Archive for the ‘Save the planet’ Category

Wheelie bins

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

While around a quarter of all the energy we use in New Zealand is for transport, two thirds of the trips we actually make are less than six kilometres. If you calculate the embedded energy used to get your food on your table (how much energy is used for the farmer to fertilise the field, to run the tractor, package it, transport it to market, etc.), you are likely to double that amount by driving to the supermarket to do the shopping. It’s relatively easy to make big energy savings here and you’ll be better off health- and wallet-wise in the process.

I got into making bike trailers a few years ago after I realised that most of my car use around town was for carrying stuff. I had attempted load-carrying with a bike by tediously stuffing and unloading too much shopping into panniers that were too small, putting my neck out carrying heavy loads in a backpack, falling off my bike when bags over the handlebars caught in my front spokes, and dropping cardboard boxes and contents all over the road that were precariously bungied onto a carrier. It was my bass guitar and amp that finally got me into constructing a trailer, and suddenly everything got much easier for load-carrying by bike. In this article I’ll describe how to make a wooden bike trailer using an aluminium hitch that I’m producing.

Obtaining your materials

Bins: Two bins are very convenient for shopping as they fit in the shopping trolley for direct loading at the checkout. Making a trailer with a deck is ok, but the load sits higher and makes the trailer less stable, and things have to be bungied on. Avoid cheap and nasty bins as they crack easily – Bunnings, Mitre 10 and Stowers have good selections of strong bins for $10-$25 each. A free option is a couple of banana boxes with a strip of wood glued and screwed to the side. These will last a surprisingly long time if kept dry.
Second-hand bike wheels: 20” wheels are very good stability wise. 26” wheels on a narrow trailer are more prone to rolling with higher centre of gravity, but give good clearance for deep bins, although don’t use wheels any larger than this. 24” wheels are a good compromise between clearance and stability. Garage sales or dump shops are good places to find an old bike to pinch wheels off – using a set of wheels from the same bike (one front and one rear wheel) is quite acceptable. Check the bearings and re-grease if they are sticky. I’d also recommend you remove gear clusters, although this is not absolutely necessary.
Wood for the frame: 6 or 7 lengths of wood, around 800-1000mm long and between 75mm and 100mm wide and 25mm thick. Such wood can be easily obtained for free from old packing crates.
Hitch, tow bar and dropouts: Available by emailing, for $50 (+$10 to courier).

Create the H-frame FIG 1

1. The rectangular wooden frame is built to suit your chosen bins, which should be of equal size. Measure the longer width of your bin, just below the lip. Cut your centre strut to this length.
2. Calculate the lengths of the two side struts by measuring the shorter width of the bins (again, below the lip), multiply by two and then add the thickness of the centre strut. The outer struts of the completed frame are as long as the H-frame’s side struts, so cut four struts of this length.
3. Screw your ‘H’ together using two 50mm screws in each joint to make it strong.

Finish the frame FIG 2

4. To calculate the length of the front and rear struts, take the width of the H-frame, add the lengths of both wheel axles, and then add the widths of the two outer struts. It may help to measure the wheel axle by attaching the dropouts to the axle first and to then measure the distance from dropout to dropout.
5. The wheels’ axle lengths will be different, so when attaching the front and rear struts to the H-frame, make sure to leave the appropriate room on each side. Use two 50mm screws in each joint.
6. Finish the frame by attaching the outer struts so they sit flush with the ends of the
front and rear struts.

Attach the wheels FIG 3

7. Drill at least four wholes through each dropout, and use 40-50mm screws to attach them to the underside of the frame, making sure the dropouts don’t hinder the bins going in and out. Hacksaw the
dropouts if required for bin clearance.

Attach the tow bar FIG 4

8. Attach the aluminium tow bar using the bolts provided. Drill the hole that’s closer to the end of the tube at least 25mm in from the end so it doesn’t collapse. The Nylocks provided don’t vibrate loose, so don’t over-tighten them, which could also result in collapsing the tube.

Attach the hitch FIG 5

9. Attach the hitch base to your bike underneath the rear wheel nut or quick release lever (on the left hand side). The
hitch base stays on your bike all the time. It is important to horizontally level the hitch with the tow bar and quick-disconnect ball joint coupling to allow up/down movement over bumps. If there is a permanent angle on the tow ball there may not be enough play and the ball joint may bend or break.
It is also important to make sure the quick-disconnect ball joint coupling can rotate at least 90 degrees on the bolt thread in both horizontal directions. It would pay to get in the habit of checking this every time you connect the trailer on as it can tighten up over time and will damage the ball joint if it cannot rotate freely.

Weight test

Weight test the trailer by standing on it with your weight over the wheels. I recommend carrying loads less than 50kg routinely, with maybe an occasional load up to 70kg if it’s well balanced. Most people can pull 20kg up hills just by changing down a gear and going a bit slower, and you hardly notice it on the flat.
Loads of 30-40kg slow you down a bit more, but most people can still easily cruise at 15-20km/h, even with a heavy load.

Other resources I’m not the first to try a wooden bike trailer. Carry freedom have very good instructions for making a bamboo trailer (, but bamboo can be difficult to source, whereas old pallets are very readily available. The site also describes how to make your own hitch, which is a bit more technically challenging. My website has details on building various trailers, from one using an old bed frame, to a full aluminium model. You can get the hitch used in this project there, or learn how to make one using an old trampoline spring. For an overview of my trailer options, see ‘Product List’ on the site.

Wellington Mayoral candidate Celia Wade-Brown on dressing sustainably

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

We were stoked to get the chance to talk to Celia about dressing sustainably while still looking snappy as a Councillor. Especially in the lead-up to the Wellington Mayoral elections, it’s great to see how an environmental conscience doesn’t stop at the fashion gate (so to speak), and, at any time, it’s refreshing to see politicians do what they preach. Celia, you got my vote!

What is your motivation behind making sustainable fashion decisions?
Getting ready for the Mayoral campaign has been a learning curve I’ve relished. As well as explaining new policy and good achievements like safer cycling, light rail, computer access for refugees, cleaner city harbour, ultrafast broadband, Fairtrade Capital and community gardens, now I have to dress to show I can lead the city, without sacrificing my values – or over-spending. Fortunately, choosing clothes can be fun and sustainable!

How do you go about finding the right stuff?
After a few colour tips from Samantha Hannah, I met some very sympathetic Wellington fashion designers and added to my op shop collections. A quick explore when I’m passing the Salvation Army in Rintoul St, Taranaki St or Tawa is usually worthwhile, even for basics like jeans. In more up-market spots in Cuba Street like the Recycle Boutique or, for something really special, Ziggurat, I often find a beautiful bargain. Jewelry is either a few well-loved pieces from my mother, made by myself or sourced from Trade Aid for a splash of colour.

What did you score in your latest quest?
I wanted smart pieces in cream so I enjoyed choosing a linen jacket from Untouched World, a silk shirt from Starfish and an end-of-line bargain from Voon. I’m sure these choices will last me for many years. Janet Dunn has set up ReDunn Fashions to up-cycle pre-loved clothing and I bought this amusing jacket at her first soirée. Natural fabrics, recycled gear and new ethical items make a happy combination -lovely clothes and good businesses.

Salvation Army jacket / Andrea-Moore top

Janet Dunn jacket / 'Annual Preloved Fashion Sale'-jacket and Starfish blouse


Be a conscious consumer

Monday, June 7th, 2010

If you’re out and about and just don’t know what cafe is really cutting the carbon, or grinding those fairly traded beans, or steaming organic milk, here is a great idea, freshly launched, to help you make the right choice:, a project developed by the Wellington based 42collective.

The site is reviving the idea of using badges to reward certain behaviour, and this collection of badges makes it easy for you, the consumer, to pick your favourite cafe with a conscience. You can also follow the Conscious Consumers Wellington group on facebook!


Solar convection heater

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Winter is almost upon us and, knowing how cold it can get in our mildly insulated flat, we welcomed this making idea Anthea forwarded to us: a solar convection heater made out of pop/beer cans. Apart from wondering where to get that many empty cans from, I do appreciate the idea of giving them a second life.

If my workshop wasn’t that small and east facing I’d consider installing something there. The more I look at the idea though, the likelier it becomes I’ll work on a properly sized version for our flat – maybe 100 cans instead of 50, as in the example. The instructions for this project you can find on a blog all about cars, strangely enough; car enthusiasts do spend many hours in cold garages, after all.

I’m also quite intrigued by the commercially produced solar heater now (oh, them inventive Canadians!). A testament to the efficiency of the product is that it was actually developed in the cold North.

Now, don’t start sending me your sticky, empty pop cans (in fact, avoiding them in the first place would be much better), but I may have to arrange for some fun dumpster diving times.


Not mine!

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Ours, not mine!

A very clever visualization by Natasha Vermeulen of the core values of the anti-mining protests – free to download and share at

– Thomas

My mamachari

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

I recently joined the movement for a shift in the means of transport by acquiring a brand-new, second-hand mamachari bicycle. The reason for getting the bike though was to have a classier, more leisurely way of getting around every day. When I finally put it to use, cycling back home from the city, a slight feeling of warm melancholy overcame me, being reminded of cruising through my home city of Hamburg.

My mamachari bike on our street

Responsible for my new-found joy of cycling in New Zealand are Sarah and Jason, our downstairs neighbours, who imported the mamachari bikes from Japan, to imprint Wellington streets with new, bike-friendly, city-life looks. A brand new website with all details will be up at soon.

My mamachari bike in our kitchen


The Story of Cap and Trade

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

This is a pretty descriptive video on how ‘cap and trade’ (the emissions trading scheme) may not be the be all and end all:

Weekly Climate Walk

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Hi, just a quick note to say that the Weekly Climate Walk has moved to Tuesdays! Join us tonight (and every Tuesday), if you like, at the Embassy Theatre, at 5.30pm, to walk to the Parliament and have a cup of tea on the lawn.

Weekly Climate Walk

International Day of Climate Action festival

Monday, October 26th, 2009

kiwiA perfect day – last Saturday, 24th of October, was the International Day of Climate Action, and organised a huge festival around it for everyone to participate and to show their support for science based emission targets and a sustainable future.

And what a day it was!

A big thanks to all 350 organisers who made this festival turn out perfectly, and to everyone who turned up on the day. Here are a whole lot of photos from the day, beautiful, from dawn service to a huge human sculpture forming a Kiwi on Odlins Plaza. Inspiring to see so many different people take part, from school kids to grand parents.

It was great to take part in the great harbour cycle from Eastbourne to Odlins Plaza in Wellington, with a turn out of about 190 people, and a perfect, beautiful day for it. Yeay, New Zealand!

Image041350 screen printingsignondawn-service

RE Store in Seattle – a good catch

Friday, October 16th, 2009

RE Store - good catchA pity that you have to travel all the way to Seattle to find a really well sorted building demolition yard with amazing finds.

But, boy, do they have amazing stuff – a problem we were facing was: how do we get those floorboards back to New Zealand? Or, how exactly do we manage to take those wooden children’s lockers as hand luggage? There is a fantasmic range of materials, and amongst it, brilliant pieces. We recommend anyone who’s going to Seattle to visit this store.

Hannah’s favourite: the wooden lockers.

My favourite: the phone booth.

But see for yourself (below).

While in Seattle, you should also visit Anthropologie. The overall style is an eclectic mix of urban/eco/restore, and they present a collection of fashion, accessories and furniture. The displays are put together in very intricate and clever ways and often are design pieces in themselves. Very nicely done, I could have easily spent the whole day in there.

Seattle has a lot going for itself, and would even more, if the Alaskan Highway viaduct right on the waterfront was finally gone. If you can’t help it, go on one of the Underground tours, which will give you access to an entertaining show on Seattles history and an insight to what people will dump into sideways if they can. But, ahem, don’t expect any amazing underground shop fronts, with wonderful antique window displays (with skeletal mummified cats), that’s not gonna happen.

wooden lockers

phone boothLet's steal thisawesome chestWe want more!space needlecranes of doommeow - I'm not dead!