When you need something


When you ‘need’ something what is the first thing you do? Just go out and buy it? I’m pretty sure that’s what alot of people do. I like to think of it as “no conscious buying“. And what’s the opposite of that? CONSCIOUS BUYING. Giving great consideration to each and every thing you buy. My Mum mistakes ‘being thrifty’ as buying a super cheap knife on sale at Red Dot. That’s not thrifty because if that knife isn’t going to last it’s not only a waste of money but a waste of resources and will become landfill.

Today I bought a bassinet. It was after a long discussion with my partner and alot of research. It occured to me how much effort I had put into something someone else might have just gone out and bought without the blink of an eye. Having a baby (any day now!) has put me in what must be the biggest consumption period of my life. These are necessities (not just a new dress to wear on the weekend) but every thing I’ve bought I’ve given great consideration to.

If you still don’t understand what I mean, here’s a little glimpse into how my brain has operated for everything I’ve bought.

  • So I think I need X.
  • I research X and decide whether this is something we really need.
  • If I decide it is something we need (not just want), I then research all the different types of options for X.
  • I decide what factors to consider when making a decision for this purchase (eg. quality, colour, cost, storage, duration of use, sustainability etc).
  • I decide whether buying secondhand is an option. If it is, I check the availability and prices brand new and then compare this to secondhand. I check for secondhand via Gumtree, eBay and Op Shops. I also check the prices of hiring. Sometimes you might even be able to put the word out via your social networks to see if anyone has what you need.
  • I take my time and eventually find what I need.

That’s pretty much how my purchasing experiences have been over the last 6 months. It has applied to the new car, the cot and bassinet, the nursing chair, clothes for baby, clothes for me, EVERYTHING.

Someone might say “but it seems harder” – well the benefits far outweigh the hassles. You make a far more educated decision, you usually save money (or at least know that you’re spending alot of money for a good reason) and you can even save the environment.

And you could easily replace the ‘X’ with something like ‘new dress’, ‘bookshelf’, ‘camera’ – you name it, the same consideration should be given to everything you consume.

Awesome Christmas shopping (that you can feel good about)


Oh my goodness tomorrow is December. That means there are 25 days left to do your Christmas shopping! I’ve discussed that Christmas has become a somewhat consumerist nightmare, but I also understand that gift giving at Christmas is a hard tradition to break. It’s more about being smart about your Christmas shopping – and buying sustainable and eco friendly gifts is definitely something to consider.

So, here is a list of great online stores that offer unique gifts that you can feel good about buying:

Eco Toys


An awesome website absolutely full of sustainable and eco friendly toys, clothing, furniture – you name it, they’ve got it. There’s nothing more disturbing than a kids room full of plastic toys (that happen to break far too easily). These are the types of toys that become heirlooms!

(featured above: Bajo mini rocking horseDobbin & Drum teepee & Wishbone bike)



Ethikl is somewhat of an online marketplace selling eco friendly, ethical and fair trade products direct from the artists themselves. There’s a massive range from beauty to bags to home and garden. A great place for unique products.

(Featured above: Melanie Eagleson vintage spoon bookmarksRecycled polyethylene plastic toiletry bag & Osiris Jewellery recycled silver and copper rose ring)

Blue Caravan


Another online marketplace for contemporary handmade, fair trade & ethical products by independent designers, artists and artisans.

(Featured above: Vintage black typewriter key necklacePacific Perfumes & Miss Liliput Tuxedo Top)

Recycled Market


A great online marketplace for clever upcycled and recycled goods. You’ll definitely find something unique here!

(Featured above: Recycled Fashion upcycled zipper broochCreative Thinking Recycled Can Light & Origami Paper Gifts paper bowl)

Rather not shop online?

Not everybody likes shopping online – and if you take any more time you may be pushing to have the gifts delivered before Christmas.

Another great place for gift shopping is local markets – there have been a bunch recently and another still to come for Perth is the Christmas Gift Market, which is part of the Subiaco Farmers Market held every Saturday. This particular market will be held on the 10th of December. For more information visit the Subi Farmers Market website.

I hope this gives you some insight into ethical, eco friendly, sustainable shopping for Christmas – it’s certainly a great time to try new places and best of all find new and unique gifts for friends and family!


Anti-consumerism and Christmas


from the website: http://blog.ecohip.co.uk

The title of an ABC news article I read this morning was “Anti-consumerism is the new democracy” – it certainly piqued my interest (and thanks to WAste Not for bringing it to my attention). It discussed the case of the Kellogg’s workers who in the 1930’s chose to work less hours a day in order to spend more time at home with their families. They chose family life over more money. The less money you earn, the less money you spend. This article questioned whether this would work and if you earn less money, could you still enjoy life?

I recently, with the support of my partner, changed careers. Well, it wasn’t just about getting a new job as it was about getting a new lifestyle. I work in what we think is one of the first creative co-op agencies in Perth. I now work in an environment that encourages flexibility and a good work/life balance. We have the ability to work from home, drive to work after peak-hour, bring kids or pets to work, and generally it’s a far more relaxed atmosphere. There are no bosses, no politics, no bullshit. The only negative (if you could even call it that) is that I only get paid for the workload I receive, which means no more weekly salary. Starting this system is the hard part, and it meant I had to completely change the way I spent money. In fact, it meant in the beginning I had to flat out STOP spending money on anything other than the essentials (food, toiletries etc). Rather than it being something scary, it’s actually been refreshing.

So, when I saw this article titled “Anti-consumerism…” I was intrigued. Economists freak out at the idea of anti-consumerism, because our society is built around growth and consumption. Whilst I admire people who don’t buy anything new – there is still the need to buy some things. It’s what and who we buy them from that matters.

Here are some of the things that my partner and I have purchased in the last month:

  • Fruit & vegetables from a biodynamic farm (supporting a sustainable, local business)
  • Wood from a salvage yard (supporting a sustainable, local business)
  • Plants from Lullfitz Native Plants Nursery (supporting a sustainable, local business)
  • Body moisturiser from Sukin (supporting a sustainable, Australian business)
  • Face cleanser from Moo Goo (supporting a sustainable, Australian business)

You see where I’m going here.

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s a great time to sit back and think long and hard about what you are going to buy as gifts (that is, if you’re going to buy gifts at all). I have had some horrible Christmas shopping expeditions in the past where the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone can cause unnecessary stress and overspending. One year, the year I spent the most money, everyone opened their presents at once and 10 seconds later it was all over. Was it really worth it?

No. It’s not worth it. Since then my family decided to set new rules. One year we didn’t buy any presents and instead all rented a beachside holiday house. We’ve also had wishlists and the infamous ‘Secret Santa’. It has never spoiled the essence of Christmas (which for me, is all about spending time with family and friends – and eating lots of yummy food!).

So here are my tips on avoiding unnecessary consumption:

  • Set a dollar limit with your family to ensure nobody unnecessarily overspends.
  • Get everyone to write their own ‘wishlist‘ so that you can all buy them presents that they actually want (and not something that will be thrown in the back of a cupboard).
  • Instead of presents, everyone chips in for something else, like a holiday or boardgames – or something fun like hiring a spa pool or an airhockey table.
  • Buy your presents from local or Australian made businesses. A great place to start is local markets.
  • Buy your presents from ethical/fairtrade stores (like The Oxfam Shop).
  • And most importantly, make sure you take your green eco-bags with you when you go shopping, to avoid bringing home plastic bags!

Do you think you could become less of a consumerist and more of a ‘smart shopper’? If you really want a good lesson then perhaps check out the new Buy Nothing New campaign starting this month for the first time, promoting to (you guessed it) buy nothing new for the whole month of October.

From the website:

Buy Nothing New is not about going without, nor is it Buy Nothing New Never.

It’s about taking October to reassess what we really need, think about where the stuff we buy comes from (finite resources), where it goes (landfill), and what our alternatives are.

It is about conscientious consumption and by not spending on stuff we don’t need, increasing our savings for the things we do need.

If you’re interested in changing your habits, give it a go. Even try it for a week. You’d be surprised how often you thoughtlessly buy things until you’re challenged not to!

So, do you think you could have an eco Christmas? The challenge starts now!

Defining free-range eggs


If you haven’t heard the news, the Australian Egg Corporation this week sent a draft of ‘free-range standards’ to egg producers/farmers which proposes to allow a free-range egg farm to run as many as 20,000 chickens per hectare instead of the industry’s current model of 1,500 chickens per hectare.

Allegedly there are egg producers who falsely claim to have free-range chickens. This is, of course, a great concern to ethically minded consumers (or economically minded – who wants to pay twice the price for nothing?). Whilst it’s great that the Australian Egg Corporation is trying to define what is considered ‘free-range’ and enforce a minimum standard, I think that this number (roughly two birds per square meter) should be the minimum industry standard for cage or barn chickens – but not free-range chickens!

I’m not sure about you, but when I buy free-range eggs I like to envisage chickens roaming an open pasture in the open sun, free to peck at the ground and eat bugs and worms (which is their more natural eating habits – not pellets or grains). This is why I am willing to pay almost double the cost. I realise I may have false hope and ideals in the eggs I am buying – as the AEC have made us aware, without standards producers can make false claims.

So what are your choices?

I haven’t found any online petitions yet, but write to the AEC and tell them what you think. We, as consumers, need to have our opinions heard.

Another alternative is to find an RSPCA approved egg producer, which apparently carries an RSPCA sticker. A list of stockists can be found here.

I’m going to go that one step further – have my own chickens.

My partner and I are currently in the process of building a chicken coop. It’s the only way we know that the chickens will be ethically treated, fed nutritious food, allowed to roam in the sun and most importantly are allowed to live long natural lives hormone free. This will, in return, produce healthy eggs. I’ll be sure to tell you more about this process later – how we designed and built the coop, and how the chickens go!

To read more about how the RSPCA have been campaigning to define the standards for chickens go here. Decide yourself what you think is fair.


Upcycling – old to new


Previously: Recycling clothes.

Continuing my 3things pledge to become an ethical fashionista, I have been on the challenge to discover the wonderful world of upcycling.

Upcycling is the process of converting a somewhat useless product into something of value. In the world of fashion upcycling can also be referred to as reconstruction, refashion or reclaiming. There is even the term ‘trashion’ (trash+fashion).

The best part about upcycling is you can use nearly everything in your wardrobe again and make it into something new. WHY you ask? Why not!? Why not use something you already have and make it into something new? It’s exciting, it’s crafty and there is a definite sense of achievement when you realise nothing went to waste when making that item. Best of all it can be virtually free if you use something you already have.

Upcycling yourself involves at least some basic sewing skills for small things, and a sewing machine for the more complex things (or be willing to pay a tailor or your Mum to do it for you).You can also buy upcycling items which it is relatively easy once you know where to look.

I decided to try both – buy and make.

Buy It

I unknowingly stumbled across buying something upcycled when I was drawn to the colourful dress rack assortment at Pigeonhole http://pigeonhole.com.au/ to discover the rack was full of old vintage dresses upcycled to better fitted dresses while still keeping with the vintage styling and there were no two fabrics the same. The best thing about these dresses is they were super cute, while still being unique.

upcycled vintage style dress by pigeonhole

I found some great online stores like Enchanted Platypus selling upcycled clothes like this amazing upcycled jacket made from old sweaters. Enchanted Platypus even donates a portion of her takings to her favourite charities.

Image from The Enlightened Platypus

And this dress from Scarlett Charlett made from a mixture of old outfits.

Image from Scarlett Charlett

You can even find bags like this one made by SewMuchStyle, made from old suits.

Image from SewMuchStyle

Make It

When it came to making something I really had to put my creative hat on. I’ve been seeing fabric necklace in magazines lately and decided to give it a crack without really knowing what I was doing! I found an old singlet that had a hole in it and decided to use this. I ended up using 95% of the singlet, cutting it up into strips, plaiting, tying and sewing it together in different spots. I then made some fabric flowers and used spare buttons (you know, the kind you get with new clothes?). Here is my random attempt:

upcycled necklace by Kat

Can you believe that was once a singlet? I’ll admit it’s a pretty average first attempt and would definitely create a pattern next time instead of cutting and sewing blindly like a crazy person, but it was good fun and great practice for hand sewing and crafting and it inspired me to make more attempts in the future!

There are lots of ideas and patterns on the internet, you just have to find them. For example the below singlet was converted from an old tshirt, with instructions on how to make it and step by step pictures included.

Upcycling sewing project from Crafting a Green World

Upcycling love

The best part is, once I gave upcycling an attempt I then started looking at everything as a project-in-waiting. Old clothes, leftover fabric, random objects – anything really. I even started finding other people making things and selling them locally, like the store Oldlove  in Subiaco, who sell all sorts of upcycled items such as lampshades made from things like old My Little Ponys or He-Man action figures or books (like in the picture below), as well as jewellery, accessories and clothes.

Image from Oldlove

So far this has been the most fun eco fashion element I’ve played with. It’s just so exciting to find something unique and amazing that used to be something else entirely.


Next: Fairtrade and Ethically Accredited

Recycling clothes – seek and you shall find


Previously: Becoming an ethical fashionista

The road to my becoming an ethical fashionista has challenged the way I  look at fashion and shopping. It can no longer be about satisfying an immediate want and going to the cheapest fashion store to buy it. I have to consider what my ethical choices are and the first consideration should be looking at what already exists – second-hand or vintage clothes.

Mo Mo's Vintage

With so much waste in the world, fashion certainly contributes with its ever changing trends encouraging people update their wardrobe constantly and subsequently throw away old, out of fashion clothes. But where do these old clothes go? Either the bin (I hope not!) or to goodwill clothes bins for recycling.

Firstly, let’s get two things straight. I might refer to things as ‘second-hand’, ‘recycled’, ‘op-shop’ or ‘vintage’ – what’s the difference? The only difference is, specifically referring to something as ‘vintage’ refers to clothes typically from the 70’s and earlier (and are almost ‘in demand’ for their uniqueness) they are usually harder to source. Most of them still exist today thanks to vintage enthusiasts and people storing bags of old clothes and eventually giving them away! When I say ‘second-hand’ or ‘op-shop’ or ‘recycled’ – despite technically meaning all pre-loved clothes, typically refers to clothes from the 80’s onwards, including relatively new clothes. The reason these ‘new’ clothes have been given to goodwill is probably because they are not in fashion anymore and the owner needed to make room for new fashionable clothing!

There are positives and negatives to buying second hand or vintage clothes. In the positive, you find can find cheap, unique or rare clothes and it’s good to know that reusing something means it doesn’t go to waste.  The only negative is it can take more energy to trawl through racks of clothing, to then hope it’s in the right size and also repair possible damage. Sometimes if it’s really special or rare, it’s not even cheap! True vintage enthusiasts find that it’s all part and parcel of vintage shopping – it’s a treasure hunt.

My recycled clothes adventure

vintage scarf

vintage velvet skirt with neck tie turned into a belt

Walking into a vintage store is like walking into a costume shop – you have to have an idea of what character you want to play and be willing to try a few on before finding the right one – and sometimes you just don’t know where to start. I had fun looking through all the racks without anything particular in mind, I was just hoping something would stand out.

I eventually stumbled across a navy velvet skirt, tried it on and it fortunately fit perfectly. I also found myself getting giddy at the scarves rack (I have an obsession for scarves), and found a great mauve coloured fabric which was the perfect length for a neck or head scarf.  I also spotted some awesome fabric in the way of a neck tie and thought it would make a good belt. All three things cost me $60. If I was to buy this from an op-shop it would have costed even less.

Needless to say, you certainly have to be creative when looking through recycled clothes. I usually browse by fabric, if I see a fabric that catches my attention I’ll have a look at the outfit. It also pays to understand the history of fashion so that when you find something you understand how it was meant to be worn and how you can incorporate it into your modern wardrobe.

A recycle fashion hero

Jessi Arrington

I recently stumbled upon Lucky So and So blogger Jessi Arrington on the ‘ideas worth spreading’ website TED, and her inspirational talk titled ‘Wearing nothing new’.

Jessi, self-confessed ‘outfit obsessed’, doesn’t buy anything new and buys everything second-hand.

“Second-hand shopping allows me to reduce the impact my wardrobe has on the environment and on my wallet, I get to meet all kinds of great people, my dollars usually go to a good cause, I look pretty unique…”

Jessi believes if you believe that you are a good person inside and out, then there is no look that you can’t pull off. She also puts great emphasis on not getting emotionally attached to clothes. To prove her point, she came to the TED Seminars with a suitcase of underwear and only the clothes on her back. She bought every outfit for every day of the seminar from second-hand stores in the area.

“You do not have to spend a lot of money to look great”

What Jessi makes you realise is that buying recycled clothes gives you the best opportunity to dress uniquely. There’s something slightly unsettling about going to a fashion chain and picking up an outfit from a rack of 30 other matching outfits.

Watch Jessi’s inspirational video here:

Swap with friends

If you’re not keen on trawling through second-hand stores, another option is to have a fashion swap night with your girlfriends where you can bring all your unused outfits and swap them with your friends. I once accidently did this with a bunch of girls from work, where we discovered we all had bags of clothes to give to goodwill in the boots of our car at the time, so we brought them all into the office and we went through each other’s bags. It felt a lot less invasive to know where the clothes were coming from.

Another option is websites such as Thread Swap which is virtually the same thing, but online. This involves a straight swap system though, so in order to ‘take’ something you will have had to have ‘given’ something of the same value. It’s still a great way to find people who will truly use your pre-loved fashion items.

Perth vintage

Whilst you can quite easily find goodwill clothes stores (such as ‘Good Sammys’, ‘Salvation Army’ etc), the true vintage stores are harder to find. Here are a few that I know of:

Memory Lane : 768 Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley

She Seldom Blushes : Shop 5, Atwell Arcade (just off High Street Mall) Fremantle.

MoMo’s  : 849 Beaufort St Inglewood.

Lola Rose Vintage  : 42a Old Perth Road, Bassendean WA

Pigeonhole Vintage : Shop 10 Bon Marche Arcade, Barrack Street, Perth

Bluebird Vintage  : 288 Cambridge St, Wembley

You can also keep your eye out for advertised markets such as Polka Dot Vintage Markets and the Sugar Blue Burlesque’s Retro Markets.

The conclusion

Personally, I am a vintage girl at heart loving everything retro. I usually don’t mind going on a treasure hunt for clothes and I love the idea of finding a really unique outfit. But I know that it’s not for everyone and I know that it can become tiring, especially if you’re desperate for a specific item and you just can’t find it.

An alternative to buying second-hand or vintage clothes is upcycling.  Upcycling uses these old clothes and fabrics but reconstructs them into something different (both in retro and modern styling) and this is the next stage of my ethical adventure.

Next: Upcycling

Ethical shopping – it’s all about reading the label


image from ethical.org.au

I made a pledge via 3things to choose vintage/pre-loved clothes over brand new ‘sweatshop’ cheap clothes. In hindsight it was an odd thing to choose, but I knew that I was going the easy route of shopping at super cheap fashion clothes stores without considering where these clothes came from, who made them, in what conditions and at what cost to the environment.

What I’ve since decided is I’m going to expand this pledge to something bigger – to shop ethically and not just clothes, but everything I consume. So before I can fully become an ethical shopper and fulfil my pledge, I first had to find out what it all meant.

What is ethical shopping (or being an ‘ethical consumer’)?

One of the biggest key words here is “considering” – and consideration is all about respect, concern and thoughtfulness.

  • Considering how the product will affect other people or animals
  • Considering whether the production of the product has been made using sustainable practices
  • Choosing products that are of good quality
  • Choosing products that are themselves sustainable and not harmful to the planet

Ethical shopping is deep rooted and there might be items that don’t or can’t tick every ethical box (eg. leather). According to the Ethical Consumer Guide though, there are four different forms or levels of ethical shopping to consider:

  1. Favouring ethical products (which they refer to as ‘positive buying’)
  2. Disfavouring or avoiding unethical products (which they refer to as ‘negative buying’)
  3. Examining businesses as a whole (which means looking at companies and all subsidiaries – a company or product might appear fine until you discover they’re owned by a much larger unethical organisation)
  4. Taking everything into account (in other words, a combination of all three)

Now the lazy person in all of us is might say “that sounds hard” – well it’s not as easy as remaining naive and buying things without thought, but it’s not hard. All it takes is a bit of foresight and some researching – but most of all an attitude change.

What to do

Step One: Read the label!! Find out where this product has come from, what it’s made from and who the company really is.

Step Two: Check your choices!! Don’t just pick a product because it’s what your Mum always used to buy and you don’t know what else exists – look around for the most ethical choice.

Step Three: Know what to look for!! Educate yourself about ingredients, production practices etc and really know what you should be looking for in a product.

What to look for

These are some key things to look for when choosing an ethical product and why:

  • Local products – less transportation as well as supporting local businesses
  • Fairtrade certified – which ensures non exploitive trade practices (wages and conditions of workers) and sustainable practices
  • Environmentally friendly – having less of an impact on the planet, such as organic (no chemicals or genetically modified ingredients), biodegradable (materials naturally break down in a relatively short amount of time), no harmful ingredients (such as palm oil, SLS) etc
  • Cruelty free – treating animals humanely

But, like I said earlier, it’s all about consideration. Not only should you consider the above items but you also have to consider whether the product you want to buy is the best option for what you need – for example if you were looking to buy disposable plastic cups for a picnic, you might instead consider buying good quality BPA free plastic cups that you keep, wash and reuse for years to come. Think about why you want the product and what you’re hoping to achieve. It shouldn’t always be about convenience.

Where do I start?

Favouring ethical products is the best place to start. The next time you do the food shopping before you reach for your favourite product, stop and look at all your choices.

Don’t overwhelm yourself, just take it one step at a time – start with your weekly food shopping and then look at every item as you need it such as new clothes, shampoo, soap, household cleaning products, car, furniture – you name it. It’s as simple as using Google to search for “Ethical shampoo” and seeing what you find.

When you feel comfortable with the basics then you can really start to delve deeper.


So you might be asking yourself why, aside from the obvious, should you be making ethical choices when you don’t know anyone else who does.

Firstly, you gotta start somewhere – once you do it, your best friend might do it, then their cousin might do it, then their mother might do it, and so on. Create a chain reaction and don’t be afraid to lead by example.

Secondly, by choosing ethical products you create a demand for them, which means they become more popular, more widely available and soon enough hopefully ‘the norm’. It worked with free range eggs – we created the demand and now the supermarkets have to stock them to meet the demand. This demand has now crept into restaurants who advertise the fact that they serve free range eggs. We win with better quality eggs and chickens win (more than before) because they now get treated more humanely.

Feel good shopping!

At the end of the day, it feels good to know that you can shop guilt free. So, the next time you need to buy something, by choosing the ethical option you will be able to consciously feel good about your decision (just don’t max out the credit card!!).

Just remember:


A little action creates a chain reaction.

Are you using dangerous chemicals in your home?


Think about the roles that the chemicals in things like cigarettes, drugs and pesticides play in the media. The general message is that they are extremely dangerous for our health and that we should avoid contact wherever possible. This is why it shocks a lot of people to discover that the greatest risk of exposure to synthetic organic chemicals comes from within our own homes.

In Australia, the chemicals used in our homes are the least controlled and regulated. This means most Australian households have hundreds of dangerous compounds lurking in their kitchens, bathrooms and laundries that have not been put through adequate (and sometimes any) testing or certification processes. And not only are these potions harmful to ourselves, but the environment is also suffering. Given the poor standard of chemical regulation in Australia it is a fair assumption that we cannot trust industry with our health. We need to take the power back into our own hands by arming ourselves with a little knowledge and acting accordingly. The only way to limit damage to our environment, animals, friends, families and selves is by reducing our exposure to these chemicals and using natural eco-friendly solutions instead.

Why do we use chemicals in products?

Convenience is our generations’ highest priority which has created overwhelming demand for one-stop-shop solutions. To cater for this, ambitious profit-focused companies are developing products that are reliant upon various combinations of highly toxic chemicals (referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC’s). Already dangerous chemicals then present a whole new set of issues when combined with other cocktails, whether by conscious decision or not (e.g. glass cleaner plus oven cleaner). Toxic ingredients are found in most household cleaning products including all-purpose cleaners, degreasers, polishes, washing powders, shampoos, cosmetics and disinfectants. These chemicals affect us in a number of ways:

  • Long-Term Exposure is the most common form of ingestion. On a daily basis we absorb chemicals by respiration, consumption or direct skin contact.
  • Acute poisoning (through inhalation or swallowing) is a major issue in Australia and children are at highest risk. The Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia has released data stating that every year in Australia 3,500 children under 5 years of age are admitted to hospitals because of poisoning annually, and 5 to 10 of these children die (Australia, 2007).
  • Environmental damage. Waterways provide the fastest route for household chemicals to reach and then damage our fragile ecosystems. We then must factor in the damage associated with transportation, manufacture and packaging (individually wrapped dish-washing balls anyone?)

What Effects Can These Chemicals Have?

There are many credible studies that detail the serious side-effects linked to exposure to VOC’s. The Australian Governments Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC) reports data acknowledging these effects explaining that long-term exposure has been linked to cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, central nervous system damage, fertility problems and birth defects. Short-term exposure or Acute poisoning is strongly tied to eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea / vomiting, dizziness and the worsening of asthma symptoms (Department of Sustainability, 2009).

Shockingly, there are currently no environmental guidelines for the use of VOC’s. The DSEWPC notes that,

“VOCs are environmentally significant mainly because of their role in the formation of photochemical smog. VOCs can have serious effects on animals, birds and plants (aka The Food Chain) and secondary effects may also occur due to the impact of smog. In liquid form and solutions, VOCs can also affect water and soil”

– Department of Sustainability, 2009


Luckily there are some really easy steps to minimising your part in the chemical industry…

1. Read the label, know the facts

There are no government regulations or legal definitions for words like ‘Non-Toxic’ and ‘Natural’ – so do not blindly trust the label. Companies do not always use full ingredients lists and are legally allowed to disguise chemical names so you need to look for certain keywords. If a label uses any of the following ingredients or terminology avoid the product;

  • Phosphates, Nitrates and Chlorines
  • ‘Maybe Harmful or Fatal’ or other warnings, cautions and dangers
  • If the product is considered hazardous, corrosive or inflammable
  • Irritant

2.     Buy Environmentally Friendly Products

It is important to note that these labels can still be very misleading. Products made of ‘all natural ingredients’ are often still very toxic, as lots of chemicals can be made naturally. For example, terpene is a carbon compound derived from orange peels, but also reacts with ozone to create formaldehyde – a highly toxic carcinogen (Hubert, 2007). Be careful too of labels claiming to be ‘Organic’ – it is not a legally defined word so you must look for a certification stamp to assure you get what you pay for.

In Australia, credible certification processes include NASAA Certified Organic, Australian Certified Organic, OGA Certified Organic – all logos found below.

3.     Buy Cruelty Free

Manufacturers that test on animals use cruel and barbaric methods to decide whether products are safe for human use. It is completely unnecessary however sadly it is still legal.      Always look for the Cruelty Free logo.  Logically, if animals are put into mini-gas chambers to test a products toxicity it is not something I want to soak my clothes or kitchen bench    in anyway

4.     Make Your Own

Making your own products is by far the best solution for you health and the environments too. It is fun, easy and makes me nostalgic for year 8 science class. You can buy in bulk (avoiding lots of packaging), they are non-toxic, effective, save a bucket of money and you can recycle cute old jars and bottles to store them. For recipes for your own cleaners go to our Home and Garden section.

Reference List

Palm Oil: What the hell is it and why is it bad?


To me it seems that palm oil is my generations CFC (chlorofluorocarbon). Think about it, the eighties was the decade of big hair and what were people using to keep it looking so deliciously bouffant? They were using hair spray – unceremoniously – to the point that they even named a Broadway musical in its honour. We now know that all aerosols (as well as refrigerators) were using chemical compounds called CFC’s. Retrospect is a spiteful thing because we also know just how damaging these chemicals were to the environment. However then, due to lack of information (or perhaps more a case of being misled by those that had the information?) people were going about their everyday lives not realising that they were actively contributing to irreparable environmental damage. Then in 1985 the bubble burst and the announcement came(1); there was a hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic and CFC’s alone had caused it. Fast forward to 2011 and we are in the same predicament, but there is a new player at our table… palm oil. Everyone seems to be talking about it but no one seems to know what it is and why, all of a sudden, ‘palm oil’ is a massive issue.

Orangutans amazing eyes

Sumatran Orangutan; Image by Emily Ehlers

So, what is it?

Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree which is native to West Africa. It is not a fussy plant and will flourish anywhere that is hot and has abundant rainfall; read rain forests (aka orangutan habitat).  It is the second most consumed edible oil in the world (behind soybean oil)(2) and a massive 40% of all packaged food products in Australia contain it(3). It is found in biscuits, crackers, batters, chips, pet foods, cosmetics and cleaners. To put that into perspective – every year, Australians consume 10 kilograms of palm oil each(4)!

Why is it now a problem?

Packaged and processed food has been around since at least 1851(5), so why is it only becoming a problem now? Processed food is not considered a healthy choice (shocking I know) and with the obesity epidemic providing a catalyst for research into the industry, they realised they needed to make changes before its target market either smartened up or… well… died! Trans-fatty acids were the ‘baddie’ of the moment and they needed a non-hydrogenated oil substitute – and they found it in the juicy kernel of the oil palm tree. Demand exploded and Indonesia and Malaysia, with their vast rainforests, responded. Since introducing the oil palm the two countries now produce 85% of the world supply of palm oil. Unfortunately these rainforests also provide homes to indigenous people and local communities; habitats for Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, sun bears, leopards, orangutans and many more wonderful and rare creatures(6). For the two species of orangutans (Sumatran and Bornean) – it is their last remaining habitat on the planet.

What are the main issues?


I'm gonna eat ya!; Image by Emily Ehlers


Indonesia has the highest rate of tropical rain forest loss in the word(7) and since 2008 has held the Guinness World Record for the highest rate of forest clearance (an area equal to 300 soccer fields goes every hour)(8). This is while there are millions of hectares of degraded land available for palm oil plantations – however companies gain additional timber profits from high conservation value rainforest. How screwed up is that? This being said we cannot fall into the trap of blaming this developing country just trying to find its feet – especially when we are the ones causing the demand.

Global Warming (little country, big footprint)

The rainforests cleared are wet and swampy which means the damp soils retain the peat (undecomposed plant matter that has accumulated over thousands of years)(9). When the soil dries it releases large amounts of methane; a gas that has a global warming impact 23 times of CO²(10). And to add insult to injury – it is expensive to bull-doze such huge areas of rainforest and there is a far quicker and more cost-effective solution… burn it. These long-burning fires emit massive amounts of carbon. With these collective assaults it is now estimated that 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from this regions rainforest destruction(10).

Social Issues

As previously mentioned these rainforests are home to many indigenous and local communities. The palm oil industry, good or bad, provides millions of people a livelihood. As often seen in developing countries however, human rights are being abused and there are conflicts associated with the land. Heavy use of pesticides has damaged waterways to the point where some communities no longer have clean water to bathe in or drink(11).  So while a blanket boycott would be great for orangutans it would decimate the local people. Thankfully there is hope with sustainable agricultural practices, trades and professions that would support their status quo without condemning the future of their community and our planet.

Our Health

Looks like Mother Earth isn’t the only one that has to watch her health. This ‘good’ alternative to hydrogenated fats is not the magical solution it was pegged as. It is extremely high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fats. Biomedical research now supports the fact that it increases risk of heart disease to the point that way back in February 2007 Christopher Pyne, Assistant Minister for Health and Aging, circulated this media release(12):

“While looking at the transfat issue we have no wish to undo much of this good work, for example, by manufacturers and retailers returning to use saturated fats such as palm oil, tallow and lard… Already I have seen reports in the media where a food outlet states it is telling consumers that they had gone ‘transfat free’ when, in fact, it is using palm oil, which is high in saturated fat… While we are consuming levels of transfats well below the WHO recommendation, we are eating above the WHO recommended levels of saturated fats… We urgently need to reduce our saturated fats intake too”

In conclusion…

So there we have it ladies and gents. That is what palm oil is and I most certainly hope I have displayed how – in its current form – it is bad. But there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

To find out what you can do to avoid or at least limit your use of unsustainable palm oil please click here to continue on to Part 2 of this article.


  1. Handwerk B. 2010. Whatever Happened to the Ozone Hole?. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100505-science-environment-ozone-hole-25-years/(accessed 31 May, 2011).
  2. What is Palm Oil? Palm Oil Action Organisation. www.palmoilaction.org.au/pages/what-is-a-palm-oil.html. (accessed 30 May, 2011).
  3. Hickman. 2009. The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-guilty-secrets-of-palm-oil-are-you-unwittingly-contributing-to-the-devastation-of-the-rain-forests-1676218.html. (accessed 30 May, 2011)
  4. Ballhorn et al. 2009. Derivation of burn scar depths and estimation of carbon emissions with LIDAR in Indonesian peatlands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  5. Dubovoj, S. Fujinaka, M. Atkins, W. 2005. International Directory of Company Histories. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Dole_Food_Company_Inc.aspx. (accessed 2 June, 2011).
  6. King, T. 2010. Suffering Species. http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/suffering-species.php. (accessed 2 June, 2011).
  7. Australia. Australian Government Submissions. 2010. Zoos Victoria’s Submission to the Food Labelling Review Committee; In support of mandatory labelling of Palm Oil (including Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) on all packaged food products. Australian Government Publishing Service.
  8. Deforestation. Palm Oil Action Organisation. http://www.palmoilaction.org.au/pages/deforestation.html. (accessed 30 May, 2011).
  9. 9.     Kaat, A. and M. Silvius. 2006. Peatland Degradation Fuels Climate Change. Wetlands International. www.wetlands.org (accessed 3 June, 2011).
  10. Global Warming. Palm Oil Action Organisation. http://www.palmoilaction.org.au/pages/global-warming.html. (accessed 30 May, 2011).
  11. The Social Costs of Palm Oil. Palm Oil Action Organisation. http://www.palmoilaction.org.au/pages/social.html. (accessed 30 May, 2011).
  12. Australia. Australian Government: Department of Health and Aging. 2007. Australia-New Zealand Collaboration on Transfats launched. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

3things can change the world


Changing the world, 3things at a time” – this is Oxfam’s latest initiative, and we like it. It’s such a simple concept: choose three things that you ‘pledge’ to do to make a difference, no matter how big or small.

The best thing about this concept is it’s not putting too much pressure on people to be eco warriors – just making a change to “make the world a better place” as 3things put it simply.

So last week, I chose my 3 things and pledged them on the 3things website.

What to choose?

Though I try to be a good little greenie, I’ve still got so much to learn, so I decided to push myself with things I’m keen to achieve (but haven’t have the right motivator to do so) – which I assume is the goal behind 3things, to motivate people to change.

Kat's 3things

1.      Buy organic produce

This is something I keep saying I’ll do, but not quite following through. It means going to an organic store that is only open for a few hours on Saturdays, and searching for longer to find the right stuff – but absolutely worth it in the end. I know that eating organic produce is good for me, but I can’t yet explain why. I am going to tell you all about my organic research and adventures in posts to come.

2.      Choose vintage/pre-loved clothes over brand new ‘sweatshop’ cheap clothes

This is a big one. I love fashion and I’m at the start of winter without enough warm clothes to get me through. Despite having the best intentions, it always seems easier to shop at the bargain places (which I know have been shipped directly from asian sweatshops). A great quote I saw on twitter* recently from ethical store owner EthiklWe all love a bargain, but when you are paying only $5 for a t-shirt, maybe it’s time to ask some questions…”.

I think this will be my biggest challenge and I’m going to dedicate quite a bit of time researching and documenting my ethical shopping adventures. Watch this space.

3.      Educate others by continuing to write for www.ecoempire.org

Need I say more?

When I document how I’ve travelled with my 3things challenges, I’ll let you know how these pledges can change the world.

In the meantime, you should check out the website to see what other people are pledging. After I had posted my 3things I noticed so many great ideas pledged by people that I even wondered if 3things was enough for me!

*You can follow EcoEmpire on twitter here