Returning to Our Roots

How the pandemic helped reshape our relationship with nature


Buy Nothing

Building community and reducing waste through neighbourhood gift economies

A conversation with Pip Swayn

Pip and her family outside their new home. Source: Pip Swayn

When Pip Swayn moved to Weston Creek with her partner in 2017, she was eager to find a local community group she could join to immerse herself in her new neighbourhood. She was immediately drawn to the local chapter of Buy Nothing — a global movement of hyper-local groups in which members can “give, receive, share, lend and express gratitude”  within their immediate community.

“The ethos behind the Buy Nothing Project instantly appealed to me — in part because it builds community by forming connections between neighbours, but also because it provides an accessible platform to reduce consumerism and landfill. There have been many times I’ve advertised items that I would ordinarily put in the recycling bin (such as empty egg cartons or glass jars) and more often than not they’ve been snapped up!”

Rethinking how we consume

 Pip says that Buy Nothing has helped reshape her consumption practices.

“My general practice when I need something these days is to check my local Buy Nothing group first, and if I have no luck there, then I head to the op shops. It’s only when I’ve exhausted these options that I’ll head to the department stores. While we aren’t a zero-waste household, we’re resourceful in reusing what we can so that we reduce the need to buy new — particularly items which have an endless lifecycle. This not only saves us money, but it also has a positive environmental impact.”

Buy Nothing also helps people avoid buying more of a product than they want or need. “I hate buying a whole bunch of herbs from the shops when I only need a few sprigs for a certain dish,” says Pip. “Members are generally happy to share what they have in abundance, so whenever I ask for herbs on Buy Nothing I get a few comments telling me to help myself, with directions to where I should forage in their garden. In response I like to share my recipe or include a photo to show what I made thanks to their help.” 

Not every item on Buy Nothing is given to keep. For example, Pip’s local group has a ‘ski library’: donated snow-wear and accessories are centrally stored at one member’s house and loaned out on an as-needs basis. Pip notes, “with the speed at which children grow and the high cost to buy new (or even second-hand), the ski library allows families to go to the snow without having to fork out for all the hire gear”.

Many Buy Nothing groups also have ‘travelling suitcases’ — bags of clothes, jewellery or dress-ups sorted by size that are passed between members, who swap out items as they go. These have the dual benefit of keeping items in circulation for longer while enabling members to attain items of clothing they need and gift items they no longer use.

Community connection

Beyond the environmental benefits, Buy Nothing also promotes social interaction and connection. Pip feels this is an important element that sets Buy Nothing apart from other online platforms involving second-hand goods. “While other Buy Swap Sell groups tend to operate on a ‘first in best dressed’ method, the Buy Nothing project operates differently. Members are encouraged to let their posts ‘simmer’ and select a recipient at their discretion using a more considered or creative approach. Because of this, interactions between members are less transactional and more interpersonal.”

Buy Nothing has made a major impact on Pip’s connection to her neighbourhood. “I get a lot of satisfaction from being heavily involved in my Buy Nothing group. Our members are kind, friendly, generous and selfless people. I see many of them as an extension of my circle of influence — strangers who’ve become friends, neighbours who’ve become family. It’s so much more than giving and receiving.”

A post on the Buy Nothing page offering to gift used toys. Source: Pip Swayn

This community mindset is something Pip is keen to instil in her kids. “It’s important to me that my children grow up with a strong sense of kindness, community and charity while understanding the notion of giving and generosity. The Buy Nothing project supports this notion and helps me promote these values in our household.”

Pip’s children are already embracing Buy Nothing principles. “My eldest son is well-informed on what the Buy Nothing community is about and happily knows that many of his toys, clothes and books come from it. As these items cycle in and out of our house more frequently it has become routine for us to do regular clear outs with extra willingness. At just five years old he even volunteers when something of his is ready to be passed on, more readily accepting to let go.”

Getting crafty while giving items new life

Pip’s son with a handmade mirror. Source: Pip Swayn

Pip’s found that Buy Nothing has been a great way to get creative while repurposing old materials.

“A few years ago a lady was giving away some round mirrors she had bought for her bathroom renovation but didn’t end up using. I somehow got the idea to decorate it by attaching matchbox cars around the edge so it looked like a sun. After collecting an assortment of orange and yellow cars from our Buy Nothing group and what felt like every Salvos and Vinnies in Canberra, I had the right amount. I gave the mirror to my eldest son and it proudly hangs on his bedroom wall, ‘made by mum’.”

Another project Pip has undertaken is the refurbishment of a cubbyhouse that had been sitting idle in another Buy Nothing member’s yard. “My partner and I completely restored the cubby for our son’s third birthday. We replaced the rotting panels using a timber bookshelf we found on the side of the road, brightened it up with a fresh coat of paint, fitted it out with grass carpet, a new slide and a brass bell to give it a new lease on life. We recently on-gifted the cubby to another family who plan to personalise it for their children to enjoy.”

So why Buy Nothing?

Pip is a strong advocate for Buy Nothing, and was not short on reasons when asked why.

“It’s more than the stuff, and it’s way more than just a Facebook group. By participating in your local Buy Nothing group you not only get the chance to give and receive, but you can learn about your local community, see and experience more of your neighbourhood, prevent items going into landfill, reduce consumerism and even save money. The Weston Creek (North) Buy Nothing group has been a great source of happiness for me, and I’m so grateful that I came across the group and have remained a part of it.”

You can find your local Buy Nothing group here.


Citizen Science at Bluetts Block

Orchid spotting with Canberra Nature Map


Reflections on Nature

Connecting with nature through art and photography

We believe that when people engage nature through art, it fosters a deep connection of custodianship to this country and a care for nature.

— NatureArt Lab
Eucalypt bark: Textures and Revelations. Source: Terry Rushton.

The COVID-19 lockdowns were a unique time that forced people to slow down, stay put, and reflect. While a challenging period, for many it was an opportunity to more deeply connect with nature, coming to appreciate our backyards and neighbourhood reserves in a new light. NatureArt Lab’s ‘Reflections on Nature’ project, launched at the beginning of the pandemic, encouraged people to meaningfully engage with their local environment through close artistic observation and expression — whilst also creating a vibrant online community where people could connect in a time of extended social isolation.

Moderated by a passionate team of artists, ecologists, environmental educators and activists, a Facebook group was created in which members could share their environmental artworks with a like-minded online community. Between April 2020 and May 2021, moderators provided thirteen themes to guide participants’ reflections including sense of place, transformations, emergence and renewal. The resulting collection paints a rich and complex picture of the pandemic’s impact on people’s engagement with nature, as well as tracing the slow recovery of landscapes in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires. A selection of contributions was exhibited at the Old Barn Gallery in Pialligo earlier this year.

Washed Ashore Post-Bushfire: Wild invertebrate pollinators.
Source: Irene Harmsworth

With 600 members and counting, not just in the ACT but beyond, the Facebook group remains an active creative community despite the formal portion of the project being over.

In 2023, NatureArt Lab partnered with the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment to survey participants about their experience with the project, the pandemic and their connection to nature.

A refocus on the local

Many participants expressed that the necessity to refocus their attention on their immediate surroundings during COVID-19 had a positive impact on their sense of connection to nature.

When asked if COVID-19 impacted their relationship with their local environment, 85 per cent of respondents agreed that it had — and this was overwhelmingly for the better. “[The pandemic] was very positive in forcing me and so many others to be closer to nature,” wrote one participant. Another said that while they missed being able to go out and explore nature further afield, they found themselves “more in tune and aware of my ‘micro-environment’; the world within my immediate area. I saw and researched never before seen birds and insects and joined a nature journaling club online which has continued post-pandemic”.

Nature journaling:  Stories, significant trees. Source: Fiona Boxall.

Observing the natural world through an artistic lens encourages us to be highly present in our environment. Requiring keen attention to detail, nature sketching and other art forms can lead to us see things we might not ordinarily notice.

For one participant who was immunocompromised from a serious illness when the pandemic hit, learning to engage with nature through photography was a nothing short of a life-changing experience. “Whilst COVID caused us to pause our lives somewhat, the fact that my illness occurred just prior to its arrival was, for me, a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to see and appreciate nature in a way that totally changed my life for the better,” he wrote. “I began to notice things that I had never stopped to look at before and found nature to be a fascinating world to discover [..] I have become much more aware of, and have a greater appreciation of our local environment, and am now engaging with like-minded people and groups to become active in conservation.”

From observation to action

Indeed, many respondents advised that their increased sense of connection to nature has resulted in direct environmental action. 85 per cent of respondents stated that their behaviour towards the environment has changed following their participation in the ‘Reflections on Nature’ project during the pandemic. Participants detailed the ways in which they are now getting involved:

“Joined our local Landcare group.”

“[Took up] monitoring activities such as bird surveys and NatureMapr.”

“Increased volunteering to support local environmental lobby.”


“It encouraged me to make the effort to join in on nature tours, talks, exhibitions and other events.”

Never before has it been so important to reassess our place in the world as a global pandemic forces humanity to think differently about nature and our home on earth. The ‘Reflections on Nature’ project creatively encouraged people to do so on an intimate, localised scale — reminding us that the here and now matter.

You can read more about NatureArt Lab’s work on their website.

Grasslands: Sense of Place. Source: Rainer Rehwinkle.


Southwell Scout Venturers

Protecting our natural environment through citizen science

For years, the Southwell Scout Group Venturers have been connecting with the outdoors, learning from nature and taking positive steps to care for ACT’s parks and reserves. Environmental stewardship is an essential part of the Scout Promise and Law, and youth leaders from the Southwell Venturers have a long history of improving biodiversity in the ACT through activities such as weed removal and tree planting.

In 2016, Southwell Venturer leader Vance Lawrence observed a desire amongst the youth leaders to undertake fieldwork where they could develop practical skills and learn about the more advanced aspects of ecological monitoring.

Scouts using water quality monitoring equipment to test water samples.
Source: Nicolas Gardiner

In response, the Southwell Venturers partnered with the Southern ACT Waterwatch group to undertake environmental monitoring of various waterways in Namadgi National Park. Since then, the Southwell Venturers have led numerous four wheel drive and bushwalking expeditions into Namadgi, using water quality monitoring kits provided by Waterwatchto collect chemical and physical measurements. They also collect complementary data on aquatic macroinvertebrates and riverbank vegetation, both of which provide insight into the health of our catchment.

Citizen scientists

Data collected by the group goes into the Waterwatch database. This directly informs the annual Catchment Health Indicator Program (CHIP) report, which land managers and government use to develop plans and programs for environmental management. Information collected by the Southwell Venturers has also served as evidence in successful grant applications for environmental rehabilitation projects. For example, the Southwell Venturers saw signs of feral pig presence in Namadgi during one of their expeditions. They reported their observations to the ACT Government’s National Parks and Conservation Service, which used this data to help secure funding for the feral deer and pig control programin 2021. Environmental volunteers’ timely reporting of invasive species infestations enables land managers to eradicate these species before they become more widespread. This highlights the importance of citizen science data and how it is being incorporated into conservation and land management strategies.

Key’s Matchstick Grasshopper. Source: Hannah Zurcher

The Southwell Venturers also record ad hoc observations and photos to upload to volunteer-run online species identification platforms such as Canberra Nature Map, FrogID and the Atlas of Living Australia. During a Waterwatch expedition in November 2022, they captured a rare image of the nationally threatened species keyacris scurra — Key’s Matchstick Grasshopper. The sighting, which is only the second on record in the ACT, was verified by expert monitors on Canberra Nature Map. The Southwell Venturers are considering options for a new project to observe the plant life the grasshopper is eating and living in, as well as doing population number studies.

Practical skills and life-long learning

For many youth scout members, exposure to fieldwork has instilled a life-long interest in learning about the environment. For example, former Venturer Simon recently gained a Certificate III in Conservation and Ecosystem Management at the Canberra Institute of Technology. Another Venturer, Dylan, is keen to merge his interests of IT and the environment by possibly pursuing a career in developing online wildlife mapping software. 

Waterwatch expeditions are also an opportunity for Venturers to develop practical skills in leadership, navigation, four wheel drive operation and data collection. “The adult leaders take a back seat role. We organise logistics and transportation, but it is really the youth Venturers who lead the expeditions and teach their peers about water monitoring,” says Vance.

Wellbeing and positive environmental action

It’s well documented that connection to a healthy and resilient natural environment is an essential aspect of wellbeing, particularly for those living in urban areas. For the youth Venturers and adult leaders who spend most of their time indoors at school or work, environmental volunteering presents a chance to get outside and foster a deeper connection with nature. One of the adult leaders spoke about how they find a sense of balance and purpose through fieldwork: “I spend five days a week in an office looking at a computer screen… this is my spirituality.”

Scout group at Gudgenby River sampling site. Source: James Lehane

Getting involved in meaningful activities like environmental monitoring has also improved the scouts’ feelings about drought, fire and climate change. The Southwell Venturers observed the devastating impacts of the 2020 Orroral Valley fire on ecological communities in Namadgi. Collecting data to help with the bushfire recovery effort has eased the scouts’ feelings of helplessness after the catastrophic bushfire season.

Scouting provides opportunities to experience and connect with the environment, develop skills, and build a sense of community. We are extremely lucky in the ACT to have many volunteers and organisations such as the Southwell Venturers who are working to preserve and protect our natural spaces.

Learn more about the Southwell Scout Group on the Scouts ACT website.


Global Worming

Worming our way out of landfill

When we think of harmful rubbish heading to landfill, many of us think of plastic, paper and textiles. However, a significant volume of food scraps and other organic rubbish goes to landfill every day, and its impact may be more than you think. The anaerobic conditions in landfill lead to a release of methane, a gas which is more than 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.

Seeking to divert this waste and put it to a better use is Global Worming, a Canberran organic waste management business established by Cid Riley in 2004. For over 19 years, Global Worming has provided bins to clients for the collection of organic waste such as food scraps, coffee grinds, teabags and paper towels. All the food waste collected is fed to worms — a process known as vermicomposting. This method produces one of the best-known organic fertilisers.

Currently, Global Worming collects organic waste from over 50 clients including federal government departments, schools and cafes, with many clients staying with them for more than 10 years. The business also manages organic waste on-site for over 20 clients, which involves setting up and operating large worm farms at the client’s location.

Before the pandemic, Global Worming was diverting well over 300 tonnes of food waste per year from landfill to the worm farms. While food waste collections fell significantly due to lockdowns and work/study from home orders, Global Worming is now back to collecting around 200 tonnes per year. In the last 10 years, well over 2000 tonnes of food waste have been diverted from landfill by Global Worming.

Global Worming’s farming system

The main operation of Global Worming is over 20 commercial worm farms at four sites, including properties at Dairy Flat, Fairburn and the Canberra Airport. Each of these farms contains at least 50kgs of worms — a total of over 200,000 worms.

 A worm can consume over half its body weight every day and each farm can go through at least 250kgs of food scraps each week. 

The worms produce an excellent fertiliser that is rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. Global Worming sells this fertiliser, along with worms, vermicast (worm manure) and commercial scale worm farms.

On-site management of organic waste

Global Worming also operates worm farms on the site of the client. The worm farms are built to handle all food waste produced on-site, keeping it out of the general waste stream with the extra bonus of having ‘Zero Waste Miles’. Global Worming staff are on-site at least once per week to feed the worms, and the outputs from the worm farm are shared with the client.

Currently, Global Worming has 22 clients in Canberra with on-site worm farms, including 18 schools. School worm farms are usually 6–9m long and each farm consumes over 100kgs of food waste every week (over 4 tonnes across the 40-week school year). Staff from Global Worming also regularly demonstrate worm farming with the students from the school.

Next steps

Global Worming’s goals are to expand in all aspects, particularly product distribution and getting worm farms on schools. If the majority of schools in Canberra were managing their food waste on-site using the Global Worming system, more than 400 tonnes of food waste would be diverted from landfill every year. That’s a lot of saved methane!


Repair Cafes in Canberra

Broken item? Repair cafes can help

How many times have you thrown something away because you didn’t have the knowledge or skills to fix it yourself?

Repair cafes are seeking to address this issue — and are gaining popularity. The first repair cafe in the ACT opened only a few years ago, and there are now five across Canberra. In keeping with the mission of the Community Toolbox to reduce items going to landfill, repair cafes allow people to bring in broken items from their homes to be fixed by volunteer repairers. The person who brought in the item can also learn how to fix it themselves, equipping them with skills they can apply for next time.

Repairing an item means it can be used for longer, reducing the volume of unnecessary items ending up in landfill. It also lessens pressure on the Earth’s resources by reducing demand for creating and consuming new products. This is the circular economy in practice.

Darning a woollen jumper at the Hawker Repair Cafe. Source: OCSE

Items you can bring in for repair include: 

  • textiles and garments
  • electrical items
  • technical items such as mobile phones
  • bicycles
  • outdoor tools such as lawnmowers
  • knife sharpening
  • garden and workshop tool sharpening
  • jewellery repairs
  • toys, and
  • small furniture.

Available repairers may be different each month. Visit the Facebook page to see what you can bring along for fixing.

Beyond the Canberra context, repair cafes are a global phenomenon. There is a reference website for repair cafes around the world which features additional information on how to fix a variety of common items such as laptops, furniture and toys. Resources like this are another educational avenue that empowers communities to mend rather than make waste.

Hawker Men’s Shed and Repair Cafe

Repair cafe sign. Source: OCSE

The Hawker Men’s Shed Association (HMS) was established in October 2019 as a space for community members to come together and work on meaningful projects in good company. Facilities include a fully operational workshop complete with tools, machinery and work benches housed in a series of joined shipping containers. Most of the tools have been donated by local families. The shed is open to men on Wednesday mornings, and both men and women on Friday mornings. The following video provides a brief overview of the group: Hawker Men’s Shed – YouTube.

Fixing electrical appliances at the Hawker Repair Cafe. Source: OCSE

The members of HMS have worked on a number of projects for the broader local community, including building timber frames and covers for the Hawker Community Garden wicking bed project. They also collaborated with Bunnings Belconnen to construct garden and seed beds from recycled clean pallets for Aranda Primary and Belconnen High schools.

A Repair Cafe connected to the HMS provides an opportunity for appliances and broken household items to be fixed, as well as the chance for visitors to learn handy skills such as how to sharpen their kitchen knives and garden tools. As of March 2023, this has kept around 385 items from landfill with an 89 per cent success rate of fixing items brought in.

HMS also provides an electrical test and tagging service. Moreover, there are second-hand tools, household items and locally produced products for sale. In addition, HMS members make possum and bird boxes for sale or order. The HMS is planning to increase its workshop shed capacity which will enable them to create more items and hopefully run repair cafes more often.

Volunteers helping visitors to repair their items. Source: Repair Cafe Canberra


Bee Friendly Hall

Australia’s first bee friendly village

Hall Honeys and ACT for Bees and Other Pollinators staff with handmade native
bee hotels. Source: Hall Honeys

If you walk the streets of Hall, you’ll see front yards full of pollinator friendly plants with signs that proudly proclaim they’re a ‘Bee Friendly Garden’. In a remarkable community initiative, Hall has become Australia’s first ‘Bee Friendly Village’ — but what does that mean, and how did it come about?

What started in 2018 as a small group of Hall Village beekeepers eventually expanded to become the Hall Honeys — a group of local beekeepers, environmentalists and concerned citizens who appreciate the important role played by pollinators.

A discussion about improving the gardens in the main street sparked the idea of establishing Hall as a ‘bee friendly’ jurisdiction — that is, one that actively works to support pollinators through pollinator-safe planting, community education and the promotion of bee friendly practices.

The group resolved to develop and implement a ‘Bee Friendly Community Charter’ with the aim of promoting the health of bees and other pollinators in Hall as well as setting an example that might be emulated by other communities. The charter was developed with the assistance of ACT for Bees and Other Pollinators.

A native bee hotel in Hall. Source: Hall Honeys

The next step was to engage the residents of Hall to gain their support. The Hall Rotary Club agreed to sponsor an initiative to inform the community and establish a register of ‘Bee Friendly Gardens’. Meanwhile, Hall Village Men’s Shed members embraced the challenge of constructing 100 native bee hotels to provide habitat for native bees and other pollinators. The effort started with a review of literature on what makes a good ‘hotel’: size, wood type, hole size, depth, and location are all important, and ease of construction was also a factor.

Some experimentation with designs and materials resulted in the “Bee Block” — a unique design using recycled hardwood timbers with a distinctive colour palette for the bee block roofs. Each block is numbered so that eventually the community can engage in some citizen science monitoring of their use.

Once the native bee hotels were ready, Hall Rotary hosted a ‘Bee Friendly Garden Sizzle’. Native plants, ‘Bee Friendly Garden’ signs, bee hotels, and information pamphlets were provided to all interested households. The response was astounding — nearly every household participated and signed up.

Public bee friendly signage in Hall. Source: Hall Honeys

Since that initial event, the Hall Honeys have undertaken a range of projects to improve habitat and food for pollinators in the Village. Grants from both the ACT and Federal Governments have supported the establishment of bee friendly gardens along Hall’s central street, and 20 native bee hotels have been installed in the Hall Reserve. In 2022, volunteer staff from CapGemini and Salesforce turned out in force to create a new bee friendly garden on the corner of Loftus and Victoria Streets.

Hall’s Bee Friendly public gardens include signage with a link to online resources that educate visitors to the Village about pollinators and, hopefully, engage them in the mission of improving our environment.


North Ainslie Primary

We are the next generation caring for the environment

At North Ainslie Primary School, students are encouraged to connect to and care for nature. The school was awarded the 2021 Junior Landcare Team Award for its efforts in this space, which include a range of projects and programs relating to sustainability education, green space regeneration and gang-gang cockatoo conservation.

Sustainability education

The school runs an educational program called Personal and Community Health, which focuses on sustainability and gardening to teach students about caring for the environment. Students have the opportunity to:

  • participate in sustainability and garden lessons in the school veggie garden
  • engage in community initiatives such as Birdlife Australia’s gang-gang project
  • support student-led initiatives such as the Green Team and Waste Warriors
  • participate in the Garden Club run by the Green Team
  • undertake sustainable practices such as composting and recycling soft plastic waste, and
  • celebrate important days such as National Tree Day and World Bee Day.

Green space regeneration

Students using the garden space for learning. Source: Amy Pepper

One project undertaken recently was the regeneration of a large section of the school grounds. This project transformed a previously bare and dusty oval into a beautiful naturescape with a dry creek bed, sand and mud pit, four natural turfed playing fields, more than 50 trees and hundreds of local native plants. It also has an extensive network of water infiltration trenches. The project was a collaboration between local landscape designers, experts in water smart urban design, play experts, students, staff, parents, and local Indigenous leaders.

The project is now complete, and the students can enjoy connecting to nature daily during free play or class time. It is a beautiful space that can also be enjoyed by people in the neighbourhood outside school hours.

Gang-gang project

Students installing a tree guard as part of the gang-gang project.
Source: Amy Pepper

The gang-gang project is another key environmental initiative with which North Ainslie Primary School is involved. This is an online course run through Birdlife Australia – Birds in Schools Project. Birds in Schools engages students in the scientific process through investigation and monitoring the birds and habitat of their school grounds. Students use their own observational skills and ideas to develop and implement action plans to help their local bird life. Action plans may include planting native plants, installing nest boxes or bird baths, or delivering education campaigns in their school or local neighbourhood.

Approximately 160 students from Years 3 and 4 participated in the project in 2022. As a result of their involvement, students:

  • developed a greater awareness of local plant species and how these contribute to a healthy habitat for birds
  • learnt about the importance of providing a variety of plants in a garden or urban space, including ground cover, an understorey and a tree canopy
  • learnt about natural food sources for birds, with a particular focus on gang-gangs
  • learnt about the value of old trees and the importance of hollows. They also watched the secret life of birds and learnt about 3D printing tree hollows!
  • learnt about some of the reasons that gang-gangs are a threatened species such as habitat loss due to bushfires and clearing
  • undertook a bird survey to identify the presence of birds on their redeveloped oval space and learnt the names of other bird species, and
  • designed what they thought would be the ultimate habitat for birds, received plants from Greening Australia and planted them in the space next to the oval redevelopment area.

Four participating students volunteered to speak to us about their involvement in the project: Victoria, Lily, Anjali and Benjamin. One of the challenges the students discussed was how to bring water into the landscape for the birds. One of the students suggested people in the neighbourhood could have bird baths in their front gardens or include a bird bath fixed in the ground as part of their outdoor area. The students also spoke about the need for bird boxes, as tree hollows can take up to 200 years to form and birds need somewhere to live in the meantime. Overall, the gang-gang project gave students practical experience in thinking about how to create a bird-friendly habitat right on their school grounds.

All of these initiatives run by the school have positive outcomes for students and the future of Landcare. Ensuring students are surrounded by nature on a daily basis gives them the opportunity to develop their love for nature. By engaging youth in Landcare and sustainability projects, the school then supports the students’ natural desire to take action and care for their local environment.

“We are the next generation. It is important that all students learn how to care for the environment.”

— North Ainslie Primary School student
Students using the new space for learning. Source: Amy Pepper


Straight from the Source

How buying local can reconnect us with the food chain

When’s the last time you got to see where your food comes from? Majura Valley Farm Gate Shop, located at the front gate of Majura Valley Free Range Eggs, presents Canberrans with an opportunity to reconnect with food in a tangible way. Here, the community can purchase sustainable, local produce direct from the farm —with a view of chickens, sheep, and the market garden from the shop’s window.

The Majura Valley Farm Gate Shop. Source: Zoë McMahon

In today’s food economy, it’s common for us to be many steps removed from the place and manner of our food’s production. Often, we think too little about the journey it has been on before it ends up on our plate. But there are real environmental, ethical and social benefits to buying local, as well as knowing the origins of what we eat.

Everything we purchase has an embedded carbon cost, and food is one of the highest product groups responsible for scope 3 emissions in the ACT. Local produce has significantly lower ‘carbon miles’ than food grown further afield, reducing emissions by minimising production, transport and storage-related carbon. Locally grown food also typically creates less waste – the shorter the supply chain, the less food and packaging is wasted in the process of distribution, warehousing and merchandising. Buying local also supports Canberran jobs and is a way of connecting with place and community.

Majura Valley Farm chickens. Source: OCSE

In addition, understanding the origins of the food we eat allows us to make conscious choices about supporting sustainable and ethical practices. Generally, it’s easier to trace the origins of local produce than supermarket-bought products with long, complex supply chains. Majura Valley Farm is a great example of this. The small business is big on transparency, with comprehensive information about their farming methods freely available on their website and blog. One of their key innovations is the use of mobile multi-layered chicken sheds, which are rotated around the farm in a sustainable, regenerative system. The birds both fertilise the soil and assist with weed control, which promotes the growth of rich pastures that are then used to support ewes and lambs. Majura Valley Farm’s application of this method led to them winning the 2013 ACT Landcare Award for Innovation in Sustainable Farm Practices. Another way they have increased product transparency for the consumer is by introducing a ‘Laid On’ date to their egg cartons in addition to the mandatory ‘Best Before’ label — an industry first.

The Majura Valley Farm also invites a reconnection to the food chain through active community engagement. In addition to the Farm Gate Shop, they run ‘pick your own corn’ and ‘sunflower maze’ experiences each summer which provide a fun, hands-on weekend activity for all ages. Getting out to see where and how our food is grown can help remind us why sustainable farming matters —and get us thinking about the ways we can reduce the impact of our eating habits.


Community Toolbox Canberra

Why buy tools when you could borrow?

By enabling people to borrow tools rather than buying them new and discarding them later, the Community Toolbox Canberra is helping people lower scope 3 emissions and reduce their ecological and carbon footprint. The Toolbox makes it possible for everyone to get creative, try a new hobby and make their home more liveable – whilst also reducing waste. 

The idea of a tool library is not new, with the first one established back in 1943 in Michigan. In 2019, when Kathy Ehmann moved to Canberra and needed a spanner, she bought one from a hardware store but thought it would be great if there was a tool library where people could borrow these things instead of buying them. She began a long search for an appropriate location and started to build a team to assist her, including collaborating with SEE-Change. The Community Toolbox Canberra officially opened in November 2021 in Watson.

Volunteers at Community Toolbox Canberra. Source: Community Toolbox Canberra

For a small annual fee, members can borrow a wide range of tools and equipment such as:

  • Hand tools
  • Power tools
  • Kitchen tools
  • Garden tools
  • Leisure equipment
  • Office equipment

People can also donate items they no longer use, taking them out of sheds, garages or cupboards and putting them in the hands of the wider community to use through the Toolbox. It is all run by volunteers who give their time to this cause.

So why borrow equipment rather than buy?

It’s a much better use of resources to borrow items as required rather than buying something that will only be used on a few occasions each year and kept in storage the rest of the time. The average tool only sees 13 minutes of action before being discarded. A tool library is a great example of a circular economy, where fewer resources are used because one tool can serve many people. The items are also kept in use for longer.

Borrowing tools and equipment also saves money, presents a low-risk option for trying a new activity and saves space in your home. What’s not to like?


Turning Timber from Trash to Treasure

How Thor’s Hammer is saving used timber from landfill

Thor’s Hammer is a Canberra business dedicated to recycling timber from building demolitions. It began in the early 1990s when Thor Diesendorf, then a young woodworker, noticed how much high-quality Australian hardwood timber was being dumped in landfill.

Thor Diesendorf, founder of Thor’s Hammer. Source: Thor’s Hammer

With the basics of timber salvaging mastered — “good balance, a sharp chainsaw and plenty of enthusiasm,” according to Thor — and a handful of new connections with local demolition companies, Thor opened Thor’s Hammer in 1994.

The mission then was as strong as it is now: to keep demolition timber out of landfill by growing the interest in and demand for recycled timber. And while Thor’s team has expanded from three to 35, the methods for achieving this mission have stayed the same: to foster relationships with demolition companies, to design and make high-quality furniture and joinery products, and to tell the fascinating stories of the timber that has been salvaged.

Today, Thor’s Hammer is a frontrunner in the circular economy for the construction industry, salvaging over 1000 tonnes of timber each year from historic buildings, wharves and factory demolition sites throughout the ACT and eastern Australia.

Much of this timber is supplied back to the construction and joinery industries, custom profiled and finished to their needs. Numerous homes and businesses in Canberra and further afield feature high-quality flooring, cladding, and decking supplied by Thor’s Hammer. They have become the go-to supplier for an extensive network of builders, architects, joiners and furniture-makers who appreciate the beauty and utility of recycled timber.

Kitchen fitted with Thor’s Hammer recycled timber. Source: Thor’s Hammer

Above all, Thor’s Hammer is known for its capacity to design and construct furniture from recycled timber, using both modern machinery and traditional hand tools. Every year, Thor’s highly skilled woodworkers make hundreds of finely crafted pieces of bespoke furniture, including tables, beds, doors, benchtops, shelves and bookcases. These pieces are designed and built to last many lifetimes, in line with the founding commitment to keep timber (and the stored carbon it holds) out of landfill.

Building demand for recycled timber

Over the past three decades, Thor’s Hammer has seen a shift in the community towards recognising the value and beauty of the timber that can be saved from demolition sites.

When the business first started, Thor would send his teams out to local demolition sites to salvage timber by hand. Local demolition companies did not understand the potential value of the timber, so were not equipped to sort and save it.

Recycled timber storage. Source: Thor’s Hammer

In the late 1990s, though, Thor unintentionally transformed the practices of one of Canberra’s largest demolition companies by crafting some simple pieces of furniture from recycled timber for one of the directors. With a new appreciation of recycled timber, the company started using its own machinery to separate demolition waste on-site, leading to a welcome increase in timber supply for Thor’s Hammer.

Facilitating circularity through supply chain relationships

Supply chain relationships with demolition companies have evolved as Thor’s Hammer has gained visibility and demand for recycled timber has grown.

Currently, there are several local demolition companies that separate timber from other building materials on-site and transport it to Thor’s Hammer by tip truck. However, this method has some downsides: a significant proportion of the timber is damaged both when it is loaded by machine, and when it is tipped onto the ground; and it is labour intensive for Thor’s workers to manually untangle and sort the timbers.

To overcome these problems, Thor’s Hammer has been working closely with a number of companies to get the timbers made into packs at the demolition site and then transported on a flatbed truck.

“This increases the recovery of good saleable timber for the demolition companies, and is a game-changer for us, as it reduces the proportion of damaged timber arriving from demolitions and allows us to process stock much more quickly and efficiently,” says Thor.

The challenges of saving timber from landfill

Despite the advances achieved in recycling processes in recent years, the number of demolition companies that are consistently able to recover timber and other recyclables is still small.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, recycling requires a completely different business model and infrastructure, including specialised or modified machinery. Even with the help of machinery, it’s generally more labour intensive to separate timber during a demolition than to just crush the building and dispose of the mixed waste.

Salvaging timber from a demolition site. Source: Thor’s Hammer

Secondly, storing and processing recycled timber requires a lot of flexibility and yard space. Thor’s Hammer needs to be able to take large quantities of timber in vastly different sizes and lengths, and then quickly adapt existing products or develop new products to suit the timber in stock.

Separating timber needs to be made more viable for demolition companies, and incentives could be introduced to encourage the practice. One possibility is to raise the tip fees for mixed-waste loads — thus increasing the incentive to separate waste on-site. This needs to be combined with a crackdown on the illegal disposal of demolition waste on private land, and close monitoring of the sites used to bury mixed waste.

The final factor is to increase demand for recycled products — which is where Thor’s Hammer comes in. The more that they can increase their visibility and turnover, the larger loads they can purchase from demolition companies at one time. But the recycling business model only works if costs are offset by reduced disposal costs and increased purchases from businesses like Thor’s Hammer.

The future of timber recycling

Thor and his team believe that there is huge potential for more timber and other recyclables to be rescued from ACT demolition sites, and that encouraging the separation of timber and other recyclable material at the demolition site is the key to achieving higher recovery rates.

And what about the future for Thor’s Hammer?

Their goals for the future remain unchanged from 28 years ago: to reduce waste, to contribute to the long-term storage of carbon, and to showcase the beauty and utility of ‘waste’ timber.


Parliament of Youth on Sustainability

The next generation pitch their ideas to help Canberra thrive

SEE-Change’s Parliament of Youth on Sustainability is an event run by young people, for young people. An annual program that culminates in a one-day mock Parliament event, it is a fun, engaging and respectfully competitive student-centred initiative that gives platform to youth voices calling for action in the sustainability space.

Student Ministers with Members of the Legislative Assembly. 
Source: SEE-Change

Students are given time to research and develop proposals over terms 1 and 2 for how the Canberra region can be made more sustainable. Schools from across the ACT then come together for Parliament Presentation Day, where students act as Parliamentarians and present, discuss and debate each other’s proposals. Finalists get to pitch their proposals to Members of the ACT Legislative Assembly, and then all participants vote on a winner for each age category.

At the 2021 event, a total of 142 students representing 14 ACT schools came together with proposals to address the topic: ‘What is one action we can take to thrive on Ngunnawal Country?’

Participating students ranged from 6 to 18 years old and formed 35 teams. The top 11 voted teams advanced to the final round, pitching their proposals to all participating students and a panel of MLAs including Minister Yvette Berry (ALP), Minister Chris Steel (ALP), Minister Rebecca Vassarotti (ACT Greens), Minister Shane Rattenbury (ACT Greens) and Shadow Minister Leanne Castley (Canberra Liberals). Four teams were crowned victorious, with a further two proposals selected as recipients of the ‘Ready for Action’ award, funded by the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate within ACT Government. These teams worked with SEE-Change in the months following the event to bring their proposals to life. 

Over the course of the event, students identified a diverse array of sustainability issues in the ACT. Key themes included:

  • waste — including food waste, plastic waste, recycled waste and waste labels (13 proposals)
  • land conservation — including tree planting, bush regeneration and community gardens (8 proposals), and
  • animals — including supporting bee populations, reducing meat consumption and addressing pests (6 proposals).

Common strategies for addressing sustainability issues included:

  • education and community engagement programs — including community campaigns, competitions, and education (including extending sustainability programs in schools)
  • government support and incentives for schools and households to compost, recycle and reduce waste
  • establishing new child-focussed apps — including to support native flora/fauna education, and waste distribution, and
  • incentives for low-emissions transport — including subsidies for electric vehicles, using public transport and active transport.

Feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive — almost 100 per cent of participants said they would participate again, and 92 per cent of students gave the event a rating of 8/10 or higher. The program also significantly increased students’ knowledge of and motivation to learn more about environmental issues, inspiring many to make personal changes to be more sustainable in their daily lives.

You can read more about the Parliament of Youth on Sustainability, including details of the 2021 student proposals, on the SEE-Change website.


Zero Emissions, Go Electric

Bringing the community along for the ride when it comes to electric transport

The future is electric — that’s the firm conviction of the volunteer-run, not-for-profit organisation AEVA (the Australian Electric Vehicles Association). AEVA is passionate about reducing emissions and decreasing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels by promoting community uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) across Australia.

Banner outside Parliament House. Source: Andrew Sikorski

AEVA’s ACT branch is working to achieve this in Canberra, where an ambitious government target has been set to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. At present, transport represents the largest source of Scope 1 emissions in the ACT, making it a crucial sector to address if we are to reach the goal of net-zero.

In 2021, with the support of a Community Zero Emissions Grant, AEVA’s ACT Branch launched the ‘Zero Emissions, Go Electric’ project. Its purpose was to educate the ACT public about electric vehicles and their benefits, which it did through a range of means including EV experience events and the Zero Emissions EVenture.

EV experience events

Between August 2020 and June 2022, AEVA ran eleven EV experience events across the Canberra region, including two that preceded the grant funding. At these events, AEVA volunteers set up a public stall and displayed a range of different electric vehicles (including various models of cars and motorbikes). The public was provided the opportunity to go for a ride, ask questions and learn more about electric transport, charging infrastructure and relevant ACT Government incentive schemes.

The Zero Emissions EVenture

Electric motorbikes outside the National Library. Source: Andrew Sikorski

A major component of the ‘Zero Emissions, Go Electric’ Project was the Zero Emissions EVenture — a community event in which teams of participants traversed a course around Canberra using only electric powered transport and walking. The route started and finished outside the National Library and passed through the Kingston wharf, Parliament House, Civic and Lyneham. Each leg of the journey featured a different mode of electrified transport including cars, buses, scooters, bikes, GoBoats and the light rail. At each checkpoint, participants were given quiz questions about zero-emissions transport.

A total of 84 entrants participated, and their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. As one participant stated, “the support crew were informative and helpful, and the event itself was a lot of fun to participate in… [We] learned a lot from talking with the drivers of the e-cars and from others in the group”.

EV informational resources

Want to be part of ACT’s electric future? You can learn more by exploring the educational resources AEVA developed as part of the ‘Zero Emissions, Go Electric’ project.


Chapman Primary

Creating a ‘culture of sustainability’ at Chapman Primary School

Chapman Primary School is committed to creating a culture of sustainability among the next generation of young Canberrans. Through its innovative whole-of-school approach, Chapman Primary claimed the title of 2021 Sustainable School of the Year at the ACTsmart Sustainability Awards. From infrastructure upgrades, curriculum changes and student-led sustainability initiatives, the school has centred the environment in its campus activities and built a culture where every student, staff member, and volunteer has a role to play.

Ms Puleston with the Garden Guru club. Source: Libby Emerson

Maintaining and strengthening this culture has been embedded into all areas of campus life alongside the school’s preschool to year 6 curriculum. The 10-week kindergarten ‘Bushkids’ initiative is a highly celebrated program that fosters student connection with nature, instilling a desire to care for it from an early age. Meanwhile, lunch-time sustainability groups like the ‘Enviro Squad’, ‘Power Rangers’ and ‘Garden Gurus’ empower students to lead initiatives and contribute to an environmentally sustainable campus. The Enviro Squad promotes awareness of sustainability and sustainable waste management practices, the Power Rangers seek to reduce energy consumption by monitoring lights and computers across the campus, and the Garden Gurus maintain the school’s community garden in partnership with volunteer teachers and parents.

A parent shares local knowledge at Bushkids. Source: Libby Emerson

The school strives to increase the already large number of students walking and riding to school and is an enthusiastic supporter of Active Streets, National Ride to School Day and Walk to School Week. Promotion of waste free lunches takes place in classrooms, newsletters, and parent information sessions while food scraps are taken to the school worm farm and the castings used in the school garden. The school has upgraded its infrastructure with new bike racks, energy efficient LED lighting and installed double glazing in some windows, while several outdoor spaces have been built within school grounds to help to reduce the school’s energy consumption.

All staff have roles or responsibilities — whether it’s leading a student sustainability group or simply being aware of ways to reduce classroom waste. In 2021, all Chapman Primary staff attended a professional development day at Birrigai Outdoor School. Drawing on inspiration from the traditional custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people, staff renewed their commitment to take climate action and strengthen their approach to sustainability.


Making Sustainability the First Order of Business

How Two Before Ten are keeping it green

The team at Two Before Ten place sustainability at the heart of what they do. In the years since its inception, the Canberra-based network of cafes has introduced a slew of initiatives to reduce waste and promote a circular economy in the day-to-day running of the business. With its motto ‘because it matters,’ Two Before Ten seeks to put people and the planet first.

Ethically sourced food

The Urban Farm in Aranda. Source: Logan Knight

One of their most well-known sustainability initiatives is the Urban Farm. Located directly adjacent to their Aranda premises, the Urban Farm supplies Two Before Ten cafes across Canberra with fresh, local produce. Cafe green-waste is returned to the soil in the form of compost, which is used to grow productive fruit and vegetable crops in a sustainable, circular system. In addition, growing food locally reduces packaging waste and food miles. The business also has a produce exchange program, in which community members can bring in excess fruit or vegetables grown in their own backyards to be exchanged for in-store goods.

Sustainability is also at the centre of decision-making when choosing suppliers. Coffee beans are sourced only from farms that have a significant sustainability focus, whether that be environmental or social. This includes organisations that promote recycling programs, protect natural forest corridors, train farmers in soil regeneration or support women-run co-ops.

Sustainable Disposal

In 2020, Two Before Ten installed a commercial composter on-site in Aranda. The composter transforms kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, compostable packaging items and wastepaper into vitamin-rich garden compost that is used to feed the Urban Farm. This has made a huge difference in reducing waste output from the roastery and cafes.

Clever containers

In February 2020, Two Before Ten switched to using compostable cups and lids made using carbon neutral manufacturing. The business also introduced compostable bags for their retail coffee. Every part of the bags is commercially compostable including the interior lining (made from agricultural waste products), printed ink, zippers and one-way gas valve. Each cafe has a collection bin for cups and retail coffee bags so they can be returned to the soil as compost.

Two Before Ten’s work shows that sustainability is possible in an industry in which issues of food waste and unethical sourcing can be common.

Read more about sustainability initiatives on Two Before Ten’s website and sustainability blog.


Canberra Ornithologists Group’s Woodland Bird Report

21 years of citizen science in the making


Urban Parks and Places

Volunteering to protect and enhance our urban green spaces


Landcare and Bushfire Recovery

Mobilising volunteer efforts to restore native habitat after Black Summer

The summer of 2019–20 was one that most of us would like to forget, though it will likely forever be burnt into our minds. During the bushfires that summer, 87,923 hectares of the ACT — including 80 per cent of Namadgi National Park1 — was burnt. In the aftermath, around 1000 Canberrans put their hands up to work with Landcare on bushfire recovery efforts.

To mobilise this new volunteer workforce, Landcare ACT coordinated with a range of partners on projects to protect and restore native flora and fauna in the wake of the Black Summer. 

Volunteers gathering in Namadgi National Park. Source: Landcare ACT

Two of these projects saw Landcare ACT and Southern ACT Catchment Group partner with the ACT Government, rural lessees and scientists to coordinate community action in the restoration of sub-alpine sphagnum bogs, fens and grasslands habitats in Namadgi National Park. On-ground activities included:

  • weed control, which reduced competition to native vegetation naturally regenerating on burnt areas 
  • erosion control, which increased water quality as well as habitat condition for native instream and riparian species
  • ecological monitoring, including pest plant surveys and flora surveys
  • installing shade cloth to promote the regrowth of sphagnum, and
  • installing fences to restrict grazing animals.

Volunteers worked with experts, such as Associate Professor Ben Keaney from the ANU, to assist this recovery project.

A volunteer assisting with restoration activities. Source: Landcare ACT

“Canberra’s bogs play a critical role in our ecosystem. In addition to providing habitat for endangered species, bogs contain sphagnum moss which plays an essential role in filtering our drinking water and regulating the flow of water, much like a tap, into our catchment areas,” said Associate Professor Keaney. “Canberra’s bogs have suffered under the impacts of the 2003 and 2019–20 bushfires, and more broadly climate change. We need to help our bogs recover so they can continue to play their critical role in the environment.”

While the projects focussed on restoring habitat, they also had positive outcomes for the volunteers themselves. Volunteers shared how much it meant to them to be able to contribute to landscape restoration after a difficult year of bushfires, hazardous smoke and the pandemic. A film about the project can be found here.

The Frogs from the Ashes project saw Landcare ACT working with Ginninderra Catchment Group to support the recovery of threatened frog species in bushfire affected areas of Namadgi National Park. Following extensive destruction of frog habitat in the Orroral Valley Fire, 10 volunteers undertook 34 surveys during the 2021–22 breeding season, producing a significant amount of new native frog data. Twelve long-term monitoring sites were established.

“Historically, there has been a really limited understanding of frog species’ responses to fire, so the data from this project has been invaluable. Before the fires both Dendy’s toadlet (Pseudophryne dendyi) and Bibron’s toadlet (Pseudophryne bibronii) had been experiencing long-term population declines and we needed to find out if they had survived and locate any remnant populations,” said Anke Maria Hoefer, ACT and Region FrogWatch Coordinator at Ginninderra Catchment Group.

According to Karissa Preuss, CEO of Landcare ACT, these Landcare-led bushfire recovery projects “highlighted the value of local environmental protection projects in supporting the recovery of bushfire-affected communities and environments”. The involvement of volunteers in post-bushfire recovery work illustrates the valuable role that community-based Landcare organisations can play in environmental protection and restoration.

  1. These projects were supported by a number of organisations that provided specific funding for environmental recovery following Black Summer including the Australian Government, Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES), and Landcare Australia. ↩︎