Tasty Rainwater

rainwater to drink Last year I blogged about getting a rainwater tank and said I’d be drinking rainwater soon. I got it at the end of winter, but it filled with rain from the unusual downpours in November. I didn’t start drinking it then because my dad suggested I don’t drink the initial water, to ensure any contaminants from manufacture were washed away. Over summer I used the water on the garden and the tank filled again this winter. Now, nine months later, I’m drinking rainwater from my tank.

glass of rainwater The first time I drank water from the tank it tasted so different to mains water from the kitchen tap. I thought it tasted purer, but that might be the only way I can think of to describe the difference. I have an old house, with ancient plumbing and I’m sure this does something to the water. In summer I don’t like drinking it straight from the tap, I refrigerate it first. In winter the cold air refrigerates it, so I don’t taste whatever it is I don’t like* (and it is the plumbing that affects the taste, not chlorine or fluoride or whatever, I’m happy to drink water straight from the tap at other houses). After drinking rainwater for a few weeks I’ve got used to whatever the difference is and it just tastes like water now, but I still love drinking it. Water is my favourite drink.

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Saving my Shower

I have a water-efficient showerhead, but my showers have always been way too long. While I realise household water use only makes up only 11% of total water consumption in Australia [1], I still felt bad that I could be using less water.

adjustable spanner Last year Towards Sustainability blogged about the Shower Saver and a couple of months ago I got one. Even though I still spend more than four minutes in the shower, the water’s only running for a more reasonable time (although I haven’t timed it).

There were easy-to-install instructions with the Shower Saver, so I thought I’d do it myself. While the instructions were very easy to follow, the Shower Saver didn’t work when I’d finished. My dad had a look and discovered the problem was with my confusing plumbing and I just needed to make a small adjustment to fix it. Thus my plumbing adventures were a success.

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Drinking Rain (next year)

my new rainwater tank with overflow pipe I’ve been planning to get a rainwater tank (also known as a rainwater barrel or butt depending on where you live) since the start of the year, in time for last winter’s rain, but things got in the way. I first thought I would use the collected water for my garden in summer, but then I realised it would last about a week in Perth’s dry summers. Then I decided I would drink the rain water. My friends at Nuts about Natives do this and it works well. They have a ceramic and charcoal filter, and scrub the roof and guttering before the first winter rains.

my new rainwater tank with downpipe Now, after much um-ing and ah-ing I have a rainwater tank. It was delivered during the very wet week in September. It’s a 1500L above ground tank in heritage green, to match the posts of my carport. To get my drinking water, I will fill a ceramic and carbon filter from the tank tap and it will sit in the kitchen, to provide all my drinking needs. Now the hot weather has arrived I’m drinking a lot more water. I’ve decided not to plumb the tank into my house, mainly because it would run out very quickly. The WA Department of Water provides rebates for part of the cost of rainwater tanks. It’s only $50 if the tank is not plumbed into the house, but it’s still worth it.

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A year of solar water heating

Hot water accounts for more than 30% of energy used in the home. [1]

the solar water heater on my roof I’ve had solar water heating for a year. I wanted a gas booster, rather than the electric booster which was installed. My dad (who is my landlord) has had bad experiences with a gas booster, so he didn’t get one. He also told me that the person who installed the system said electric boosters are better, but I wonder if that’s just what the installer likes, or something.

A brochure from the gas company said (admittedly this may be biased because gas it what they sell)

Solar power systems are the most energy efficient if you choose a gas-boosted system. Electric boosted solar systems emit nearly the same amount of CO2 as hot water systems which run [solely] on gas. [1]

From February last year when the system was installed, the booster wasn’t turned on until winter. The weather usually breaks in May in Perth, but April last year was very wet, so the booster was probably used then. June was very dry, so I think it would have been turned off for a lot of that month.

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Incey wincey spider

redback spider lying in wait in the vegie garden spider on the cat's blanket Last year I blogged about my liking for spiders, as long as they stay outside in the garden. Crazy Mumma recently blogged about how she hates finding Huntsman spiders in her house and I don’t like this so much either, but I thought I was a lot calmer about it now than I was as a kid. This was because I usually only ever find Daddy long-legs (Pholcus phalangioides) or black house spiders (Badumna insignis) inside. They’re not big or scary.

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Killing Roaches

cockroach on Flickr by Mira Steinzor I hate cockroaches. They were always around our house when I was little. You had to wack the roach with a shoe if you wanted to get rid of it. I wonder now if the reason was because my mum didn’t use toxic cockroach baits. The active ingredient is chlorpyrifos (an anticholinesterase compound). The packet says it should be kept away from sewers, drains and ponds. The Extension Toxicology Network says this is because it’s

very highly toxic to freshwater fish, aquatic invertebrates and estuarine and marine organisms.

When Ayesha the cat was younger she hunted and ate cockroaches, which was very kind of her. Since she grew up and progressed to larger prey, she refuses to stoop to roach killing.

I’ve used the toxic stuff since I moved out of my parents’ house, but I’ve been wanting to mend my ways. Jenn at Tiny Choices recommends

bottlecaps filled with a mixture of cornmeal and boric acid, and sometimes this works incredibly well.

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The Concrete Jungle

Sometimes I quite like the concrete jungle because I skateboard and I wouldn’t be able to without smooth concrete surfaces, although I’ve seen a skate video where someone is skating boulders in the US desert and it looks like fun. Other times I hate all the concrete and asphalt of our cities.

Scottish crofter Stonehead mentioned that

the airline industry is a major producer of carbon emissions and we’re urged to either not fly or only fly if genuinely necessary.

But he notes there’s an industry that’s trying to keep as low a profile as the airline industry, but may be a bigger producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

Production of just one tonne of cement results in the emission of 900kg of carbon dioxide, which means global carbon emissions by the cement industry total 1.44 billion tonnes.

Stonehead suggests decreasing our demand for cement.

Ask yourself if you really need a bigger, new-build conventional house with a concrete foundation and concrete block walls. Ask yourself if you really need that extension, that patio or that conservatory. Ask if your shed really does need a foundation made of poured concrete or concrete slabs.

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Drinking Rain

Of course we all drink rain, one way or another. The water cycle eventually recycles all water into the sky and then back down to the earth, but some people drink their water a bit closer to when it fell as rain, than others. Sadly I’m not one of these people, but I look forward to the time when I have a rainwater tank.

the water cycle by John M. Evans, USGS, Colorado District

I just came across Greenfoot’s blog and her question about Sustainable House Day. Georgie commented on the Australia Street house in Newtown, Sydney.

The house incorporates all manner of sustainable features, including a ventilation stack and a low-tox or no-tox approach to paints and glues throughout. It also features a pool: a decadent, gorgeous plunge pool, tucked in a corner of the courtyard next to the living area, filled entirely by water from the house’s rainwater tank. [1]

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Many electricity companies sell power from renewable sources, but depending on where you live, different options are available. Western Australia doesn’t have as many electricity companies as the eastern states of Australia because the industry was only recently deregulated and until a few years ago electricity was provided by a state government owned company.

Perth has only one company which provides electricity. Until I install my own solar panels to generate electricity, I have to use their electricity. I purchase it through their NaturalPower product, which provides energy generated from renewable sources. Synergy Energy says,

When you switch to NaturalPower you will still receive a mix of energy types [coal-fuelled, solar, wind, hydro,etc], as it is not practical to install additional power lines just to carry NaturalPower. However, we guarantee the amount of energy you use will be sourced from renewable sources and will increase the overall amount of renewable energy in the grid. Continue reading

Garbage in, Garbage out

Doing the right thing here means more than recycling; it means rethinking, and so reshaping, the place we want to be.
– John Vella, 2006, “Trailertrashed” Island no.107

My local council has only one bin into which we put everything and it’s sorted into recyclables and landfill, at the Atlas Materials Recovery Facility. The City of Stirling says its recycling and rubbish service is

simple and convenient to use for all the City’s residents.

The system is called Single Bin Recycling: A Truly Sustainable Process which has

increased the amount of domestic waste being recycled from 10 percent to more than 60 percent. This success is unmatched by any other local authority in Western Australia.

When their PR machine gets going, it does sound amazing, and maybe I’m a little more convinced than I have been in the past, but if it’s so amazing, why doesn’t everyone do it? I’ve recently found out through Treehugger and the Closet Environmentalist that other places do use a single bin system. An article in The Economist talks about TiTech’s rubbish sorting system which uses spectroscopy. At the City of Stirling, it’s not so high-tech and people pick out glass (broken glass goes to landfill), plastic bottles (PET & HDPE) and aluminium cans, and an electro-magnet recovers steel cans.

Organic waste, including paper, is turned into “high quality compost” which is then used in agriculture (after being transported 200km to a farm near Calingiri, WA). The City of Stirling came up with this idea because the Western Australian government has adopted a vision of zero waste to landfill by the year 2020.

contents of a typical single bin All my kitchen scraps (and anything else that’s biodegradable eg. dog hair, garden waste) goes into my compost bin. This means my rubbish bin doesn’t smell so much because it doesn’t have rotting food in it. It also means the only organic material I’m contributing to the sorting process is paper and cardboard. Paper can be recycled back to paper, rather than going into compost (I wonder how the ink affects their compost). So I don’t like this aspect of the system.

The City of Stirling’s statistics for improvement of recycling are shown in this diagram, where 9.4% of rubbish is recyclable packaging (glass, aluminium cans, steel cans, type 1 & 2 plastic). This could be equated with the original amount of 10% of waste recycled. So basically their “compost manufacture” is where all the new recycling is coming from. Most people don’t make their own compost, so I guess the system caters to them.

The single bin system is only for sorting rubbish and The Economist article goes on to discuss the difficulties of recycling plastic, because there are so many different types. At the City of Stirling only type 1 & 2 plastic is recycled, the other types and plastic bags and wrappings go to landfill.

A solution to the problems of recycling is discussed by Paul Palmer in The Death of Recycling from Rachel’s Democracy & Health News #900. Redesigning products for reuse is a more sustainable practice than continuing to use old technology to recycle paper, plastic, glass, metal, etc. Redesigning for reuse produces zero waste.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart have previously written about this in Cradle to Cradle: Rethinking the Way We Make Things (North Point Press, 2002)

If humans are truly going to prosper, we will have to learn to imitate nature’s highly effective cradle-to-cradle (as opposed to cradle-to-grave) system of nutrient flow…To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things – products, packaging, and systems – from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist. (p.104)

Here’s some other things to read about trash, rubbish and recycling.
Everyday Trash takes a closer look at what we throw away.

Scientists at Purdue University have developed a biorefinery, a generator that’s fuelled by rubbish. They developed it for use by the U.S. military, but one of the inventors,

Ladisch foresees a time when the biorefinery could be used at a variety of factories, restaurants or stores. The biorefinery could probably be used to generate a little extra electricity at any place that generates a fair amount of food and scrap waste.

I’ve recently come across On Garbage by John Scanlan (Reaktion, 2005). I’ve added it to my way-too-long reading list. I’ll get to it one day. Find it at your local library.