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WORDS BY LARINE STATHAM-BLAIR

With so many buzz words, scientific jargon and bureaucratese, many of us have switched off from the issues impacting our planet. Busy getting through each day, making ends meet, many of us leave it to the affluent, inner city soy latte-sipping set to agonise over. Sometimes it’s easier to dismiss the green movement as little more than a fad lifestyle or doomsday scaremongering.

Strip away the politics and polarising extremists, and the green movement becomes a whole lot less complicated and dull. It all boils down to one thing: life! Each of us only gets one. And we have only one planet. We are living longer and there are more of us, gradually consuming our glorious globe. 

Researching the plethora of obvious environmental issues occurring around the world is harrowing and overwhelming. Given those same negative impacts are not yet being felt in regional Queensland, it may come as a surprise to Crush readers to discover just how many well-informed locals are quietly making changes, big and small, for the common good. It seems there is no such thing as “out of sight, out of mind” in Bundaberg – we know how good we’ve got it here and we want to protect our patch. 

The number of people in the Bundaberg Region who are actively trying to be part of the solution is nothing short of inspiring and uplifting. The local businesses, organisations and projects featured in this Green Issue of Crush Magazine are just the tip of the ice‘berg (see what we did there?). There are thousands of others out there, quietly going about their business, making small changes for the better.

LITTLE DROPS OF WATER MAKE A MIGHTY OCEAN 

Exactly what motivates Bundaberg residents to contribute seems somewhat tied to our age, career, interests and the number of stamps in our passport. 

Local children from 20 schools proudly refer to themselves as Reef Guardians. As well as participating in Great Barrier Reef research and monitoring activities, most will collect stray litter to “protect the turtles” without giving it a second thought. 

Rubbish warriors like Michael Tooley are also taking matters into their own hands. Most days he walks the 10km round trip from Kepnock to the Bundaberg CBD, collecting cigarette butts, broken glass and small pieces of plastic. When Crush asked Michael why he picks up rubbish, he simply replied: “why not? Clean Up Australia Day is not just one day in my eyes; it’s every day. If everyone just did a little, we’d have a beautiful country.” 

Frustrated by the ever-rising cost of their coal-fired electricity bills, more than 15,000 Bundaberg households installed rooftop solar in 2020. According to Clean Energy Australia’s 2021 Report, that makes Bundaberg the rooftop solar capital of Australia. Hervey Bay placed third on the list. 

It makes good economic sense for businesses to be reducing their waste and finding efficiencies. You’d be hard pressed to find a local farm or food processor that doesn’t utilise by-products to generate energy and improve their soil, or schedule their irrigation to minimise evaporation. Sustainability is a way of being for agri-businesses like Isis Central Sugar Mill and Austchilli Group. 

There are countless local businesses dedicated entirely to helping others reduce their impact on the environment. Kookaburra Worm Farms in Gin Gin, for example, is Australia’s largest supplier of fishing and compost worms. Their philosophy is to “work with nature, rather than against it”. GreenCollar Group helps graziers and landholders generate income through changes in land management practices, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions or store carbon in soil and vegetation. 

For others, it’s about education. Burnett River Clean is a volunteer organisation dedicated to removing rubbish from local waterways and raising awareness of illegal dumping. Terra Tribe Farm near Howard runs a forest school in the holidays, where kids can get grubby and learn about biodiversity. 

Health and wellbeing is another important motivator. Advocates for non-toxic, animal-friendly cosmetics and cleaning products argue we should be putting as much thought into what we rub on our skin as we do into what we eat and drink. Then there are those who detest gluttony, materialism and overconsumption. They see beauty and style in the pre-loved and enjoy turning trash into treasure. Artisans like Bella Botanica use second-grade flowers from local farms to create jewellery. John Oslen builds sculputures from scrap metal. There are countless craftsmen using discarded timber pallets to make outdoor furniture and kids’ cubby houses

IT’S RUBBISH IF YOU DON’T RECYCLE 

Leading many of the less glamorous, but vitally important, local green initiatives is Bundaberg Regional Council. 

Each year about 7800 tonnes of waste from residents’ yellow top wheelie bins is collected by Council, and then sorted and recycled by IMPACT Community Services, providing employment to about 30 people with disabilities. As well as providing “Containers for Change” collection points, dump shops for recycling and upcycling unwanted goods and converting green waste to mulch, Council waste facilities convert methane gas generated by landfill to carbon dioxide by flaring. Carbon dioxide is about 23 times less harmful to the environment than methane. 

Last year Council and Utilitas partnered to repurpose the decommissioned East Bundaberg wastewater treatment plant into a bioHub. Utilitas engages with large organic waste producers, like farmers, to convert their waste into energy and manufactured products, such as textiles and cosmetics. In addition to hosting Council’s water services laboratory and a Utilitas biorefinery, talks are underway with other potential bioHub tenants that work in aquaculture and advanced anaerobic digestion. 

Keen to see more of the Region’s abundant biomass put to use, Council hosted the inaugural Bioeconomy Bundaberg Conference last year. The event, which will be held again in November this year, brings together farmers, scientists, academics and industry to identify sustainable opportunities for economic growth and job creation. 

Council has been championing the development of a $300 million hydrogen hub to produce green fuel and assemble zero waste vehicles. Proposed by a consortium called Green Hydrogen Australia Group, the hub is earmarked for 200 hectares of Bundaberg Sugar land at Fairymead, located inside the State Development Area.

ONE MILLION TREES 

Dedicated to building Australia’s best regional community, Bundaberg Regional Council maintains and regularly improves 330 parks, gardens and nature reserves across the Region. As well as enhancing the Region’s aesthetic appeal and giving people outdoor spaces to improve their health and wellbeing, these natural areas support local biodiversity by providing important habitat for native species of plants, insects and animals. 

Last year, Council announced an ambitious target of planting One Million Trees in public and private gardens across the Region in four years to increase biodiversity, improve climate resilience and increase shade, to cool the CBD and encourage shoppers to stay longer. To achieve this goal, a whole-of-community approach is needed. As part of the program any resident can apply for free trees, from two to 250, by completing an Expression of Interest form at
www.ourbundabergregion.com.au/ million-trees-bundaberg-region. 

REDUCING URBAN GLOW TO HELP THE TURTLES GO 

Prolific artificial light is the enemy of sea turtles and the Bundaberg coastline hosts the largest concentration of nesting endangered sea turtles on the Australian east coast. 

All of the world’s sea turtle populations are considered rare, threatened or endangered. Six species live in Australia; three of which nest at Mon Repos, Burnett Heads, Moore Park and Bargara. Most of their nesting activity occurs at night. Artificial light disorientates nesting and hatching turtles. It impedes an adult turtle’s ability to select nesting sites and prevents hatchlings from finding the ocean, significantly limiting their chances of survival. 

For more than 50 years, researchers and park rangers have protected and studied these incredible creatures at Mon Repos and, in the late 1970s, internationally revered researcher, Dr Col Limpus, first proposed a tourism experience to educate and inspire people to protect these threatened marine animals. 

For generations, locals have proudly embraced the visiting turtles but it’s only been in recent years that the campaign to cut local light pollution has gained momentum. Funded by the Australian Government, Council’s Reducing Urban Glow project is a collaboration between the likes of Bundaberg Tourism, Ergon Energy, Sea Turtle Alliance and the community. 

Council has transitioned more than 200 conventional streetlights to smart-enabled LED lights and installed specially engineered turtle-sensitive lighting along the foreshore. Solar powered sensors were manufactured and installed along the coast. Combined with timers, the smart lighting responds to factors such as cloud cover and movement. They detect when people and vehicles aren’t present and dim lighting output to about 15 per cent; ramping back up to full capacity when lighting is required. The highly-technical project measures the amount of urban glow across selected precincts and monitors trends and patterns of community behaviour. The data, combined with events like Turtle Hour, help raise awareness and encourage people to make informed lighting choices and take positive action to reduce urban glow.