Planting Trees For Special Occasions

tree plantingPlanting indigenous trees is one way we can all make a difference. Whether it is because we want to reduce our carbon footprint, restore a bleak landscape or just because we love trees, a tree planted and looked after will most likely outlive us, a positive legacy that we can be proud of.

Planting a tree is a great way of marking a special occasion: a birthday, an anniversary. Now that the autumn rains have started it’s a great time for tree planting and our girls were determined to plant a tree each for Easter, not so much for their carbon footprint, it must be admitted, more because the Easter bunny has always left eggs in their special trees! Even though you don’t need to wait for an occasion to plant a tree it is lovely to have a growing memorial to a special birthday or event, and kids love having their own trees to look after. Continue reading

LED Lighting Rebates From Eskom

LED-light-bulbs-eskomHave you been thinking of going greener at home but haven’t got around to it yet. Eskom’s latest residential rebate program might be just the incentive you need. They are offering to replace existing halogen downlighters with LED lighting alternatives for free! If it seems too good to be true check out the details as laid out by Eskom’s service provider on this project. Continue reading

Buying Local

buy local vegetablesFood miles have been one of the green catch phrases in the last few years. How far has your food travelled before it reaches your kitchen?

If reducing your carbon footprint is a priority then looking for locally produced foods whenever they are available can be one solution. Out of season produce may have flown thousands of miles to get to you, but don’t forget that even the humble cauliflower in season in the middle of winter may have got around a bit before it reached your plate.

Our neighbour grows a couple of fields of broccoli and cauliflower in winter. It is usually all ready over a couple of weeks, so she has an intense period of picking twice a week and driving it into Cape Town to the wholesale market, where it can be purchased by shops, restaurants and supermarkets. The very same cauliflowers may well drive all the way back out to a shop in our local town, where I drive once a week and purchase my groceries. So I could end up with a cauliflower that was grown next door, but which actually has about 150km on the clock.

So what are our options when it comes to sourcing local produce? Sometimes it’s easier when you live in a well set up town or city than in rural areas.

Weekly farmer’s markets
If you have a weekly farmers market near you, then buying locally is simple and enjoyable. Go there weekly, buy whatever is in season from small local producers and feel good!

Vegetable Box Schemes
Another option is to find a vegetable box scheme in your area. Don’t just assume that everything is locally grown and organic. Ask questions and find out exactly what you will be getting, where it comes from, how freshly it is all picked and so on.

If you live in a rural area as we do, you may have to create your own network of local suppliers. We are lucky with a local monthly market where you can buy organic produce, take a stall to sell your own produce or crafts and enjoy a day out. But for the rest of the month we have to either grow our own, drive 25km to shop, or get creative…

Create a neighbours network
Why not establish a network of neighbours to buy and sell, barter or just share excess produce? This can be an informal arrangement or a more organised one. Gather a list of email addresses of those interested, so anyone that has produce to sell, swap or share can let everyone else know. Or set up a Facebook group, or use sms messaging. It’s a great way of building community and getting to know your neighbours.

School community
If you have school age kids, see if you can use the school community as a network. Perhaps once a week at the end of school there could be an informal market or produce swap, or a shared email list to let everyone know what is available and take orders.

What’s with rBST free milk labelling in South Africa today?

rBST free label South AfricarBST free milk label South AfricaUntil a few years ago I didn’t know about rBST in milk. I didn’t know that artificial hormones were permitted to be given to South African cows to raise milk production, regardless of possible ill effects to the cows and to the humans drinking the milk. As soon as I read about it here, I made sure I only bought milk labelled as rBST free. Only now the rules on labels seem to be changing.

The genetically modified growth hormone rBST (rBGH) is banned in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. It is produced by GMO giant Monsanto and there is controversy surrounding its continuing use in the US. Possible long term effects to humans from exposure to the hormone, from drinking and eating dairy products from cows treated with it, are various cancers. For the cows the side-effects are increased risk of mastitis, requiring the use of antibiotics. The hormone speeds up their metabolism, putting more stress on their systems and reducing their useful life-span.

The powers that be continue to assure us that the use of the hormone is completely safe, but other authorities stress the contrary. Who are we to believe?

In the end it comes down to making a personal choice. We should have the right to choose shouldn’t we? But since labelling regulations got stricter this becomes even more complicated.

Until recently the rBST label was to be found on several milk brands – Clover and Pick and Pay, as well as Woolworths, Fair Cape and some of the smaller dairies. However on a recent shopping trip I found that Clover and Pick and Pay no longer label their milk as rBST free. A new labelling act apparently states that suppliers must be able to prove that their milk is free of artificial hormones (cows always produce their own natural hormones so no-one can correctly state that their milk is hormone free). There is no straightforward test that can prove it, so the only way is to prove that the cows supplying the milk have never been treated with the hormone. Due to fears of court-cases, Clover and some of the bigger dairies have obviously decided not to risk using the label, though Clover still state that their milk is sourced from dairy herds that are not treated with the hormone. Woolworths and Fair Cape continue to use the label, perhaps because they feel more secure in their sources?

What makes it so difficult to investigate is that almost no-one admits to using the hormone, yet about 30% of South African dairy farmers apparently are using it, driven by economic pressure to increase their milk yields any which way they can. There is a whole fog of misinformation out there, which hasn’t been helped by the stricter labelling laws. The laws should have made things clearer and less confusing for the consumer, but have ended up with the opposite effect.

How can I tell if the milk I am buying is not labelled rBST free because of over-caution on the part of the company even though the milk probably is rBST free, or because it comes from cows that are treated with the hormone?

Do I give up and buy my own cow? Visit the local dairy that supplies my milk and insist on seeing all their records and interviewing their vet? Become a vegan and start worrying about GM corn and soy instead?

Probably I should do one of the above, but since I am just muddling along like most of us, doing my best under the circumstances, I’ll just continue to look for the rBST free label, hoping that I can trust it, and buying from small local dairies in the hope that they are more accountable than large, faceless organisations. Hope and trust… or should I get that cow?!

Edited to add: I’ve had a response from both Clover and Pick and Pay in response to my enquiry into whether their milk is still rBST free. For the record this is what they said:

PnP: “Please note all our mil is currently rBST free.  However there is no test method available for this.  In terms of the new labelling legislation and consumer protection act, if a claim is made, one needs to have the scientific evidence to support this.  We are in the process of signing an agreement with our milk suppleirs to confirm this so that we can reintroduce this logo onto our packaging.”

Clover: “Thank you for your e-mail and concern.   The reason we do not have the rBST free sign on the milk anymore is because of the new labelling act.  We are only allowed to have it on our milk if we can “prove” by testing that there are no hormones in the milk.  Unfortunately there is not one machine in the whole Africa that can test hormones in milk.

I can assure you that Clover does not use hormones on our cows.  We have written agreements with our farmers and regular inspections with a vet is made to inspect the cows if they are not injected with hormones, and also how they are treated and how they graze.”

Green Living Adventure

green scooterIf you’ve ever felt bad about the carbon footprint that seems inevitable when you travel, this is for you. A carbon neutral scooter safari all round South Africa is the brain child of environmentalists, Melissa Andrews and Christopher List, a husband and wife team dedicated to green living.

They are using energy efficient vespas, “packing light and going slow” on a mission to raise funds for Food and Trees for Africa. As experienced permaculture experts they will be volunteering at environmental projects on their way, as well as planting trees to balance out their carbon footprint, so that the whole trip will be carbon neutral.

A huge amount of planning has gone into this trip, including sourcing of sponsors for their technical needs, green travel planning, maps, eco-friendly printing and more. We’re looking forward to following their blog, seeing what they get up to and how the carbon neutral journey works out. They’re leaving on 1st June from Cape Town. Happy green travelling!

Photo © Vladimir Ivanov | Dreamstime.com

Eskom Offers Businesses Rebate for LED Lighting

replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDGreat news for South African businesses that want to go green: Eskom is offering rebates on the initial costs of changing over to a more energy efficient system, including purchases of LED bulbs and downlights. This great offer applies to businesses, retail outlets, guest houses, industrial and commercial properties and would be a great way to fund a total change over from conventional lighting to LED lighting. The rebate is of up 85% of the total cost.

There are many businesses that would like to become more environmentally friendly but haven’t yet been able to afford the total investment of changing over – this is the perfect opportunity for them.

There are various conditions to qualify for the scheme, one of them being that the changes must save a minimum of 2Mw per annum. This can be a tricky thing to work out for yourself so it is strongly recommended to get the advice of a specialist supplier of LED lighting. They can assess your energy usage and work out the savings that would accrue from a changeover to LED, as well as guiding you through the process of applying for the rebate.

While you are looking at LED lighting don’t forget about your display signs too. Switching over from fluorescent light boxes to LED lightboxes, from neon signs to LED signs can also add to your energy efficiency, cutting costs in the long run.

Photo copyright © Joshua Huber | Dreamstime.com

Earth Hour 2012 in South Africa

earth hourEarth Hour looks set to soar to new heights of enthusiasm and participation this year. Their ‘I Will if You Will’ campaign has attracted a huge amount of interest. South Africa has been particularly inspired with celebrities pledging all sorts of crazy or fun things for Earth Hour in return for various pledges of eco-friendly actions in return.

The focus for 2012 is on promoting long-term changes in behaviour to help the planet. Turning off your lights for one hour may not save much electricity in itself, but becoming aware of what you are using and committing to saving energy in the long term is the ultimate goal.

solar lanternAnd have fun while you’re doing it! Earth hour encourages people to switch off all unnecessary lighting, but not to compromise safety and security.

While it is tempting to celebrate with a candle-fest, remember that ordinary candles are made from petroleum products, so have their own effect on the environment. Either use natural beeswax or soy candles which are less polluting, or go for the clean energy of solar lanterns if you want to create a romantic low-light atmosphere for the occasion.

So start getting ready for Earth Hour by equipping yourself with natural candles or solar lighting and then as a bonus you’ll also be ready and prepared for any involuntary power outages that come our way this winter!

Dreaming of A Green Christmas – Tree Gifts

tree gifts for urban greeningWe’ve suggested large trees as gifts in our useful green gift guide, but what if you’d like to give a tree, but the recipient doesn’t have space for one?

Greenpop has the solution. You can buy a tree from them and they will plant it for you in one of their urban or rural greening projects. Choose from a fruit tree to be planted in a school, an indigenous tree to green up an urban area or reforest a rural area. They will send a certificate in the name of whoever you are giving the tree to, with the GPS co-ordinates of your exact tree. They follow up on the tree care to make sure it is sustainable, so your gift will last for years and make a real difference to a community and to nature

You both have the satisfaction of your gift contributing positively to the environment, instead of loading you with the guilt of more stuff to de-clutter a few weeks after Christmas!

The tree gift offer is currently deal of the day on CityMob, or buy direct from Greepop. It costs R75 for an indigenous tree and R100 for a fruit tree.

Hemp House Anyone?

House made of hemp, South AfricaAlternative building materials are gaining support everywhere: straw bale houses, cob houses, sand bag houses… but the latest alternative house I’ve come across is made of hemp! About 70% hemp in all including the furnishings, in this stunning hemp house in Noordhoek, Cape Town. Built by Tony Budden, of Hemporium, advocate and campaigner for hemp in South Africa, it is a perfect demonstration of  hemp’s infinite number of uses.

I knew hemp was a versatile material, now being used to make clothing and a wide variety of other products, but until now I’d no idea that it could be made into bricks, hardboard, insulation and more.

Hemp has the huge eco-advantage of being quick to grow and naturally pest resistant. It can be processed into hundreds of useful products without the harmful by-products of most industrially produced, petroleum based fabrics and materials. The hitch is that it’s still not legal to grow hemp in many countries, including South Africa. There is a dedicated online campaign in progress to get government legislation to allow hemp as a cash crop in South Africa, which could mean a whole new generation of affordable, eco-friendly and sustainable building methods… and houses that are totally bio-degradable when you’ve finished with them!

And no, you can’t smoke them! This variety of cannabis is very low in this substances that make you high, so it is not the same as dagga!