Another’s trash is your treasure!

Opportunity shops, fondly known as ‘op shops’ are a wondrous thing.

Here are the five top reasons I love to op shop!

1) You can buy up big without blowing your budget. I walked out of a local op shop recently with 3 bags stuffed full of clothes & shoes while only parting with a few gold coins.

2) Your outfits are always unique- no more walking into a room to find another woman wearing the same dress as you. Awkward!

3) Buying second-hand has a positive impact on the environment. Buying items at an op shop saves them from going into landfill and becoming environmental waste.

4) Through buying second-hand you are not contributing to the profits of sweat shops and clothing chain stores as any unethical supply chain has been broken.

5) Your purchase will often benefit a much deserved charity as most op shops are owned by organisation such as the Salvation Army, Brotherhood of St Laurence or the like.

What is someone else’s trash is your treasure at an op shop. You can find anything from a hand knitted jumper to a pair of Italian leather shoes. Or maybe you fancy a set of china plates or a retro vintage couch.

So if you are in need of a wardrobe or lounge-room make-over and want to do it ethically- head down to your local op shop and you will be surprised at what you might find!

Home-grown goodness!

Lately I have been discovering the wonders of cooking using primarily home grown ingredients. I have been particularly inspired by the UK television program ‘River Cottage Forever,’ which is based on the principles of less dependence on the outside world, food integrity, and the consumption of local, seasonal produce. So often, we put no thought into where our food has come from, and the effort, sacrifice and love behind each mouthful of food we take. Have you ever paid a thought to the farmer that grew your tomatoes, or the cow that gave its life so that you could enjoy a steak? On the other hand, we also put little thought into the additives, pesticides and other nasties that have been used in the production of our food. Furthermore, we have lost touch with the seasons, as produce is flown in from all around the world to satisfy our every craving, letting much pollution into the atmosphere during transportation, and losing much of its nutritional value during cold transport.

I have been surprised at all of the meals I have been able to put together using home grown ingredients, while only adding some staples such as rice, cous -cous & flour from the supermarket.

Using home grown produce such as pumpkins, apples, chillies, tomatoes, chives, silver beat, parsley, mint & lemons I have made two large batches of pumpkin soup, a number of quiches, a delicious apple crumble, a fantastic pumkin seed and mint cous-cous meal and many a healthy salad. The only added ingredients were rice, cous- cous, flour and milk. In the summer months fruit trees provided me with more plums, peaches and apricots that I knew what to do with! Sauces, pies and crumbles were created from the fruit that couldn’t be eaten fresh.

And finally, the creation I am most proud of, using yabbies caught in my dam, in addition to home grown lemon rind, parsley, chillies and tomatoes, I have made a yabbies risotto that could rival the risotto of a 5 star restaurant (if I do say so myself).

As an added bonus, as of today, I haven’t had to shop in over 10 days! I estimate that I have saved over $150 in grocery bills! I will only have to go out and buy some more rice and cous- cous this week. It doesn’t take much, and you don’t have to spend hours in the garden each day, just 30mins or so every few weeks. And it is much easier to run out to the veggie patch or lemon tree when you have forgotten something, rather than running out to the shops.

So, when it comes to ethical and sustainable consumerism, nothing beats growing it yourself! So go on, get out there and start growing your own produce. Even if you have a small courtyard in the city, it is easy to grow a few herbs in a pot. There is no excuse!

Make a start at www.diggers.com.au to start growing a years supply of veggies in 40m square.

Egg Ethics at Easter

This weeks post comes from the pen of my husband Levi McGrath. He has said everything I want to say…

‘When I was growing up, Easter was time for reflection… and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

You know it’s inevitable: this Easter you will most likely buy chocolate. It might be a chocolate bunny, a chocolate hot cross bun or simply an Easter egg…

But as Easter comes around this year, I’m reflecting on all this chocolate we buy. Where is it all coming from? Where is it made? Are the workers who produce it treated fairly?

OK now, story time.

Australians on average consume six kilograms of chocolate a year. You heard me right — that’s about sixty Mars bars! A whopping 43% of the cocoa (chocolate’s major ingredient) is produced in one small West African country — the Ivory Coast. They produce approximately 1.3 million tons of cocoa per year, mostly by hand.

Maddeningly, throughout the Ivory Coast and across West Africa there are more than one million children working on cocoa plantations. Hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked from West African countries each year and are forced to work as slaves on these farms to harvest the beans that go into the chocolate — chocolate we use, in a dark dose of irony, for our children’s Easter egg hunts.

Take Aly for example, an eleven-year-old boy from Mali who was lured to the Ivory Coast by a slave trader to work on a cocoa plantation. He was told he would receive a bicycle and money to support his struggling family. Aly was forced to work from 6 in the morning to 6:30 at night carrying bags of cocoa that stood taller than him. The bags of beans were so heavy that he would often fall down under their weight, only to be beaten severely.

For one and a half years Aly was locked in a small room each night with eighteen other slave workers, where he slept on hard wooden floor. Eventually Aly was rescued by local authorities and returned to his family, but he still has nightmares about his time working on the cocoa plantation.

So I am reflecting on all this chocolate we buy. I’ve come to the conclusion that going without it is NOT an option! So what can I do this Easter?

I know! I’ll buy fair trade! Choosing to buy fair trade chocolate helps children like Aly. Fair trade prohibits child labour and supports community education and healthcare programs. Choosing to buy fair trade chocolate gives small cocoa farmers a fair go and allows them to pay their workers fairly.

Come and join me — how hard can it be to eat the best chocolate and know you are doing a whole heap of good at the same time!

Fair Trade Chocolate Brands

It’s up to you. This Easter can be sweet both for you and cocoa farmers alike, including children like Aly.

Happy Easter.’

Farmers Markets Here I Come!

When was the last time you felt genuinely good about doing your grocery shopping? Usually my experience goes something like this… drive into a crowed car park and stalk a shopper until they move their car. squeeze my car into a tiny car space. Enter the supermarket and become overwhelmed by the bright fluorescent lights, crowded aisles and piles of produce. It is a cold experience. You feel no connection with what you are buying. You know nothing about who grew your apples, or who milked the cow your milk came from. You merely have an interaction with the middle man, which in the case of Australia is usually Coles or Woolworths supermarket groups.

This morning I was inspired instead to take a short drive through the mountains to shop at a local farmers market. This was one shopping experience I actually enjoyed.

Not only could I enjoy shopping in an open air market, I could interact with the farmers who grew the produce directly. I could talk with them about whether their produce was organic, whether they had experienced a good season and if they were having a nice day. And I could ensure they were getting a fair price for their produce as there was no middle man to take a cut of the profit. All profits went directly to the farmer.

You see, the market in Australia (where I am from) is dominated by two supermarkets; Cole & Woolworths. There is the occasional independent grocer but the market is dominated by these two chains. And with this level of domination, comes a level of control.

In fact, Coles and Woolworths account for about 80 per cent of the Australian market, with independent grocery chain IGA Supermarkets accounting for another 16 per cent. By comparison, in the UK, four or five large supermarket chains control only 65 per cent of the market. This allows Coles and Woolworths to have a stranglehold on grocery prices due to a lack of competition in the marketplace, meaning that we the shopper are paying more than we should. Furthermore, this dominance means farmers suffer.

Recently, this duopoly has seen Coles & Woolworths competing by dropping the price of milk to unsustainable levels, leaving Australian farmers vulnerable to profit loss as they are forced to sell their produce at a lower rate (ABC News, 2011).

Large supermarkets not only harm consumers and farmers, they also push small business out of business. Small businesses cannot compete with supermarket prices as due to their size they can afford to buy produce in bulk, as opposed to a small local business.

So what’s the answer? Shop at local farmers markets and support small local businesses such as your local butcher, baker and grocer!

If you live in Australia, you can find your closest farmers market here:

http://www.farmersmarkets.org.au/markets

You will enjoy this sense of community spirit and feel great about giving back to the community of which you are a part.

Of course, it is not always possible to avoid the large supermarket chains. However in my next blog I will show you how you can continue to shop ethically even within the large supermarkets so stay tuned!

References:

ABC News. (2011). Farmers demand wider supermarket probe. Retrieved 8 April 2011 from  http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/07/3156685.htm

Go Nuts!

At a small organic food retailer, located in a three story complex dedicated to health and wellbeing in downtown Singapore, I made a marvellous discovery… organic, fairly traded ‘Soap Nuts’!

Soap nuts grabbed my attention, as during my pursuit to purchase and use only natural cosmetics and beauty products, the realisation that house-hold cleaning products also contained harmful chemicals hit me. Not only do house-hold cleaning products such as kitchen and bathroom sprays, window cleaners and laundry detergent harm the environment, but they also harm our bodies.

Just think- we wash our clothes with laundry detergents that promise to ‘eliminate stains’ with their powerful formula. We then wear these clothes day and day out with no thought to the fact that the powerful chemicals that removed those stains from our clothes still remain on the fabric in small quantities and slowly sink into our skin. Or we wash the dishes using a product that promises to be ‘tough on grease,’ let the dishes dry and then use them to eat and drink. Small remnants of the chemical that was tough on the grease remains on the cup or spoon you use and will end up in your stomach in small quantities. Such products often contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues, but such allergic reactions are often not associated with the chemicals used in the house on a daily basis.

Once we are done cleaning, these chemicals run down the drain, and are released into the ocean having an adverse affect on the environment. For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, has been shown in laboratory studies to cause adverse reproductive effects on wildlife exposed to polluted waters (National Research Council, 1999).

Of course there are many green, biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning products available on the market today. However, what drew me to Soup Nuts were that they are just that: nuts that naturally produce a soap like substance.

            ‘Soapnuts are an environmentally friendly sustainably produced, bio-degradable and compostable way of cleaning your laundry. Grown wild in India, for centuries these nuts (sapindus mukorossi) have been used for many purposes including removing tarnish from jewellery and treating all sorts of ailments from contaminated soil to migraines to epilepsy. They are most widely recognised as being an effective and environmentally friendly natural detergent however can be used for a whole host of other uses.

             The nuts contain the active natural washing ingredient saponin. Similar to soap, when the shells of the soapnut come in contact with water the saponin is released and suds are produced – these are excellent for cleaning laundry and leaving it beautifully soft. Because your laundry water will only contain pure natural ingredients compared to traditional detergents, it can much more usefully be reused as grey water to reduce water consumption (your garden and plants will thank you as well!’ (Soap in a Nutshell, 2011)

 

As mentioned, other uses of the soap nut include:

  • Multi-purpose cleaner
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Jewellery cleaner… the list goes on

And not only are soap nuts good for you and the environment, their production benefits communities in India through the provision of a sustainable income. The nuts, although not certified fair trade as yet, are sourced sustainably, ensuring the community in India that grows and harvests the soap nuts are paid a fair price for their product;

            ‘By purchasing soapnuts you are helping maintain the natural habitat and environment which has existed for centuries and are providing a living direct to some of the more impoverished areas of India.’ (Soap in a Nutshell, 2011)

If you are not yet convinced, I have used the soup nuts to wash four loads of washing and four sink loads of dishes thus far and have found them to be most effective. My clothes have come out fresh, clean and stainless and the dishes have been degreased very well indeed. I have to say I am quite impressed and surprised as to how effective they really are.

You can order 1kg of soap nut here for a great price of AUD $35, which amounts to approximately 400 washes, or 12c a wash!

http://www.soapinanutshell.com.au/main/page_order_soapnut_products_online_soapnut_shells.html

References:

Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1999

Soap in a Nutshell, Retrieved 27 February 2011 from http://www.soapinanutshell.com.au/main/page_soap_in_a_nutshell_home.html

Look out! Its Palm Oil!

Last week I had the most incredible breakfast meeting. It wasn’t with a CEO, or a celebrity, but rather I had breakfast with an endangered species!

That’s right; I shared my toast with one of the great apes, specifically a family of Orang-utans.

I was able to enjoy this experience at the famed program ‘Breakfast with the Orang-utans’ at Singapore Zoo. Most were unfortunately rescued as pets from people’s homes but this meant they were very used to humans. One young male even touched me lightly on the shoulder. I felt so honoured to be in such close proximity so such a beautiful, intelligent yet highly endanger creature.

I did have to wondered if my children would ever have the chance to meet an Orang-utan…

Orang-utans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and are the only members of the great ape family that reside in Asia.  They share 97% of their DNA with humans and have the intelligence of a three year old child! Looking into their eyes was truly like looking into the eyes of a fellow human being. They seemed to have certain wisdom about them.

Well after my wonderful breakfast I was horrified to find a KFC restaurant located just outside the zoo gates. How could this zoo that promotes Orang-utan conservation be so hypocritical as to have a KFC within its property?

You see, as mentioned Orang-utans are an endangered species with an estimated 60,000 left in the wild (WWF,2010).

According to WWF;

Habitat destruction and fragmentation is by far the greatest threat to this species. This problem is caused by commercial logging, and forest clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture.’

And to my knowledge, KFC was one of the biggest consumers of this product called palm oil. However, in doing research for this blog I discovered that due to consumer action, they have stopped using palm oil to produce their food- so I take back all of my bad thoughts about Singapore zoo being hypocritical!!!

However, in saying that, palm oil, the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia, and the number one threat to the existence of Orang-utan’s, is found in over 50% of all packed food on our shelves! If your shopping list includes packaged products like bread, biscuits, chocolate, chips, sandwich spreads, ice cream, shower cream and shampoo, then it’s likely you are buying palm oil (WWF, 2010).

Palm oil production is not only responsible for threatening the existence of Orang-utans, it is also responsible for threatening the environment in other ways and violating human rights;

            ‘If cultivated in an unsustainable way palm oil can have negative impacts on people and the environment. These include indiscriminate forest clearing, habitat loss of threatened and endangered species, poor air quality from burning forests and peatlands, and disregard for the rights and interests of local communities. A report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledges that palm oil plantations are now the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Of even more concern is the fact that demand for palm oil is predicted to increase, and most of the remaining suitable areas for plantations are forest.’ WWF

So, if palm oil is present in 50% of the products on our shelves, what can we do. Something that I have been doing week by week as I do my grocery shopping is quite simple- read the ingredients on the packet. You should probably be doing this anyway for health reasons. If palm oil that is not certified from a sustainable source is listed, simply do not buy the product and look for an alternative on the selves. If you feel so inclined write to the company that you chose not to buy from and inform them of your decision. This is the only way companies will change their ways- consumer demand!

Reference:

What is palm oil? (2010).World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 15 February 2011 from http://wwf.org.au/ourwork/land/land-clearing-and-palm-oil/?gclid=CPWTpPL4iacCFU80pAodCnGyeQ

Tempted by a Bargain?

Ling was born in China. When she was 19 years old, she was persuaded to go to Europe with the promise of a job and a better life – both for her, and for her family who stayed behind.

She was given a job as a textile worker in a factory. The salary promised was €800 per month which was much more than she could ever hope to earn in Hanuin. She works 16 hours a day, and is not allowed to leave the factory except to return to the small apartment she shares with six other factory employees. She does not receive the salary that she was promised, and is rarely paid anything at all.

You may have purchased a sweater made by Ling.’ (IOM,2008).

I don’t want to buy clothing that imprisons girls like Ling. I want to buy items that empower them.

I am currently working in Singapore for 5 weeks and the temptation to buy cheap clothing manufactured in Asia is all around me.

Usually I would jump at a bargain, but my conscious no longer allows me to do this as when you purchase a product, you are supporting the way that product was produced. If the product is the result of someone’s forced labor, you are encouraging the company which has relied on forced labor to continue relying on forced labor.

I am sure when it comes down to it, none of us want to support forced labor with our retail purchases, but the fact is it is very difficult to distinguish which companies exploit their workers and which don’t, as the global supply chain is so complex.

I have started walking to and from work whilst in Singapore, which is not only great for my health, but also solves my issue purchasing unethical petrol temporarily! However, my laptop was getting a tad heavy and therefore I needed to purchase a backpack. But where could I possibly find an ethical produced backpack?

I managed to do some research and found many resources that can assist you in making a decision about what brands manufacture their items with a social conscious.

Free to Work

On Free2work.org, consumers can easily search specific products, learn more about various labour standards and corporate practices, and further their engagement through their consumption decisions.

http://www.free2work.org

Ethical Clothing Australia

Assisting the local textile, clothing and footwear industry to ensure Australian workers receive fair wages and decent conditions.

http://www.ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au

Business Social Compliance Initiative

The Business Social Compliance Initiative is a leading business-driven initiative for companies committed to improving working conditions in the global supply chain.

http://www.bsci-intl.org/

All of the above list brands based on their compliance with ethical standards and labour laws. From this I picked up some common brand that I encounter every time I enter a shopping centre that abide by such standards:

  • GAP
  • Bardot
  • Cue
  • ESPIRIT
  • Levi’s
  • Billabong

And although I cannot verify that they have signed up to international standards, Target and Cotton On have Ethical Sourcing Codes that all of their suppliers must comply with.

So, long story short I was able to purchase a backpack from an ESPIRIT store. Although it cost me more than a cheap backpack from one of the markets here in Singapore I felt better knowing that the person made it was not working in a sweatshop with their feet chained to a table for 12 hours a day.

To help ease the pain of not being able to shop at the markets, I also went slightly crazy shopping at GAP online (and got into a bit of trouble with my husband)- http://www.gap.com/

I purchased all of my basics, from underwear to long sleave black tops to jeans. All of the products are of such high quality and will last for a long time. I was very impressed.

You can even buy Gap T-Shirts that will go to the Japan Relief Appeal.

For additional information on labor laws and actions you can take towards ethical consumerism go to:

http://www.buyresponsibly.org/