Quick links and long reads

A roundup of links. 


The case against long, murky supply chains.

How one innovative brand is using blockchain to enable transparency in sourcing.

And on that debate about fibres. “If you want to be as eco-friendly as possible, there is only one thing you need to remember: use your clothes until they are worn out.  That is more important than all other aspects, such as how and where the clothes were manufactured and the materials they are made of” – Sandra Roos, researcher.

Can we design cities that make us kinder?

Men who feel secure in their manhood are more comfortable going green. And vice versa.

The behavioural economics of recycling.

Sneakers from recycled chewing gum. And here’s how two Indian entrepreneurs are cleverly recycling shoes.

With China effectively banning low quality recyclable materials, local governments around world are struggling with how to clean up their recycling streams. In Canada, co-mingled recycling programs are associated with significantly higher contamination rates.

Even Theresa May wants to see the end of single use plastic.

I appreciate the ACCC, and this is an interesting case taking on unsubstantiated environmental claims. So is this one.

Your regular pen might be secretly refillable

refillable pens

Sometimes cheap everyday pens can be converted into refillable pens. Here’s how.


I need the touch of pen to paper. I’m always jotting down notes and leaving to-do lists everywhere. Pencil? No thanks. I resent the the carbon smudges, the ever-in-flux nib diameter and the need for a sharpener. Also, did you know that erasers are often made of vinyl? The pen is my tool of choice, and a necessary evil at work and in my day-to-day.

zero waste pen
Hey look, my pen matches my reusable coffee cup!

I say evil, since many pens are made cheaply of plastic and designed to be tossed once the ink’s run dry. The exception are those marketed as refillable (and perhaps fountain pens). I use a refillable model from Parker.

To reduce waste to landfill at my workplace, we collect spent pens for recycling into a Terracycle box bought from Officeworks here in Australia. It’s an additional cost to the business that luckily doesn’t have to be done often.

Refillable pens are everywhere, if you know where to look.

I recently discovered this clever little hack care of my coworker, a man who’s used one leather-bound Faber Castell refillable pen for the past twenty years. One day he sorted through our pen recycling box, and from the hundred or so dead pens in the box, he brought three to my desk and showed me a neat trick.

He unscrewed each one and placed the ink cartridges side by side. Even though the pens all looked different on the outside, the ink cartridges were all the same design. Furthermore, they were exactly the same as those in my refillable Parker pen. They were all secretly refillable!

Radical resource efficiency and less plastic. 

I marked the three rescued pens as refillable and now we only need buy the refill cartridges instead of recycling the whole pen. Although Parker refill cartridges aren’t the cheapest at about $9 each, they do write beautifully, last a while – for a writing distance of 3500m to be precise. They’re made mostly of metal, which means they’ll be more valuable when recycled at their end of life. After daily use for nearly a year, my pen has only recently run out of ink. This is not an ad for Parker and I’m certain there exist other high quality brands made of metal.

Refilling our pens reduces material use, plastic production, and our pen recycling cost, without requiring much of a change in behaviour – we will still buy office supplies after all. In Paul Hawken’s language, it’s radical resource efficiency.

The next time you run out of ink, check inside to see whether it can be your new refillable pen. And if this idea sounds like a bridge too far, another innovative solution is the recycled and recyclable Enviroliner pen from Close the Loop. The pen is made with the plastic and leftover ink from printer cartridges collected by Planet Ark.

Now you tell me – what’s your favourite way to minimize waste in the office?

Quick links and long reads

Some links for you, on this public holiday. 


‘Made in Australia’ might mean using more carbon than elsewhere.

The word Koala is thought to mean ‘no drink’. So when they start to drink, scientists worry.

Good thing then, about Australia’s hidden water.

Speaking of landscapes and the ground, Christine Jones, who is a soil scientist, explains in this podcast episode how mycorrhizal fungi work and why they are so important. I love her food analogies – hyphae are like ‘fairy floss’ and soil rich in organic matter is ‘chocolate cake’.

Aussie brush turkeys are, amongst other things, great composters.

Lastly, if you’re curious about the controversy surrounding the date of Australia Day, read what historian (and friend of mine), Stef Bonatti has to say.

Image source: ABC

Books I read in 2017

Here are some of the non-fiction books I read in 2017. 


Last year I read about behaviour change, critical thinking, anthropology, and food. The more I learn about these topics, the better equipped I am to think critically about waste related issues. I read some novels as palate cleansers, but won’t include those here. Here are those non-fiction books I enjoyed or learned something from, or that I can remember having read:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey
I found this one at a little free library and finally read it. The concept of private victories resonated with me because I think there’s much to be gained in those small, personal moments of success in terms of keeping us on a path to lower waste living. I’ve also been mulling the habit of Thinking Win Win. Upon reflection, I realise that some instances I’d considered to be Win-Win outcomes have been Lose-Win where I sacrifice my needs to keep the peace. Something to work on. There is a reason this is a classic.

Fostering Sustainable Behaviour: An Introduction to Community Based Social Behaviour Change
Doug McKenzie-Mohr
Awareness for critical environmental and social issues is usually over-emphasized – awareness is not usually the issue, inaction is. So why don’t we humans do what we’re supposed to when given all the right information? This textbook focuses on how to set up your community change program for success, including how and why to properly investigate barriers to adoption in target audiences. It also offers guidance on selecting appropriately specific and non-divisible behaviours to target for change.

Changeology
Les Robinson
Read this book, especially if you are involved in public behaviour change programs. Robinson makes a strong case that we’ll be more effective by seeking to change the path, not the person. Effective solutions are sticky, leverage existing motivations, and enable the behaviour change. A good companion read to Fostering Sustainable Behaviour, as there are similar concepts at play.

Psychology for a Better World
Niki Harré
A useful read for anyone on a sustainability journey who wonders why others aren’t coming along with them. The author explains that understanding identity is a precursor to identifying shared values between ourselves and others – understand that and you can appeal to their values more specifically and effectively. I reviewed it in more detail in this post where you can also find a link to read the ebook for free.

Weapons of Math Destruction
Cathy O’Neill
Social inequality results in wasted human potential, and unnecessary hardships for some members of society. Some widely applied algorithms are merely baking in biases to systems that affect employment and lending amongst others. The author is a Harvard trained mathematician and former Wall Street quant turned Occupy activist. She now spends her time educating on how mathematical models can insidiously undermine socio-economic fabric, and how to design and administer these more fairly.

Bad Science
Ben Goldacre
In these times of Woo, it’s good to be able to tell good science from quackademic nonsense. Epidemiologist Ben Goldacre pleads for us to save our mistrust for those who really deserve it, and not fall prey to clickbait content that misinterprets science and creates unfounded fears. He gives us the tools to be able to think critically about claims we hear on purported benefits or dangers of everything from vitamins to vaccines. The basics of good study design won’t be new for those who’ve taken any statistics, but still a good and entertaining read with some surprising stories from the medical research front lines.

Weaponised Lies: How to Think Critically in a Post-Truth Era 
Daniel J. Levitin
With fake news and clickbait likely at an all time high, our ability to parse what is real is of the utmost importance. As with Bad Science, much of this won’t be new for anyone who’s taken a stats course,  but the author does a good job of digesting the important stuff into layman’s terms and calling out specific number and word manipulations we should all watch out for.

Poisoned Planet: How Constant Exposure to Man-made Chemicals is Putting Your Life at Risk
Julian Cribb
While slightly hyperbolic in tone, the author usefully takes a macro view of pollutants, since they cycle through ecosystems in a number of ways and none of us can individually detox in the ‘juice cleanse’ sense of the word. According to the author, the accumulation of man-made chemicals is dropping our society’s average IQ by a couple points each generation. Outtake: it’s impossible to contain pollution, it needs to be reduced at the point of production, and precaution must prevail. Personal detox is a myth, so put down the charcoal smoothie and start getting involved in the wider community efforts.

Revolution in a Bottle: How Terracycle Is Eliminating the Idea of Waste
Tom Szaky
It’s the story of Terracycle’s beginnings, from selling worm wee in coke bottles to becoming the world’s largest recycler of soft plastics, recounted by Tom Szaky, the founder. It’s a quick, punchy read and you’ll marvel at his aplomb and enthusiasm for both entrepreneurship and waste reduction.

Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth
Judith D. Schwartz
This curiously titled book is no anti-vegan manifesto. Rather, it’s one journalist’s deep dive into how the soil functions to store water and carbon. There is a good overview of the mechanics of carbon sequestration by plants, a discussion of the importance of mychorrizal fungi in the soil food web and of course, how a look at how herbivores can be used in the management of brittle landscapes.

The World Until Yesterday
Jared Diamond
My rule of thumb is to read anything Jared Diamond writes. He delivers yet another thought-provoking book about the long history of human behaviour before the more modern era, and differences between tribes and states. Lots to unpack there.

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World
Adam Grant
The author’s Malcolm Gladwell-esque writing style is an easy to read and entertaining enough. Not a whole lot of detail stuck so I should probably re-read. He lands some sound points, including the one about the peril of hiring for cultural fit. Down the line this rids a company of important alternative viewpoints that would have helped avoid groupthink. Instead he advocates actively looking for cognitive diversity. Hard to argue with diversity.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely
Another book about the irrationality of humans and how silly we humans are. Ariely is a personable writer, who covers similar ground to Daniel Kanehman and his ilk. Entertaining, although I preferred Thinking Fast and Slow.

The End of Plenty
Joel K. Bourne
Agronomist and National Geographic journo Joel K. Bourne asks how we will feed a planet of 9 billion. There are no silver bullets, but some intriguing possibilities are explored. This is an openminded look at various food systems, Malthusian pressures and food history (including the ups and downs of the Green Revolution).

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Dan Barber
I listened to this as an audiobook from the library. I’m normally impatient with audiobooks, but Chef Dan Barber weaves a good story. He explores how we can do better and eat more sustainably by learning how and what the land provides, rather than the conventional approach of imposing arbitrary crops on the land.

Quicksand Food (podcast)
Stefan Posthuma
I’m loving this series of interviews with the food producers of the Illawarra region in New South Wales. You’ll hear from cafe owners, organic farmers, leaders of food rescue initiatives, expert baristas and more to get a look at how the wheels of each business turn.

Grown and Gathered
Lentil and Matt
Yes I read cookbooks. Matt and Lentil have created a gorgeous, immersive read that starts with the place – their Victorian farm – and ends with the food. I have returned to this one again and again this year since getting it as a gift for Christmas 2016.

Which would I recommend?

I enjoyed them all, but if pressed would most recommend the 7 Habits, Changeology, Bad Science, Cows Save the Planet, The World Until Yesterday, The End of Plenty, and The Third Plate. Some of the others start to overlap, or the ideas weren’t totally new to what I’ve read before. For more, here I posted a list of 15 books that influenced my outlook on sustainability. In 2018 I’m thinking of backing off from the pop social psychology to reach for more permaculture, Australian history (all 50,000 plus years), and soil related books. Thanks to Amanda for writing this post on her year in books and inspiring me to do the same.

Tell me what books have you read and enjoyed lately?