This is what 3 cubic metres of compost looks like

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Now that's a big pile of compost!
Now that’s a big pile of compost!

I recently ordered a large delivery of compost, to be mainly used in the guerrilla gardened space behind our house. Much of that soil is heavily depleted, and I wanted to give our fruit trees the fastest rate of growth this year.

Why order such a big pile? For the simple reason that it cost $51/m3 to buy in bulk (plus a delivery charge), compared to $9 (or more) per 40L bag if purchased at a garden centre (or Bunnings for that matter). And a it takes a lot of 40L bags to make up a cubic metre of compost. That’s a big saving!

This time around, I purchased the compost from Australian Native Landscapes, who have a nice range of recycled products.

We ordered “RE-CARB® ESSENSE”, which is described as:

Humus rich, 100% organic compost is specifically designed to build soild carbon levels and soil microbial activity.  Apply 75mm and dig into tired, nutrient poor soils. Suitable for all plants, this compost is particulary beneficial for phosphorous sensitive Australian natives.

That matched exactly what we needed! In general, I really like the idea of using recycled coffee grounds, Sydney sewage, wood chips, etc to make compost. Much better than going into a tip…

Recycling building materials after a demolition

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Trees are cut down, bricks are fired, metal is smelted; all to produce the building materials that go into a house. When a house is demolished, what happens to all this? By default, it all goes into landfill, never to be used again. It’s a terrible waste.

In keeping with our green principles, we tried to recycle or reuse our building materials where possible. But let me tell you, it isn’t easy! This is how we fared in Sydney:

  • Metal: Sims Metal will pickup old metal (corrugated roof sheets, pipes, etc) for free, and the matal is recycled. For some reason they didn’t take everything, but this was still the easiest stuff to get rid of.
  • Interior fittings: before the demolition started, we stripped out all the interior fittings worth keeping. Some of these were put on eBay (such as the dishwasher), but most went to a new home via Freecycle. (More on this in a separate post.)
  • Floorboards: our beautiful hardwood floorboards were bought by a local lumber yard for $800, and these will end up in a new home. Plan for half a day of backbreaking work to get the floorboards out. (They also gave us $200 for a pile of old hardwood, plus some doors and windows.)
  • Wood: we kept some of the better beams for use during building, but most ended up in the skip. In theory, wood can be chipped and used sold as garden mulch, but we couldn’t find a way of doing this on our scale. (Taking stuff in a trailer just doesn’t work when demolishing a house.)
  • Treated pine: considered industrial waste, the only option is landfill.
  • Kitchen: a tragedy, straight into the skip. Kitchens are very cheaply constructed, with mixed materials that don’t last well. Too poor condition to sell or give away.
  • Intact bricks: kept, to be recycled back into the building. Be warned though: probably only worth doing if lime mortar was used, rather than concrete. There’s also a lot of manual labour to clean 3,000 bricks by hand.
  • Broken bricks: plan on 10-30% of the bricks getting broken during demolition (old bricks are very weak). Luckily these can be recycled via Botany Building Recyclers (ask them for a recommendation on a skip company to pick up the bricks). Cheaper than a disposing of normal waste, and the bricks are ground down to form road base.

In all, three skips of waste left the building site. Better than it could’ve been, but not up to Michael Mobb’s standards.

The reality is that new materials are cheap, and labour is expensive. For most people, it’s simpleynot worth the time and money to recycle materials, easier just to start afresh with new stuff. No doubt this will change in time when resources get more scarce, but at least some practical steps can be taken now despite the challenges…

Any tips on recycling options we missed?

Tea infusers good for the garden

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As seen on the Madame Flavour teas website, describing how their special tea bags (“infuser pods”) can be recycled:

Put several used infuser pods in the bottom of a hanging basket or pot, then put the soil over them. When you water the plant, the water is stored in the pods, a natural form of water-storing granule, reducing the need to water.

The same thing for new garden beds – perfect for water restrictions. And the tea puts minerals back into the soil as it breaks down.

Use infuser pods to plant seeds in. It saves on compost and you can plant straight into the ground.

I usually chuck our used tea bags into the compost, but these ideas sound much more creative!

Producing less rubbish

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It’s been interesting to see how little rubbish we’re producing in our new house. Now we’re no zero rubbish fanatics, but this is how much our regular rubbish is down to:

  • Red bin (normal rubbish): 1/4 full each week (we actually didn’t put it out at all last week)
  • Yellow bin (recycling): 1/4 – 1/3 full each week
  • Green bin (garden waste): barely used at all, except during initial removal of grass and for weeds

Our current shopping and eating practices have a lot to do with this:

  • we buy our fruit and vegetables loose, either as part of a food box or at the local greengrocers
  • our food waste all goes to the worm farm or compost bin (apparently this can be up to 1/3 of normal household rubbish)
  • we cook most nights, from raw ingredients
  • which means that we purchase very little pre-packaged food other than breakfast cereal
  • we don’t eat take-away, except when we’re really lazy

This still leaves cartons of milk, orange juice and stock, jars of sauce, and plenty else. We’re not cutting back on the essentials or the nice-to-haves.We’re not buying in crazy bulk amounts, or shopping around for zero-packaging goods.

It just doesn’t seem to add up to much rubbish. This makes us happy.