5 Steps to an Eco Easter!

Easter has always confused the hell out of me. One second i’m eating pancakes, the next my school principal is rubbing soot on my forehead, then I am told not to eat anything and then BAM I am sniffing out anything that has cocoa in it and gorging on said item! What a strange holiday it is. It is Lucy’s first Easter and it has definitely made me consider how I will bring her up to think of Easter. I have decided that it will be the same as Christmas – a time where family comes together. What it will not be about is the merciless destruction of all over-packaged, sugar-based food stuffs within a 10 kilometer vicinity. She’s already perky enough without the sugar thank you very much!!!

SUGAR!!! Nom nom.. no!

SUGAR!!! Nom nom.. no!

So I started thinking about all the ways we could reduce our Easter impact while staying healthy at the same time…

1. Sustainable Good Friday Fish

If you are a fish eater make sure you choose an ecologically sustainable breed of fish for your Good Friday Feast. The Australian Marine Conservancy has a brilliant website that tells you exactly which breeds are best – see the list here. If you are not from Australia though the Marine Stewardship Council provides global information on sustainable seafood – see their list here.

2. Make Your Own Chocolate

Itty bitty eggs all wrapped in unrecyclable tin foil… every eco-minded individuals worst nightmare. By making your own chocolate you can completely avoid the packaging as well as making them a hell of a lot healthier. In this recipe I made raw Fruit and Nut Chocolate in a slab but you could easily pour it into a chocolate mold for a more traditional feel!

You could also try these AHMAZING Raw Easter Eggs from one of my favorite foodie ladies Adele (aka Vegie Head)…

Image and recipe courtesy from www.vegiehead.com

Image and recipe courtesy from http://www.vegiehead.com

3. Always Buy Fair Trade

It can be really hard to walk past beautiful brightly-coloured eggs that are so perfectly designed to catch your kids eyes. But it is important to remember that a lot of those eggs are produced in terrible conditions by children… just like yours. See the list of companies here that are doing the right thing and using certified Fair Trade cocoa. But if you are out and about and have forgotten the list, then make sure you look out for the FTA (Fair Trade Australia) logo…

fair-trade

4. Opt out of the traditional Easter Egg Hunt

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I loved Easter Egg hunts as a child. In fact, I still love ’em. I went to my brothers house last Easter and I had to be reminded that I was helping my nephew find eggs… not competing with him. But it does occur to me that it can be a glorified form of littering really? Running around and scattering bits of candy wrapped in non-biodegradable packaging around the garden. I am sure there is a percentage that get forgotten or that some poor animal finds first. BUT this doesn’t mean you need to forgo the hunt altogether. Why not try these ideas:

  • There are loads of funky reusable ‘eggs’ around which you can open and put in healthy treats. I haven’t found an Australian manufacturer yet but these ‘Eco Eggs’ are made from a non-toxic plant-based plastic that are fully compostable! (Although I’m not sure why you would chuck ’em… they would last for many many Easters). There are also gorgeous wooden eggs (see here) which you could paint and decorate with the kids.
  • I have never been to an op-shop and not seen a whole stack of wicker baskets for $2 each. No need for new! If that’s not the case wherever you are though, check out this gorgeous upcycled jumper basket…

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  • You could make your own eggs! There are plenty of gorgeous options from these little felt eggs (from the very creative One Inch World) or you could even make old greeting card boxes like these (from yours truly!) to hide treats in.
  • Instead of hiding eggs you could instead hide some gorgeous hand-painted rocks (hear me out!) and at the end of the hunt treat them like coupons. The children can come up to a ‘treat’ bar and exchange rock creatures for their treat of choice!

painted-rocks-resizedWEB

5. Avoid Palm Oil

Both Woolworths and Coles home brands of hot cross buns contain palm oil.

Consumers (a yucky name for you and me) are definitely wising up these days. It is so nice to that the tribe of people that give a shit is growing and that people are starting to speak up about unacceptable corporate behavior! Better yet… they are boycotting it. Coles and Woolworths have both used Palm Oil in their homebrand Hot Cross Buns this year. They have (rightfully so) copped some flak for this nasty inclusion (if you want to know more about Palm Oil I have written a blog post all about why it is so nasty – see it here). Don’t condone their use by buying these products, why not make your own instead. Total eco babe Alison (from Relauncher) posted this recipe for Gluten Free Hot Cross Buns. I am trying it out tomorrow!

Image and recipe from http://www.relauncher.com.au

Or if you are getting into the raw swing of things you can try my recipe for Raw Cross Buns here

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Happy Easter!

What are you doing to make sure your Easter stays eco? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Why you’ll never see me at the races…

The Hunger Games (both books and movies) have always been met with a flurry of controversy. In what seems to be a tragic case of oversimplification, people continue to protest about the violent premise of the story and the disgusting notion that cruelty and death could be considered entertainment.  (The plot centres on The Hunger Games – a tournament where poor children compete in a televised fight-to-the-death: a demented mix of Gladiator and Big Brother). To get all Year 12 English on you, I personally thought it was a very clever parable which delivered complex adult themes (like inequality, war and oppression) to a younger audience… but whatever… I digress from my point.

Today I find myself confused that there is ongoing debate about the appropriateness of this particular story while we simultaneously celebrate our very own version of the Hunger Games every spring… in fact, we brag about its ability to stop the nation. Yes, I am referring to the Australian Spring Carnival and the Racing Industry that it sustains. If people are so appalled by the fact that entertainment could be derived from another’s suffering then where are the protests about horse-racing? Why are more parents not concerned of the effect that this brutal spectacle could have on our children?

Last night ABC730 bravely (though sadly post-Melbourne Cup) aired the ghastly reality of what happens to those poor horses deemed “financially unviable” by the racing industry– the slow, the injured, the ailing. Every year approximately 18,000 racehorses are considered to be unprofitable and are slaughtered to be turned into meat. I had always heard rumours of the proverbial glue factory and (until a few years ago) thought it was surely an urban myth, but as the footage last night horrifyingly illustrated it is still very much a reality.

“Something like 8,500 horses at an early age are excluded from the racing industry. Usually due to injury – mostly due to injury. Mostly due to the fact that they were prepared for racing when they were juveniles and not mature in bone and limb. That’s the big problem for the racing industry.”

– Hugh Wirth

The poor injured souls that don’t make the cut are categorised by a word all too familiar to anyone with any knowledge about the issues animals face when used for capital gain – wastage. Once their financial worth has been decided these horses… sorry, the wastage… is transported to a Saddleyard where horses are sold predominantly to Knackeries (slaughterhouses for meat not for human consumption i.e. dog food). At the knackeries horses are led into small fenced areas and are one-by-one shot in front of the other horses. The waiting horses are clearly shaking with fear.

As distressing as it is, I am a massive fan of confronting yourself with hard truths. It provides an awareness that forces change. One of the most dangerous weapons in society is ignorance. So please try and watch the below video if you still are in any doubt about the reality of getting gussied up and punting on these animals.

Back in 2010 a Western Australian restaurant made national headlines for proposing to add horse meat to his French-inspired menu. As you can see from this article which interviews the infamous Restaurateur (Vince Garreffa) people threatened to never eat at his restaurant again. While I obviously don’t agree with eating horses I also fail to see the difference between supporting old Vince’s restaurant and heading out to punt on this year’s favourite?

So I propose that if you honestly have a problem with the racing industries treatment of these beautiful animals – the animals the racing industry claims to love and care for – that you stop supporting it. I am sure that I could be labelled as a spoilsport or even unpatriotic for having this opinion but I don’t care especially when it means I am taking a stand against celebrating cruelty. There are plenty of other opportunities to wear pretty dresses if that is what floats your boat. Why not hold your own Anti-Cup party which allows you to dress up and bet on a sport that doesn’t involved flogging a poor animal round a track. The winnings could even be donated to your favorite charity instead?

Take Action

Click through on this link to tell racing bosses that cruelty is not profitable. As the amazing organisation Animals Australia suggests – “pledge not to bet on horse races while young, healthy horses are killed by the thousands each year. Help urge the racing industry to care for all horses — not just the ones who win the most”

More Information

If you would like more information on the racing industries dirty little secret then please visit Horse Racing Kills.

I also absolutely LOVE this article by Melbourne Writer Marieke Hardy – well worth a read!

What’s your opinion? Do you support horse racing? Love to hear from you in the comments!

Our Unexpected Pre-Baby Baby

So I have been a bit quiet on the blog lately but it has been for good reason. An unexpected pre-baby baby of the feline variety. Meet Velcro…

It all happened a few weeks ago when my husband and I were coming home from dinner and innocently stopped off to get some petrol. There were a huddle of teenagers standing out the front and one of them approached us and just said ‘Do you want a kitten?’. Pardon? She held out her hands to reveal the tiniest cat I have ever seen in my life. The kids had been out walking and heard a small squeaking coming from the bushes and there she was… all by herself. The girls said their mum wouldn’t let them have her and they didn’t know what else to do. Luckily my husband – who has one of the biggest hearts in the world – already had a look of love in his eyes. He had also shared a few bottles of wine with our friends which surely helped. Either way, we took her home.

To give some idea of her size…

Thinking about it rationally we knew this wasn’t the best time to adopt a cat. I am 8 months pregnant which means we are cutting costs as it is, my husband gets allergies and cats and babies are not the best mix (toxoplasmosis, the whole lying on warm face thing) not to mention I have a Pug with only one working eye! I dread the thought of a playful swipe catching little Pugman’s good blinker. But sometimes you just have to go with what is in your heart. The dogs are very excited by the new addition too – Pugman is quite obsessed with and cuddles her constantly whereas my other canine brute (Allen) is very much her plaything. And very proud of the fact.

“Can we keep her?”

We took her to the vet the next day where they told us she was no more than 2 weeks, which is insanely young to be away from ones mother. We got some proper cat milk (Cows milk is an absolute no no for kittens!!!) and took her home to bottle feed this precious 200 gram being. She could hardly muster more than a few steps without stumbling which sadly leads to the deduction that she was dumped. I went back to the roundabout the next day to look for other kittens or perhaps a mother but to no avail. It breaks my heart to think that someone would just abandon something so defenseless.

Her first night home… safe at last.

So I just wanted to share this little story for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is amazing how much kindness you can see when you are looking for it. From the group of teenagers who stopped to look after her to the vet that didn’t charge us because she wanted to repay our good deed. I am sometimes guilty of getting caught thinking the worst of people but there really are some big hearts out there. Secondly, it got me thinking of all the gorgeous animals out there that are in shelters. These shelters are mostly at capacity which means that some have to resort to euthanasia and others have to turn drop-offs away who are then met an uncertain fate.  For some, like my little pudding, that may be the side of the road but for others it can be much worse. If you know that there is some extra (permanent) room and love in your home for an animal companion – even if it is a tiny gap like ours was – then please check out some of the shelters in your area. Why do we still have pet shops when there are so many beautiful ‘unwanted’ souls already in the world.

In Perth alone we have these fantastic organisations;

If you aren’t looking for a pet but still want to help, they are always open to donations and/or volunteers!

And last but not least I wanted to share some photos of her with you. Because I am a proud mum and that’s what we do.

Love is.

Bottle-feeding the little muffin!

Milk-drunk.

A whole little life in my hands.

Quite the lady. Now pushing 600 grams.

Her savage alter-ego!

Peek-a-boo with Allen

My gorgeous big-hearted husband.

High Five for kitty!

Truly believing she was sneaking up on me.

A Kind Travel Guide

I am about 7 weeks away from having my first child and have discovered another truly wonderful pregnancy symptom: third trimester insomnia. I often find myself lying in bed trying to catch the train back to the Land of Nod and sometimes I do, but more often than not I end up on the couch flanked by a Pug and an Allen. Before this mornings interruption I tried a faithful tact – visualising myself in the most tranquil setting I could imagine. Invariably this takes me back to Ubud – a jungle town located in the mountains of Bali, Indonesia. An hour past the hustle of the main tourist region of Kuta you can find a paradise that will forever be fodder for your late night meditations (even the unsuccessful ones).

This is the most relaxed I think I have ever been.

Bali often gets painted as an island of abandonment. A place where the trinkets are cheap, the drinks are flowing and ‘luxury’ is within reach of the common man. While holiday spending is somewhat a necessity (Bali’s primary industry is tourism, after all) the encouragement of ‘reckless’ consumption can be at a detriment to the local environment, people and animals. But fear not – there are plenty of ways to find relaxation and fun without harming the environment or becoming a culturally insensitive ‘Bali Bogan’. While my experience was specific to Bali the same principles can be applied on any travels, particularly in South East Asia.

Consider ‘Alternate’ Accommodation

There are plenty of accommodation options past the generic hotel chains where it is accepted that you can treat the staff like garbage if you wish. We visited a friend in the lobby of one such hotel and I couldn’t believe the way some young (i’m ashamed to say) Aussie girls were treating the staff – it was painful to watch. My hubby and I instead opted for Pondok Saraswati which comprised of 4 open-aired villas within a village compound. Overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful rice paddies, you are accepted here as part of the family and do not have ‘mignons’ at your beck and call – a holiday ‘feature’ I was determined to avoid. The villa was simple and free of all mod cons – just a bedroom, a mosquito net, some day beds and an jungle style shower. Bliss.

The open air ground floor – simple and divine.

How can something so simple be SO tasty. Fruit, fresh coconut and palm sugar.

One of the gorgeous staff members would come past every morning to offer and bring breakfast (the most amazing tropical fruit I have ever tasted) and beyond that you are on your own. You were always welcomed at the kitchen (where there was a bar fridge full of Bintang) and there was always someone to chat with. Instead of being pigeon holed into one monotonous task, the employees here (mostly extended family members) had a range of jobs from tending to the gardens, cleaning, cooking. They all described it as a far more full-fulling style of work.  Nyomen Rusni a hilarious, matter-of-fact woman, manages the resort and is more than happy to drive you in and around town for a flat rate. In the end we were sad to leave more due to the friendships than the stunning setting. I could not recommend more looking for this slightly ‘alternative’ form of accommodation instead of the cookie-cutter chain experience. Search for bed and breakfasts and retreats when deciding on your accommodation.

With the Pondok family (Nyomen is just next to me).

The view from the shower. DREAMY.

Don’t Be A Snob

As can be displayed in this repugnant – not to mention uneducated – article by The Age’s Carolyn Webb,  Australians can foster a certain attitude towards the Balinese. Ms Webb skillfully manages to display a complete lack of understanding of the concept of poverty while simultaneously conjuring up this caricature of a racist, self-important parrot. Talented journo that one. She complains about being ‘harassed’ by “frankly terrible street touts”. Yes, in Bali you will be approached by Street Sellers who want you to buy superfluous nicknack’s. Yes, you may get conned a couple of times and spend $10 on a massage instead of $5. If this upsets you, instead of following Ms Webb’s lead and being a condescending and offensive prick about it, try and remind yourself of the economic climate you are enjoying. Bali is a developing country that has been devastated by terrorist attacks, bad press due to foolish decisions (drug smugglers) not to mention our old friend the GFC. While a lot of Australians have had to tighten the proverbial belt the Balinese have had to more literally address their belt buckles – in fact the average Bali family survives on the equivalent of $100AUD a month.

On top of that, the industry that is carrying the country is also destroying it. The once agriculturally self-sufficient island is now crippled by its lifeblood; fields have been converted into hotels, water is diverted from crops to golf courses, streams are polluted with rubbish. If you want to learn more about how this rampant tourism is both killing and supporting Bali then watch the below short documentary Bali: They Paved Paradise which was featured on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent.

So instead of getting frustrated (don’t make me use the hashtag… oh stuff it … #firstworldproblems) try learning a local phrase like “Tidak, terimah kasih” which translates to “No thanks”. Say it with a smile and see how that goes. Chat with the people too. I got some wicked hints of local places to eat, attractions to visit and also managed to have a competitive game of ping pong just from sporting a grin.

Cruelty Free Animal Encounters

I am sure I would be considered a spoil-sport but regardless… I am often horrified by the Facebook holiday snaps I see on Facebook where people are posing with baby orang-utans and suspiciously sedate looking tigers. A baby orangutan is no different to a baby human – it should never be seperated from its mother. A tiger is very different and being a ferocious carnivore should want to eat you. Yet for our own pleasure and cheap entertainment we are altering natural behaviours of wild and beautiful animals. Recently a disturbing new tourist trend emerged in Thailand called ‘Tiger Teasing’. Tigers are allegedly drugged and then teased by tourist in shallow pools with bags of food (see the video here). What could go wrong? This trend is verging towards the upper eschalon of animal exploitation in the name of tourism but allegations of druggings have long been present even at the ‘friendlier’ parks and zoos. Tigers, orangutans and elephants are routinely used as props and (due to the cycle of poverty that is enslaving them) are treated very badly. It is not neccesarily the owners/trainers fault (though depraved acts have been documented) but instead those that are demanding the service… tourists.

Image by Emily Ehlers

The point is – if you truly love animals and are looking for an up close and personal experience – then choose an activity that helps them rather than harms them. Elephant trekking seems to be a favorite pastime. But these elephants are routinely beaten with bullhooks or electric prods. And if you want to learn how baby elephants are trained just google ‘Phajaan’ or ‘The Crush’  – trekking may not seem so attractive then. Instead of this why not visit an elephant sanctuary where you can bathe with the elephants, feed them and clean them without the cruelty linked to the trek? For example The Surin Project is an amazing and holistic organisation. Instead of confiscating the elephants from mahouts and consequently driving up demand for the illegal trade of elephant smuggling, Surin provides a sanctuary for the elephant AND the trainer and their family. They provide a synergy of animal welfare and employment (growing food for the elephants, manning the sancutary). These opportunities are all around for all types of animals – you just have to look for it! Be informed, make the kind choice.

A baby elephant learns about Phajaan.

If you are interested in a holiday centred entirely around volunteerism and helping abused/neglected animals then you may want to check out my past blog about my short visit to BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association). She that here.

Eat Local Cuisine

Eat the cuisine of the region. Make a resolution that you are going to experience the place in it’s entirity. I am always flabbergasted when people go to these places and then visit Western restaurants… or worse… fast food chains!!!  In fact my favorite meal was the simplest. You will never try tropical fruit like this.

My own thought…. if you have ever wanted to try vegetarianism/veganism then South East Asia is the place to do it. In Bali I ate some of the best vegetarian food I have ever had in my life. And hey, if you make a holiday resolution there you may find it sticks when you get back? Here’s me with my fave meal in Bali (Gado Gado)…

 

Eco Activities

While you are away choose to partake in kind activites. Use the rule of thumb – it should not exploit the people, the animals or the environment. While you are dreaming up your perfect holiday and researching prices… go that step further and look into the companies as well. Make sure that workers are being paid fairly, animals are not used as gimmicks and try to ascertain the philosophy behind the company. Travel blogs can be SO helpful this way as well as travel forums. I was going to visit a ‘reputable’ Turtle Sanctuary in Nusa Dua but was warned off it by a friend. I was shocked – it has ‘sanctuary’ in the title… surely it was legit? I then let me fingers wander to google and found this article which confirmed my fears – I almost got greenwashed! A near miss for something that sounded so genuine. Research, research, research.

There is plenty available in the way of ‘Eco’ touring!

An example of a ‘nice’ activity we found was the Bali Eco Cycling Tour. Not only was this tour one of my favourite experiences of our Bali trip, but of all my holidays. For a very reasonable price we were treated to an educational tour down the main volcano in Bali (Mt Batur) and this included 2 of the most delicious meals I have ever had the pleasure of noshing as well as hotel transfer. It was truly amazing. I will end this blog article with some happy snaps…

We started the day by having breakfast in a cloud… literally! Looking out the windows of this restaurant was opaque white. Then the clouds cleared and revealed a massive volcano and the Crater Lake which provides the water to the entire island of Bali!!!

Our gorgeous tour guide, 16 year old Ring (“like jewellry ‘cept i’m worth more!). This kid was a comedian and the thing I loved was that his dream was to become an English teacher… rather than a carpenter like his father. Therefore this job as a tour guide was helping him perfect his English – he had a firm grasp of it including some dirty jokes. Here he was trying to convince one of us the eat the ‘sweetest chilli in Bali’ which was actually the hottest.  

Amazing rice paddies.

With my love.

We were shown through a family compound where we met these delightful scallywags!!! Another note… take gifts for the children. I had children begging me for biro’s and notepads. Next time I go I will be taking a massive stash of books, pads, pencils etc.

ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM. Just to show how nice the tour guide was (and what a Hobbit I am) I forgot to wear shoes. Ring gave me his pair of thongs!!!

I faced a fear and had this ‘friendly’ Orb Weaver on me. I was amazed at how heavy it was! It’s legs… or feet?… were so sharp. Like little pins.

The best meal I have ever had in my life. EVER. I preordered the vegan option and got this wondrous plate was awaiting me. Gado Gado, Goreng, Green Salad (hot hot mix of coconut, chilli and herbs), cabbage rolls and Sticky Tempeh (which a fellow tourer was convinced was pork!). Amazing.

And dessert? Well. Bali really reminded me that simplicity is key…

So. Those are my tips and a little bit of my own experiences. What about you? What are ‘kind’ travel tips that you use? Or do you disagree with any of mine? Have you been anywhere particularly wonderful? Please share in the comments!

Goodwill Wines – Plonk That Makes You Feel Good!

I have always said that if it was more socially acceptable, I would have wine on my muesli for breakfast. Well… looks like my dreams came true! I would like to shine the spotlight on one of my absolute favourite Australian companies – Goodwill Wine. Wine with a conscience? Fill me up, Buttercup!

The Bittersweet Background Story

Human kindness rises from the ashes.

I am sure the Black Saturday bushfires will replay in the nightmares of many Australians. I think of it as one of the “I remember where I was when” moments. The founders of Goodwill, David Laity and Ali Rees, were two of the many that lost all their worldly goods (home and job) in the fire but – most importantly – escaped with their lives. They credit the unwavering kindness and support they received in these tough times as the reason they were able to make it through and rebuild. Moving forward they vowed to use kindness as way of rebuilding their own future! Using funds donated from the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal (read the touching thank-you section here), Goodwill Wine is paying it forward and sending some seriously good karma out into the world. I love nothing more than those that refuse to become victims and instead choose to make any situation (no matter how Black) bright again!

The Concept

An example of a Goodwill Wine Label (this one supporting CFA)

Goodwill Wine is an online wine store with a massive difference. Firstly they are dedicated to sourcing the best quality boutique wine from independent wineries across Australia. In their own words “We are not about making money from bulk, cheap wine. Our commitment is to quality.” But the major draw is that they are a licensed fundraiser which pledges 50% of the profit (a minimum of $20 per case) to a charity of your choice! You even get a pretty customised label dedicated to your charity.

The Charities They Support

Any registered charity or NFP in Australia!!! Goodwill have a massive list of profiled charities which come with their own customised label (see the list here) or you can choose the generic ‘Goodwill Label’ and select any registered organisation in Australia to receive the profit of your purchase! Most of the charities have a green focus on conservation and animal rights/welfare and if you can think of a charity that would benefit Goodwill implore you to contact them and they will try their darndest to get them involved. Another benefit is you can click on any charity profile and see how much Goodwill has donated to them so far – here is the Animals Australia page to show what I mean or see the image below.

An example of the Edgars Mission charity profile

The Wine

There is a seriously large range of wine to choose from – see them all here. You can buy a minimum of 6 bottles and then the amounts range from 12, 24 (case) and some allow up to 60 bottles of the same wine at a time. For all you vegans out there they even have Vegan Mixed cases without any of those nasty fining agents!

The Environmental Cred

Goodwill Wine not only uses 100% recycled cartons but they also offset all their freighting around the country with Greenfleet (another super company!) planting a variety of native trees in permanent forests that help to reduce soil erosion and provide essential habitat for native wildlife! Are you as in love with this company as I am?

All in all…

I can’t think of more reasons to love and support this company and along with it some truly deserving charities. Coming up to Christmas I am already putting my orders in and can’t wait to tell the receivers of each bottle about the company and spread the good word. If you work in a company that gifts wine bottles to Clients why not suggest using them? This company is checking all the boxes and I am sure now that you know about them you will choose to support them too!

It’s simple: Good Wine, Good Price, Goodwill.

Sustainability and Health – Learning’s from Perth Green Drinks

On Wednesday (24 August) I attended my first Perth Green Drinks event to watch three panellists discuss a topic of great interest and concern: “Sustainability and Health”. The Green Drinks crew lived up to their mantra ‘conversation, education and community’ and the speakers were fabulous and SO informed – so then, why did I walk away feeling so damn frustrated?

On the way home my husband and I realised why: it was because the solutions that the experts provided for opting out of the chemical maze were not quick fixes. It seems I am another victim of the ‘quick convenient trap’. We are smack bang in the middle of a very sticky web and sadly ‘just look for this little symbol’ doesn’t cut it anymore. Sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Like a light switch going off, I felt empowered again.  This is why I want to share the information with you so that if it concerns you as well you can take the necessary steps to leading a toxic free life.

Who, What, Why

The event flyer pointed at the ever increasing links of ‘convenience chemicals’ and the ever declining health of the environment and those that inhabit it. Allotted 10 minutes each the three experts were (drum roll please)…

Jane Bremmer – an environmental health and justice activist. Chair of the Alliance for a Clean Environment and secretary for the National Toxics Network (Australia’s peak toxic and pollution reduction NGO).

Dr. George Crisp – a GP who is WA’s chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia, a voluntary group interested in the relationship between human health and environmental damage.

Dianne Caine –On her crusade to help her daughter survive an inoperable brain tumour, Dianne was alarmed at the level of harmful chemicals in popular products that we use every day. She consequently went on to create her own very successful product range Always Purer.

After they spoke there was a short Q&A session which bubbled over into drinks and nibbles (not very vegetarian/vegan friendly I am afraid). It was a fantastic event and I only have one major gripe: the speakers were all given a plastic bottle of water! Not only is this one of the easiest steps one can take towards being a bit greener but when we are discussing chemicals in products (including BPA in plastic bottles) I found it a very bizarre choice. This being said that is a nitpick (i just found it odd). If you have a chance to get to one of these events make sure you go. The information I have learnt is invaluable (see their Facebook page here).

Here Is What I Learnt…

Where/When Are We Exposed To These Chemicals?

  • Food –pesticides used in agriculture, chemical additives used in production
  • Personal Care products
  • Consumer Goods
  • Environmental exposure (there is no legal requirement to put any signage in a public urban area that is being sprayed with potentially dangerous agricultural chemicals)
  • Medicine

An Overview of Chemical ‘Regulation’ in Australia

The chemical regulation in Australia is complex and fragmented and – let’s face it – a bit of a joke! In fact, chemical regulation in Australia and New Zealand is considered amongst the worst in the world. We have a host of government bodies dedicated to the regulation of them yet when we look at the AICS – the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances – we see that there are a whopping 38,000 chemicals that have not been assessed.

A huge amount of chemicals that we are readily using in Australia are completely banned elsewhere. One example is Dimethyl Fumarate, a mould prevention chemical (fungicide) commonly found in shoes, jackets and furniture. Banned in EU, Used unhesitatingly in Australia.

Who Regulates Chemicals in Australia

The (self-regulated) government bodies that are responsible for the assessment and registration of chemicals within Australia and NZ are as follows;

  • NICNAS (National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme).
  • APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority) – The rightly infamous Monsanto lists them under their ‘Who Are We’ section… just sayin.
  • TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration)
  • FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand)

Luckily, those organisations (ACE and NTN) that Jane is involved in are working towards better accountability, public knowledge and regulation for Australia.

Stockholm Convention and POPs

My completely unscientific interpretation of a POP (Persistent Organic Pollutants) is this: a chemical that once created does not ever leave the planet, once ingested never leaves the body. It is rarely naturally occurring more commonly a huge by-product of industry: a Frankenstein. Because these POPs do not breakdown they accumulate in our environment and bodies and are major area of concern in terms of global warming and health. The Stockholm Convention  is a global treaty that aims to protect human health and the environment from them.

 3 chemicals you need to get out of your life RIGHT NOW!

Triclosan – is an antibacterial and antifungal chemical that was originally developed for medical settings. It is now used extensively in hand washes and other personal care products and its overuse has exploded since Swine Flu came about. In Australia we currently have no limitations on its use whereas it is completely banned in Canada and EU and limited in USA.

Triclosan is an endocrine disrupter – which basically means it messes with your hormones in a very scary way. A major area of Global Concern is its link to worldwide trends of antibiotic resistance.  It has also been linked to impairing muscle functions (see the study here) at our current level of exposure.

If Triclosan is affecting humans in this way you can only imagine what happens when it hits the aquatic environment which inevitably all products do! It damages ecosystems and the organisms within them, bioaccumulates and then ends up back in the food chain.

Bisphenol A (BPA) – this is the guy that you hear about the most. He is found in plastic containers, water bottles, canned food and drinks and (alarmingly) baby products. Bisphenol A is another endocrine disruptor: it mimics oestrogen and may fool the body by stimulating reactions that are unnecessary and potentially harmful.  In 2010 all the aforementioned government bodies (in conjunction with ACCC) collectively considered the possible risks of BPA and they remain convinced that BPA is safe for the whole population at the very low levels of current exposure. Canada, Japan and parts of Europe and USA obviously disagree and have banned it in all infant products.

Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs or PBDEs) – Jane feels that this is the biggest con of our time. These chemicals apparently contribute to public safety by reducing flammability of products like computers, furnishings and mattresses.  Same issues – hormone disruption, environmental damage, stuck record. Following strong evidence of increasing contamination of the environment, wildlife, and people this POP is soon to be phased out under the Stockholm Convention (see it here with the 8 other chemicals added to the annexes).

Before learning about this I had never seriously thought about how important organic materials and mattresses were. I thought you would invest in them as an environmental decision only -which of course is important too – but it is now very clear that there are strong causes for concern regarding our health. We sleep inhaling the chemicals released from these mattresses as well as wrapping our bare skin within then. I am expecting a baby in November and this has hugely affected my decision towards mattress selection.

What can we do?

The resounding pieces of advice from the panel were;

  • Use chemicals as little as possible
  • Read the label

This is the hard bit…

  • Investigate the companies

Apparently even certified organic ingredients can be manufactured in a way that can damage the ingredient and lead to some sort of chemical contamination. What? So even making all the right choices, supporting all the right companies I am not doing enough? I was getting mad. I make all my own beauty products (like this deodorant) and cleaning products from natural ingredients like Bicarb, vinegar and coconut oils. Surely this is okay? Well this is better but we still need to take a serious look into the companies and processes used in the production of products. For example, in terms of Bicarb soda, truly natural products are mined from the ground and are presented as untreated, pure sodium bicarbonate… the way the earth made it. Others however are heated, treated and processed and are therefore not as great.

I calmed myself down and reasoned with myself. I have figured that it goes back to the primary principle of awareness – educate and investigate. But now there is an added dimension. We all need to read our information as critically as possible and try to avoid green-washing (see here). It frustrates me unbelievably that we need to look this damn hard to verify that natural products are what they say. Why is it that we need to prove that big companies are doing the wrong thing? Surely the big companies should have to prove to us that they are doing the right thing? Oh well.

Sum Up

I am sorry if that was incredibly long, wordy and dry. I try to steer away from articles like that but the information I learnt was so shocking and important that I really felt I needed to share it. I hope it helped!  Would love to hear from you in the comments as always. In the meantime I love the way Annie Leonard explains things.. it is light and bright and always provides solutions. Here is here take on the chemicals in cosmetics…