The Time is Now

The Time is Now

earth 02

“We are the last generation that can fight climate change. We have a duty to act”

– United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon 12 Jan 2015

What are you going to make 2015 about? Working less? Making more money? Going on a big holiday? Buying that new car? Spending more time with family? Getting fit? All of these are valid, but we invite you to take on a different challenge. Reduce your personal impact on the environment. 

Not because you ‘should’, but because you choose to.

The options are limitless. Choose some ways that you will tread lighter on our planet. Ways that you are interested in, ways that light you up or inspire you.  As an added bonus, you will most likely save money at the same time.

Once you have mastered your new ‘ways’ to tread lighter and they are just part of who you are, up the anti and take on some more. Here are a few to get you thinking:

  • Buy less. Ask yourself “Do I really need this”? If you do, buy second hand, or borrow.
  • Drive your car less. Ride your bike, car pool, walk or take public transport
  • Go ‘disposable free’. Stop using disposable coffee cups, single use water bottles, plastic bags, take away containers, plastic plates and cutlery etc. There are some great alternatives.
  • Inspire others – by taking action and sharing your experiences with others, you will inspire other people to follow suit.

Our family is taking on driving our car less. We are going to create a maximum number of km’s traveled for 2015, which is 15% less than 2014.  This means riding our bikes more (we are 7km from our nearest town/shops/school), and taking the train more often (for social trips to Melbourne, we already take the train to work).

There is no time like now.

That Spring Feeling

Council hard waste pick up courtesy Monash Council

With Spring in the air, the warmer weather has arrived, and you might have noticed that familiar feeling….that feeling of wanting to clean up, clean out, re-organise and de-clutter.

Spring Cleaning is a great way to get yourself out of hibernation, freshen things up, increase or start some exercise, plant some vegies or trees/plants, and get outside to appreciate our amazing environment.

Here are our top tips for reducing your impact on the environment and saving money this Spring.

  1. When cleaning out your room, house, cupboard, wardrobe or garage, consider what can be given away, sold, recycled, re-purposed or donated. Keep waste to landfill to a minimum. A word about hard rubbish collections. You will need to check with your Council to see whether any of the hard rubbish you leave out is recycled, reused or re-purposed. You may be surprised that most if not all it, ends up in landfill.
  2. When cleaning, consider using elbow grease, microfibre cloths and water instead of chemicals.
  3. After you have cleaned up, cleaned out and re-organised, don’t be tempted to buy more stuff to put in its place! Ask yourself ‘do I really need this?’ before purchasing.
  4. If you do need to buy something, consider buying it second hand, borrowing it from someone or sharing it with your neighbour/friend/family.

Here are some links to get you thinking….
5 ways to clean your house safely
Spring cleaning your wardrobe

There are so many ways to share, give, receive and swap. Freecycle, Ziilch, TuShare, Oz Recycle, GoGet, FlexiCar and Gumtree to name but a few.

Upcycling & Art

What is Upcycling?
According to Wikipedia, Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

People have been doing this for a very long time, but more recently it has received renewed levels of interest and has resulted in some incredible creativity and works of art.

In the 1930-40’s upcycling was driven by an economic need (Depression/war) and people got very creative, turning old items into new ones thereby extending the life of the product and saving money. A flour/feed sack became a dress, an old door became a new dining table and tyres turned into buckets. You may have upcycled something and not even been aware of it, like turning an old pan into a plant pot.

Today there is still an economical motive but increasingly there is an environmental one. When items that are destined for landfill get a new lease on life we are reducing waste to landfill and using less of our precious resources (i.e by not buying something new).

Then there is the aesthetics of upcycling. the possibilities are endless. Upcycling has become ‘trendy’ and is becoming big business in the arts.

My sister, who is my absolutely favourite artist in the world, incorporates upcycling in most of her work. her latest creation will be shown in an Art Gallery in Tel Aviv.

‘The Light Boxes’
Michal has created a series of light boxes where a backlight illuminates paper clippings that are carefully layered inside the box. She has created a fantastical story of imaginary and dark images. The boxes themselves were built by using old picture frames and discarded bits of wood she found in my Dad’s shed. Legs for the boxes are old dining table legs and bits of old music stands.

Old picture frames and table legs. Work in progress

Old picture frames and table legs. Work in progress

Finished product

Finished product

The show space

The show space

I am very inspired to get stuck in to creating my own upcycled stuff although I gravitate towards the practical side so I think mine would be things that I will use around the house. I have a wooden picture frame that I will cover with chicken wire and hang stuff on and I have an old wooden ladder that I want to turn into a shelf unit..

Stay tuned

For more information on Michal’s work visit:

For World Environment Day we thought we would share this great documentary on waste made by the good people over at The Sustainable Table. It focuses on the incidental waste – mostly soft plastic – that we produce and use on a daily basis. It discusses the impact that this material is having on the environment and how it is hindering our efforts towards sustainability. We thought it was fitting to use World Environment Day as the opportunity to share this with everyone.

For those that are interested, The Sustainable Table have a lot of great content on food, including a recipe book full of facts, advice and plenty of meat and meat-free recipes.

Sustainability targets 2016

Not so black and white: Recycling grey areas

What you can and cannot recycle is sometimes far from black and white.  Yes, we agree that if it was black and white it would make things easier, but in reality there are many grey areas. Let’s look at some common ones.

  • Recycling IdentificationIf an item has a triangle recycling code on it, does that mean I can recycle it? No.  The triangle recycling code was designed to help manufacturers identify what kind of plastic an item is made from. It does not indicate that something is recyclable. For example, polystyrene trays or cups may have a recycling code 7 on them, but they are not recyclable. Also, many items that have no recycling code on them, are recyclable.Whether at home or at work, always check your recycling guide to see what is and is not recyclable.
  • Why isn’t recycling the same everywhere? Recycling programs can differ from Council to Council, and from building to building. Many factors can influence this. Recycling is a business, and the companies that sort, collect and sell recyclable material have different factors that influence their costs, markets, facilities and needs. The recycling industry is constantly changing as new technology, innovation, and funding is made available.
  • Do I need to rinse my containers before recycling? It Depends! Drink containers need to be completely empty, but not rinsed.  For food containers, empty any food/residue. Depending on what was in the container, you might want to give it a good scrape, clean or rinse. For example a tuna can is often very smelly, so give it a little rinse with cold water (or use the water at the end of your dish washing).
  • Can I recycle bottle tops and metal lids? Plastic – no. Metal – yes. Plastic lids/tops are too small for the recycling process, please remove them and place into landfill.  Place metal lids into a can of the same type and squeeze the top closed before recycling.
  • Is paper towel recyclable?  No. In the past, some recycling facilities accepted this material for recycling.  Now, in the majority of cases it is not accepted for paper recycling.  Some reasons we have been given by the recycling companies are that the fibres are not suitable for recycling, or that the quality of the fibre is not high enough to warrant recycling.
  • Can I recycle my disposable paper coffee cups?  No. This is a complex, very grey area and we advise people to put them into landfill. There are so many different types of cups, and varying responses from recycling companies, but in the majority of cases, they are not recyclable. We advise people to avoid using them in the first place and use a reusable cup. See Spencer’s blog for a full run down. Recycling signpost

There are however, some definite black and white principles you can follow when it comes to waste and recycling that will help you.

– Use less to produce less waste. Buying less and buying items that have less packaging means you reduce your waste. Recycling is the last resort. For example, buy your own re-usable water bottle and stop buying bottled water. Have your coffee in instead of taking out. One couple decided to go ‘waste free’ for a year – and they did it. It is amazing how much waste you can avoid producing if you put your mind to it. Check out their link here.

– Any hard plastic container, regardless of numbering can be recycled in a commingled (or fully commingled) recycling bin. Soft plastic, such as packaging and plastic bags cannot be recycled and should be put into your landfill bin.

– If you are in doubt about whether you can recycle something, ask. Check out your Council’s recycling guide to recycling at home. Check the recycling guide for recycling at work. Ask until you find the answers.

Take stuff home and recycle it.  If you are out and about and there are no recycling facilities, take it home with you and recycle it there.

I hope this has helped to clarify some grey areas – happy recycling and reducing!


Switching to Reusable Coffee Cups

During our waste audits, disposable coffee cups are a consistent contributor to the landfill stream. They commonly amount to over 20% of landfill waste, a disturbing figure and one that can be significantly lowered with a little work. Because disposable coffee cups are a complicated mix of plastic and paper they are difficult to recycle and consequently sent to landfills (and contaminate recycling streams).

Another element that we don’t often consider with disposable items is the resources that go into their production. When comparing disposable cups to reusable cups, we also have to consider the materials used, the energy that goes into manufacturing and into transporting cups to the store (and to landfill). A reusable cup will have higher resource and energy use than a disposable cup, but after a number of uses (30 for KeepCups), they reach a break-even with disposables. After this point, every time you use your cup, you’re creating a benefit to the environment.

Pile of Coffee Cups

One days worth of disposable cups found at a GFA waste audit.

By using a reusable coffee cup, we are causing less disposable cups to be produced, lowering the amount of cups sent to landfill and saving the energy and resources that would otherwise be consumed.

1. Choosing to Switch to Reusable Coffee Cups

When talking to clients about disposable coffee cups, we strongly advocate that they switch to reusable coffee cups to reduce waste sent to landfill. However, we understand that a change like this can also mean a change to a routine or a ritual, such as a coffee run. I wanted to use this blog to talk about my switch to reusable coffee cups and how we ‘walk the talk’ at GFA.

While most of us would prefer to sit down in a café and relax for a break, it is not always possible in the work environment. The take-away coffee is the convenient choice for on the way to work or for a quick coffee run during the day. Once I began regular work at GFA, I noticed myself using 1-2 disposable cups a day, as I was no longer having coffee at home or stopping for one before I went to class. I realised that this was a substantial amount of waste I was producing each day, but more importantly that this waste could be avoided.

After looking at my habits, I made the choice to give reusables a go. I went out and bought a cup and incorporated it into my daily routine. If you’re going to make the switch, don’t do it out of guilt or any other pressure. Make the switch for yourself, to bring about a positive change to your lifestyle and the environment. It can take time to adjust, but it’s worth the time and effort once you’ve established a good system.

2. Know Your Habits: Setting yourself up to win

As far as habits and rituals go, the coffee run can sometimes be a tricky one to alter. For many of us, it’s ingrained as a two or three a day habit and one that is interconnected with socialising, networking and meetings. It can also be highly stylized and an individualised habit, with everyone having his or her preferred coffee, café and disposable cup. The takeaway coffee cup serves as a brand or label and in many ways, receiving your takeaway coffee is an incidental status symbol, as it shapes the identity of the user and café.

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Any reusable coffee cup that is going to replace disposable cups must be convenient and have a style that you like. This means that you will need to like the look and feel of it, and it be easy to clean and trsnsport. You don’t want to spend too long washing up after finishing your coffee at the office, nor do you want a heavy, cumbersome cup to carry round wherever you go.  In other words, you need to have an attachment to your reusable cups, just as you would a disposable one.

In making the switch over, I had the advantage of working in an office where using a reusable coffee cup was the norm. This kind of office culture makes it very easy to change habits, especially social ones. Just as peers can reinforce the habit of using a disposable coffee cup, the opposite is equally true. Getting other co-workers on board will help you motivate each other and help the new routine to stick.

3. Choosing the Right Coffee Cup

Thankfully, as reusable coffee cups have become more popular, we now have many options available that are ‘barista certified’ (compatible with espresso machines) and accepted by almost all cafes.

Reusable coffee cups are generally plastic, glass or ceramic and the main difference between them is cost and design. In our office, we use KeepCups, which are made from BPA-free plastic and offer lots of customisation in size and colour. Being made from high quality plastic means that they are a cheap option, while also being light, easy to clean and dishwasher safe.

Spencer’s KeepCups

I have two KeepCups, one which stays at work and one that goes with me in my bag. This for me has been a really convenient system, as I don’t have to worry about taking my cup with me after work or vice versa. After establishing this routine, I have almost completely eliminated my usage of disposable cups. We also have spares at the office, which means we don’t even use disposables if getting coffee for someone else.

While KeepCups are the most widely used, there are other great options out there. Ceramic cups are commonly available at gift or home ware stores, while I recently stumbled across the brand Joco, who make reusable coffee cups using glass, but in the similar style as a take-away cup (or KeepCup). They are a little more expensive, but a suitable and recyclable option if you are after the feel and safety of glass.

4. Make the Switch and Encourage Others

While it can be a challenge, do you feel you can shake the habit of using disposable coffee cups? Think about what you need to do to make a reusable cup work for you. Once you’ve made the switch, think about other areas you can avoid disposables (buy a nice drink bottle) and how you can help and motivate others to kick their (disposable) habit. (You could gift someone a reusable to get them started.)

Is change as good as a holiday?

It’s been an interesting year at Great Forest Australia and predominantly a year that has been filled with change.

Office1-940x704We have also launched our new website and created a new video.  Jacqui Bender is a consultant and auditor at Great Forest Australia and one of her many other talents lies in film-making. Along with her brother at Benderfilm, Jacqui has produced a fantastic 4 minute video showing the behind the scenes action of our work. Benderfilm have also helped design our new website.  Our intention was to make it easier to navigate and more up to date. What do you think?

With all this change, this year has been challenging.  Things have not always gone to plan, and contrary to the old saying, change is not always as good as a holiday!

To all our clients and the thousands of staff we work with in our programs, we thank you for your support, involvement and commitment this year. We look forward to working with you and making a difference to the environment in 2014, and if you are having a break from work over the festive season, we trust you return relaxed and revived.


GFA Road Trip to Organics Facility

In August, the Great Forest team travelled to Shepparton to check out an Organic Waste Recycling facility run by Corio Waste Management (called the Shepparton Advanced Resource Recovery Technology (AART) facility). This facility takes organic waste from the local council’s kerb side collection and produces compost that is used by local agriculture and landscapers. For Jacqui & I, this was the first time we’d seen such a facility and we were all blown away by the professionalism and efficiency of this facility.

The role of an organic recycling facility is to manage and control the conditions of the biological decomposition of organic materials. Organic material includes green waste, which is the predominant source for this facility, as well as food organic waste and liquid waste. This is similar to composting at home, but on a larger (and more regulated) scale.

Organic recycling requires heat, water, air and time for the microbes and other organisms to do their work. The Corio AART facility manage these conditions by using three large “bioreactors” which are heavily monitored through advanced sensor technology. These sensors allow them to track the water content, airflow and temperature within the organic material[1]. A system of fans, heaters and water pumps then optimise the temperature, airflow and moisture content to create safe and high quality compost. In the flesh, this system looked as impressive and sophisticated as it sounds and contrary to my expectations, we did not experience any foul odours – just warm earthy compost with a pleasant smell and feel[2].

The benefits of recycling (or composting) organic material as opposed to sending it to landfill are two fold. The first one is reasonably simple; it creates high quality compost that is used by agriculture, landscapers and in your own garden or veggie patch to improve growth by improving soil structure. The second reason is that the process of organic decomposition in landfill occurs without the presence of oxygen. Without oxygen, this process produces large amounts of methane, a potent Greenhouse Gas and large contributor to Climate Change. So by recycling our organic material or composting at home we avoid creating a harmful Greenhouse Gas, create a useful resource for use in agriculture and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

During our visit, we were witness to and discussed the main complication with organic recycling – contamination. Foreign material, such as plastic bags, containers, foil and plastic Christmas trees (not a joke)[3][4], are often present in garden and green bins cannot be placed in the reactor and must be separated prior to use. There is no easy way to separate this material; their team spreads out each new load of organic material and pulls out all unsuitable material – which usually takes two or three attempts. Needless to say this is a time and cost expensive procedure (they have to pay to send contamination to landfill) and consequently they reject loads of waste that are highly contaminated. This serves as another reminder to put waste in the right place.

I for one feel privileged to have been able to visit the Corio AART Organic Recycling facility in Shepparton. They run an amazing facility and we wish them all the best as they seek to expand and further improve their facility.

Jacqui, Spencer & Merav looking over the facility.

Jacqui, Spencer & Merav looking over the facility.

[1] For those interested in the technology behind the facility, there’s info on Corio’s website here

[2] Foul odours are indicative of a poorly managed composting process, but don’t let that throw you off. An easy guide to making and ‘fixing’ your own compost can be found here. (NSW Department of Environment)

[3] Surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), plastic Christmas trees are not a one-off find, but are consistently seen in their green and garden waste around Christmas.

[4] Disposable nappies are a common form of contamination (also not a joke).

Director Peter Hosking was interviewed as part of the RRR program, Room With A View in September 2013.