You can make changes to help lessen the impact of chemicals on our environment to protect it now and for future generations.
Reduce your use
- Buy only by what you need.
- Always read the label and follow the instructions.
- Use only what you need: one squirt (about 8 mL) of dishwashing liquid for a standard sink full of dishes. Remember that it all adds up down the drain – using less can have a big impact on the amount of chemicals that reach the environment.
Make your own cleaning products
Making your own cleaning products is easy and cheap. You can buy most of the ingredients at your local supermarket. Always read the labels on anything you want to use to check it’s safe to mix ingredients.
- Baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda) can be mixed with water and used to scrub surfaces, it is good at getting rid of smells, and you can use it to whiten and clean dirty clothes.
- White vinegar cuts through grease, gets rid of smells, is a mild disinfectant, can be used as a rinse aid in dishwashers, and is good for cleaning windows.
- Pure soap is a good general-purpose cleaner that biodegrades completely. It does not have any added colour or scent.
- Lemon juice is a mild bleach, deodorant, and cleaning agent.
Try using chemical-free cleaning products
- Micro-fibre cloths can clean windows, benches, and other hard surfaces without the need for chemicals – just water.
- There are a range of cleaning products available from supermarkets that use biodegradable ingredients.
Check what’s in your cosmetics and toiletries
- Natural, plant-based or organic cosmetics and toiletries containing biodegradable ingredients can have less impact on the environment. But they may also contain harmful ingredients, so take the same care as you would with any product.
- Some cosmetics and toiletries contain chemicals or tiny bits of plastic called microbeads. Microbeads can get into waterways and be potentially harmful to marine life. Some products containing microbeads are banned, but not all. Read the label to find out if microbeads are present.
Go green in the garden
- Use companion planting to control insects. Basil deters aphids, fruit flies, and house flies. Plant penny royal and tansy around your garden to discourage ants and aphids.
- Planting natives can help native insects. It also increases biodiversity to make a suitable habitat for useful insects that can gobble up the insects you don't want eating your plants.
- Plant broad beans to naturally add nitrogen to the soil.
- Plant tussocks, grasses, harakeke, shrubs and trees near streams. This helps to build up soil to act as a filter and stop chemicals getting into waterways. It also offers a haven to birds and other wildlife.
Build up the soil
- You can improve the health and structure of your soil by adding compost and mulch. Good soil is alive with worms, bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and other microbes. Powdered fertiliser provides the chemicals needed for plant growth, but can’t improve the soil structure the way compost and mulch does.
- Lay seaweed on your garden bed (or around fruit trees) to add nutrients and reduce weeds.
- Layering mulch on your garden is a chemical-free way to reduce weeds and the need for watering, and improves soil and plant health.
- Plant legumes, oats and mustard to act as a living mulch.
- Watch where you spray. Don’t spray chemicals near waterways, or near bees and other pollinators.
- Spray early in the morning or at sunset, and on a calm day.
- Make your own simple sprays such as garlic blended with water to deter pests, seaweed soaked in water to provide nutrients, or use boiling water (take care) to kill off weeds growing in paving and driveways.
Make your own compost
You can help the environment and your garden by making your own compost. It's easy and cheap to do. Adding compost to your garden makes the soil healthier so your plants can grow better. Composting helps reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfills.
What can or can't go in your compost
You can compost:
- vegetable and fruit scraps
- tea leaves and coffee grounds (but not tea or coffee bags as some bags contain plastics that won't compost)
- soft garden litter (such as dead leaves, twigs and branches, and grass clippings)
- animal manure (though be careful not to include manure from sick animals that have been treated with medications as some medications might be harmful if they get into your plants)
- paper and cardboard (including cereal boxes)
- straw (you can also compost hay, though watch out for seeds and oils in both straw and hay as these could easily spread into your garden)
- saw dust and wood ash from untreated timber (be careful not to include any treated wood in your compost as the chemicals used to treat the wood could leech into your garden)
- vacuum cleaner dust.
Some things shouldn't go in your compost. They take a long time to decompose, they attract vermin, or they contain toxins that can get into the plants in your garden. Don't try to compost meat, fish, oils, dairy products, wood (especially treated wood), bones, glass, plastic, or weeds.
How to make compost in four easy steps
- Choose a site for your compost that is sheltered and drains well.
- Decide whether you will make your compost in a heap or using a bin.
- Add your waste – layer it, starting with a thick base of twigs or mulch to help with drainage.
- Keep your compost moist and turn it often.
Wise chemical waste disposal
- Check the label on your chemical. It will tell you whether the chemical is safe to put in your household rubbish or if it needs to go into landfill or be disposed of in a managed way. If you are unsure, contact your council for advice.
- Keep flammable, corrosive, or toxic chemicals out of your household rubbish.
- Don't pour chemicals down stormwater drains. They can get into waterways and harm marine life.
- Wash your car on the lawn so the detergent soaks into the lawn rather than going down the stormwater drain.
- Wash paintbrushes on the lawn and let the leftover paint dry in the tin before you dispose of it.
- You can donate or recycle leftover paint: check with your local paint shop.
- Some shops accept batteries and other chemical products for recycling and disposal. Ask at the shop you bought the product from.
- Your local environment centre may also have advice and offer recycling and disposal options.