Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

One set of bins for the entire year - can it be done?

Principle 6: Produce no waste

An unusual sight, as we are planning on putting the bins out again only once for the whole of 2011.
Typical of many houses in Australia we have two bins, a 120lt rubbish bin that is collected weekly and a 240lt recycle bin that is collected fortnightly. We can produce 6,240lt (or 3,120kg) of waste and 6,240lt (or 2,840kg) of recycling for a cost of $270 for the year. This cost is a compulsory part of our rates, so in order to get good value for money we should fill up our bins at every opportunity, right?

Many people in our neighbourhood manage to fill them up, but we don't produce anywhere near that amount of waste / recycling. I suggested to Kunie that we should keep track of how much rubbish and recycling we collect by only putting the bins out when they are full. Kunie's response was to suggest that we only put the bins out once for the whole year! I was a bit taken aback, but thought that we might just be able to do it - if we really put our minds to it.

Our 'binimum' approach has been:
  • growing our own fruit, veg and herbs
  • buying fresh produce (not canned) locally where possible
  • buying dried goods in bulk about once every three months from Melbourne
  • feeding food scraps to our wormfarm or compost bin
  • making our own bread, flour, mayonaise, yogurt, nut butter, laundry liquid, beer, cordial etc
  • using cloth nappies
  • using the library and toy library to borrow books, movies and toys rather than buying them
  • buying and donating 2nd hand goods at the local Op-Shops
  • giving and receiving food / clothes / and other stuff to local friends 
  • loaning and borrowing tools / books / videos etc to friends
  • visiting and being visitied by friends with kids to use toys we / they don't have 
  • maintaining and fixing things rather than throwing them out
  • taking apart broken gadgets and saving useful materials from them before disposal 
In addition to this we are going to:
  • carefully choose products with minimal packaging or in useful containers
  • buy more products that we really 'need' and less that we 'want'
  • reusue, compost or burn all paper and cardboard
  • creatively use 'waste' for art projects or storage systems
  • find alternatives for packaged products like dish washing liquid and toothpaste
  • grow more of our own food and preserve it in recycled containers
  • get chickens to eat premium food scraps and produce eggs for us
  • wash and reuse plastic bags 
  • find a local fresh milk source 
  • not buy the weekend 'mega' newspaper
Our small kitchen rubbish bin is about 15lt and our recycle bin is about 30lt. Based on filling a 120lt rubbish bin and 240lt recycle bin over a year we can only fill these kitchen bins once every 45 days (320ml / 640ml per day) for a family of four. This is not just from domestic kitchen use, but from the entire household. Quite a challenge.

While disposing of unwanted material is going to be an issue for us we are going to miss out on some of the great resources that you get when you buy stuff from the supermarket regularly, like newspaper (for cleaning and starting the fire), jars (for preserving) and plastic bags (for putting stuff in). Fortunately our neighbours still throw out plenty of this sort of thing, so we will be asking them to put some aside for us as we need it.

While the temptation is there, we wont be putting our rubbish into our neighbours bins just so we can reach our goal (we'd only be cheating ourselves anyway). But I think that it's okay for us to use bins elsewhere as we normally would. One of the big issues that we will be facing is when guest bring food to share, especially wine or beer, as bottles take up a huge amout of space. I think that we should deal with the waste they bring into the house, as they would deal with ours. Part of this whole process will be sharing our story to educate people along the way. We feel confident that we can do it.

We will be setting a new website up soon called that will discuss how to reduce waste / recycling and how to reuse materials creatively.
    A gasp in horror as a large piece of plastic falls out of the recycle bin during collection. Fortunately the driver got out and picked it up.

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Okuizome - a celebration of life and food

    Principle 10: Use and value diversity

    Our youngest son, Sen, has been on breast milk for six months and has been pretty keen to explore other taste sensations - like the floor, seat harness, basically anything that he can reach. Kunie has been actively sharing her cultural heritage with our two boys, speaking to them in Japanese, preparing traditional meals and sharing some of the customs. Food is a cultural focus in Japan, much more so than in Australia, and the Okuizome ritual welcomes children to the joys of food.

    Okuizome is a traditional Japanese ceremony that has been around for about 1000 years. It was once common for babies to die before reaching the 100th day milestone, in more recent times the ritual is held at around six months. Special dishes are prepared for the baby, with the hope that he / she will always have enough food in his life. The colour theme of the food and dishes is red, which brings luck in many Asian cultures. The food that is presented on the ceremonial tray usually includes:
    • Fish, commonly the celebratory 'tai' (Snapper), which should have its head and tail still attached symbolising the strengthening of the neck.
    • Beans, representing loyalty and diligence, since the Japanese word for beans, 'mame' is a homophone for these virtues.
    • Boiled Vegetables, usually seasonal and include some 'kombu' (kelp) whose Japanese name reminds native speakers of the word 'yorokobu' (to be glad).
    • Soup, in our case 'miso'
    • Rice, the celebratory sticky rice called 'sekihan'
    • and a Smooth Pebble, presented for the baby to bite, representing the growth of strong, healthy teeth.
    While these dishes are all presented to Sen, he doesn't actually eat any of them, which seems a bit cruel. Instead we fed him some stewed cherry plums which we harvested from trees in the back yard.

    We invited people of all ages to be a part of the celebration, people who we felt would be a part of his life. About half of the 35 guests were local, as well as some from the city and others from way out bush. We even had Sen's grandparents watching on from Hiroshima via skype.

    Our interpretation of the tradition included the invitation for guests to bring a special dish of their own to contribute to the feast along with a story that could be shared with us all. Some people brought food that they grew themselves, others brought dishes from their homeland, food they enjoyed as a child, our next door neighbour brought her signature dish of sausage rolls that were snapped up before I got a taste.

    Guests arrive for the Okuizome. The hand painted paper fish banner at the top of the photo is called a 'koi nobori' (carp wind sock) that is traditionally flown on 'tango no sekku' (boys' day). It was originally given to Kunie's grandfather by a neighbour on the birth of his son (Kunie's father), over 70 years ago.

    Food laid out for the feast with the ceremonial Okuizome dishes in the foreground.

    Sen's nana holds him while he laps up the attention of local guests

    Kunie pretends to feed Sen the ceremonial food as part of the ritual while Kai investigates what else there is

    Kai, who enjoyed his Okuizome nearly three years ago, feeds his little brother for the first time

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Featured in the Permaculture Diary

    The 2011 diary features stories about sustainable building, including a short story about the Abdallah House project. Other building stories include:
    At the time of writing there is still time to get one as a Chrissy present or to start off the New Year. Check out the permaculture diary for a whole year of inspiration.

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