Consuming passions: Canberra’s addiction to stuff

Shane Rattenbury MLA 15 June 2017 5

In recent weeks the ABC’s ‘War On Waste’ program has been shining a spotlight on the staggering amount of waste we produce as a nation. Whether it’s imperfect food, plastic bags, coffee cups or fast fashion, this waste has devastating environmental impacts. It’s timely then to take a closer look at Canberrans’ appetite for consumption and how we can take action to lighten our ecological footprint and mitigate climate change.

The need for urgent climate action is clear. Here in Canberra we’ve has just had our hottest summer on record with the mercury hitting at least 35°C on 18 days—already more frequent extreme heat than projected for 2030. At an international level, world leaders have agreed that we must work together to prevent global temperatures rising beyond 1.5 degrees. In the ACT, the government has committed to ambitious climate targets — by 2020 we will generate 100% of our electricity from renewable sources. There’s a lot that can be done at an individual level, but it takes a little more mindfulness and changing the way we consume.

Some sustainable behaviours are already second nature, including using the car less, planting more trees, and turning off lights and appliances when we aren’t using them. But what about the “stuff” we consume? I’m talking about products we routinely buy and dispose of without consideration for how we could make them last longer or recycle them. Research shows that Canberrans have a problem with stuff—the amount of land required to support our demand for goods and services, and absorb our waste (including greenhouse gases), is the highest in Australia and more than three times the world average. The 2015 State of the Environment Report revealed that this ‘ecological footprint’ averaged 8.9 global hectares for each ACT resident in 2011-12, or an astounding 14 times the land area of the territory! Reducing the impact of our consumption clearly needs to be a long-term goal for all Canberrans.

So what can we do to tread more lightly when products are designed to have a short lifespan and every purchase produces piles of packaging waste? Think about your phone, laptop, clothes and furniture—how long do you hold on to them and do you make an effort to make them last? If sent to landfill, a nylon shirt takes 30 to 40 years to break down and a mobile phone case up to 1,000 years. Scary facts.

It’s important that we make more conscious purchasing choices. Some positive steps Canberrans can take to reduce waste and ease the pressure on our environment include:

  • Repair, reuse or borrow where possible instead of buying new things. There are a range of renewed appliance stores in Fyshwick and the Green Shed op shops at Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre, Mitchell and Garema Place have a wide selection of pre-loved goods. Gumtree is also always a great option for second hand furniture and electronics.
  • Before tossing something in the bin, see if there’s another use for it. Clothing and furniture that’s no longer useable can be recycled into new products. Canberra company boyandgirlco makes recycled furniture and Paperworks repurposes jeans.
  • Take advantage of MobileMuster, a free not-for-profit mobile phone recycling program that accepts all brands and types of mobile phones, plus their batteries, chargers and accessories.
  • Invest in higher quality products. They will save you money in the long run as they tend to be more efficient and will last longer.
  • When buying presents, consider gifting experiences, such as concerts, movies or going to the theatre, instead of buying more stuff.
  • Make your home and appliances more energy efficient with the help of Actsmart’s free Sustainable Home Advice service.

Can you imagine the collective impact if we all made more conscious purchasing choices and reduced our stuff quota just slightly? Individual actions, along with community support for government sustainability initiatives, are critical if we are to reduce our impact on the planet. In addition to our target of 100% renewable electricity by 2020, the ACT Government is working on an action plan to achieve zero net emissions by 2050 at the latest. This critical next step will involve working with the community to highlight the importance of mindful consumption and the benefits of choosing sustainable alternatives to the stuff we buy.

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5 Responses to Consuming passions: Canberra’s addiction to stuff
dungfungus dungfungus 11:20 am 21 Jul 17

I am wondering whether Mr Rattenbury was aware of the plans of Capital Recycling Solutions and ActewAGL to build a factory to burn 200,000 tonnes of waste to be diverted from the Mugga Lane land fill with up to 150,000 tonnes of rail imported waste from “elsewhere”.

While the spokesman for the JV (Ewan McKenzie) said his proposal was completely different from the (knocked back) Foy bid to establish a plastics to diesel and petrol factory at Hume. It appears the difference is that the Capital Recycling Solutions will be producing base-load electricity for which a feed-in tariff would be sought for the 30 megawatts output which would power 28,000 homes a year. Somehow, this is seen as a “green solution” that would put Canberra at the “forefront of waste management”.

It is interesting to note that the “Independent Always” Canberra Times has mentioned that the proposal “envisages using sludge from Canberra and Queanbeyan sewerage and water plants to fuel the plant” in the printed version but it is not shown in the CT online report.

Amazingly, Mr McKenzie then makes a claim that the Mugga Lane landfill, at the current rate of dumping had “no more than a few years of life left”. If this is true, then the Canberra Times needs to investigate as to where he received that information from.

At the same time, Mr Rattenbury, who was responsible for expanding the Mugga Lane land fill for another 30 years, needs to either confirm or deny Mr. McKenzies claim.

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 10:39 am 17 Jun 17

Do we need to “imagine” that “collective impact” on climate change? Surely the data is available. I suspect it is in the 0.00000s unfortunately.

dungfungus dungfungus 6:35 pm 16 Jun 17

Mr Rattenbury may like to explain why on one hand he advocates we try to lessen the record amount of waste we produce but on the other hand he is of the government that has allowed a massive pile of “recyclable rubbish” to build up in Hume.

It seems that so as we won’t lose our title as the biggest waste producers in the country, we are now importing interstate rubbish to add to the pile.

Egypt has the Pyramids of Giza; Canberra has “The Heap of Hume”.

spades spades 4:06 pm 16 Jun 17

Let’s get down to the root cause shall we?

The reason Canberrans buy a lot of stuff is that our local society is structured in a way that doesn’t promote community activities. We do stuff on our own or with immediate family. I can’t pin it down to one thing, it’s a myriad of factors in Canberra life that contributes to this: the cold, the spread out nature of the city, transportation, and more.

My observation is that Canberrans on average spend less time with other people than others in the bigger Australian cities. It’s not uncommon to hear workmates say they did their own thing when asked “what did you do over the weekend?”. My observation is that Canberrans are less social in general. I speak for myself as well. I was way more social when I lived in Sydney. I now do a lot of home DIY and tinkering with things I buy.

This now gets us to the topic of this article. We buy because we do more stuff not involving other people. We DIY, we tinker with gadgets, we renovate, we work on our own personal bubbles at home. The only way to change that attitude is to address the underlying issue of “what’s the alternative?” I don’t think just telling people not to buy stuff is going to work.

bikhet bikhet 8:42 am 16 Jun 17

The easiest and best way to reduce our environmental footprint? Just don’t buy stuff! Then the money you would have spent will be in your pocket making you rich rather than making a multinational rich. A double bonus for you and the environment.

I don’t agree with all that this guy says, but there’s a lot of good stuff:

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