Vava’u, Tonga

In December 2017 I traveled with my parents and two youngest children to Vava’u. Vava’u is a group of islands in The Kingdom of Tonga. It is also where my Tongan family descend from on my mothers side. A family reunion was the main reason for going, and although the reunion was cancelled a month out we still decided to go for a holiday.

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Marcy and I at sunset on the wharf

I did my best to pack for a zero waste holiday or as close to zero waste as possible for myself and the kids. Cloth nappies, reusable coffee cups, stainless steel drink bottles, reusable produce bags and shopping bags, activity bags, containers and a cutlery kit was all packed. Unfortunately both of the kids got sick, one after the other, nothing too bad but enough to keep me from being in control of some things that led to waste. But I didn’t fret over it as the kids health was most important.

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Cloth nappies drying on the deck

In the breaks I did get from the kids getting sick what I did see was an amazing lush green landscape growing fruits and staple crops at every turn surrounded by emerald green water. We also visited a family cemetery and houses and land where relatives used to live. I imagined what the life was like back then and how different it is now on the island. The view at the top of Mt Talau was breathtaking, swimming at a seaside village and watching Marcy in her element with the village kids was also a highlight and experiencing a Sunday church service was good for the soul.

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Sanft, Guttenbeil and Shumarkel cemetery.

Planning my zero waste trip I came across Vava’u Protection Association VEPA. I was interested to hear what they got up to so I visited the centre and had a chat to Karen Stone – an educator at VEPA. I learnt that recycling is available but not economically viable (sent to China), especially plastic recycling. Disposable nappies are subsidised by the government to encourage women to return to the workforce (perhaps giving women one less washing load?), the outcome being disposable nappies make up a large percentage of landfill or unfortunately, end up being dumped in other areas. (Cultural beliefs forego disposable nappies being incinerated- which is a viable option according to Karen). Another effect of disposable nappies is that the water quality has been affected, which could account for bottled water sold and discarded everywhere and even locals stocking up. However it was great to see the locals harvesting and using rainwater which made me think I need to get a rainwater tank set up at home ASAP!

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VEPA office near the wharf in Neiafu

VEPA do an array of work and one of their projects was working with retailers at the local marketi to forego plastic bags. I also learnt that plastic bags were taxed for a time but it didn’t work out so plastic bags are now back 😦 however food waste is not high on the waste scale which was encouraging to hear 🙂 Recycling bins are scattered all over the island and I noticed that in small villages they looked good – uncontaminated and used well compared to the ones in the main town.

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A small recycling station that I found near where I was staying. Here I dropped off some cans and bottles.

I noticed a lot of litter around, plastic and glass bottles, food packets, plastic bags, and others who I traveled with and met up with noticed it too, so it wasn’t me with my waste cap on! It was a little depressing to be honest and it made me sad for the island and the people living there and also made me think about my ancestors who worked and lived on the land and what they would think. Vava’u is a small place but the waste issues seemed so big. It made me think of all the initiatives and services that are available in NZ and how grateful I am for them but also it made me think that there are so many meaning we consume and make a lot of waste!

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Local marketi, VEPA are working with retailers to forego plastic bags.

Chatting to some family who joined us in Vava’u and who had been to Vava’u 10 years previous, they talked about how litter wasn’t what it is now and that burning waste (mainly stuff that was swept up around their property, I would imagine dried leaves and garden waste) was common but now not common at all, because according to a local – “you can’t burn plastic” which seemed to be the most common waste. (Here is a video clip made in the Tongan language that talks about the risks and harm that burning plastic has on the environment).

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Plastic bag floating in the sea 😦

Doing a bit of research before and after the trip I came across this report. Although it centres on Tongatapu it would appear the challenges are the same on other islands including Vava’u. The report mentions how abandoned cars are a growing waste problem, this I certainly noticed, especially when our driver pointed out his home above a car wreck site and it looked as though the cars had been there for many many years with the rusty cars blending into clay coloured land that had been hollowed out for the site. I do hope to visit Tonga again in the future, I hope that things are better environmentally. At the moment I feel there is a long way to go.

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A kava crop near Mt Talau. At $150 a kilo for kava powder this is a precious crop!

The bigger picture – we stopped by Queen brand vanilla farm and talking to the farmer he told us that the last two seasons of vanilla had failed. Not just in Tonga but globally, he put the failure down to “two words – climate change”. So expect to be paying $$$$$ for vanilla if you are not already. Hearing about failing crops really freaks me out, I would hate to see my kids or grandchildren go hungry.

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Veimumuni Caves

Perhaps it is because I have’t traveled overseas to a developing country for some time, the effect of our disposable life seemed so obvious and catastrophic when there is limited to no infrastructure to deal with the issues associated.  I am still reflecting on this trip and I am not sure where my experiences will take me. For now goodbye Vava’u, I’ll be back some day.

 

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View from the top of Mt Talau
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Sewing for less waste

I must confess I have way too many hobbies, and sewing is one of them. I am an amateur sewer, and can pretty much only sew a straight(ish) line. But that seems to be all I need to whip up a few zero waste essentials such as bags and well, more bags, actually mainly bags.

Sewing supplies are nearly always at op shops, and sometimes they are not necessarily ‘sewing supplies’. I have used shoe laces, mosquito netting, sheets and pillow cases to make bags.

Pillow cases can be turned into bags easily by cutting through the middle and sewing the edges together and if you can manage, sew a casing at the top to pull a drawstring through.

Here’s my how to tutorial:

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The pillow case, scissors and braided string were bought from an op shop.

Depending how many bags you want, cut through the middle as shown in the picture below. I have chosen to make three bags in this instance, two smaller and one large.

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For the smaller bags made from the bottom end of the pillow case it’s a matter of sewing one side together and leaving 2-3 centimetres at the open end (this is if you intend to put drawstring in).

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Turn the fabric inside out before you start sewing.

Use an iron or pins to fold a casing along the top and stitch around the edge. Using a safety pin thread your string through the casing.

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A close up showing the stitching of one side and casing with an opening for the drawsrting.

For the bags or bag you will make from the top section of the pillow case you will need to do a bit of unpicking and cutting to remove the flap. You will be left with two open ends and partially sewn sides. Sew across the bottom, sew one of the sides to the top, and on the other side as above leave 2-3 centimetres open to leave an opening for a drawstring if needed. Fold the top to create a casing and stitch around the edge. Thread through string.

These bags have endless uses!

  • produce bag
  • bread bag
  • lunch bag
  • nappy bag
  • toy bag
  • toiletry bag
  • gift bag

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And that flap of fabric you removed – don’t throw it away, it can be used to make a headband! Or keep it in a bag of scrap material to one day make a rag rug or string made from scrap fabric twisted together.

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Sew in a piece of elastic

 

I believe there is enough stuff in this world. Let’s reuse, redistribute and make do.

I write this post upon seeing the documentary True Cost a revealing documentary about the fashion industry. If you haven’t seen this I urge you to do so.

Goat farming isn’t for everyone

When transitioning to zero waste you become aware of all the things that you can make for yourself in order to remove packaging from your home. When I was transitioning to zero waste I experimented and tried to make many things from scratch. It’s now been over a year since my family began zero waste and I have figured out that there are some things that I can do without, or are easier to buy.

Soap 

I have never made soap and I am not likely to do so in the near future. A store brand of unpackaged soap is available from Huckleberry Farms and you can buy The Eco Store soap there too which is also unpackaged. I used to make hand wash and dishwash liquid which was simply grated soap and water. Now we do without the DIY liquids and clean pots and pans with baking soda and vinegar and hands and body with an old school bar of soap.

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Ria’s Natural Health Soap. An online order delivery.

I also like using shampoo bars for my hair ( I also use baking soda and vinegar ). They are great for travelling as they are small and double as a body soap. Shampoo bars can be bought unpackaged from Lush stores, I get mine from Ria’s Natural Health Soap – great prices and amazing variety.

Bread

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Homemade sourdough – recipe from Michael Pollan’s book ‘Cooked; A Natural History of Transformation’.

I love home-made bread, especially sourdough. I have made it in the past and have had pretty good results. When making sourdough it is a 2 day process (excluding the time to grow the initial bug), which requires some close attention.

We decided making sourdough or bread made with yeast is not worth our time and effort, especially as the kids don’t really eat much of it, nor is it a staple of mine or Max’s diet. However, I do still occasionally buy it to keep in the freezer for visitors or the odd occasion when the kids do feel like it. Our local bakery makes a nice wholemeal loaf and they are used to using my cloth bags.

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Our local baker Rachel from ‘Four Seasons Bakery’ on West Tamaki Road.

 

Dishwasher Powder

I tried a few recipes for dishwasher powder but found they often required more ingredients than I was prepared to use or yielded poor results. We tried for a very short period not using the dishwasher, however the ease got the better of us so we decided to buy dishwasher powder that is available in bulk at Bin Inn.

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Cleaning product variety at Bin Inn.

 

I am always looking for ways to simplify our home life whilst being zero waste. For us it’s a matter of weighing up cost, logistics and practicality. I never want to be guilty of going out of my way in order to prove a point. I’ll leave you with this gem that makes me laugh and I never want to be THAT person.

I stumbled across this on the net, it’s from 2010 author: Magpie Industries, on a discussion thread on producing elektronika music.

 

A month in, lessons learnt.

Things have settled down a bit in our household so we were able to do a thorough audit of our waste from the month of January, which we will use to evaluate and make some decisions for our waste-less year ahead.

Landfill Waste

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Starting top left clockwise.

Pill packets and nasal spray bottle, expired credit card and gift cards, kinesio tape, ear buds and plasters, stringy, spongy, and sticky stuff, plastic bottle rims and seals, loom bands, semi melted top off my grater (oops), clothes pegs, broken bathroom tap piece ($300 plumbing emergency on a Saturday morning), clothing tags, plastic rim from a tub of coconut oil, broken toys, butter and cream cheese wrapping.

Due to a course of antibiotics, hayfever and an injury that required anti-inflammatories we produced more medical waste than normal. The eight year old got her ears pierced so we needed some ear buds, which we borrowed from a friend before purchasing compostable bamboo buds. We buy fabric plasters that come in a long roll which you cut as opposed to individually wrapped plasters.

Lessons learnt:

Replace plastic clothes pegs with wooden ones.

Unsalted butter is preferred but I can do with salted butter that comes wrapped in paper.

Kerbside Recycling

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Left corner clockwise.

Berry punnets, ice cream containers, honey container, cream bottles, scrap books, junkmail, receipts, scrap paper, food+bathroom+laundry+medicine packets, olive oil, movie popcorn tub, tetra packs.

Berry punnets, tetra packs and cans make up a significant portion of our recycling. Despite growing strawberries at home and making a trip to The Strawberry Farm in Mangere to stock up package free, it still wasn’t enough for my kids’ insatiable appetite for fresh berries especially blueberries which were the majority of the punnets.

Lessons learnt:

Investigate more options for ‘pick your own’ berries and buy in large quantities, freezing the excess. We have been considering getting a chest freezer and this would be a another good reason to do so.

Buy dried pulses (lentils, chickpeas, etc) in bulk instead of in cans, buying a pressure cooker may be good option.

Investigate making our own plant milk, a cursory search shows making nut and oat milk to be simple and non time consuming.

Soft Plastic Recycling

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Top left clockwise.

Incense packet, syringe packet, plastic filler from courier delivery, sweet packets, tofu packet, banana wrapper tape, ice cream seal lid, courier package invoice envelope, teabag packet, 2 cheese packets, 5 tempeh packets, toilet paper wrapper.

Tempeh packets made up a significant portion of our soft plastic which led us on a tempeh journey. We contacted Tonzu and had no luck with requesting it package free although Tofu may be a possibility. We then did some research and found a small scale manufacturer in Grey Lynn who learnt their craft in Indonesia, they also use plastic bags to seal the tempeh before fermentation and advised this is the norm for modern commercial production. Traditionally tempeh was fermented in banana leaves, but I guess commercially using banana leaves would not be practical.

A six pack of toilet paper that comes in paper packaging is easily available, however it is three times the price we pay for 18 rolls. We are not about to break the bank to prove a point.

I had found a local store that has bulk black tea however I didn’t particularly like the taste. So I have gone back to using teabags (which I compost), we buy a pack of 200 to last us and save packaging.

Lessons learnt:

Remember to request no excess packaging or filler when ordering online.

Investigate unpackaged tofu at asian supermarkets as an alternative to tempeh, however part of the reason we choose Tonzu tempeh and tofu is we have greater trust in the source and like the values of the company.

Continue to investigate toilet roll alternatives, at this point though we believe we have investigated almost all options including commercial suppliers, and nothing that is not plastic wrapped is cost effective.

Countdown has cling wrapped cheese for sale in varying weights, we tried to approach them previously regarding getting cheese cut to order in our own containers and didn’t get very far but we will try again this year.

Overall we think we did pretty well for the month. As a family of five on a single modest income, cost, logistics and practicality still inform our approach to zero waste, so this audit would be fairly indicative of our monthly waste going forward in 2016.

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Total landfill weight for January 2016 -284 grams

 

 

Three easy foodie things

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Oats, lentils and popcorn. Economical, versatile and healthy. I thought I would share 3 simple recipes (hardly recipes, more like throw into a pot) that use these 3 pantry staples that don’t require having to shop at speciality food stores. Oats, lentils and popcorn can be bought from bulk bins at supermarkets. Remember to take your own reusable bags.

Muesli

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Oats, sunflower seeds, raw nuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds bought from bulk bins at the supermarket using reusable bags. Tip: save the codes on a notepad on your phone.

Muesli is a great to make a lot of at once as it keeps a long time stored correctly. Oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruits are all that you need to make a delicious muesli. Simply put the oats and nuts (roughly chop nuts) in a baking tray and cook in the oven on 180* stirring occasionally until toasted to your preference. Add dried fruit once cooled and store in jars.

Porridge is also a simple food to make using quick oats- just add boiling water and leave to cool. My toddler has porridge every morning, I add either a little stewed fruit or a teeny bit of honey.

Dahl

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Use an array of fresh veges in the dahl

Lentils are another staple at bulk bins and are very economical. Buy loose veges from the supermarket or from your local market using your own reusable bags. My toddler and eight year old will happily eat dahl and it’s even better the next day.

Soak one cup of lentils in water for at least 30 minutes. Fry spices in oil for a few minutes, stirring constantly on a medium heat. I use roughly a teaspoon of each: turmeric, cumin, coriander and yellow mustard seeds. Add 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic to spices and oil, cook these a few minutes then add veges (apart from leafy greens) that have been chopped up to roughly the same size. Cook these for about five minutes, add drained lentils, add water or vegetable stock, enough to cover veges a few inches above. Cook for around 40 minutes with the lid on the pot. Add chopped leafy greens such as spinach, kale or silverbeet. Cook for another 20 minutes. Season with salt before serving. I like a squeeze of lemon on mine or a splash of apple cider vinegar. Optional: serve with rice or flat bread.

Popcorn

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Another staple at supermarket bulk bins is popcorn. We don’t buy chips as we avoid single use packaging so popcorn is a great alternative for snacking and the kids love it, and it’s so easy to make!

On a medium to high heat and depending on the size of your pan add enough oil to just cover the surface, add popcorn kernels, don’t crowd the pan, just enough to cover the surface to avoid un-popped kernels. Put lid on pot and every now and then give pan a swirl, continue to do this when kernels start popping. Once popping action has slowed down remove pan from heat and leave lid on until popping has stopped. For the kids I add a little salt and sometimes a little melted butter. Feeling adventurous? Google ‘flavoured popcorn recipes’ for some different flavours.

10 Waste Streams and Counting….

Waste Stream definition:

  1. The total flow of solid waste from homes, businesses, institutions, and manufacturing plants that is recycled, burned, or disposed of in landfills, or segments thereof such as the “residential waste stream” or the “recyclable waste stream”.

I was recently reading about a zerowaste town in Japan called Kamikatsu that has 34 waste streams and diverts 80% of waste from landfill. Their efforts are impressive and I particularly like the share, swap and close-knit community aspect of town. Here in New Zealand zero waste enterprises are popping up all over the country and last July I was lucky enough to visit Xtreme Zero Waste Raglan. Servicing the Raglan township by providing a waste kerbside collection and drop off service Xtreme Zero Waste diverts approximately 75% of the waste from landfill. Seeing the numerous waste streams and learning the value of waste and shared ethos throughout the township was exciting for a waste reduction enthusiast such as myself.

Here’s a video of the study tour I joined to Xtreme Zero Waste Raglan made by Auckland Council. Watch here.

Waste streams offered at these enterprises cater for all types of waste which made me think about how many waste streams I have in my home. Here’s my list:

  1. bokashi compost – small scale kitchen waste
  2. kerbside recycling bin
  3. landfill bin
  4. soft plastic recycling
  5. compost heap – large scale organic matter, e.g. garden waste, toilet rolls, large kitchen organic waste (banana skins, cabbage leaves), rags, bamboo toothbrushes and scrubbing brushes
  6. food scraps fertiliser: tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells
  7. glass jar collection: used for homemade condiments, skin balms that I share, swap and occasionally sell
  8. flowers and herbs: dried to use in homemade skincare, craft and baking
  9. fabric: from old clothes and towels used for rags or upcycled for small sewing projects
  10. plastic bags from commercial soil/seed-raising mix: good to use to collect and swap seaweed/compost/mulch

These waste streams are valuable for numerous reasons and like Xtreme Zero Waste Raglan and the town of Kamikatsu help close the loop or circulate resources a few more times before ending in landfill.

I would be interested for people to share how many waste streams they have in their home to inspire me and others!

 

 

A Bin Full

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A family effort. Photo credit: Rolf Siggard.

It’s come to the end of the year and although I have failed to keep to my new years resolution to post fortnightly on the blog, I have made a decent effort to curb my families’ waste. As a family of five (yes five, we added one final cherub to our clan recently) we have managed not to put out our 140 litre bin for the whole year of 2015 until this week.

We tried our best at first to go zero waste however we had to compromise and balance cost and logistics so some products we forewent the zerowaste option for the next best option either reusable or recyclable. Non reusable or domestically recyclable packaging from items such as cheese and toilet paper as well as packaging bought into our home from friends and relatives was put aside throughout the year for soft plastic recycling at a local drop off.

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The inside of our bin.

Surveying our waste the bulk consisted of:

  • broken toys
  • school shoes
  • pill packets
  • weed mat
  • damp remover devices
  • containers
  • broken glass/ceramics

Learning from experience this year we will make make sure to put aside some money for a decent pair of school shoes and continue to replace plastic homewares with second hand quality goods. Some of our waste was the result of decluttering the home so going into the new year with a relatively clean slate will hopefully help us reduce our waste further for 2016.

We avoid buying plastic toys however with gifts from friends and family it is hard to avoid without sounding like the plastic police. With Christmas recently our eight year old received from us presents that aligned with the ‘need, wear, read, want’ philosophy, two of which were second hand. Our children may not be able to grasp the bigger picture of waste however caring for the environment and putting waste in the correct bin will at least be normal behaviour.

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Our waste reduction values are supported at our daughters ‘Wastewise’ school, pictured is a display she made in class.

Going into the new year we will continue our waste-less lifestyle. There are areas for improvement such as reducing our domestic recycling. Cans, tetra packs and berry punnets are typically in our recycling bin. Purchasing a pressure cooker to cook pulses, making our own oat/rice milk instead of buying it and perhaps living next to a strawberry farm (the kids love their berries this time of year) would be helpful!

I know mine and my families’ efforts are not going to save the world alone, governments hold the key to making significant change. I have learnt leading by example together with education is the best approach to waste reduction at a local level.

Here are my family’s top tips to reduce waste:

  • compost food scraps
  • avoid single use packaging
  • use reusable shopping bags
  • buy second hand
  • recycle correctly
  • buy from bulk bins using own bags/containers
  • take your own container to the butcher
  • grow your own fruit and vegetables
  • join a community garden
  • eat real food
  • cook at home
  • bake or make something you would usually buy
  • use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning
  • use cloth wipes and cloth nappies

I began this blog on a whim, not really knowing what I was doing, or having a proper understanding of what I thought I was doing. Looking through my posts I can see my understanding of sustainability grow alongside a passion for creating, making and growing things by hand. I have been lucky to have been supported during this time by the Auckland Waste Minimisation network of amazing people who have given me some great opportunities over the past year. A big thank you to my waste colleagues who I have “worked” with over the past year, thanks for making my journey so enjoyable and rewarding.

Happy New Year! xo