We all would love to live sustainably and save on energy and water bills which seem to be head upwards as each quarter’s bills come in.
Those looking for inspiration to do so found it on 17 September, the Sustainable House Day. Every year on this day, many houses all over Australia open their doors to welcome people to have a sticky beak into their efforts at incorporating sustainability into their homes.
This event, organised by Alternative Technology Association (ATA) since 2001, has been steadily increasing in popularity. Over 180 homes had registered to open their doors and gardens this year.
After a few years of visiting other homes and being inspired, this Sustainable House Day, we opened our garden to demonstrate the possibility of converting waste to fuel through our backyard biogas system. We had over 70 interested people come to our place, including two busloads from North Sydney and Blacktown Councils.
The biogas system feeds on kitchen waste and, through an anerobic digestion process, converts organic waste to methane, a fuel that can be used for cooking. The system produces up to two hours of cooking gas every day solely from food scraps or animal waste. It also produces liquid fertiliser for the garden. The process is not dissimilar to the way our bodies convert food into energy.
Methane is generated as food decomposes. It is over twenty times more potent that carbon dioxide with regards to its greenhouse effect and effect on global warming. However, when you can capture this potent gas and burn it as fuel, you save it from being released into the atmosphere.
This small home biogas system significantly reduces the damage caused by untreated organic waste through air pollution, water contamination and the use of fossil fuels for energy.
Biogas is not a new concept. Many villages in India have installed biogas systems, managing waste from domestic animals and providing a source for clean fuels to many households. However, a system such as the home biogas allows urban dwellers to assemble the system in backyards and make a significant dent in avoiding waste being sent to landfill.
These days, our red bin hardly needs to be put out. Food waste goes into the biogas system, worm farm and compost bins, recyclables go into the recycling bin and soft plastics are returned to supermarkets, of course while trying our best to avoid them in the first place.
On Sustainable House Day, you can also take a peek inside the home of native bees. Three beehives were split at various times during the day. Splitting helps to exponentially grow bee populations and locate beehives in a greater number of areas, increasing the spread of biodiversity and better crop yields. Bees provide a valuable service to mankind through pollination.
Our garden is also a practical demonstration of the sharing economy, the conviction that waste is a resource and that ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure’. Most of the things that make up the garden have been sourced from stuff discarded by the kerbside, collected on collaborative consumption sites such as Freecycle, Gumtree, Zilch or upcycled at the end of their life.
A neighbour’s unwanted swing with a missing shade now has a new home in our backyard, with the base of an old trampoline providing the shade structure. A wooden pallet is now a vertical garden and an old hose pipe is rolled into a planter. Edgings, stones, garden chairs, tables and benches, plant stands and pots, are objects given a new lease of life. One might say that the end effect of this garden, assembled without a hurry, is an eclectic mix of colour and quirkiness, with a story behind each object.
We believe that recycling is a new concept but a very old idea. Our parents and grandparents always did it but there was no separate word to describe this. You can call it thrift, resourcefulness or jugaad. It all means the same – you make the best use of available materials and repurpose it instead of sending it to landfill.
As for plants, don’t be shy to ask for cuttings from neighbours and friends. Swap plants with friends. You will find that most gardeners are generous with seeds and cuttings. We often get plants from listings on Freecycle from people clearing their overgrown yards. Join your local Permaculture group. You can learn from other members at meetings, listen to interesting invited speakers and can swap or buy organic seeds from members for much cheaper prices than stores. Space is not a limitation, you are only limited by your imagination! A tiny balcony can easily become a plant haven.
Sustainable House Day is a valuable resource for anyone looking for practical information on home sustainability: what works, what doesn’t and how to move towards ‘greener’ living.
Through good home design, sustainable practices, and the help of technology in some cases, be inspired on how one can lead a simple but comfortable life, helping the environment at the same time.