The O Initiative

The premise is simple; people are more likely to use water fountains if they have been involved in their creation and they are aesthetically beautiful as well as functional. This is the belief of O Initiative founder, Gretha Oost.

“People don’t want to drink from stainless steel water fountains, they are practical but they are not designed with the user in mind. O Fountain’s create curiousity, interest and happiness”.

A few years ago Gretha was reading Anita Roddick’s autobiography. She remembers seeing an image of young children in The Phillipines playing on a mountain of disposable water bottles. This was the moment she decided she wanted to do something to combat plastic pollution.

Every single day, nearly one million plastic water bottles end up in Australian landfill. It’s an overwhelming problem, Gretha wanted to create something that allows lots of individuals to take one small step to make a big difference; to use water fountains instead of buying disposable water bottles.

O Fountains combine the functionality of a drinking fountains with the beauty of public art. The first O Fountain was created at Alma Park in St Kilda East in March 2017. It used a model Gretha calls The 3 P’s. Public sector supplying the land, Private sector supplying the funding and People supplying the ideas and the art. “By creating something together, people are more likely to use it and to look after it”.

A concept that was born in City of Port Phillip is now taking wings as Gretha attempts to launch it globally, starting in her native Holland. In the region she comes from there is a word called mienskip, it has no exact English translation, but it’s the feeling you have within a close community. Gretha is intent on creating a global mienskip of O Fountain users and we wish her luck.

Boomerang Bags Port Phillip

The last time I sewed I was in primary school and I had to get the big plastic needle through the big gaping hole. I think my teacher and I were both in agreement that I should stick to colouring in. Last weekend that all changed, at the ripe age of thirty something, I made a bag, not just any bag, a Boomerang Bag.

Twice a month Boomerang Bags Port Phillip hold a sewing bee and having heard so much about this great initiative I thought it was probably time that I found my thimble and my inner seamster. Boomerang Bags works to reduce the use of plastic bags by engaging local communities in the making of reusable bags – community made, using recycled materials. Boomerang Bags provide a free, fun, sustainable alternative to plastic bags.

I was warmly greeted by Mandy Burns and Megan Gourlay, the driving forces behind Boomerang Bags Port Phillip and lovely people to boot. Pleasantries completed I was whisked off to a table full of unwanted and unlikely materials that were to be transformed into something beautiful and sustainable; from hospital bedding packaging to rice sacks, items that otherwise would have found their way to landfill.

In keeping with the bee theme, the room was buzzing with activity. Fabric was being cut, pockets were being pinned, badges were being sewn and I was staring blankly at templates. Feeling a little out of my comfort zone I was delighted when a lovely volunteer called Joan asked if I wanted to have a go on the sewing machine. I took a seat, pressed the pedal, created a perfect line of cross stitch, and suddenly sewing made sense.

Joan, a regular volunteer at Boomerang Bags sewing bees, was a former sew sceptic too. But an environmental conscience and a community mind brought her along to a Boomerang Bags sewing bee and she hasn’t looked back. “I love meeting the different people who come along, knowing that I’m helping to create something that benefits the environment and our local community.”

I chatted with a young family who found out about the sewing bee through the Port Phillip Volunteer Portal. Whilst mum and dad were keen to meet some new people, their 7-year-old son was happy to learn a new skill during the school holidays and spend time as a family.

This is what initiatives like Boomerang Bags do, they bring people together who otherwise would never have met. It was hard to say goodbye to the bag I made, it was a thing of rare beauty. Knowing that it would be used time and time again by South Melbourne market shoppers, since it’s gone plastic bag free, softened the blow.

Whether you want to learn something new, meet new people, give back to your community or do your bit for the environment, I encourage you to give up a little of your Saturday to do something fantastic. You never know, you might even enjoy sewing as much as I did. 

Find out about the next sewing bee here

Albert Park Kindergarden

I never used to like dropping my son off at childcare. I would say goodbye with a reassuring hug and a big smile but I never felt comfortable with it. It’s a big deal to trust somebody else with your child. Today I visited Albert Park Kinder (APK), a Seedlings centre, and met the Director, Jenny Whelan. We spoke all things education, sustainability and life. She gave me a tour of the centre and I got to meet some of the children. After meeting Jenny, the other educators and the kids, I left feeling reassured that I would have fet very comfortable about dropping my son off at APK.

Jenny grew up in The Otways, surrounded by pristine forest, rolling hills and bird song. She calls it the most beautiful place in the world. She’s carried that love of nature with her ever since. It’s that love, that with the help of her team, has helped to fuel the transformation of Albert Park Kinder from an also ran to a sustainability leader. 

I saw photos that showed how the outside space has been transformed over the past five years to the now vibrant, colourful home to plants, flowers and worm farms, that mesmerises the kids. Verity McLucas, the Seedlings Program Manager, shows me an impressive graph highlighting Albert Park’s ever decreasing use of gas, electric and water.  

I’m delighted to find out that it isn’t the educators that read the meters, it’s the children themselves invested in trying to get ever smaller numbers. In one year they reduced their water consumption by 64 per cent, electricity by 24 per cent and their gas by 76 per cent. On 7 June 2018 they took another step towards realising their dream of carbon neutrality when they turned off their gas. They now use a combination of solar energy, battery storage and green power.

The Kindergarten’s commitment was further demonstrated when they employed their own Sustainability Officer. Camille worked in close partnership with our own Brett Hedger to lead embedding sustainability throughout the curriculum, whilst chipping away to reduce their energy use, water consumption and waste.  When Camille moved on to a new role earlier this year, the service recognised there wasn’t a need to employ a new Sustainability Officer because under Camille’s guidance and leadership, the baton was picked up by all the other staff, the vision had trickled down not only to the kids but to all staff too.

Sustainability at Albert Park Kinder is not there simply to dazzle prospective new parents or to pad out their curriculum. It’s about inspiring the next generation to take care of their planet. The staff recognise that children already have a curiosity for the natural world, all they have to do is not get in the way of it. From purchasing non-toxic paints and working with Indigenous experts to design a Bush Tucker garden to installing solar panels and disconnecting their gas, sustainability and a love for our planet is evident throughout.

When I ask Jenny for an example of something she has seen or heard from the children, to highlight the importance of what they are doing, she recalls the time a four-year-old girl told her she was going to paint love. She drew a beautiful big red heart and out of the top was growing a plant. I immediately understood why this was the moment that sticks in Jenny’s memory, we share the view that love and sustainability are inseparable.

St Kilda Mums

As a St Kilda dad, I often hear other parents discussing the excellence of St Kilda Mums. It took a while to realise I wasn’t being discriminated and that St Kilda Mums is in fact a pioneering local charity. St Kilda Mums gifts bundles of baby and child essentials to families that really need them. They might be a refugee child, someone born to a mother with a disability, or a little girl or boy who's escaped domestic violence.

I wanted to go along and see for myself what goes on behind the doors of their large warehouse on Vale Street, St Kilda. Founder and CEO Jessica Macpherson, bursts through the doors with a warm smile and an impressive energy given that it is a cold, Monday morning in May.  I note that Jessica is clutching an All Blacks lunch box, a hint towards her New Zealand upbringing.

I get a sense that time is a precious commodity at St Kilda Mums and they use every last drop wisely. There is an impressive hum of activity as volunteers get to work; sorting and packing immaculate bundles ready for collection from social workers and maternal child and health nurses across Victoria. Every bit of floorspace is used, piles and piles of carefully packaged and labelled bundles full of everything a young child may need, from toys and prams to clothes and cots. It’s a Santa’s Grotto right here in St Kilda.

It all started in 2009 when a group of five mums were attending the St Kilda Maternal and Child Health Centre on Chapel Street. They noticed baby goods stacked high in the photocopying room that had been donated by local parents. Jessica, a lady who I suspect was born to ‘do’, volunteered to sort, launder and package the goods ready for families to enjoy. As they’ve grown they’ve gone from operating from their own verandas, to a donated double garage, to the more spacious warehouse they now call home.

There is a dignity in the way they go about their work. They don’t gift anything they wouldn’t be comfortable giving to their own children. Clothing is diligently sniffed and stain checked. Car restraints are safety checked and cleaned. Cots are checked to ensure all parts are present. Toys are sifted through to sort safe from the unsafe. They want to delight the new owners with items that are high quality, safe, clean and functioning.  

There is an emphasis on reuse of donated items, everything that can be reused is. Whilst they accept all donated goods, they are unable to reuse some, because they simply do not meet safety standards. In that instance, they will recycle. Whilst they don’t want the unsuitable goods, they will not refuse to take them, to do so might mean unsafe items will simply be used elsewhere or they will be dumped on a kerb near you. Southern Cross Recycling Group dispose of their recyclables, a service that is currently cost neutral, if that was to change and they incurred a cost, it would be a big problem.

Last year 40,000 items were diverted from landfill in the most wonderful way imaginable, to improve the lives of approximately 17,000 children in need. Volunteer inductions emphasise the need to reuse and recycle, educating new starters on what can and cannot be given a new life. The volunteers share Jessica’s passion, there’s approximately 1500 of them, an army of kind souls.

St Kilda Mums receive no government funding and instead rely on the generosity of the community to donate goods and assist with fundraising. As the goods come in, get checked and go back out, there is no question they are achieving their vision - to waste less, share more and care for every baby and child. A vision that saw them win the Community Award and the Premier’s Recognition Award in the 2015 Premier's Sustainability Awards.

I leave the warehouse already planning my next visit, to drop off a bundle of my son’s clothes and toys, the ones that have been retired to the back of the wardrobe or the bottom of the toy box. Learn how you can donate, volunteer or fundraise and support St Kilda MumsEureka Mums in Ballarat or Geelong Mums.

Save Albert Park

You've probably driven past it without a second thought. St Kilda Junction is used as a gateway to ferry busy commuters to and from work. But it also houses one of Melbourne's oldest living things. 

Tucked away in the very south-east corner of Albert Park is the ‘Ngargee’ Tree, a 20 metre, 300- 500 year old, river red gum tree of huge Indigenous significance. It is believed  to be a meeting place for boys who for hundreds of years, would embark on initiation journeys. Women would also meet there before heading to special places on the coast to learn birthing secrets. In recent years, the tree has stood firm despite proposed construction works and vehicle impact. 

For approximately 10 years the elongated pond leading up to the tree sat empty and unloved. That was until late 2017, when Save Albert Park’s group of volunteers took it upon themselves to breathe new life into the pond. They successfully applied for a Small Poppy Neighbourhood Grant from City of Port Phillip Council and set about lining the pond and replanting the area with native vegetation. 

During the lining of the pond other park visitors inquired about the project and insisted on rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand. Parks Victoria endorsed the project and contributed $500 for water plants and native vegetation around the pond. 

On the day I visited, the Corroboree Tree is perfectly reflected in the pond, native birds drink from the pond and swoop down to bathe and a couple sit on the bench overlooking the pond and admire the view. 

"The pond is now full to overflowing and the first aquatic plants have  been set in place. it's being enjoying by park goers and wildlife. We hope we have provided a pond that will reflect the cultural significance Ngargee Tree", said Peter, park volunteer. 

My own reflection as I sat and soaked up the beauty was that, when people come together with a shared vision, great things can happen. 

Stuart and Heike - Sustainable Apartment Living

There is a perception amongst many in our community, that living in an apartment is a barrier that prevents them from leading a sustainable lifestyle.

Stuart and Heike are living evidence that that doesn’t have to be the case. They returned from a spell living in Berlin inspired to continue the sustainable approach to apartment living that was common place in Germany.

It started when their apartment block common area was overflowing with bikes. As a group, they invested in some bike racks and ensured every apartment had one. As a result more people started to cycle. They discovered a number of other tenants had a shared passion for living lightly, so they formed a committee to see what else they could achieve.  

They set up a compost bin at the entrance to the building, soon the bin was full, so they set up another. The compost can be used by all the tenants. They’ve since built more bins from reclaimed timber.

Stuart and Heike heat and cool their apartment passively, keeping blinds closed on hot afternoons and opening doors and windows on hot nights. They seal draughts with stick on brush seals at the bottom of doors or draft stoppers in the winter.

Wherever possible they purchase second hand, upcycle and have made some great hard rubbish finds; from their lounge suite to the timber they use for various projects. They use water saving tap fittings and LED lights. They turn lights and appliances off when they’re not in use. They have a veggie patch, shop locally and choose to cycle rather than use their almost redundant car.

As Stuart pointed out, “very simple measures can make a big difference, we can all play our part. Living in an apartment doesn't have to limit that. One of the most pleasing aspects of living the way we do is the shared sense of community it's created, that's been priceless”. 

 

The Little Suburban Power Station

He describes his home as a little suburban power station. The roof of Ashley’s Middle Park home is adorned with 34 solar panels. After successfully applying for a heritage overlay planning permit, he now generates enough renewable electricity to power not only his own home but in theory a number of his neighbours’ homes too. He is well and truly energy positive and happy to share his extra green power around.

Ashley wanted to go one step further in his pursuit of clean energy and has his gas supply disconnected. As far as he knows he is the first to do so in Port Phillip, but expects to see others following suit. “It’s the future, why wouldn’t you?” He said goodbye to his gas hot water system, heating system and cooker and replaced them with solar powered electric alternatives.

In 3-4 years Ashley will have recouped the initial investment he made in installing the panels. He is passionate about the use of renewable energy and feels strongly that all new renovations should be set up to be powered in the same way his home is. As I left his home and looked up at the glistening panels and the searing sun, I’d tend to agree with him, why wouldn’t you?

If you’re interested in ‘going solar’ check out our fact sheet or contact enviro@portphillip.vic.gov.au

The Source Bulk Foods

THE SOURCE BULK FOODS 171 CARLISLE STREET, BALACLAVA

On 2012 Paul and Emma Medeiros left the corporate world behind them in search of a sea change in Byron Bay. In 2012 Source Bulk Foods was born out of a desire to create a waste free shopping experience. Stocking an array of bulk wholefoods and health foods, the concept has been a big success and stores are now spread across Australia. 

In March 2017 City of Port Phillip scored its first Source Bulk Foods store in Balaclava. As well as popping in for some tasty lunch time treats, we thought we’d go and meet store manager Georgia Corbett to talk The Source and sustainability. I asked Georgia to come up with 10 sustainability measures they employ, she went two better and provided 12. 

  1. Customers being able to buy as much or as little as required reduces the amount of produce wasted.
  2. Suppliers are asked to change over the containers when new deliveries are made in a bid to minimise waste.
  3. Ordering in bulk minimises product packaging and waste.
  4. There are no plastic bags, customers are encouraged to reuse their own jars, bottles and containers.
  5. Selling products that aim to reduce waste – stainless steel straws, keep cups, tote bags, beeswax wrapping, stainless steel water bottles, bamboo toothbrushes, jute bags and much more.  
  6. Reusing large hessian sacks that products arrive in, as bin liners or other storage solutions.
  7. Excess containers and packaging is offered to customers for reuse.
  8. Offering zero waste masterclasses to educate consumers to make the right choices 
  9. Giving $2 from every water bottle purchased to either Water Aid, who work hard towards providing clean drinking water for all, or to Sea Shepherd, who work hard to stop illegal fishing and whaling.
  10. Acting mindfully around energy use - ensuring lights, heating and cooling are only used when necessary.
  11. Spreading the message around zero waste shopping, far and wide through our social media channels, it’s a big focus for us.
  12. Where possible we source local, biodynamic, insecticide free, organic products.

We love being in the City of Port Phillip and how passionate people are about sustainability and reducing plastic. We're always up for a chat with those who are passionate like us. We have an unwavering vision that together we can make a difference and reduce packaging waste in Australia.

Get along to The Source Bulk Foods at 171 Carlisle Street in Balaclava and enjoy a more sustainable, waste free, shopping experience.

Sonia and Bart's Green Roof

SONIA AND BART'S GREEN ROOF, 38 WESTBURY STREET, ST KILDA EAST

Sonia and Bart live in a 1950's apartment. After a day at work, filming on a green roof, Bart suggested that they must get one. The roof was one big unusable, unsociable and in truth unattractive, blank canvas. After a lot of research, the prospect of transforming it into a beautiful, usable space that benefited the environment and the residents, was too good to resist. 

A Green Roof Committee consisting of engaged residents was formed and between them there was a broad skill set and a lot of enthusiasm. The Committee began searching for funding opportunities and found one offered by the State Government of Victoria calling for submissions from community groups to improve the water cycle.

The application was a huge task, they attended workshops, read papers and pieced together the application. The application was successful and this dream project had a sense of reality to it. 

Not many Green Roofs are retrofitted onto an existing building, most are designed and built into new buildings. There is huge potential for older style apartments with flat rooftops to retrofit. As our population increases and the density of inner city living increases, we lose green spaces. There is nowhere for water to be absorbed into the land, no place for biodiversity or communal gathering. Green Roofs are a means to help rectify this problem.

Today the Green Roof is a beautiful, thriving garden, full of native plants and wildlife. It has also brought together a community of residents that otherwise had no obvious place to connect and socialise.

"We could not imagine a life without our Green Roof. There was a lot of work and research to make it happen but it was all worth it. We did it and you could too!" - Sonia and Bart.  

Find out more about this wonderful environmental success story here

Besides being a great place to hang out, a green roof has many environmental benefits, they also;

• reduce storm water run-off
• increase the quality of water run-off
• reduce flash flooding
• reduce the heat generated from reflected surfaces
• provide insulation properties to reduce energy bills
• help to lower global CO2 omissions
• absorb sound which in turn lowers noise in the community
• trap the distribution of dust and other matter
• improve air quality
• increase plant life encouraging biodiversity.

St Kilda Repair Cafe

The St Kilda Repair Cafe held its first event in December 2017. It offers free repair cafe sessions at the EcoCentre on the second Sunday of each month. 

Volunteer fixers offer their time and skills to repair broken items free of charge. Everything from toasters, lamps, hair dryers, clothes, bikes, toys, crockery; in fact, any broken household item is welcome.

Instead of throwing away broken items they are lovingly brought back to life. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products, reducing CO2 emissions.

The Repair Cafe highlights how fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is. The sharing of knowledge and skills also helps to create a sense of community.

Co-ordinator John Hillel explained his motivation for founding the initiative, "I wanted to challenge the assumption that when something needs repair it can just be discarded and replaced with a new one, thus reducing the number of items going to landfill. We must learn to live more sustainably if we are going to have any chance of avoiding environmental and social catastrophe. It's up to us as individuals to take action".

The St Kilda Repair Cafe is a joint initiative between Port Phillip Eco Centre and the Jewish Ecological Coalition. It's one of 1,400 Repair Cafe's worldwide.

If you have a broken item or want to volunteer, make sure you head down to their next event. Find out more about this fantastic initiative here