for wear, although still reasonably comfy. But they define the space and take up so much of it that they block out the light and restrict our movement. Similarly, the enormous dining table my Grandfather built, for my childhood home, took up a whole room and ensured that we'd use it to sit at most days while we worked, ate and learned together. But we couldn't use the space for anything else. It's a beautiful thing to gather around a table together. But tables can come in many shapes and sizes and, without an enormous dining room or farmhouse kitchen to fit it, the table wasn't working. Instead, it's much better placed as a studio worktable for me and Huz and our various projects that have never seemed to have a home.



So now we have these connected, multipurpose, open spaces. We have floorspace galore for yoga, music making, dancing, play and lounging around. We have a pile of comfy cushions to sprawl all around, a low table to move around and gather, eat and work at, and seating and spaces at all different heights so we can all change positions freely. We move our bodies more already as we squat and bend and stretch, and my back is much happier for it. Most of all, we have rooms filled with sunshine, warmth, light and dancing. Less is most definitely more.

~ Lauren. xx

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16 August 2016

Tackling waste in a refugee crisis



With all the talk of asylum seekers and refugees in the news recently, we got to talking about waste (a common topic around our house!) and how that relates to refugees. I asked Big Owlet "How do you think refugees manage their waste?" She said "It depends where they are staying - most often I don't know if they'd have enough money to even produce waste. I'd want to give them food from the bulk food place, instead of lots of plastic wrapped food." I followed with "What would they do with any waste they produce?" and she replied "They'd need portable water bottles (but they're expensive, right?), hmm maybe make something that could hold water, without being disposable, but the water might be polluted so they couldn't refill it... hmm, maybe they could use special bottles that filter water? I'd go to a refugee place and hand out special bottles for filtering water and bulk food." This left us with lots of questions about the waste that might be associated with refugees and so we sought to learn more.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, by the end of 2014 there were approximately 60 million people worldwide who had been forcibly displaced from their homeland (the highest level since WWII). The waste generated by this displacement is phenomenal. For example, it is estimated that 340 tonnes of waste is generated daily by Syrian refugees fleeing into Jordan (read more here). These are people who need to eat, be clothed, go to the loo, be housed, and be supported to rebuild their lives in a strange new land. There are many ways that aid money can be used to assist refugees with meeting their basic needs, and some are inevitably going to be more wasteful and environmentally harmful than others. Also, asylum seekers in transit may have few options available to them for discarding or managing any waste they accumulate, such as plastic water bottles, nappies, food packaging and broken or heavy items (e.g. see here).  

As at June 30th, 2016, there were 3,496 people living in detention under Australian authority. These folks are spread between Manus Island, Nauru, Christmas Island, and a few detention centres within mainland Australia. All these locations are effectively ‘food deserts’ – where provisions need to be shipped or flown in from far away. We know very little of the waste generated or managed in Australian detention centres (that information is generally not publicised), however concerns have been raised about groundwater contamination through effluent disposal and waste management on the detention centre on Nauru (as reported here). Poor waste management within refugee camps can create terrible hygiene issues, leading to spread of sickness and disease.

Elsewhere, disposal of waste accumulated within refugee camps can vary. At its worst it is left where it was discarded, burned (polluting the atmosphere and local inhabitants), or trucked away to be dumped illegally in local rivers. The World Health Organisation offers a guide to managing solid waste in emergencies (e.g. in refugee camps) which includes disposal into family 'waste pits' (i.e. a hole in the ground with a lasagne like bed of waste and soil/ash) (see the guide here), however, there do not appear to be any solutions offered for high density refugee camps, such as the Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon (carrying more than 20,000 people). Aid agencies do what they can to help meet the basic needs of asylum seekers in temporary camps, but a consequence of that can be huge amounts of waste from the disposable items (plastic bottles, plastic packaging etc.) provided.

Having the capacity to sort, recycle and appropriately dispose of waste within camps will help to alleviate some of the health risks. In some instances, recyclable items can be sold to industry and funds raised can be directed back to support local communities. Where incineration is the norm (e.g. Greece, Jordan, Kenya) switching to energy-generating combuster incinerators may be a small step forward (as described here), although it is unclear how such technology incinerates plastics without releasing chemical pollutants. There are also numerous options for low cost, environmentally-friendly toilet systems that could be applied, depending on local resources (e.g. see this discussion).

On the Australian-run detention centre on Christmas Island, there are no recycling options available (i.e. all collected waste is sent to land fill - see here). Such a lack of services is similarly apparent in many remote Aboriginal communities, where greater support is also needed to minimise and better manage waste (learn more here). At the detention centre on Nauru, there are reports of poor handling of provisions of food and bottled water to detainees, leading to excessive waste production. To avoid these sorts of waste (and human health) problems, I think it would be more beneficial to support greater integration of asylum seekers into local communities, where fresh food can be accessed (or even grown, such as in community gardens), where they can be supported to be more self-reliant, with access to more permanent services (e.g. running water from taps rather than bottled water). In Melbourne, organisations such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre help to assist with such resources (see their Foodbank info here).

There are aspects to waste management in refugee camps/detention centres, that I would like to see discussed much more - I'd love to know of the feasibility of composting of organic waste, using compostable natural fibres over synthetics (e.g. in tents, clothing and other gear provided by aid organisations), alternative modes of water provision besides single-use plastic bottles, and extended responsibility by aid organisations and contractors for the waste-generating products they provide to refugees. This is particularly relevant in areas where people are provided with food and resources in 'temporary' camps, but where there is a high likelihood that refugees will stay in those camps for long periods (years to decades). It should not be up to refugees to solve these problems, and we as a species have the know-how to minimise the waste that refugees generate and discard, for their own health and for the environment.

Wherever systems are broken, there will inevitably be waste. As individuals, we may not feel that we can do much to fix a broken system (e.g. war, rampant consumerism, and human-accelerated climate change, are all consequences of broken systems). Indeed, we can only do the best that we can do, given our own station in life. In my position as a privileged, white, male in Australia, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to enact positive change. We can also try to understand broken systems and look for solutions and options for repair. A lot of the repair will need to be grounded in a position of peace, and empathy for others. We have all kinds of tools at our disposal to communicate our feelings about the world’s injustices; it’s social and environmental problems, and offer our solutions to governments and to other decision makers. So let's do that!

I talked with Big Owlet about some of these learnings and asked her what she’d like to do with respect to asylum seekers and their struggles. She said she’d like to start by making or donating food and clothing (e.g. woollen knits or sewn clothes from second hand fabrics) for refugees in Tasmania. We are also going to (re)watch the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From to learn more about the stories of asylum seekers. 

Here are some other things you can do to help:

  • Learn more about the plight of those people seeking asylum, their needs, and the challenges they face so that you can speak up about those issues. We are presently doing this with the owlets, and working out what other helpful actions we can take.
  • Start a group similar to Bellies Beyond Borders (based in Europe), which is a creative foodwaste kitchen-on-wheels to welcome refugees (see here). 
  • Join a refugee support or action group, to help communicate messages of support for refugees, and identify way to assist people in need.
  • Donate to an aid organisation that has a good reputation for directing helpful resources to the people that need it most. It's worth reading up on an organisation before sending wads of money to it.
  • Devise novel ways to reduce waste and communicate those solutions to the aid organisations you support.
  • Other helpful options are suggested here.

~ Oberon.