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Reduce Reuse Recycle
The average Australian household produces up to 1000 kg of solid waste a year. Much of this is made up of items seen only from a limited point of view.

What is waste?

The average Australian household generates up to 1000kg of solid waste each year. About 40 per cent of this is food, followed by green waste from the garden, paper and cardboard, plastic and metal.  We can all make an impact by reducing, reusing and recycling.

In Victoria, more than one-third of household waste (by weight) is recycled.  South Australia intends to recycle three-quarters of household waste put out for kerbside collection by 2010.  All States have their own targets and initiatives to increase our diversion of waste into recycling.

Here are some ideas to get you started.  Over time you'll become more vigilant and thoughtful about ‘waste’, which is often only an item or a material seen from a limited point of view.

And remember, consumer demand for recyclable goods drives the need for a recycling system.  Buying recycled means looking for products and packaging that are made from recycled material.   This way we truly 'close the recycling loop'.


In your house
Reduce

  • You can save paper by placing a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your letterbox.
  • Repair clothes, toys, tools and appliances rather than replace them.
  • Buy and use disposable items sparingly.
  • Buy in bulk where appropriate: this reduces packaging waste by up to 75 per cent.

Reuse

  • Try a garage sale to pass on old clothing, furniture, toys and other household   items or give them to a charity.
  • Used paper can become notepads or drawing paper for children.  Use the back of   a used envelope for shopping lists.  Print on both sides of your home computer   paper.
  • Buy reusable rather than disposable items, such as pens that take refills.

Recycle


  • Check with your local council about hard waste and green waste collections.
  • Don’t contaminate your recycling because this threatens the viability of kerbside   recycling.
  • There are lots of products accepted directly by recycling companies, such as toner   cartridges, computers, car parts, metals and building materials.

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In your kitchen
Reduce

  • Buy in bulk and store food in reusable containers.
  • Home cook instead of buying take-aways that are a major source of packaging   waste (and litter).
  • Avoid plastic wrap - refrigerate leftovers in bowls covered with a small plate or in   washable containers.
  • Drink tap water and carry your own water bottle or reuse water bottles.

Reuse

  • Reuse plastic containers and jars for storing leftovers, soups, grains, spices and   as lunchboxes.
  • Line the bin with used plastic bags. 
  • Collect egg cartons, yoghurt and ice-cream containers for kindergartens and day-   care centres.
  • Use the inside wrapper from cereal boxes as frozen food bags or to wrap lunches   and treats.
  • Reuse aluminium pie plates for baking and reheating food.

Recycle

  • Check with your local council for directions about what to recycle.  Again, be    careful not to contaminate your recycling.
  • Buy certified recycled products.
  • Recycle your plastic bags at participating supermarkets.
  • Compost your fruit and vegetable scraps.

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Your shopping

Don’t buy waste!  By thinking about reducing, reusing and recycling when we make our shopping choices, we can all help reduce our growing waste.  This not only helps the environment, but can often make your shopping cheaper.

Reduce


  • Look for products with minimal packaging.
  • Bulk buy products with a long shelf-life.  Choose big boxes rather than two smaller   ones, or large soft drink bottles rather than cans.  If your supermarket does not   provide bulk goods, have a chat to the manager.
  • Choose the concentrated or refillable form of products such as detergents, juices,   cordials and cleaning products.
  • Buy fresh food rather than processed. 
  • Refuse plastic bags: take a basket, backpack, box or reusable shopping bag. 
  • Consolidate purchases into one bag rather than getting a new bag at each store
      when shopping.

Reuse

  • Shop for good quality second-hand or refurbished products.  Look in your local    newspaper.
  • Keep a few used plastic shopping bags or cardboard boxes in the car for shopping
      on the way home.
  • Even keep a spare plastic bag rolled up and secured with a rubber band in your   handbag or wallet for that time when you might need it.

Recycle

  • Look for products that have recyclable or reusable packaging.
  • Avoid difficult to recycle packaging made of more than one material that cannot   be separated such as plastic laminate on paper.
  • Support organisations and stores that have environmentally conscious products   and practices.  Again, have a chat to your store manager.
  • Recycle your plastic bags at participating supermarkets.


Appliances and equipment

Over two million major appliances are sold in Australia every year.  Many rapidly become obsolete and this results in large volumes of goods being used as landfill.

As well as a the waste generated during manufacture of these appliances, hazardous materials contained within the goods - including lead, mercury, cadmium, phosphors and CFCs - may leach into the landfill and contaminate water supplies.

  • Assess the manufacturer’s environmental performance and recycling services they   offer.  Some manufacturers are designing products that can be easily dismantled   for component reuse and recycling.
  • See if the design of the product is durable, can be upgraded, and whether it can   be easily disassembled for recycling.  Get the longest warranty possible.
  • If appliance parts are made out of single moulded plastic or metal pieces, it   means they are cheaper to make but more difficult and expensive to repair.
  • And watch out for clusters of components.  You may end up replacing a complete   assembly of parts because they are connected to the single part that does not   work.
  • Consider buying a used quality-brand appliance from a charitable organisation.
  • Use repair, reuse and recycling services offered by retailers, manufacturers, local   government and other charitable organisations.
  • Maintain appliances by following manufacturer's instructions.
  • Don’t discard an otherwise operating appliance just because its blades are blunt.

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Building and renovating

While building and renovating seems to produce a lot of waste, much of this can easily be reused and recycled, such as timber, concrete, steel, fixtures and fittings, rubble and bricks.  There are a number of simple things you can do to make sure valuable waste does not end up in landfill.

  • Try to maximise the use of standard material sizes such as plasterboard, timber   and bricks. This can significantly reduce waste off-cuts and the cost associated   with their handling and disposal.  Suppliers of building products can provide you   with details of standard material sizes.
  • Consider how you manage your home waste.  It's easier to recycle effectively   with an adequate space for garbage and recycling bins, both inside and outside   the home.
  • Ask your architect or draftsperson to specify products made from recycled   material.
  • When contracting a builder, include a clause that specifies the builder must   prepare a waste minimisation action plan. 
  • Ask the builder to report back on waste minimisation initiatives at the points when   payment is due.  If the builder engages sub-contractors, insist they minimise   waste from their activities as well.
  • Request that the builder's suppliers use reusable or returnable pallets and not use   unnecessary packaging.
  • Plan a garden that generates little waste and uses less water by using indigenous   trees, shrubs and groundcovers.
  • If using professional landscapers, ask them to choose mulches and composts   made from recycled garden materials that meet Australian standards (AS 4454,   AS 3743 & AS 4419). T hese kinds of products can decrease water usage, reduce   weed infestation as well as improve soil fertility.
  • Demolition can generate large amounts of waste.  Much of this is not ‘waste’   however, because whole and broken bricks, timber, concrete and steel are   valuable materials easily reused or recycled.
  • Avoid damaging materials when demolishing and separate reusable and recyclable   items to be salvaged and sold.

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Embodied Energy

When planning to build, aim to use materials that have low embodied energy. Embodied energy is a measurement of the amount of pollution produced when manufacturing and distributing a certain material. For instance Aluminium sheets have a higher level of embodied energy than timber – the following table gives a general indication of embodied energy for various materials.

             
                  Source:
CSIRO MMT Brochures - Technologies Embodied Energy

Please note: this table should be used as a general indication only. A number of factors, including the distance required for the material to travel to reach the building site will alter the amount of pollution produced.

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Hazardous waste

Everyday we buy, use, and throw away many products which contain small amounts of hazardous chemicals that can be a risk to you, your family and pets, waste collectors and the environment.  Hazardous waste can be corrosive, toxic, flammable or reactive.
Everyday we buy, use, and throw away many products which contain small amounts of hazardous chemicals that can be a risk to you, your family and pets, waste collectors and the environment.  Hazardous waste can be corrosive, toxic, flammable or reactive.

When we dump these materials see simply put the danger elsewhere, usually a landfill where they can seep out as gases and liquids, posing health and environmental risks.  If we pour them down the drain, they pollute our waterways.

Some common products that produce hazardous waste are batteries, gas cylinders, fluorescent light fittings, oil, grease, solvents, paints and paint strippers, swimming pool chemicals, some air fresheners, hair dyes, fabric cleaners, pesticides, herbicides and some of the packaging that these products come in.

A recent study showed that nearly 86 per cent of households put these materials into their usual kerbside waste.  Instead, why not contact your local council for the best way to dispose of hazardous products?

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And some useful tips for the garden

What is compost?

Composting is a natural process by which organic materials such as leaves, grass and vegetable scraps are broken down by micro-organisms to form a rich soil-like substance.  It’s produced in the natural environment from decaying leaves and litter on the forest floor.

Over time, further decomposition of compost produces humus, an essential component of all soil that normally takes ages to form.  Adequate levels of this organic matter - compost or humus - are essential for good soil.

We can achieve the end result much more quickly in the home garden by building a compost heap.  Essentially, this process been used in crop production for over 4000 years.

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Why compost?

Composting is a natural process that breaks down food, vegetable and garden waste into rich organic material and soil conditioners.  So it’s a great way to reduce the amount of waste we need to put in the wheelie bin.

We pay a high price in both monetary and environmental terms for the disposal of household garbage, about half of which is food and garden refuse that can be turned into compost.  We can all play a part in land care by composting the organic parts of household garbage.

Some of the benefits are that composting:
  • Reduces waste to landfill (about half of our home garbage is organic waste);
  • Reduces water use and urban run-off (by increasing the absorbency of soil);
  • Increases the nutrient value of the soil and improves its productivity;
  • saves money by reducing the need for artificial fertilisers and pesticides (because
        it increases the ability of plants to resist disease); and
  • It’s an environmentally responsible way to help your garden grow well.
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Getting started

While it’s not essential that compost piles be enclosed, many people use a bin or similar enclosure which can be bought from hardware and garden shops; or you can easily construct one with common materials such as chicken wire, old fencing timbers or used pallets.

Choose an easily accessible warm spot on a grass or soil base.  Place some coarse sticks and twigs on the bottom to help with drainage and aeration.  Then just add your organic scraps.  The finer you can shred the materials the better (a mower for small jobs or shredder for larger ones is often useful).

Moisten the pile as you go and give it a turn with your garden fork to get air into the pile.  Then turn the compost pile every few weeks so that the outside layers are exchanged with matter at the centre of the pile.  Cover it so it doesn’t dry out or get soggy with rain (you can put a lid on it with wet newspaper, old carpet, tin or roofing materials, anything that slows water loss and still allows some air-flow).

Composting can begin at any time of the year, but many people start in the autumn when leaves are abundant.

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The process

If the pile is large enough, and the conditions allow the micro-organisms to flourish, the composting process will be rapid.  The temperature at the centre will rise to about 60 degrees C as the waste materials begin to breakdown.  As the decay process continues the compost heap will gradually shrink to about one third of its original size.

Finally, the temperature cools and earthworms invade the heap.  The compost is ready when there are no recognisable bits of the original material.  It will be fine to crumbly in structure, almost black in colour and will have a good earthy smell.

Not all compost heaps are quick to decompose and they don't all generate a lot of heat.  Efficient composting is performed by micro-organisms that thrive on oxygen. If your compost is cool and smells like the tip it is probably because the organisms at work like saturated, airless conditions.  So remember to turn your compost regularly to let the air get into it.

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Essentials

A good organic mix is three parts ‘browns’ (such as dead leaves that are high in carbon) and one part ‘greens (fresh grass clippings and prunings that are high in nitrogen).

  • Moisture - Materials should feel moist but not soggy to encourage the micro-     organisms.  It should feel damp rather than wet.  Check this each time the heap     is turned.
  • Temperature - It should feel warm to the touch except in the cold winter months.
  • Air - Turn the material regularly to ensure air reaches the centre of the pile and     to prevent any unpleasant odours that can occur when materials decompose     without oxygen (oxygen is essential in the composting process).  Remember:     lots of air = lots of organisms = rapid decay.
  • Micro-organisms - These are the naturally occurring compost activators -     bacteria, fungi, worms, millipedes.  To be sure of a healthy population scatter a     spade full of soil through the raw materials or add some old compost to the new     heap.
  • Time – The decay process may take as little as 8 to 10 weeks depending on the     composition of the compost.
The following materials are suitable for composting:
  • Uncooked vegetable trimmings, peelings and tea bags from the kitchen;
  • Soft hedge clippings, dead leaves, lawn clippings;
  • Shredded paper (not shiny magazine-type paper) cotton and wool fabrics;
  • annual weeds.
Materials not suitable for composting are:
  • Meat, bones, fish, oils and fats (they attract vermin);
  • dog, cat and human waste (may contain harmful bacteria or intestinal worm   larvae);
  • Fruit fly infested fruit;
  • Soil pests and diseased plant material;
  • Large volumes of salty water (salt is not good for soil);
  • Fruit and seed from invasive weeds (like privet and lantana);
  • Synthetic fabrics;
  • Large woody material like prunings (which need to be put through a shredder    first);
  • And try not to compose your compost of too much of the same material – variety   is best.

Earthworms are the intestines of the earth' said the philosopher Aristotle. This is because worms create pure humus.  So worm farms are great for recycling food scraps and organic matter and for composting if you are short of space.

A worm farm operates on a rotating cycle with a tray/box containing food scraps sitting at the top or side which attracts the worms until the food is eaten.  Scraps are then put into the other tray/box bringing the worms back but leaving their castings, ready for the garden.  This cycle is endless: feeding, migrating, and feeding again.

Worm castings are a smorgasbord of nutrients: a handful of castings stirred into a 10 litre bucket of water and applied during the growing season will produce outstanding results.

As well as saving money on artificial products, you won't burn your plants by over-fertilising.


Rainwater Tanks

Home rainwater tanks have long been a necessity in rural Australia and now they are catching on among urban homeowners.  High water usage, population growth through urban sprawl, and the worst drought in generations are encouraging this trend, often with Government rebates.

Rainwater tanks are an effective way to take the pressure off our limited water resources and to help manage stormwater run-off.  By storing run-off from your roof, a tank can provide a valuable water source for flushing toilets, washing machines, watering gardens and washing cars.

By installing a tank you can:

  • Reduce mains water consumption (and therefore reduce water supply   infrastructure costs and requirements for new or bigger dams);
  • Improve water security of supply;
  • Improve your own asset protection (eg your tank water can be used at any time   for lawns, gardens and motor vehicles); and
  • Improve stormwater quality (and reduce stormwater volume and peak   stormwater discharges).

You can also make a big difference to your water bill by using rainwater appropriately in conjunction with devices like dual flush toilets, AAA-rating showerheads, taps and tap aerators.

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Government action

  • In Sydney and NSW new building regulations call for a 40% reduction in mains water usage.  Sydney Water has a rebate program offering customers up to $650 to install a rainwater tank.  To qualify for the rebate, it must be a new tank with a capacity of at least 2,000 litres and be purchased on or after 20 October 2002.  The rebate is based on the size of the tank and whether the rainwater is 'plumbed' into your toilet or washing machine.
  • In Canberra in the ACT, new developments must include a water tank and in Victoria new homes have to be 5-star standard and must install either a solar hot water system or a rainwater tank.

While the NSW Department of Health doesn't advise using rainwater for drinking when there's an alternative mains water supply available, it believes that people in NSW could save millions of litres a year by using rainwater for toilets, in washing machines, and for garden and outdoor use.

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How it works

Rainwater tanks store run-off directed from your gutters and downpipes from your roof catchment. This means you may need to make alterations to your guttering and you will need to install appropriate screens to stop debris and insects entering the tank.

If you are connecting your tank to the toilet or washing machine you will need to maintain a minimum level of water in the tank and will therefore need a top-up system to deliver water through a pipe from the mains supply.  An air-gap is required between this pipe and the rainwater tank to ensure no backflow from the tank can go into the drinking water supply.

If the flow rate is too high, it can affect the water pressure supplied to you and your neighbours.  A plumber can advise of the requirements of the top-up system for your property, including determining the air-gap required and flow rate restriction required.

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New shapes


Manufacturers have a wide range of tanks on the market made from metal, plastic (or PE / polyethylene) or concrete (not often used in urban areas).  The tanks are long-life with variety of shapes and colours.
The days of the old round corrugated iron tank on its timber stand have long gone. The new tanks come in a range of capacities and can be oval-shaped to run along an exterior wall or rectangular with rounded-off corners to minimize the encroachment on your garden area.

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