Of the three R’s of waste reduction – reduce, re-use and recycle – it’s reduce that’s the most important. So avoiding the purchase in the first place is always best for the planet. When you do make purchases, there are some great resources to help you minimise the environmental impacts of that purchase.
Some parents will upgrade their car or buy a second car when they are expecting. Buying a vehicle that is more fuel efficient can save you thousands of dollars on fuel bills and many tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the car’s life. Basically, larger cars and those with bigger engines often consume more fuel. Off road vehicles (4WDs) are usually built to less stringent emission standards than “regular” passenger cars, so they produce more air pollutants. Even within a category of car, ‘green’ performance will vary.
The Green Vehicle Guide rates new Australian vehicles based on greenhouse, air pollution emissions and fuel consumption.
In the showroom, look for the Fuel Consumption Label on the front windscreen. Based on a standard test it tells you the fuel consumption in litres per 100km and greenhouse emissions in grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kilometre.
Once you have your new car the way you drive and maintain it can also have a big impact on the amount of greenhouse gases it emits – in fact it can cut them, and your petrol costs, by a third. See our fact sheet on driving smarter to find out how.
Victorians know just how important it is to save water. In Melbourne our target is to use no more than 155 litres per person a day, and people across the state are under water restrictions. Water efficient products will not only help you save water, when you’re using hot water they’ll save you energy as well – which means you’re also saving money.
When comparing washing machines, dishwashers, showers and toilets in the showroom look for the water efficiency label. Each label shows a star rating out of six for the product – the more stars the better. It also shows a water consumption or water flow figure which is based on laboratory tests. To learn more about the scheme or search a database of registered products for their water efficiency go to www.waterrating.gov.au. If you know the model name, you can also use this to search for second hand products.
It’s worth noting that front loading washing machines, while more expensive to buy than top loaders, are more energy and water efficient, use less detergent and wash more gently so your clothes last longer.
Appliances, fridges, cars and the like have an environmental impact not just in their use, but in how they’re produced and how they’re disposed of. Mining for the materials to make them can be destructive to both communities and ecosystems, while materials like aluminium and steel use huge amounts of water and energy in their production. If their parts aren’t recycled or reused at the end of their life, they can end up in landfill. As a result, it is sometimes more environmentally sound to keep an old appliance or car going, instead of sending it to landfill and buying a newer, more efficient model.
The electricity costs of running a large appliance can, over its lifetime, add up to more than it cost you to buy it. So choosing an energy efficient model will save you money. And because electricity generation in Victoria produces a lot of greenhouse gases (due to our reliance on dirty brown coal), it’s better for the environment too. Energy efficient models are not always more expensive to buy, but even if you do pay a bit more upfront, the lower running costs will usually more than make up for it.
If you are in the market for air conditioners, clothes dryers, washing machines, dishwashers, fridges and televisions, you can compare makes and models at www.energyrating.gov.au. It will help if you do a bit of research first so you know the size and types of appliances to compare.
In the showroom look at the energy rating label — it looks like the water label above. The label has a star rating from one to six stars that tells you how efficient the model is — the more stars the better. It also has the actual electricity consumption in kilowatt hours (kWh) of the model per hour or per year.
Sometimes a larger model will be more efficient, and therefore have more stars, than a smaller one. However, since it is bigger, its overall energy consumption is often higher than that of the smaller model. So there’s no advantage to be gained by buying a bigger model than you need.
It also worth checking whether Choice have done an independent review comparing the performance of the product options – you don’t want to buy a dishwasher which uses very little water if it doesn’t clean your dishes properly.
When you’re shopping, look for businesses participating in the Energy Saver Incentive. You can get discounts and special offers on energy saving products at appliance stores, energy retailers, hardware stores and through tradespeople.
The biggest purchase of all! The way a house is designed can have a massive impact on its sustainability.
The main factors to check are insulation, double glazing, eaves, heating and cooling systems, and that the location allows for walking and riding to local services and has good public transport. Of course these factors not only make your home better for the environment, they also save on running costs, mean that it wont get too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and boost the resale value.
Size is important. Bigger means more space but it also means a bigger environmental footprint and more energy needed for heating and cooling. Not to mention the cleaning… You might find that if you’re willing to give up a bit of space you’ll have more money to buy closer to a train line, or to put in solar panels or solar hot water, or just to take a well earned holiday.
Also think about the size of rooms within the house. The very trendy all-in-one living/kitchen/dining/entertaining room takes a lot more energy to heat and cool. Smaller rooms are more energy efficient. Also as your family grows up, you may all appreciate some separate, quiet, private areas!
Victoria’s dirty brown coal energy is very bad for the environment, making us one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters per person in the world, so if you can, it’s worth signing up for renewable energy. GreenPower is the easiest way to cut your household emissions from electricity to virtually zero.
It costs an extra $1 – 6 per week, depending on the provider, the percentage of GreenPower you choose and how much energy you use. But with all our energy saving tricks you could make a big cut in your energy bills, so you’ll still come out ahead.
All electricity retailers now offer green plans, so you could go with your existing supplier or shop around. Don’t pay extra for ‘renewable’ power unless it is accredited as GreenPower – look for the Accredited GreenPower tick logo.
Visit www.greenpower.gov.au for more information.
Buying solar hot water systems or solar panels for the roof is a great way to reduce your ecological footprint. They will also save you money in the long run. There are also government rebates and incentives to help you with the costs.
There are all kinds of freebies and rebates available to make greening your home more affordable. You can switch your shower head to a water efficient one for free, and save as much as 45,000 litres of water a year. You can also get rebates for water tanks and grey water systems and to replace your hot water system with a gas, heat pump or solar hot water system.
These offers are subject to change and may not last much longer as these items become more the norm in our society. So act now! You can find all the details at www.livinggreener.gov.au.
Choice Green Living has heaps of free information on different products, and alerts for greenwashing and scams.
For your supermarket shopping:
also available as Shop Ethical! iPhone app.
For advice on finding a green tradesperson:
Visit www.resourcesmart.vic.gov.au and read their ‘Finding sustainable tradespeople, professionals and products’ factsheet.
You can also do research into the company and its products and see how they perform through the whole life of their products – from manufacture to recycling and re-using. Greenpeace’s guide to green electronics scores companies not just on the recycling of their products, but also on the hazardous chemicals used in the products themselves and during their manufacture, and the ease with which information can be gathered about each company’s environmental practices.
Most of us are aware of EBay as well as the good old Trading Post and local papers as good places to find second hand goods for sale. But did you know there are also websites that can help you give your old stuff away and get new stuff for free such as www.freecycle.org, www.ozrecycle.com and www.yoink.com?
There are also schemes like LETS (Local Energy Transfer System) that encourage neighbours to swap skills as well as share goods like lawn mowers and power tools.
There are many creative and socially beneficial recycling schemes starting up around the country. We list just two below as examples. For a comprehensive look at recycling options available visit Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You.
Don’t leave your old phone in a drawer to gather dust, get it reused or recycled. Either take it to a Mobile Muster drop off point for recycling, or download and print an address label from their website and post your mobile to them, for free. Or even better, print off a form and post it and your phone to the Aussie Recycling Program, which will try to repair and refurbish your phone first. If they can’t, they will make sure all its bits get recycled.
Donate your old fridge to a good cause. The Brotherhood of St Laurence will pick up your fridge, fix it up and give it to someone who needs it – even old battered fridges. Head to www.phoenixfridges.com.au or call 1300 366 283.
While you’re at it, if you look up Yellow and White Pages info online these days and don’t need hard copies any more, you can stop them being delivered. Just head to their website and fill out the details online.