Sustainability is not something that can be achieved overnight. Kate Meads and her family have made the journey from wasters to resourcefulness, and Kate explains how you too can take the first steps toward being more environmentally friendly.
Six years ago, we were the worst environmentalists you could possibly get. Our wheelie bin was full of as much stuff as we could cram into it. Everything went in there: Our household rubbish, boxes, bottles, food scraps, weeds, and anything else we wanted to get rid of that would ft in there if we stood on it at the end of the week. Yes, we had a little green recycling bin, but hardly used it because it was easier to put everything in the rubbish bin instead of separating it out only to put what felt like "just a few" things in the recycling bin.
Sure, we recycled our wine bottles if we had a party, because that's what you're supposed to do. But we were busy people, and we didn't have time to worry about our day-to-day rubbish and where it was going. Anyhow, we were paying for it to be picked up each week, so it wasn't our problem... Or so we thought.
Then we had a baby, and all of a sudden we were faced with what a terrible world we were bringing this tiny, helpless being into. A world where all of the news on TV seemed to be bad, wars never ended, and the land around us had become everyone's personal rubbish tip. We suddenly became aware of exactly what kind of environment we were creating for our child to live in.
Previously, we had been fixated on convenience and had become stuck in the world of consumerism. We used disposable nappies, disposable wipes, plastic nappy wrappers, packaged baby food, tinned baby food, tinned formula, and everything else we had been told we needed for a baby. Not to mention our convenient, disposable lifestyle pre-baby that kept our rubbish bin full and our pockets empty.
One day, when my son Daniel was three months old, I met up with our antenatal group. I noticed, through a sleep-deprived haze, that one of the other new babies was wearing a modern cloth nappy that looked really funky and easy to use. Something clicked, and as soon as I got home, I fired up my laptop and ordered some of these planet-friendlier, funky-looking cloth nappies for my own new baby. This was the start of our journey toward living a more sustainable life.
For us, it was best to start with the simple things. And one of the easiest changes to instigate was in starting to make use of that long-neglected little green recycling bin currently collecting rainwater at the side of our house. We were keen to start recycling, but we needed to make sure it was manageable and easy to implement. So we started by keeping a bag in the kitchen to collect everything that could be recycled, so our trips to the recycling bin only needed to happen every couple of days.
Next, we took some time to research what plastics we could and couldn't recycle in our area (you can usually find this information out by visiting your local area council's website). We checked all the products in our pantry and fridge, so that in future we could give preference to buying products that had recyclable packaging.
When I started looking at the products we were buying, I was shocked by the amount of unnecessary packaging on most of the items we brought home, especially when we went grocery shopping. Boxes that are far bigger than the product stored in them, plastic packaging on things like broccoli, and polystyrene and plastic wrap on all of the meat in the deli. We had never taken any notice of this before, and all of a sudden felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of recycling we were doing after our grocery shopping.
Since we'd already swapped to cloth nappies part-time, we found we had less rubbish each week, and recycling product packaging rather than biffing it into the rubbish bin meant we were able to reduce the size of our wheelie bin (and no longer had to stand on the lid to squeeze everything in there!). We also discovered that we needed not just one, but two recycling bins. Having a smaller wheelie bin meant paying less for our rubbish to be carted away, meaning, we were starting to save money by recycling. And as any new parent knows, any money you can save is a welcome thing! So we took the next step...
After taking stock of the amount of product packaging coming into our home, we decided to make a concerted effort to seek out products with less packaging, and be more aware of what we were putting into our supermarket trolley along with the products we were buying. Take liquid soap, for example. Why were we buying soap in a plastic bottle, and then buying umpteen refill containers, when we could just buy a bar of soap instead?
At around the same time, we also began to realise the importance of reducing the amount of processed foods our family consumed. As Daniel started eating solids, we noticed that he exhibited huge mood swings when he ate certain foods containing additives and colours. So we started buying organic, unprocessed food including home-kill meat and spray-free fruit and veggies. I couldn't believe how much better they tasted.
We were also eating more fresh produce as opposed to frozen vegetables, presenting a new problem: We had a lot more green waste to deal with. So my husband bought our very first compost bin. A small, lidded bin in the kitchen means we can collect all of our veggie scraps during the day, and empty them into the larger bin outside.
It wasn't long before my husband decided he wanted to have a go at worm-farming. His 90-year-old grandmother Dot had a worm farm at her place, and he figured that if Nana could do it, then so could he. Conveniently, 10 minutes down the road from our place is a fully organic avocado and fruit orchard with around 50 big worm farms on the property. The business (www.pottsburyfarm.co.nz) sells worm farms and worms nationwide. We called them to ask about worm farming and they invited us to come over and take a look. Who knew that worms eat fabric and fish bodies? So we bought some worms and went home to start our own worm community. And took another step.
It was time to start growing our own food. I love cooking, and at one stage I got hooked on Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. Most of his recipes use masses of fresh herbs, so our next step: A fresh herb garden. It's a common joke in our house that I cannot keep a pot plant alive, but this was a garden I could easily handle! I bought sage, parsley, basil, rosemary, and thyme. I was so proud; everything except the rosemary lived, and I had fresh herbs that whole summer! It was inspiring to know I could grow something that not only didn't die, but we could also eat it.
So at the beginning of the next summer, I asked my father if he could build me a raised garden bed for my birthday so I could try my hand at growing fresh vegetables. This turned out to be really fun. We bought tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beetroot, capsicum, Lebanese cucumbers, dwarf beans, and sweet peas. It was so wonderful watching all of our fresh, spray-free vegetables grow over the summer, and then enjoying the fruits of our labour. The best part was telling our guests that we'd grown everything in the salad they were munching on.
This year, we've built another raised garden bed so we can grow all of our own vegetables for the summer and winter. We have also introduced fruit trees so that we have a different fruit for almost every season, including a fabulous strawberry patch, which our son is really looking forward to. It is so satisfying to know we are becoming more self-sufficient, and we are making use of our land to grow our own produce, thus saving money.
Everyday we find something we can do better, which makes us more passionate about helping others to start their own sustainable journey. We know that it only takes one small step to begin to be more sustainable at home. It is not something you can achieve in one day; it takes a long time to build it into your daily life so that it becomes a lifestyle change, not a short-term fad. I have found that by tackling one small issue at a time it has been fun for the whole family, easily affordable, and highly achievable.
Over the past five years, Kate Meads' knowledge of cloth nappies has become so extensive that she's now known as "The Nappy Lady". Last year Kate set up www.thenappylady.co.nz because she saw a need to provide unbiased information and advice for parents considering cloth nappies. She runs regular nappy workshops, has been a guest speaker at parent and child conferences, and has been on TV programmes such as Good Morning, Breakfast, and tvCentral.
As seen in OHbaby! magazine Issue 12: 2011
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