Sustainable shopping: tap water is best, but what bottle should you drink it from?



File 20180419 163991 13qaeez.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The greenest option might be to get a disposable bottle but never dispose of it.
Shutterstock.com

Trevor Thornton, Deakin University and Simon Lockrey, RMIT University

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


We have many options when it comes to how we drink water, given the large range of consumer products available, and Australia’s high standards of tap water.

But which option is the smartest choice from an environmental perspective?

According to the waste management hierarchy, the best option is one that avoids waste altogether. Recyclable options are less preferable, and landfill disposal the worst of all.

For water bottles, this suggests that keeping and reusing the same bottle is always best. It’s certainly preferable to single-use bottles, even if these are recyclable.




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Recycling can be confusing, but it’s getting simpler


Of course, it’s hardly revolutionary to point out that single-use plastic bottles are a bad way to drink water on environmental grounds. Ditching bottled water in favour of tap water is a very straightforward decision.

However, choosing what reusable bottle to drink it out of is a far more complex question. This requires us to consider the whole “life cycle” of the bottle.

Cycle of life

Life-cycle assessment is a method that aims to identify all of the potential environmental impacts of a product, from manufacture, to use, to disposal.

A 2012 Italian life-cycle study confirmed that reusable glass or plastic bottles are usually more eco-friendly than single-use PET plastic bottles.

However, it also found that heavy glass bottles have higher environmental impacts than single-use PET bottles if the distance to refill them was more than 150km.

Granted, you’re unlikely ever to find yourself more than 150km from the nearest drinking tap. But this highlights the importance of considering how a product will be used, as well as what it is made of.

What are the reusable options?

Metal bottles are among the most durable, but also require lots of resources to make.
Flickr CC

In 2011, we investigated and compared the life cycles of typical aluminium, steel and polypropylene plastic reusable bottles.

Steel and aluminium options shared the highest environmental impacts from materials and production, due to material and production intensity, combined with the higher mass of the metal bottles, for the same number of uses among the options. The polypropylene bottle performed the best.

Polypropylene bottles are also arguably better suited to our lifestyles. They are lighter and more flexible than glass or metal, making them easier to take to the gym, the office, or out and about.

The flip side of this, however, is that metal and glass bottles may be more robust and last longer, so their impacts may be diluted with prolonged use – as long as you don’t lose them or replace them too soon.

Health considerations are an important factor for many people too, especially in light of new research about the presence of plastic particles in drinking water.

Other considerations aside, is may even be best to simply buy a single-use PET plastic water bottle and then reuse it a bunch of times. They are lighter than most purpose-designed reusable bottles, but still long-lasting. And when they do come to the end of their useful life, they are more easily recycled than many other types of plastic.

Sure, you won’t look very aspirational, but depending on how many uses you get (as you approach the same number of uses as other options), you could be doing your bit for the environment.

Maintaining reusable options

There are a few things to bear in mind to ensure that reusable bottles produce as little waste as possible.

  1. Refill from the tap, as opposed to using water coolers or other bottled water that can come from many kilometres away, requiring packaging and distribution. Unsurprisingly, tap water has the lowest environmental impacts of all the options.

  2. Clean your bottle thoroughly, to keep it hygienic for longer and avoid having to replace grotty bottles. While cleaning does add to the environmental impact, this effect is minor in comparison to the material impacts of buying new bottles – as we have confirmed in the case of reusable coffee cups.




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Sustainable shopping: how to stop your bathers flooding the oceans with plastic


The verdict

To reduce your environmental impacts of a drink of water, reusing a bottle, whether a designer bottle or a single-use bottle you use time and again, makes the most sense from a life-cycle, waste and litter perspective.

The maintenance of your reusable container is also key, to make sure you get as many uses as you can out of it, even if you create minor additional environmental impacts to do so.

The ConversationUltimately, drinking directly from a tap or water fountain is an even better shout, if you have that option. Apart from the benefit of staying hydrated, you will reduce your impacts on our planet.

Trevor Thornton, Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University and Simon Lockrey, Research Fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: save the world, one chocolate at a time


Robert Edis, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; Kanika Singh, University of Sydney, and Richard Markham, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


Cocoa is probably the most sustainable of all internationally traded commodities, so there are several “feelgood” reasons for eating the chocolate made from it this Easter – at least when the cocoa is grown by smallholder producers and traded by processors that are committed to equitable sharing of profits.

Here are some ways to tell if you are onto a good thing.

Environmental impact

As a wild species, cocoa (Theobroma cacao) originates from the rainforest of the Amazon basin and the foothills of the Andes. In nature, it grows as an “understorey” species, shaded by the rainforest canopy. Much of the world’s cocoa crop is similarly grown in the shade of taller trees in mixed plantings.

Unlike many plantation crops, like rubber and oil palm, cocoa can be grown with a diverse mixture of other plants. Of course, not all growers produce this way, so if preserving biodiversity is a priority for you, look for Rainforest Alliance certification.

Healthy cocoa, grown in an agroforestry system with minimal chemical inputs, in Fiji. The cocoa beans are in the yellow pods.
Richard Markham

Cocoa needs a lot of water to survive, so large irrigated plantations have a high water footprint. On the other hand, almost all smallholder cocoa is grown without irrigation in high-rainfall areas, so the water used in production of the cocoa is close to zero (apart from a small amount of water used in processing).

Another environmental aspect is the use of fertilisers and pesticides. When cocoa pods are harvested they take a lot of nutrients with them, out of the ecosystem. On average, a kilogram of dry cocoa contains 36 grams of nitrogen, 6g of phosphorus, 72g of potassium, 7g of calcium, and 6g of magnesium.

This means maintaining soil condition is critical. This can be achieved with careful application of fertiliser, though this rarely occurs and soil depletion has become a major problem prompting aid groups to encourage more fertiliser use!.

However, research in Sulawesi, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and chocolate giant Mars Inc, has shown that using a judicious combination of nitrogen-fixing shade trees and compost (ideally produced with the help of goats) can maintain soil fertility – and even reclaim depleted speargrass savanna – for cocoa production.

Trials by Indonesian and Australian researchers in Sulawesi suggested that a combination of compost and inorganic fertiliser gave the best results.
Richard Markham
Research trials on sustainable cocoa production at the ‘Mars Academy’ research station in Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Richard Markham

Finding good chocolate

The good news is that there are plenty of chocolate producers who avoid all of these problems. There are two ways to find it: look for certifications, or seek out small operations in our region.

Fairtrade certification means that smallholder producers in developing countries are getting a fair share of the price you pay.

Rainforest Alliance certification, meanwhile, ensures that rainforest hasn’t been cleared to make way for unsustainable plantations.

If you’re concerned about fertiliser and pesticide use, UTZ (who have recently merged with the Rainforest Alliance) has built sustainable productivity into their certification systems.

All of these certification schemes are largely available to multinational companies. Some of the biggest chocolate companies in the world, including Mars, Ferrero, Hershey and Nestlé, have committed to sourcing 100% certified cocoa, so it’s possible to buy sustainable cocoa without even realising it.

On the other end of the scale are smallholdings, which are likely to lack these kinds of certifications. That doesn’t always mean they are bad for the environment, or that the growers aren’t getting a fair price. It may simply be that the expense of formal certification is not worth it for many small operations.

Much of this chocolate is organic more or less by default, as many smallholders, especially in the Pacific region, simply do not use agrochemicals. It’s also more likely to be grown in heavily rainforested areas, with almost zero water footprint.

In their search for high quality and unique flavours, several Australian boutique chocolate makers have started to source their beans directly from cacao growers.

For instance, Bahen & Co. in Margaret River, Western Australia, purchases beans directly from communities on Vanuatu’s Malekula island, while Jasper & Myrtle in Canberra buys beans from growers on PNG’s previously troubled island of Bougainville.

These programs mean that these growers have been able to taste chocolate from their own beans for the first time, and thus understand how their own processing of the beans – through fermentation and drying – affects the quality of the final product.

Australian chocolate maker Mark Bahen evaluates samples of beans from individual growers in Vanuatu.
Conor Ashleigh for ACIAR

Even more value can remain with the local growers and their communities if the chocolate itself is manufactured in-country. Visitors passing through duty free shops as they leave PNG may have picked up Queen Emma chocolate, made by Paradise Foods in Port Moresby, while those leaving Nadi may have bought Fijiana chocolate made by local company Adi’s Chocolate.

Australian shoppers will soon be able to buy Aelan chocolate – single-origin bars from four different islands of Vanuatu, made in Port Vila by ACTIV, a Victorian NGO founded and operated on fair-trade principles.

At the furthest end of the fine-flavour chocolate trend are chocolate bars with no artificial additives of any kind. A favourite recipe among discerning chocolate-tasters is simply to mix 80% cocoa “nibs” (coarsely ground beans) with 20% sugar and “conch” it gently until smooth and delicious.

Drying cocoa beans in the sun helps to develop the best flavour (in this case Kerevat, PNG)
Yan Dicbalis

What about food miles and the carbon footprint?

The typical cocoa bean from the Asia-Pacific region is bought by the local representative of a global commodity trader. It is shipped to Singapore, or directly to Indonesia, which has the capacity to grind some 600,000 tonnes of cocoa each year. The ground or whole beans then travel onward to Europe.

Belgium has a well-established reputation as the world’s preferred provider of “cocoa liquor”, and some of this is shipped back to Australia as the raw material for local chocolate manufacture – now with a sizeable carbon footprint.

Other beans will be shipped to France, Italy, Switzerland (or will remain in Belgium) for manufacture into delicious chocolates, and some of these too will be shipped back to our region for retail sale. If fossil fuels and global warming are among your concerns, consider seeking a chocolate product that was grown and processed nearby.

The big players are Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia, with small amounts of smallholder-dominated production in the Pacific.
ICCO, 2017. Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics. Vol. XLIII, No. 3. Cocoa year 2016/17. International Cocoa Organization, London

The ConversationIn sum, with a bit of attention to the back story, you can enjoy a whole range of delicious new chocolate experiences this Easter – and feel that you are contributing at the same time to the equitable and sustainable development of the planet.

Robert Edis, Soil Scientist, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; Kanika Singh, Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Richard Markham, Research Program Manager for Horticulture, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: take the ‘litter’ out of glitter


Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Welcome to our Sustainable Shopping series, in which we ask experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


Scientists often get a bad rap as party poopers. As a case in point, my colleagues and I have provided data on the impacts of balloon releases on marine wildlife.

So when glitter – a highly visible and easily obtained microplastic – comes under the microscope, you might be tempted to groan. The good news is that we’re not out to ruin the fun: with Mardi Gras around the corner (bringing a ubiquity of sparkling Instagrams), here’s how to find ecologically friendly glitter.




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All glitter goes to the ocean

When something fun or common is revealed to be destructive it should be a point of pride in our society that we adjust, adapt and move on to safer alternatives.

It therefore makes sense to investigate what data exist for glitter, and to consider whether it’s time for a change in attitude. So, what is glitter?

Glitter is typically made from polyethylene, the same plastic found in plastic bags and a host of other products. Despite glitter’s popularity in everything from cosmetics and toothpaste to crafts and clothes, remarkably little is known about the distribution or impacts of glitter on our environment. As a scientist, that worries me. Glitter is incorporated into consumer products without any real knowledge of its safety.




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Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans


In contrast, there are dozens of scientific papers on micro-bead scrubbers (tiny plastic beads), which originate from many of the same products (such as cosmetics and toothpaste).

Research on micro-beads suggests that around 8 trillion beads are released into aquatic habitats every day in the United States alone.

Data for glitter are not available, but given its widespread use the situation is likely to be similarly alarming. It’s far too small for waste treatment facilities to capture, so glitter goes straight into your local river and out into the ocean. Because glitter particles are typically 1 millimetre in size or smaller, they can be ingested by a range of creatures, including mussels.

Again, data on micro-beads can tell us why we should be worried about this: a recent study from Australia showed that toxic chemicals associated with micro-beads can “leach” into the tissues of marine creatures, contaminating their bodies. If mussels, fish and other animals are ingesting glitter and micro-beads, these contaminants likely also pose a risk to humans that consume them.




Read more:
Eight million tonnes of plastic are going into the ocean each year


Thankfully, science is here to help. A range of compostable, vegan, 100% plastic-free “bio-glitters” have been created and are readily available online. So, at your next event, you can celebrate in glorious, sparkly style while also educating passers-by about ocean conservation. (I assure you, this is very popular; I do it all the time and I’m the life of the party.)

What to look for

Mica, a naturally occurring sparkling mineral, is often offered as a non-plastic alternative to glitter. However, some brands, such as Lush, are now using “synthetic mica” (made in a lab) because mica mining has been associated with child labour, especially in India.

Some plastics labelled “bio-degradable” will only break down in industrial composting units, at temperatures over 50℃. This is very unlikely to happen in the ocean, so look for terms like “compostable” and “organic” instead. (For more information on the difference between bio-degradable, compostable and everything in between, this United Nations report is very comprehensive – just read the summary if you’re in a hurry).

Fortunately, eco-friendly glitter is becoming much easier to find around the world, and more suppliers are turning to cellulose and other plant-derived bases for their product. Wild Glitter‘s founder, like many in the industry, cites “watching a weekend’s worth of plastic glitter wash down the plughole after a festival” as the impetus to sell an “ethical, eco-friendly, cruelty-free way to sparkle”.

Eco Glitter Fun is a member of the Plastics Ocean Foundation, a global non-profit; Glo Tatts makes beautiful temporary glitter tattoos; and, for an Australian twist, Eco Glitter make their product from Eucalyptus cellulose.




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Bio-glitter can be incorporated into any product. Tasmanian soap maker Veronica Foale switched to bio-glitter last year and hasn’t looked back – if a small business in a rural area can do it, you can too!

The ConversationThis is the key to success in the battle against litter: not all changes are difficult and affordable alternatives do exist. Once you’ve mastered bio-glitter, embrace the next challenge – a bamboo toothbrush perhaps, or reusable Onya produce bags? Never stop learning. Go forth and sparkle responsibly.

Jennifer Lavers, Research Scientist, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: how to stay green when buying white goods


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It pays to think very carefully about your new fridge.
DedMityay/Shutterstock.com

Trivess Moore, RMIT University and Simon Lockrey, RMIT University

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Welcome to our Sustainable Shopping series, in which we ask experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


Most of us have a range of white goods in our homes. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, common appliances include refrigerators (in 99.9% of homes), washing machines (97.8%) and air conditioners (74.0%). Just over half of Australian households have a dishwasher, and a similar number have a clothes dryer.

These white goods provide a host of benefits, such as reducing waste, improving comfort, helping us avoid health hazards such as rotten food, or simply freeing up our time to do other things. But they also have significant environmental impacts, and it’s important to consider these when using and choosing white goods.




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Most white goods are used on a daily basis for years. This means the bulk of their environmental impact comes not from their manufacture, but from their everyday use. They use electricity, for example, which is often sourced from fossil fuels.

Life cycle impacts of typical white goods.
MIT

When buying an appliance, many people focus on the retail price, but overlook the often significant operating costs. The table below shows the difference in annual energy costs and greenhouse emissions for different-sized dishwashers under various scenarios.

When it comes to appliances, size matters.
Sustainability Victoria, Author provided

What to look for

Here are some questions you should ask when shopping for a new white goods appliance:

  • How resource-efficient is this model, compared with other options?

  • How much will it cost to operate?

  • Over the life of the product, would I be better off spending more now to buy a more energy-efficient model that costs less to run?

Read the label

White goods in Australia are required to carry a label detailing their energy and water ratings. The more stars a product has, the more energy- or water-efficient it is. The labels also provide information of average consumption across a year so that you can compare similar products, or account for factors such as the size of the appliance.

Knowing how to interpret consumer information can be valuable.
Energyrating.gov.au, Author provided

The Energy Rating website also allows you to make comparisons, and even calculates usage costs and savings for you. As shown in the figure below, choosing a 10-star fridge over a 3-star one will save you an estimated A$664 in running costs over 10 years. This would offset some or all of the extra up-front cost of buying a more sustainable model.

The Australian government’s energy rating website helps you calculate the savings from being energy-efficient.
Energyrating.gov.au, Author provided

Many other organisations and websites also provide performance and user reviews for appliances. Choice is an independent organisation that tests a variety of products, including white goods. The tests scrutinise a range of criteria, including energy- and water-efficiency, ease of use, operating costs, and durability.

Use wisely

Once you get your new appliance home, it is also crucial to use it properly. Make sure you read the manual and find out how to maximise the efficiency of the appliance.

For example, talk to your air conditioner installer to determine the optimal position to cool and heat your space, depending on the aspect and layout of your home. And make sure you leave enough space around the back and side of your fridge for air to circulate, which helps dissipate waste heat more effectively and can save up to 150kg of carbon dioxide emissions a year.




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How colour-coding your fridge can stop your greens going to waste


Make sure you turn the appliance off when not in use – failing to do this can further add to running costs and environmental impact. Ask yourself whether you really need to keep that ancient beer fridge humming away in the garage.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for a new appliance before doing all of these things. You can make your current appliances perform more efficiently by reviewing how you use and position them.

Washing a full load of clothes is more efficient and sustainable than only washing a part load. If you think you need to do smaller washloads generally, then consider buying a smaller washing machine, or find a model that has smart features such as being able to do a half load.

Many appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines also feature “eco” modes that can save significant amounts of water and energy.

Finally, it’s always worth asking yourself whether you truly need to buy that new appliance. Consider having a broken appliance fixed, as this will avoid using all the resources required to manufacture a new one. Or consider buying secondhand.

Even if buying secondhand, you can check the environmental performance of the appliance, either through the energy rating website or via the manufacturer. Make sure you compare this to new options to see which works out better over the life of the product.

The ConversationAnd if you do buy yourself a new or secondhand appliance, make sure you look into how to recycle your old appliance, through your local council, charities or other organisations.

Trivess Moore, Research Fellow, RMIT University and Simon Lockrey, Research Fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: want to eat healthy? Try an eco-friendly diet



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Healthy eating should include thinking about the environmental cost of your food.
Al Case/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Michalis Hadjikakou, Deakin University

Following our annual Christmas overindulgence, many of us have set ambitious goals for the year ahead. But eating healthy shouldn’t just mean cutting down on snacks; given the environmental impact of food production, a more sustainable diet should feature high on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.

Australians have one of the largest per capita dietary environmental footprints in the world, so there’s definitely room for improvement. But, as with all diets, radical and sudden changes like going vegan or vegetarian are notoriously difficult.




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Smaller, more achievable behavioural shifts are more realistic. This also makes sense from an environmental perspective – large-scale drastic changes might end up shifting one type of environmental impact to another.

This guide is about making informed, feasible changes towards a more environmentally sustainable diet. It starts with the food items you put in your shopping basket.

Meat, junk and waste

Sustainability researchers, like myself, track the life cycle of food from farm to fork, measuring the energy used and emissions generated by the entire process.

Australia’s food consumption contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, land clearing and biodiversity loss, and ocean pollution.




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There are many reasons our diets have such a large environmental impact, but one of the biggest is that we’re a nation of meat eaters. On average, an Aussie eats 95kg of meat a year, significantly more than the OECD average of 69kg.

Generally, animal-derived foods require more energy and resources and release significantly more emissions than most plant foods. This is particularly true for red meat: the current average consumption is 24% higher than the maximum recommended intake.

Another reason is our overconsumption of total calories, often driven by junk foods. Eating more food than we need means the environmental resources used in producing that extra food are wasted. It also leads to a range of health problems such as obesity.

Finally, the extraordinary amount of household food waste in Australia – around 3.1 million tonnes of edible food a year – also has a major impact.

What is realistic dietary change?

Sustainable dietary choices aren’t just about environmental impact – it also means being realistic and consistent. Only 11% of Australians are vegetarian, so expecting a majority to drastically reduce meat consumption is impractical, and probably alienating.

Alternatives like flexitarianism (eating meat more rarely) are more achievable for most.

An added complication is that most Australian cows are raised on pasture, which has a high carbon footprint but requires less water than growing many plant foods. So, the complete substitution of red meat or dairy with plant-based products could simply change one environmental impact for another.

Putting it all together – simple shopping advice

Moderation: Cutting out staples of the Australian diet, like meat, is not a realistic goal for many people. But try moderating your cmeat that has the highest environmental impact (beef and lamb) and instead go for chicken or pork.

Reducing junk food is good for your wallet, waist and the environment. Processed meats or dairy-based desserts have the highest footprints amongst junk foods, so when the urge to indulge hits, go for fruit-only desserts such as sorbets. Or just buy more fruit to freeze and turn into delicious and healthy smoothies that you can enjoy even more regularly. (Grapes are very high in sugar, and when frozen are great summer treats.)




Read more:
A healthy diet is cheaper than junk food but a good diet is still too expensive for some


Meal planning can also help cut down food waste, so it might be worth trying a pantry planning app.

Substitution: Think about your favourite recipes, and how you can swap out the most resource-greedy ingredients. Some meats can be replaced with alternative sources of protein such as legumes and nuts.

Sustainably-farmed or sourced seafood is another protein alternative with a lower environmental footprint compared to meat, as long as you choose your seafood wisely – for canned tuna make sure to check the label! Seasonal produce usually requires fewer resources and needs to travel less to the store, so it’s worth checking a guide to what’s in season in your region.




Read more:
Sustainable shopping: how to buy tuna without biting a chunk out of the oceans


Complex packaging of many food products, which is often unnecessary, also contributes to their environmental impact. Opt for loose fruit and vegetables and take your own shopping bags.

Experimentation: When you do buy meat, opt for novel protein sources such as game meat – we are lucky to have an abundance of kangaroo as a more sustainable protein alternative in Australia. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you could also try some insects.

This guide is a starting point for thinking about a more sustainable diet, but food systems are incredibly complex. Animal welfare and the viability of farming communities are just part of the social and economic issues we much deal with.

The ConversationUltimately, while consumers can drive change, this will be incremental: transformative change can only be achieved by food producers and retailers also coming on board to drive a more sustainable food system.

Michalis Hadjikakou, Research fellow, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Engineering & Built Environment, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.