The Mess of it all – Going Green

Well it’s Blog Action Day for Climate Change day – so here goes…

“Going green” is not always as easy as it sounds…if it ever did sound easy.

I live in an established house in suburbia and climate change was a burden to me and I wanted to do something about it…

1) A veggie garden. I wanted to stop buying vegetables that were grown thousands of miles away from where I live, or ones that are grown local but have petro-chemical fertilisers and insecticides all over them. There are some local semi-organic growers, and we use them when we can, but we began to plant the occasional plant in the backyard, then we dug up almost half of the backyard for this purpose. We used old roofing tiles from the rubbish dump to make raised beds and use all organic (mostly made in the back yard) compost. We made a chook pen and bought 3 chickens. The pen was also made from rubbish from the tip bits. This season we have spread into the front yard and have planted melons and pumpkin around the front rose bush. We already have olive, apricot and nectarine in the front along with a bunch of flowering native trees to attract bees and birds. We have a nice pond running on a solar pump in the back that attracts frogs, birds and all sorts of nice visitors. The upside of this is … well obvious, the downsides are, less yard for kids play (we have 3 girls under the age of 13). But this has forced them out into the parks and bush lands with friends and neighbours – so that’s not bad! The garden is very water intensive so…

2. A Water Tank. In Perth, Australia it gets pretty dry! We have major water restrictions at times and vegetable gardens are water intensive. (So is making bio diesel, but we’ll get to that later). So we found a spot that had an ideal spot for a 5000L water tank (after removing a Date Palm). We catch only the water off the patio roof, and this is enough to fill the tank to overflowing numerous times over winter. WHY DONT THESE BECOME LAW FOR EVERY HOUSE BUILT AROUND HERE!! What we have discovered is that 5000L used for the washing machine and the garden and washing bio-diesel does not go far at all. It is only just the end of our Australian winter and a few weeks into Spring and the tank has only about 800L left. I would dearly love to install a couple of others to be honest! Maybe even dig up what is left of the backyard and put in a 10 000L underground one!

3. Biodiesel. Much talk about this alternate fuel is on the internet and in the media. Just the other night on some current affairs programme I saw a guy I know from Perth here talking about running his old Nissan on straight Vegetable Oil. I had been reading about how to convert used vegetable oil into Biodiesel for a while when I attended the Sunfair in 08, an alternate fuels fair at the University of Western Australia. I met a group selling the “BioMaster” processor. I grabbed 3 mates to put in $1600 each, which well and truly paid for itself in a short amount of time. We make sure we only use oil that has already served its original purpose and would otherwise be thrown out or turned into pig food…or women’s cosmetics 🙂  There is too much deforestation and ‘take-over’ of existing crop for the purpose of bio fuels for me to ever justify buying new oil for the purpose of making bio fuel.

This is where the mess of it all comes in…The process of collecting used cooking oil from the back of a restaurant or sports complex etc is rather ugly. I used to hate that used oil smell that wafted up my nose if I rode past the back of the fish and chip shop as a kid, now I loath it! Take last Monday for example. I had to pick up a couple of hundred litres from one place and about 180 from another, and maybe 50 from another.

Place 1 – For some reason unknown to me mould had developed over the whole thing, it was disgusting. Bits of old fish and chicken floated around the open drum and when I tried to extract it all with my pump an old cloth got sucked up. I got as much as I could, oil dripping down my arms and on the floor. I climbed back into our nice family car, oil on the floor, steering wheel and door handles and gear stick!

Place 2 – As usual someone had left the lid open and it had rained, there was so much water mixed in with the oil it was almost worthless, again the pump jammed with some unidentifiable deep fried object and I got frustrated and moved on with only 100L and wondering when I would get back to properly clean out this drum!

Place 3 – easy, clean golden used oil, love it!

I got it all haf way home and was at the traffic lights when a pedestrian called out that I had liquid (oil) running out from the back of my trailer. I jumped out to see that one oil container had fallen over…the only one I had not fixed the lid on well 😦  I kept going, leaving a small trail of oil all the way to my house. At this point I did a silly thing. I removed the trailer, the oil rushed to the end and ran out all over the road, my drive and into my garage as I pushed the trailer in there. For 4 hours yesterday I scrubbed everything with Glycerol (a handy waste product of Biodeisel that is a soap base). This did not work as the brick paved drive and road are porous and soaked it all up. The stain from the oil mixed with Glycerol is all down my street and the smell is wafting through my open office window as I type this.

My shed has never been the same since I installed the plant over 18 months ago, everything I touch around the house has a greasy mark on it, I have bundles of oil covered clothes that stink and I am constantly wondering where to pour all this waste water and glycerol, 2 by-products of the process. Some of the Glyc goes good in the compost.

In the meantime, I have a pretty environmentally clean car (not perfect, but better than normal diesel. I have more money in the bank as this process is cheep. I have a hobby that I quite enjoy and a couple of guys who have been on the journey with me that I enjoy a quiet beer and chat in the shed with while we play with chemicals.

But let me tell you this. I need a bigger bit of land and a bigger shed 🙂 Which makes my footprint bigger I know, but this is getting ugly and the neighbours are only just smiling still – it stinks around here!

It’s fun to live greener and these ways are not the only way we try, we/I catch public transport a bit, we only have one car and a scooter. We catch excess water in buckets to flush toilets where possible, we carbon offset flights when we travel for what that’s worth…or is that just a guilt offset for using such a big carbon emitter(!!??) we compost a lot and feed every bit of food stuff to the chickens! We do a bit here and there, hoping that others might ‘catch the bug’ too. But with 2 working adults and 3 kids in all sorts of activities, it makes for a constant messy active ongoing campaign, but – you know, I think its worth it.

See other posts and pictures – Here (My Backyard) and  here (environment), also here (Bio diesel)


The Low Down On Our Solar Rebates

An economical truth (from the Australia Institute)

The solar panel rebate announced by Peter Garrett this week sounded like just the news we need after the weak five per cent emission reduction targets were revealed in the White Paper. Finally, it seemed that the Government was doing something serious to reduce emissions. No such luck.

Minister Garrett chose his words very carefully when he explained the benefits of this new scheme. It would be a boost to the solar industry. True. It was great for families who wanted to put solar panels on their roofs. True. The removal of the means testing meant more families would be able to access the rebate. True.

But what is missing from the Minister’s statements is any mention about Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The silence on this issue is no slip-up—it is part of an elaborate strategy to try and ensure that the public continues to ‘do their bit’ in their homes without revealing the awful truth behind the Rudd Government’s emissions trading scheme. After 2010, nothing households do to reduce their use of f ossil fuels will reduce Australia’s emissions by one kilogram.

The Rudd Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme, now known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), will work like this. The government will issue a fixed number of permits to pollute, with the number of the permits ensuring Australia’s emissions will fall by five per cent by 2020. Once these permits are given away (a small number will be sold) to polluters, the polluters can buy and sell them among themselves.

The problem for households keen to ‘do their bit’ to reduce climate change is that if they have shorter showers or put solar panels on their roofs, all they will do is reduce their personal demand for electricity. If less coal is burned to provide households with electricity, the coal-fired power stations won’t need as many permits and they can then sell their ‘spare’ permits to the aluminum or steel industries so that these polluters can INCREASE their emissions.

The real sting in the tail is that the less energy households use, the cheaper the permits bought by the big polluters will be.

Hopefully the Senate will modify the CPRS so that individuals who reduce their energy use can ensure that any ‘spare’ permits get ripped up, thereby reducing Australia’s total emissions. But in the meantime, if Peter Garrett’s announcement has made you think about installing some solar panels, it might be best to call his office first. The question you need to ask is a simple one: ‘Will installing solar panels on my roof reduce Australia’s emissions?’

Feel free to let us know if he answers.