This year has thrown some curveballs our way, but it has also required us to pause, think about what we want our future to look like and reset accordingly. For National Recycling Week this year we are looking ahead to our Future Beyond the Bin, where materials remain in circulation and what was once seen as waste is understood as resource. To that end, we are asking Australians from all walks of life to share their inspiring stories of how they #gobeyondthebin at work, home, school and in the community.
For sustainability coach Michael Mobbs, waste doesn’t exist.
“There is no such thing as waste, just a failure of imagination,” he explains. “Nature has it sorted and we humans can have fun trying to match her.”
Michael has been living off-grid in the inner-city suburb of Chippendale for over 20 years. Even more impressively still, Michael hasn’t thrown out any food waste since he originally moved into the house in 1978.
Growing up on a farm, sustainable living came naturally to Michael. Now, the professional sustainability coach spends his time educating others about how they can reduce their impact by making simple changes in their everyday lives.
We asked Michael to share his top tips for tackling waste in our own backyards and beyond.
Lucy Jones: Where did your sustainability journey start?
Michael Mobbs: I grew up on farm where we grew our own food, harvested our own rainwater and recycled our sewage.
Why is sustainability important to you personally?
Building sustainable projects gives me self-respect and gardening in the streets where I live gives me peace, connection with nature and emotional peace.
What is a sustainability coach?
In my case it’s someone who only works on truly sustainable projects for clients and friends who wish to go as off-grid as they can, particularly with growing food and turning food waste into soil to grow more food.
Can you talk us through the services you offer?
In the virus, I give zoom tours of my sustainable house and the Chippendale road gardens to school children, university students, and clients. In my experience, when anyone sees how ‘normal’ and ordinary the house and the streets are then they can picture themselves living the same way. With sustainability now a mandatory primary and secondary school subject teachers and children find the ordinary look of the house and gardens easy to understand and copy to develop their own solutions.
You live off-grid in the city centre, can you tell us about your home and the process of going off-grid?
In 1996 we were two adult parents and two children aged 6 and 10 and we needed a bigger kitchen and bathroom in our small inner-city terrace. During that 3-month renovation, I disconnected the house from the town water and sewer and put in solar panels. I’m not aware of this having been done in the centre of a city before and the result has been 24 years of almost 30,000 visitors, a book about this and other projects — Sustainable House has been reprinted 14 times and the book Sustainable Food keeps selling and selling.
Everything in the house can be bought at local hardware stores and installed by local trades. The technology is simple. The most difficult part then, and now, is getting approvals as the local government sector is lacking training in sustainable design and, even if policies promise sustainable local government, in practice it’s still difficult to get approvals for off-grid across Australia.
What rules or processes have you implemented in the house?
Just going to buy food at the Carriageworks Farmers Market is the most effective strategy and renewing community experience. Having the water, energy and recycled energy systems operate here means I don’t need to manage dealing with service providers. Since 1996, the energy and water bills for the house have been under $300 a year, mostly for gas to which the house is still connected for cooktop and oven.
What are three simple things every Australian can start doing tomorrow to reduce their impact?
Walk don’t drive, buy food from farmers markets, grow some food for yourself even if it’s just some rosemary or a fruit tree. You’ll be amazed how confidence and imagination grows within you.
How do you tackle food waste in your home? Talk us through the process from planning meals and shopping to storing and cooking food.
As I cook or clean up in the kitchen I throw out food scraps to the two chooks, Pesky and Blanche d’Alpuget. As the food is from farmers markets there is no packaging, I know where it’s grown and how. This winter, I’ve made about two different big pots of soup each week so that any and all vegies get used up.
Can you tell us about the community composting group you are a part of?
No food waste has left my house since I bought it in 1978. I’ve created a public composting system for Chippendale where each week we compost over 300 kilograms of food waste in our road gardens.
What has been the most surprising lesson you've learned on your sustainability journey?
How ordinary it is and how renewing; to flush my toilet knowing it will not go into the mouths and tummies of whales and fish off Sydney’s coast is something I don’t talk about, but which makes me feel as though I’m showing them true respect. I only mention it here because you asked.
What would you say to Australian families who want to reduce their impact but aren't sure where to start?
Start this week with whatever is easiest for you. Give a farmer’s market a go, buy your honey from a shop which sells it in bulk for you to put into a container you can use again and again. If you want clean energy, put a solar system on your house.
National Recycling Week takes place from November 9-13. For more information and to find out how you can get involved, head here.