Plastic straws are a big problem globally, as we use approximately 10 million straws every single day. What is worse is that we only use a single straw for 10-20 minutes before throwing it away and leaving it to go to landfill or wash away in our oceans, threatening wildlife.
However, there are ways we reduce this impact.
One way is to practice saying no. This means that when we go to a bar or a restaurant that offers you a straw with your drink, you politely let them know that you will skip having a straw. This practice will encourage businesses to listen to their customers and be more eco-friendly. This may mean they will swap plastic straws for paper ones or ditch straws completely!
Another way to reduce this impact is to use a Stainless steel straw. Stainless steel straws are very trendy at the moment, as they are a reusable product, and look beautiful! If you do enjoy using straws but want to be more environmentally conscious, then this may be the way to go. They come in a variety of colors, come with a straw cleaner and a cute pouch to put them in. Carry this straw in your bag and when your out for a drink, whip it out and you won’t need no plastic straw!
Do you know of any ways to help this issue? If so, please comment below! We would love to hear your thoughts.
Did you know, that in Australia 80,000 plastic toothbrushes end up in landfill every single day?
Yeah, that is a pretty scary number…
To reduce this impact, there are toothbrushes made from bamboo that we can use instead! Usually, the bamboo toothbrushes bristles are made from nylon but they can be recycled (check with your local waste collection). The best way to dispose of the brush is to pull out the bristles, or cut off the head, and pop the handle in the composter.
To add on to the eco bathroom alternatives, lets look into toothpaste! It would rock your mind a little to think you can have toothpaste in something that wasn’t plastic, but it has now been done! It is a thing called DENT tabs, which are small toothpaste tablets. Plastic free and zero waste. You simply pop them in your mouth, add a little bit of water and then you can brush away! They come with fluoride too, to help prevent tooth decay and sensitivity.
Cling wrap is a very popular product that has been used for a very long time, since 1949 in fact, due to its convenience and efficiency in preserving our food. However, despite its benefits it is a plastic, a single-use plastic that is, and so it is not very environmentally friendly.
To help reduce our plastic use, finding a cling wrap alternative is a great start. Fortunately, there are numerous ways we can do this.
Before we do, I would like to touch on the topic of ‘misleading marketing’. I was pretty mislead the other day when I found a degradable version of cling wrap found at Woolworths and Coles.
I assumed the cling wrap was made from a plant-based material and was able to degrade once disposed of. What I found out, only recently was that degradable means the product can degrade without the use of micro-organisms or bacteria, rather it degrades into micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are very small fragments of plastic that have been broken down. This is not environmentally sustainable as these plastic fragments can still be harmful to the environment and animals, as they can enter the food chain due to their small size and can still contaminate soil and waterways.
Biodegradable is also a term that can be misleading, because everything biodegrades eventually. In the US, they prohibit the term ‘biodegradable’ to be used on any product unless it can break down into natural elements with the help of micro-organisms, within 5 years. However in Australia, we do not have such legislation and so companies are able to label their plastic bags as biodegradable which is very misleading to the consumer.
Compostable is the phrase we are looking for, as they leave no micro-plastics or toxic residues behind and can be put into a compost bin or organics recycling bin to decompose. The products that are compostable are usually made from plant sources such as sugar cane or vegetable fibers.
Tupperware is a great alternative to cling wrap. Though tupperware is made of plastic, it can be re-used, many, many times, rather then used once and immediately thrown away. When you are finished using the tupperware, it can still be recycled.
Tip Number 2: BEESWAX WRAPS
Beeswax wraps are a great alternative to cling wrap as they are reusable for up to 8-12 months! Make sure you wash them after use, and that is all is needed! They are made from beeswax, tree resin, and jojoba oil to create a flexible, slightly sticky wrap perfect for storing food.
A little more on the eDNA sampling from the last post. The photos here show the filter after each syringe of water has been passed through. You can see the colour change after each syringe, the last one being quite striated and dark. As DNA is in the water, the aim is to pass as much water through the filter as you can- more water means more DNA collected to test and the greater the chance of detecting your target species (or a greater range of species if you do a broad test). 👩🔬
You stop filtering water through the filter when the pressure becomes too great and it is no longer possible to.
What does it tell us?
The samples of DNA that we collected last about 5 days in the environment before they are too damaged to be used in testing. This means that if you get a positive results, the species has been their very recently. It can therefore be a great complement* to other types of evidence that a species is in an area, such as scats (poo), hair, scratches, rub marks, nest, egg shells, bones etc., depending on the species in question and the purpose of the research.
You can also see me doing a habitat assessment to determine how much suitable platypus habitat there is at each site. We also tested water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH and other water quality indicators. 🔬 Oh and no, the eski is not for beers (although the location is beautiful), the samples go in an eski to stay cold and help with preservation.
What we get overall is picture of:
If there are platypus there
What sites are suitable based on habitat and water quality and
If the habitat was suitable but the water quality wasn’t, we know what might be affecting them and can investigate to improve the water quality and a few other things.
All these things help inform future research, protection of area and our understanding platypi.
Watch this space for results!
Photos: Students from WSU sampling the creek, Habitat Assessment sheets, (far above) eDNA filters from start to finish of the filtering process.
As the human population increases, more urban development increases and is taking over important bushland, necessary for not only the survival of ecological communities and the wildlife it provides for but also our health and well-being too. This is because nature provides us with healthy environments by purifying our water, provides us with food, stabilizes our climate, protects us from flooding, and provides pollination services for agriculture and human nutrition, among others.
Nature provides for us physically, but what about mentally?
This is an exciting concept that has been researched a lot over the past few decades, and these studies have come to find that there is indeed a relationship between having regular nature exposure and an improvement in our mental health.
In recent decades there have been a lot of studies done on the relationship between nature-contact and our mental health. What has been found, from cross-sectional and longitudinal research is that being in regular contact with green and/or blue spaces (aquatic or marine environments) can be in part, correlated with improved psychological well-being and reduced psychological/stress impacts. This can be in the form of sounds or images too such as rain, birds, or trees in the wind for example (P. Dadvand, X. Bartoll, X. Basagaña et al., 2019).
The evidence found in these studies that link nature exposure to psychological well-being is an increased level of positivity, more happiness, positive social interactions, cohesion, more purpose in life, manageability of life tasks and a decrease in mental distress (P. Dadvand, X. Bartoll, X. Basagaña et al., 2019).
What is even more interesting is that in addition to longitudinal studies, nature exposure has been shown to improve other cognitive functions such as memory and attention, impulse inhibition, imagination and creativity, improved sleep and less stress. These last two functions are associated with mental health issues, and so we can suggest that nature exposure does play a role in reducing mental health symptoms (Bratman, G, Anderson, C, B, Berman, et al., 2013).
What Can We Grasp From This?
As we can see from the results of these studies, being in regular, close contact with nature, in a variety of settings (parks, nature reserves, street tree’s, beach), plays a significant role in improving your well-being. However, this study does mention that having close nature contact isn’t the only solution, as other factors can contribute significantly to your mental health such as your social life, finances, relationships, trauma and health, among others.
Overall, these studies help us understand just how important being around nature is, especially to our technologically advanced generation, where we are on our screens more and are less inclined to go outside. On top of that, majority of the Australian population lives in cities or in highly urbanized areas where there is less access to green spaces.
Therefore, we need to prioritize this need by making decisions that incorporate nature into our lives. This can be in the process of deciding where to live, the activities you choose to do; where you go on your holidays or weekends; who you vote for in local or state government to promote more green spaces in your community and to look after our local bushland; or whether you want to join community groups that spend time in nature. The options are there!
The services nature provides for us are pretty important to our overall functioning and well-being so it begs us the question as to why we don’t look after our environment as much we should?
If you do feel this way and want to be in nature more often and perhaps even want to help it survive and flourish, there are various ways you can get on board!
One of them is by joining a community group such as a Landcare or Bushcare group, which would be organised and advertised by your local council.
Check out their website to see what they offer!
The Fred Caterson Landcare Group
At CHEN, we have formed a Landcare group within the Hills Shire to bring people together and to help their local bushland and the waterways that reside in them. We do this by partaking in bush regeneration activities that support the regeneration of native plant species; we partake in citizen science such as water quality testing at the Cattai creek; and we do fun but educational activities together such as Yoga in Nature (like in the image above), Bush food days and Tea-leaf making!
Bratman, G, Anderson, C, B, Berman, M, G, Cochran, B, Vries, S, Flanders, J, Folke, C, Frumkin, H, Gross, J, J, Hartig, T, Kahn, P, H, Kuo, M, Lawler, J, J, Levin, P, S, Lindahl, T, Meyer- Lindeberg, A, Mitchell, R, Ouyang, Z, Roe, J, Scarlett, L, Smith, J, R, Bosch, M, Wheeler, B, W, White, M, P, Zheng, H and Daily, G, C, 2013 ‘Nature and Mental Health: An ecosystem service perspective’, Science Advances, vol. 5, no. 7, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0903
Dadvand, X. Bartoll, X. Basagaña, A. Dalmau-Bueno, D. Martinez, A. Ambros, M. Cirach, M. Triguero-Mas, M. Gascon, C. Borrell, M. J. Nieuwenhuijsen, 2019, ‘Green spaces and general health: Roles of mental health status, social support, and physical activity’, Environ. Int. 91, 161–167
P. White, I. Alcock, B. W. Wheeler, M. H. Depledge, 2013, ‘Would you be happier living in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects analysis of panel data’, Psychol. Sci. 24, 920–928
Referred to as eDNA, Environmental DNA testing is process that detects species in the environment by collecting samples of DNA that animals leave behind. This can be broken down scats, broken up skin or hair cells, bodily liquids, scales etc. and it can be collected in water samples, soil and a few other ways. It is highly accurate, noninvasive & time efficient, the plus being you don’t have to actually see the animal but you can still find out if it’s there and begin protecting its habitat. Not bad at all!
Cattai Hills Environment Network in partnership with WSU students collected samples across sites in the Cattai and Little Cattai Catchment to find the platypus in the region so that we can work towards their protection. We won’t find results for a few weeks so watch this space!
Photos: Collecting water sample(s), a filter now brown full of eDNA that will be sent to the lab for testing.
There are many parks and nature reserves that you can explore, but did you know they are home to many Australian animals that rely on these reserves for food, shelter and safety? They hide away in hollows, burrows and on fallen timber, so we may not always see them.
Lets have a look at all the different places you may find at a nature reserve or park that could be holding an amazing animal!
Now Its Your Turn!
Test Your Skills By Downloading The Worksheet And Using It To Match Native Animal’s With Their Home!
After doing some bush regeneration work, my bush regeneration team noticed that a few houses that back up onto bushland had been responsible for dumping their green waste, including grass clippings over the fence. My supervisor reminded me that this is a problem for them and the health of the bushland or reserve because that is how weeds spread here in the first place.
What is a Weed?
Weeds are classified as any plant that has situated itself somewhere it is not wanted. In this blogs context, they are plants that are occur in an environment in which they are not native to.
Weeds are a big problem here in NSW as they compete with native flora for natural resources such as water, light, nutrients and space. They can also harbor diseases and pests.
This impacts Australia’s native wildlife as they depend upon native tree’s and plants for shelter, food and nesting. More concerning is that weeds often grow faster then their native competitors and so they can out-compete them to become dominant in natural areas. The natural pests that would usually control or reduce their growth are lacking as the plants have been introduced somewhere else.
65% of weeds invading reserves or bush land areas have come from urban gardens
Garden Escapees & Other Weeds of Bush land & Reserves
It is hard to control weeds once they have established themselves and end up being very economically and environmentally costly.
There are over 1,350 invasive species that have naturalized themselves here in NSW and 300 of them are having significant environmental impacts to NSW ‘s biodiversity and primary production.
Green Waste Dumping
When you dump your waste into reserves or nearby bushland, you are actually introducing those plant species into that reserve and they can spread, depending on the species, relatively fast.
Bridal creeper, Asparagus Asparagoides is an example of a weed that was introduced as a garden plant but spread significantly into bushland and has now widely established itself in Southern Australia. In fact, it has been labelled as a weed of National Significance in Australia due to its invasiveness, potential of spread and economic and environmental costs.
Bridal creeper is damaging to native plants because it grows as a thick mat of underground tubers over the bushland floor and actually slows down the root growth of other native plants and quite often prevents that species from seed establishment.
Some native plants are being so overthrown by bridal creeper that they are now threatened to near extinction, one example is the Rice Flower, Pimelea spicata.
Weedy Garden Plants
Some plant species are called ‘weedy garden plants’ because they can spread into bushland even if they remain in your garden bed. They do this by their ability to spread by vegetative means, such as through their bulbs, root parts, corms, tubers or stem fragments. They can also be transferred outside their garden bed by the wind, water and from animals such as birds that eat and defecate the fruit to another area.
What Can We Do?
We definitely have the capacity to help reduce the spread of weeds into our beautiful bushland and nature reserves by making small but meaningful actions such as:
Plant Natives – This helps create a corridor for native wildlife in urban areas, providing them with a path for shelter, food and nesting. It also replaces purchasing exotic plants which have the potential to spread to nearby bushland.
Dispose your green waste responsibly – Avoid dumping your green waste into reserves or bushland and instead use your green waste bin. Another alternative is to use a compost bin to turn your green waste into nutrient rich soil.
Regularly prune your garden plants after flowering to prevent seed set and dispersal
Cover Green Waste if you are transporting your garden clippings in a trailer – This prevents seeds and weeds blowing off and invading roadside and bushland areas
Use your General Waste bin to put your plant tubers, bulbs and seed heads into rather then your green waste bin to avoid seed dispersal
2012 ‘Garden Escapes & Other Weeds in Bushland and Reserves’, Sydney Weeds Committees, Available at: https://www.hawkesbury.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/62557/SWC_GardenBooklet_WEB_VERSION1.pdf
Most commercial dish washing liquids, laundry powders and soaps are actually very harmful to our local environment. The surfactants, phosphorus levels, dyes, bleaching agents, scourers, polishes, softners, and scents that are contained in these products get carried into our sewage system and into our local waterways, contaminating them.
There are some brands out there however, that consider the environment when creating their product and therefore contain ingredients that are environmentally friendly. Some brands include Ecologic, Koala Eco or Eco-Store.
The Most Environmentally Friendly Cleaning ‘Product’
After searching for some cheap, effective and eco-friendly products online, I came across something that blew my mind away. It was eco-friendly in every way, from its packaging material and ingredient list to its disposal process, it leaves no harmful trace to this world but only benefits it and us!
It is a thing calledSoapberries. Soap berries (also referred to as soap nuts, although not actually a nut) are the fruit of the Sapindus Mukorossi tree. This tree grows primarily in the Himalayas as well as several other regions of the world. The fruit is harvested under ethical conditions by small communities. By purchasing these berries, you are supporting the ‘Grow Nepal’ initiative which helps the Nepal people create an income and protecting these tree’s helps reduce deforestation in the Himalayas.
How do they work?
The berries contain a very high level of a particular ingredient called ‘saponin’ that acts as a cleaning agent, it has been called ‘Nature’s soap’. Soapberries work to reduce the surface tension in water to remove dirt and clean almost anything around the home.The berries contain nothing more then themselves, which means there are no chemicals, no packaging, they are grey water safe and can be composted at the end of their use. They come with a small cotton bag that is reused and nothing more!
Using Soapberries as a laundry detergent is the easiest way to use them as you simply put five soap berry shells in the small cotton bag provided, add a few drops of essential oils for desired smell (optional), throw into the washing machine with your clothes, and remove when finished. Those 5 shells can actually be used for 4-5 washes as well. They will slowly become thin and brittle, to which you can throw out, or better yet, add them to your compost bin to break down naturally.
Soap berries can also be used as a multi-purpose spray. To do this, boil the berries for 15 minutes, drain the remaining liquid with a nut milk bag, pop it into a reusable spray bottle and your done!
Eco-friendly cleaning products can be more expensive then your usual go-to cleaning product which is a shame as it is an important factor consumers consider when choosing cleaning products. That is why I love Soap berries all the more! They are very economical, costing only 10 cents per wash.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and educate yourself on being more environmentally conscious in your home. Let me know what you think of these berries in the comment section below. I would love to know if you have used them and how they went!