Waste not

Category Archives: Research

Waste not
11th July, 2018

Australian households generate a massive amount of waste every year, most of it going to landfill. What can we do as a community to help reduce our environmental impact? We asked local business Integrated Dental Health and Blue Mountains City Council for answers.

Brushing up on dental waste

Dr Henriette Macri-Etienne of Integrated Dental Health in Katoomba is making it easier for us to reduce our dental waste. Her practice is a collection point for Terracycle, a company that recycles old toothbrushes and other dental plastics and uses them to make things like playground equipment and park benches.

“Any dental waste like old toothbrushes, floss containers, toothpaste tubes – any waste you use in your mouth – can go in the dental waste collection bin at Integrated Dental Health,” says Henriette.

The practice is also investigating the most sustainable bamboo toothbrushes to provide free of charge with every check-up.

For more information, visit or call Integrated Dental Health 61 Parke Street Katoomba,  4708 7007 integrateddentalhealth.com.au

We’ve all bin there

Q: In Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC) 2014 Draft Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy the key aims were to reduce the rate of waste generation per capita, increase recycling rates and divert waste from landfill – how successful has Council been in achieving each of these goals?

BMCC: Very successful.

  1. Household waste diverted from landfill up from 18% (2000) to 53% in 2016
  2. Household waste to landfill per person per year decreased from 346kgs to 227kgs.
  3. Household waste recycled per person per year up from 76kgs to 254kgs.

Q: Has there been any update to that plan, and if so what will the new targets be?

BMCC: Yes. Waste Avoidance & Resource Recovery Strategic Plan 2017-2021 is the updated plan. It can be found at this link:


Q: Where does our (BM residents) recycling go and what happens to it?

BMCC: JJ Richards collect and transport our kerbside recycling to Visy in Smithfield.  Visy is responsible for sorting the materials and sourcing markets for their recycling.  Visy use a lot of the material themselves in their plastic and paper/cardboard manufacturing businesses.

Q: Bathurst Council is utilising Australian Native Landscapes’ facility at Blayney to recycle all organic matter, including food waste, into compost – is this an option for BMCC and if not why?

BMCC: The introduction of the new waste service was made based on over two years of research and extensive community consultation prior to any decision being made. Households were asked to indicate their preference from three options. Option A included garden vegetation and food waste collection at a cost (the processing for food scraps is more expensive), option B was just for garden vegetation and option C was for no green bin. The results were as follows:

Option A – Green Bin (Food & Garden) 18%

Option B – Green Bin (Garden only) 46.4%

Option C – No Green bin 35.6%

Council was guided by this community response when the current waste service was selected and introduced.

Finally, unlike other areas closer to the city, many of our households have garden space suitable for composting. We offer a number of different initiatives to support households to compost at home; such as the compost revolution, composting workshops, our recent compost hub trial as well as offering compost bins and worm farms for sale via our website.

Q: What programs have BMCC initiated or supported in the last year to educate the community about waste avoidance and promote plastic-free living?


  • EPA – Community Recycling Centre (CRC) Katoomba Waste Management Facility – grant funded free disposal of problem household waste such as paints, gas bottles, motor oils, batteries, smoke detectors and fluorescent globes and tubes.
  • Waste 2 Art – Community art project encouraging waste avoidance and correct recycling. 2017 message was specifically targeted at avoidance and reuse of plastic bags. The project also specifically addressed recycling bin contamination with soft plastics.  2018 message focused on liquid paperboard containers.
  • Compost Revolution – An online educational tool for households to use anywhere, anytime. Householders complete an online tutorial and quiz. To help them get started on recycling food and garden waste at home a discounted compost bin or worm farm is available for purchase.
  • Compost Hub – A neighbourhood composting program connecting non-composting households with those that do not compost. Compost contributors deliver their household scraps to compost champions. Diverting food waste from the red garbage bin into a household compost bin.
  • Love Food Hate Waste workshops and market stalls – This plan focussed on providing tools to reduce food waste from meal planning, shopping to a list, food storage and using leftovers.
  •  OTHER ongoing promotion and communications:
  • Website – Update of waste and recycling pages
  • Weekly gazette ads
  • Waste App – used to update information, respond to feedback and provide recycling information.
  • Press Releases, rates newsletter – tools to promote and provide relevant waste avoidance information to the community.
  • Social media


Fishy business
10th July, 2018

We’ve all heard the adage we are what we eat, but what about the one that goes we eat what we wear?

Blue Mountains Food Co-op supplier Import Ants recently published an alarming story about Fish, Fibres and Food.

Here is an edited version.

When fish eat fibres, the fish and the fibres end up on our dinner plate. But there is more to the story!

Fish like eating microplastic fibres

Fibres absorb chemical pollutants and pathogens

Food that we eat from the sea has significant amounts of plastic in it

But why do fish eat these fibres?   

New research has found that the “scent” of plastic appeals to foraging fish just as much as the scent of their natural food. So fish are being tricked into eating plastic because of how it smells. And with all the plastics that are entering our oceans it is not just fish that are affected by them.

At Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus, Dr. Sarah Dudas leads a team dissolving oyster guts to leave behind the microplastics they have ingested and she is finding them in almost every shellfish.

Prawns, oysters and other molluscs are filter-feeders. When these filter-feeders are eaten by larger marine life they act as a gateway into the food chain.

So where are these plastic fibres coming from?

There has been a lot of research lately that is showing that much of this plastic fibre is coming from our laundry. Every load of synthetic clothing empties an estimated 1.7 grams of microfibers into the water stream, and these are not filtered out at treatment plants.

In 2013, Dr Peter Ross director of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, began sampling water off the coast of British Columbia for microplastics.  His study published in Science Direct found 9,200 particles of microplastic per cubic meter of seawater.

Using a spectrometer he found these microplastic particles originated from four main sources. Micro-beads common in toothpaste & cosmetics, polystyrene from packaging, nurdles the hard resin pellets used as the raw material for other plastic products, however the majority were from microfibers in synthetic fabrics.

Food we eat

Plastics and chemicals are finding their way into the food chain.

In a study published in the science journal Nature in 2015, marine researchers bought fish at public markets in California and Indonesia and examined their stomach contents. Around one in four fish at markets in both locations had plastic particles in their guts.

However, it is the chemical makeup of plastic that may be having a more harmful effect.

Rolf Halden, director of Arizona State University’s Center for Environmental Security suggests that the chemicals used to make plastic may migrate into the fish flesh and thus the edible parts of seafood.

We know that microplastics act as a sponge, absorbing chemicals in the water. These may sometimes be found “in accumulated concentrations that may be harmful to humans”, says Halden.

In Australia, researchers in a controlled laboratory study headed by Bradley Clarke, an environmental scientist at RMIT University, spiked microbeads from face cleaners with “environmentally relevant” concentrations of the pollutant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and fed them to Murray River rainbow fish. They found 12.5 per cent of PBDEs from the microbeads leached into the tissue of the fish.

It is already known that PBDE levels in seafood biomagnify up the food chain. PBDEs and other similar pollutants are linked to neurological health problems, impaired immune function and fertility problems.

So what can we do?

It is easy to feel that your choices make only a small difference to what is a very large problem. But we know that corporations and governments don’t change without financial incentive or public pressure. So you have more power as a consumer than you think.

  • Woolworths and Coles have now banned single-use plastic bags in stores across Australia.

  • Starbucks in the UK have removed plastic straws and cutlery from their shelves. Customers have to ask if they want them. March 2018

  • McDonald’s shareholders are considering a proposal to remove plastic straws in May 2018

  • Australian retailers are phasing out microbeads – April 2018 – a recent federal government commissioned assessment of 4400 relevant supermarket and pharmacy products found only six per cent still contained microbeads

Australia has been slow at legislating to reduce plastics in our environment, preferring voluntary agreements with the manufacturers. We can do better. However, with the growth of people power and some wonderful groups like Boomerang Alliance and Take 3 for the Sea pushing for government and industry to improve, change is on its way.

  • Switch to a non-plastic kitchen scourer like the Eco Max Kitchen Scrubber

  • Support companies that have policies to reduce plastics

  • Use a reusable cup and drink bottle

  • Take your own carry bag and say no to the plastic bag at the checkout

  • Don’t buy things packaged in polystyrene or excessive plastic packaging

  • Do buy natural fabrics and avoid synthetic fibres

  • Use a no phosphorus Bio-compatible laundry detergent then reuse your grey water on the garden

  • Say no to straws, plastic cotton buds, cutlery and lollies on plastic sticks

  • Use your own container and fill up at a bulk food shop

So be the change you want to see in the world and remember every little step we each take together makes a giant difference.

To read the full article from Import Ants click here.


12th December, 2017

Image: Flickr (Bo Eide)

Want to really reduce your plastic use?

Prompted by our focus on Plastic Free July this year, Co-op Research Group member Craig Linn has prepared two in-depth papers on plastic to help you understand the environmental and health risks posed by plastic, and how you can reduce the plastic in your life.


25th July, 2017

Are all sugars equal? Co-op Research Group member Sallyanne Pisk looks into the health and environmental issues related to the consumption of free sugars. Read her paper Review of Free Sugars.

Sallyanne is an accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist. She writes a weekly health blog www.eatingforyou.com.au and is the author of the book Eating for You.

Talk to Sallyanne about nutrition and healthy living in the main shop on the first Wednesday of every month for Wellness Wednesday.


9th May, 2017

What is Fair Trade, and how do we know if an item is really fair? Coop Research Group member Craig Linn looks into the facts and issues surrounding Fair Trade.

Read Craig’s paper Fair Trade: the Facts and Issues.

5th September, 2016

What is it like at Llandilo Egg Farm?

Rebecca Tyson visited the farm in 2016 wrote up her observations in this report.

Some hens dust bathing in the open paddock.

Chickens dust bathing in the open paddock

Within the ‘direct from the farm shop’, where the public can buy Llandilo’s barn-laid eggs (free-range eggs are not available at the shop), there is a viewing window into one of the barns.


20th May, 2016

Recently we’ve been fielding quite a few questions about the eggs we stock at the Co-op, following the introduction of labelling standards for free range eggs. Our organic free range boxed eggs come from Ellerslie Farm, our free range boxed eggs come from Llandilo and the loose free range eggs from another small supplier, Barn House.

In March this year, consumer organisation CHOICE reported on the labeling decision taken in Australia for eggs sold in the shops. They note that ‘A meeting of state, territory and federal ministers decided that:

  • “Free-range” can mean eggs produced by hens stocked at up to 10,000 birds per hectare, not the maximum 1,500 per hectare that the CSIRO Model Code recommends.
  • Egg cartons will have to display stocking densities, but there’s no requirement for to chickens to actually go outside.’

We could be waiting 12 months for this information and labeling standard to be adopted. In the meantime, to check out the Co-op’s boxed eggs and see how they relate to the stocking densities, you can download a nifty new app from CHOICE, called CluckAR (for iPhone and Android). CHOICE say of their new app:

‘…with CluckAR, you can simply point your smartphone camera at a carton […] and get a clear picture of which brands are selling eggs from the most chilled-out, happy hens. And it’s powered by CHOICE’s unbiased, up-to-date research, so you can be sure you’re getting independent advice on which eggs are worth, well, shelling out for.’


5th April, 2013


As a result of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, serious concerns arose regarding whether Japanese food may have become contaminated by radiation. In response to these early reservations, the Co-op made the decision to delete all stock lines of Japanese sea vegetables, and there was vigorous debate about whether we should continue to stock any Japanese products at all.

In May of 2012, board director Larry Buttrose arranged to have Helen Caldicott (anti-nuclear activist), speak to Co-op members on the topic of whether it was safe to be consuming foods of a Japanese origin. Dr. Caldicott urged the Co-op to stop ordering “all” foods cultivated in Japan. However, foods from Japan are popular among Co-op consumers, so in an effort to make the most informed choices concerning the safety of Japanese products, the decision was made to have specific samples individually tested by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) for radioactivity.

We investigated international limits for Caesium radiation content in foodstuffs, and compared these to the quantities present (where applicable) in seven products of Japanese origin, sold by the Co-op.

To view summary of the report complete with tables with out results – click here for: Japanese Food Safety Report Summary

To view a full copy of the report & list of products we have in the Co-op sourced from Japan, plus recommendations – click here: Japanese Food Safety Report

The Co-op Board will meet regularly to discuss the Japanese food safety issue, and will keep the larger Co-op community informed as to any further decision making. If you wish to make a comment regarding Japanese food safety please email us on hello@bmfoodcoop.org.au or use our contact page


10th October, 2012

In May of 2012, world-famous physician Dr Helen Caldicott travelled to Katoomba to speak to Co-op members on the crucial subject of “Is Food From Japan Safe Post Fukushima?” A video of Dr Caldicott’s address was shot by Rushan Dissanayake and Atilla Tugcu of Legacy Productions, and clips are posted here for the information of members.






The Co-op has begun commissioning formal testing of foods from Japan for any radioactivity, and ongoing results will be displayed here too.

The Board’s intention is that after a period of further information and discussion on this issue, how we should respond to it will be put to an online poll of members.

4th July, 2012

Physician and environmentalist Dr Helen Caldicott says Australians should beware of buying any food products from Japan, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Nobel-prize nominated Australian physician made the comment at a public meeting in Katoomba (on 30 May 2012) organised by the Blue Mountains Food Co-op. She said the meltdown of three reactors at Fukushima and subsequent explosions at the plant had resulted in the release of massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere and ocean, even far greater than released in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

The accident was rated two and a half to five times worse than Chernobyl, making Fukushima the worst industrial accident of all time. Of particular relevance to Australians is that the uranium in the Fukushima plant came from Australia, she said.

Radioactive elements such as iodine, caesium and strontium had been released into the food chain across Japan, and were being circulated by wind and rain and then concentrated in the food chain. Elevated levels of radioactivity had been found in food products from as far south as Okinawa, she said. As well, products from less contaminated regions were being mixed with more contaminated ones, so that consumers had no idea how dangerous foods from any part of Japan might be.

“Once radioactive elements enter the body, you can’t get rid of them, and they can trigger mutations that lead to cancer, over a time scale from two up to 70 years.”

Many foods from Japan are popular with Australian consumers, and are on many supermarket shelves. These include rice, shitake mushrooms, green tea, soy milk, soy sauces, miso, udon and soba noodles, nori and other foods from the sea.

She said fish were at particular risk, with reports of contaminated tuna being caught as far away as the coast of California. While the northern and southern hemispheres have separate air circulatory systems, that is not the case with the oceans, she said, and contaminated fish could migrate throughout the Pacific, including to Australia.

Dr Caldicott also warned that foods from many parts of Europe were contaminated still from the Chernobyl disaster – and would continue to be so for hundreds of years.

“In Germany there are wild boar so contaminated they almost glow in the dark, and have to be disposed of like nuclear waste,” she said.

“The safest solution for Australian consumers is to buy foods grown in Australia.”

By Larry Buttrose

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