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6 — How have people made their lifestyles more sustainable?

Cartoon of people exiting a shopping centre with loaded trolleys, which they are then emptying straight into a garbage dump.

Above: Shopping, illustration by Jan Gillbank

In a consumer society of cheap mass-produced goods, it is often easier to throw away than to recycle. In fact, many believe that we live in an economic system where consumers are constantly being bombarded with advertising telling them to discard and replace the goods they already have because this increases sales. In this sequence students will continue to explore how individuals and groups who aim to live their lives more sustainably have been represented in texts. 

As well as addressing the Cross-Curriculum Priority: Sustainability, this sequence draws on the following General Capabilities: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Responsibility and Ethical Behaviour.

Meet the freegans

One group that aims to counteract our consumer society is the freegans. In Australian authors Tristan Banck’s and Tempeny Deckert’s co-written novel It’s yr life, we meet Sim who is a freegan and in the novel the character defines freeganism as:

freegan means we don’t buy anything. we have stuff like electricity (and i pick up the wifi signal from the people next door. is that bad?), but we don’t buy things. we just find stuff. that probably sounds 2 weird for u but did u know that aussies chucked out about $5.3 million worth of food last yr? (Page 10 It's Yr life)

Use the text extract in which this quote is placed (pages 10–11) to also highlight to students how combinations of words and images in texts can be used to represent particular groups in society, and how texts position readers in relation to those groups. ACELT1628

Discussion questions

The word freegan is compounded from free and vegan and is a neologism. Encourage the students to continue to record any new vocabulary words that they encounter in this unit and to add them to their own glossaries. Students can also be encouraged to make vocabulary choices in their own writing that will add style to their texts. ACELA1547  

To gain further insights into freeganism, the students could watch the segment entitled ‘Dumpster Divers Declare War’ from the current affairs show Today Tonight, which portrayed a group of Australian freegans.They can also watch a trailer for the documentary Taste the Waste that explains freeganism further. After watching the clip and reading more about freeganism, ask the students how they feel about the amount of food waste that is generated in the world. Has the idea of freeganism made them stop and think about their own habits?


Left: Landfill, image by Erika Boas

A plastic-free existence

There are growing numbers of individuals and groups who aspire to lead a plastic-free existence. Spurred on by the idea that certain plastics contain chemicals that may leach into the environment and into the human body, they look for alternatives. There are many different views and opinions on this topic and a search of the web reveals many sites and organisations offering alternatives to plastics.   

Beth Terry blogs about her experience of living a plastic free life. Share the web address with the students and watch the TED interview where Beth talks about the defining image that made her stop and think. Beth investigated the Pacific Garbage Dump (ironically, the world’s largest ‘landfill’ site) and this research led her to make big lifestyle changes. 

Arthur Germaine, from Lightning Ridge in northern New South Wales, has developed a very practical and sustainable home design technique.  He created a beer bottle house: a house made of beer bottles – giving ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall’ a whole new meaning! In this case, 5800 bottles went into the construction of his home, which has now become a tourist attraction. The design proved to offer both insulating and cooling functions in an area that regularly experiences 45 degree Celsius heat. This can lead into a discussion of the way everyday citizens have made a difference or have campaigned to bring about change. 

Note: This sequence can lead into a more in-depth focus on the Pacific Garbage Dump (also referred to as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and the ‘Pacific Trash Vortex’) or students can be encouraged to explore this issue further as a potential topic for their writing later in the unit. Images that explain rotating ocean currents, or gyres, and how garbage is trapped in these currents can be shown to students. This could link strongly with Science and Geography studies. A wonderful resource is the book Tracking Trash: Flotsam, jetsam, and the science of ocean motion (see Resources)

Living more sustainably

Many of us will feel that living as a freegan or giving up on plastic entirely could be a bit of an extreme lifestyle. But it is possible to make some more sustainable decisions when it comes to our lifestyles, and these small changes we make can go a big way towards changing and shaping the planet. Explain to the students that being an informed citizen goes a long way to being able to take small steps towards living a more sustainable lifestyle and acting in a socially responsible manner.

Ask the students: What are some of the small changes that people can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle?  Document a list of their responses to refer back to later in this unit.

Ongoing tasks

Students continue to collect trash for their art from trash piece. Students update their Annotated bibliography worksheets with new texts discovered in class and in their own individual research.