A better way

Smovka Community Garden

This article was first published in the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ magazine and online on February 26, 2022.

If living more sustainably is something you’ve been wanting to focus on – but you haven’t been sure where to start – making small changes can help you to reduce your footprint and live a greener life.

Sustainability became important to Beth Peach-Steer, an actress/singer, and her husband, Sam, an emergency doctor, when they moved from London to Newcastle about five years ago and started a family.

“When you have kids, you think, what kind of world do we want our children to grow up in? What kind of family environment do we want our children to grow up in?” says Peach-Steer, who has two young children.

“To keep our planet spinning for as long as possible, we need to all try and make the best, most sustainable choices that we can.”

While for Lee Illfield, a self-employed photographer and mother of two boys, “Sustainability is a respectful, considerate way of living.”

“Holistically, it embraces the welfare of everything – from people’s mental health, right through to the environment. I think it’s the only way to find a balance in life and is relevant to the present and the future.”  

Fellow Tighes Hill local Adrian Garner shares Illfield’s passion for sustainability. “I did a carbon footprint calculator after graduating high school and found out that we would need three earths if everyone lived the way that I do. That was because I had my first mobile phone, a laptop, and a car.”

“So, I think if we want to be fair to the other humans on the planet, we need to steer our lifestyles towards something that will still work if everyone on the planet did the same thing.” 

Friends Illfield and Garner run the Smokva Community Garden at the Croatian Club in Wickham, established the Buy Nothing Newcastle (Inner West) group together, and are involved with organic produce not-for-profit Beanstalk Organic Co-op in Mayfield.

These are just some of many wonderful Newcastle-based initiatives and organisations helping locals live better and more sustainably.

Putting sustainability into practice

Buy less, give more

Facebook Marketplace and Buy, Swap and Sell Groups, Gumtree, and Freecycle (which has a Newcastle instalment) are good places to start when it comes to giving and finding free goods.

The Buy Nothing project – a global network of volunteer-run local gift economy communities which operate on Facebook – takes this one step further and makes it a local effort.

“I hate the idea of waste, of things that have value going to landfill. I had heaps of stuff at my house. Most of my family and friends know that I like to be resourceful with items before throwing them out so often ‘gift’ me things to take care of!” explains Illfield on how she came to establish Buy Nothing Newcastle (Inner West) with Garner.

The Buy Nothing Newcastle (Inner West) group currently has over 800 members. Garner says the response has been “amazing”.

“We are constantly running into people in the street who tell us stories of all the neat things they have scored, and the new friends they got them from. Everyone gets the concept really quickly, as an admin, we haven’t had to deal with any drama at all. People being kind on the internet, who would have thought?”

Meanwhile, putting a different spin on donating items to charities is Australian not-for-profit online marketplace charityBay where people can sell new or used items and donate some (or all) of the sales to their chosen charities.

Various Newcastle-based registered not-for-profits are among those featured on charityBay, including Nova for Women and Children, Hunter Gender Alliance, and Community Disability Alliance Hunter. 

Become a borrower

From bikes and books to toys, tools, and frocks – you’ll be surprised what you can borrow instead of buy locally.

Don’t buy stuff you probably won’t use again. Join The Share Shop, a volunteer-run non-for-profit and self-described ‘library of things’ based in Hamilton instead. It offers a wide range of handy community-donated items, like sporting and camping equipment, tools, kitchen appliances, and party supplies. Membership costs $52 a year.

Why not ride more and drive less? A study by Oxford University found choosing to ride your bike over using your car once a day reduced your carbon emissions from transport by 67 per cent.

Established in 2007, the Islington-based Newcastle Push Bike Library is all about promoting cycling as a means of local active transport and will get you riding in no time. Membership is free with a deposit (usually around $50) charged when a bike is borrowed – but given back if the bike is returned within two years.

While you’re at it, skip the fast fashion and rent fabulous threads for that special occasion instead. You can hire designer frocks and outfits from local hire businesses like Goldie’s or On the Go. 

While little ones will love the volunteer-run Newcastle Toy Library. Located downstairs at the New Lambton Library, it’s home to many toys, games, musical instruments, dress-ups, and more. Membership is $25 per year or $35 for families with two or more children with the toy library open on Saturdays.

“When my husband Sam and I had our kids, Evie and Ari, we decided we didn’t want all these plastic toys in the house,” says Peach-Steer.

“Our kids have so many toys. We don’t buy anything for them, we just go to the toy library.”

“It’s the most amazing initiative. I volunteer there too. You get to take out six different toys or games every month. Then go back and do it again. We constantly get new stuff.”





Pursue Zero Waste

When it comes to minimising waste, the old mantra of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ holds true.

A report by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation found that Australia recycled just 16% of plastic packaging in 2020, so try make plastic a key focus.

Small actions add up. Swap single-use disposables – like your coffee cup, water bottle, grocery bags, utensils, tissues, nappies, cling wrap, and straws – with reusables.

Choose package-free food and goods, where possible, like those available from local businesses like Sustain Grocery, The Source Bulk Foods, and Love Beauty Foods.

“The biggest thing we do is use reusable nappies,” says Peach-Steer on how her family work to reduce their waste. 

“We do our own reusable wipes too with bits of flannel, cotton, and towel. If we do occasionally use wipes, we just buy compostable.”

“It’s a big undertaking. But it’s like anything, as soon as you implement a change, it just takes a certain amount of time for you to lock it into your routine.”

“Our latest push is to not buy anything, if we can, in plastic – so all of our shower products are now bars of stuff.”

Explore ways to extend the lifespan of other household products you consume through initiatives like Hamilton North-based Upcycling Newcastle, which repurposes clothing and textile waste and runs classes and workshops, and Repair It Lake Mac, which run pop-up repair cafe workshops throughout the year.

While Mobile Muster, a national mobile recycling program, recycles 95 per cent of donated mobile phones. There are drop off points across Australia or you can post it to them or book a collection.

If you’re looking for more local ideas and inspiration, the Zero Waste Newcastle group on Facebook, Transition Newcastle, a group that works to foster sustainable and resilient communities, and Sustainable Neighbourhoods in Lake Macquarie are all great resources.





www.facebook.com/groups/1241346215915430 [Zero Waste Newcastle]


Get growing

“Many community gardens have enjoyed a resurgence in care as our lifestyles started to change,” says Garner of the Smokva Community Garden at the Croatian Club.

Community gardens create green spaces in urban areas, promote environmental education, develop sustainable food systems, offer people a place to connect and come together, and grow and access fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Everyone is welcome to come and help out for as little or as long as you have time for,” he says of getting involved in Smokva. 

“Gardeners need to sign up as members at the Croatian Club and turn up to one of our working bees to help get oriented with the projects going on at the garden. From there, you can choose which activities interest you, which might include weeding, planting seeds, making compost, or contributing to building or fixing infrastructure.”

If you’re keen to get inolved, your local council or handy online resources, like the Community Gardens in Newcastle and Lake Mac Facebook Group, can help connect you to your nearest community garden.

Feedback Organic Recovery, a Newcastle-based not-for-profit that converts local food waste into urban farm produce, also offers further opportunities to volunteer and learn more about circular urban agriculture.




www.facebook.com/groups/985644008129482 [Community Gardens in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie]

Making it work

From reducing (or removing) meat from your diet to saving energy, shopping local, to choosing eco-friendly and Fairtrade options – there are endless ways to live more sustainably.

Start small, stick with it, and build on it from there.

“If you’re able-bodied, riding a bike is a good start,” says Garner.

“Ride it to work or get food and while you’re riding you can think about how bonkers it is to drive to the shops and then drive to the gym and then jump on an exercise bike!”

Illfield believes it’s about being mindful of the choices you make. “I think it involves stopping to think how any action, small or large, has an impact on everyone and everything around me, and how I can actively support my beliefs in considering myself, as well as others, in what I know to be sustainable.”

She rides her bike, when possible, sews her own clothes, buys less, and chooses better quality when she does.

Illfield also makes shopping locally and independently a priority. “I consider this over the monetary cost, more often than not. I know the income to local businesses will help contribute to someone in my community. It’s about people at the end of the day.” 

While for Peach-Steer, it’s about “baby steps”. “You’ve just got to do what is manageable for you.”

For her, this meant her family pursuing a vegan diet, shopping locally (at places like the Newcastle Farmers’ Market), choosing a day-care with a strong sustainability ethos, and choosing to buy pre-loved over new clothes.

Peach-Steer cites The Conscious Exchange boutique in Islington as a favourite go-to for vintage clothes for her and her children.

“Be kind to yourself when you’re doing it all too – because you won’t always get it right. If everybody just did a little bit, then we’d be on to something really great.”

“The phrase ‘leaving a place better than you found it’ resonates with me,” muses Peach-Steer. “That’s kind of how we like to live our lives.”