CHOICE membership

What are your everyday green dilemmas?

Many of us want to make greener choices in our day-to-day life, but it’s not always clear which is the best ‘eco friendly’ decision. Do you have any everyday green dilemmas you want answered?

Such as:

  • Does ‘wishcycling’ really matter?
  • Is non-dairy spread better for the environment than butter?
  • Are glass bottles and aluminium cans really better for drinks than single-use plastic bottles?

Let me know your thoughts below!

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Aluminium and even steel cans are better as they are recyclable.

Glass is questionable as they are mostly crushed with some being used in construction and some going to landfill so plastic bottles may be more recyclable than glass.

What we need are the old reusuable, refillable glass milk and soft drink bottles instead of single use glass or plastic bottles.

If Germany can do it, surely we can also.

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By coincidence I’ve got a small container of tomato paste in front of me,
it says: Metal, recycles forever.

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Possibly not answerable by Choice directly, but it would be good to know what products use reused/recycled packaging and components (even percentage recycled content) and what doesn’t. Almost all products are packaged or manufactured and very few have any information on such. In the future, such information might become more important to consumers as higher recycling/reuse is required.

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Household chemicals such as detergents, through to cleaning products.

The dilemmas. Some products promote them selves as environmentally safer. As we have old fashioned septic and a grease trap grey water system the products we try to purchase offer low environmental impact. There is no simple pass go label. Several brands are imported from the EU. There is no way of knowing whether the carbon cost of the products plus the environmental impact when used justifies the choice over well known locally produced products that offer nuclear powered germ killing properties.

A simple example might be Earth Choice dishwashing tablets ‘Made in France’ or Finish ex Belgium vs a locally produced powder claiming environmental safety when used with a similar rinse aid option.

I’m sure there will be a plethora of answers here to which is best. That’s not the dilemma. If a product claims ‘green’ street cred, the dilemma is knowing the truth simply by reading the front of the packet. If not then the 2/3rds of the Aussie shoppers who might care will give up because it is all too hard. We are not all equally equiped or time rich to research each and every purchase.

On the other hand, if it is a concern as to other credentials such as Halal, there’s no dilemma for those to whom this is a need.

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Some packaging is shown as 100% recyclable. One of the more egregious problems is exhibited in Woolies new meat packaging with Redcycleable film, cardboard, and plastic trays. A good idea that misses the mark.

Separating the film from the cardboard is near impossible in a practical sense, and having been moulded to the meat shape is difficult to wash when the near impossible is achieved. Our council will not accept black trays because the contractor’s (Cleanaway) equipment has trouble separating blacks, so no black.

Other ubiquitous meat packaging has clear film (unknown if it is Redcycleable since the packaging shows to deposit the film in the bin) on clear plastic trays that are clearly recyclable, but the film does not peel from the tray where it is attached, possibly becoming contaminants in a recycling process.

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“Bio” packaging, “Compostable” packaging and similar that promotes itself as biodegradable. You know the stuff, that wierd cardboardy-looking stuff that a lot of takeaway food outlets are using. I decided to put some in the compost bin last February. I emptied out the compost bin last weekend, more than 7 months later, the bin having been turned fortnitely to mix the contents. Foodscraps, leaves, grass clippings, paper towels, egg cartons had all degraded und turned into dark brown fibrous compost. The only things that did not degrade were the so-called “compostable” food containers, despite several well-known companies spruiking the compostability of their packaging. I am beginning to suspect that there is little difference other forms of single use packaging. In which case, what is the point? Surely there needs to be some kind of star system for packaging also.

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There is a local softdrink factory where I live. They use glass bottles and give you a 10c per bottle discount on your next purchase if you return your empty bottles - on their 1 ltr bottles as well as their 300ml bottles.

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The German nation is more disciplined: ‘Alles muss in Ordnung sein’ compare and contrast with 'She’ll be right, mate".

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I went through this recently and I understand that there is a difference between home compostable and commercial (council) compostable. I don’t have the reference to hand though.

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There are two main differences:

  • commercial composting runs at up to 80°C, domestic composting rarely heats up much more than ambient air temperature. Higher temperature is a function of increased rates of decomposition and better compost management
  • better compost management which includes turning/working the material regularly, testing, better nutrient balance for rapid composting/material degradation.

It is possible that conditions in a cooler domestic compost bin wont achieve that necessary to degrade/decompose ‘compostable’ plastics.

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You are correct Kim0 and when I asked the customer service of one of the companies selling this bio-degradable packaging they were unable to tell me whether such an industrial facility existed in Australia. I would assume that such facilities do exist in Australia, but the fact they did not know, or were unable to tell me, indicates that they really don’t take seriously the purpose of being able to recycle. I rather think that for many, if not all of these companies, the ability to market something as recyclable outweighs their concern as to whether it is actually recycled. If it all still ends up in landfill, then what is the point of the exercise – just to make money!

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Sorry phb I didn’t see your reply. I understand the mechanical differences. The temperature in my compost bin which gets full sun all day gets above 60°C on sunny days. I turn it regularly, and I gave it 8 months to decompose. Granted it is probably still not as efficient as a commercial composter, but I think my original point still stands, which is surely these things should be compostable under reasonable conditioins, and if they are not, is ther any real advantage, other than a marketing avantage, to their being able to label their products “compostable”. The packaging industry in Australia has developed some kind of “covenant”, should it not include “compostable” packaging, and should there not be some kind of differentiation between “Household compostable” and “Industrial compostable only”!

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It isn’t the sun which warms the compost…it is microbial activity. While the sun will warm the compost surface, the centre will still be comparably cold. Commercial compost heaps will be just above ambient temperature on the surface, with subsurface materials reaching up to 80°C+. Commercial compost is allowed to heat to 65°C+ for a period to pasteurise the mix. It is turned at its maximum desirable temperature to prevent overheating/spontaneous combustion of the heaps. At higher temperatures different microbes have different activity and rate of combustion is very high. The high temperature possibly will denature compostable plastics, making it easier for microbial decomposition. Such can’t usually be achieved in small backyard compost bins. Even if high temperature is achieved (such as a large pile of grass clippings, the heating will be short term and uneven.

Compostable claims relate to commercial operations, and not colder, poorly managed in comparison, domestic backyard compost bins.

Possibly the plastics should have such information on them to remove any potential confusion on how the bags can be composted.

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If one takes a little time and care hot composting is readily achieved in the back yard, with or without a bin. There are exceptions when the weather conditions may be against open piles or bins. EG Tasmania in winter or tropical Cairns in the wet.

It’s important to ensure compost in bins or heaps has adequate ventilation, air supply for oxygen to avoid the production of unwanted methane. Anaerobic conditions (low oxygen) lead to the production of methane.

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Maybe. It requires more material than most back yards can supply. And it requires management of airflow and moisture and the mix of compostibles if you are going to get the temperature up to the levels mentioned. It can be done does not mean it will be done.

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And as outlined above, even though a higher temperature can be achieved, for small piles it will be of short duration. Commercial composting has guides for pasteurisation of mixes (to sterilise weed seed and kill plant pathogens). Which is days at a higher temperature throughout the whole compost (including turning the outside in to ensure it also reaches the desired temperature for the duration required).

Have being involved in a commercial composting operation, and also backyard composting…the operations, temperature and effects are very different.

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Is it possible to say we’ve added another dilemma or two?

  • Should one compost, and if so is it better to hot compost?
  • Is compostable packaging suitable for the average home compost?

Our resident Bush Turkeys would say you can never have too much compost. It’s all about how you use it.

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Both have been answered above.

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One of the local tree management contractors used to take all the output from their shredders back to their depot where they put it all in pits for around 12 months.

It was fantastic as both a mulch and a plant feed and it used to be as cheap as chips.

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