Apartment renters can make the most of their limited eco-options.
WHEN Nina Bailey moved to her rented flat in Thornbury two years ago, the first thing she missed was her compost heap. “I suddenly had to throw food in my bin and I hate doing that – I’m very conscious that rubbish bins are generally half full of food,” she says.
The next glitch was greywater. “There are lots of ways to harvest and distribute grey water, but when you don’t have a garden, what can you do?” she says. “Most of the sustainability things I was doing seemed to be related to having a garden.”
Eco-wise renters may find the going tough in detached houses, but life can seem even browner in an apartment, according to Chris Ward, from the Green Renters blog and tenant education service.
As well as the usual struggle to communicate with landlords and avoid making structural changes, apartment renters are usually lumped with a lack of outdoor space and restrictions imposed by the body corporate. “Even something as simple as hanging your washing out on a balcony might not be allowed,” Ward says.
Nevertheless, he maintains there’s plenty of action to take. “As with the rental community as a whole, many of the things you can do are more related to your habits and where you spend your money, instead of big, conceptual changes.”
Standard retrofitting practices all apply: vigorous draught sealing, thorough light globe swapping and careful water-efficiency re-fitting. And when you sign up for electricity, be sure you choose 100 per cent GreenPower.
Flat dwellers can compensate for lack of a yard by employing extra tricks, such as flushing the toilet with greywater from the shower, and growing a lush balcony garden. “You can use all sorts of things as pots, from wheelbarrows and boxes to baskets and bags, and then take them with you when you move,” Ward says. “You can compost in an apartment as well – Bokashi Buckets are the best option and they work well indoors.”
When it comes to bigger changes, tenants can use scheduled maintenance or conked-out appliances as eco-pressure points: try requesting water- and energy-efficient upgrades. “A lot of renters are fearful, but often, if you just ask you’ll be surprised how many landlords will say yes,” he says.
“You have to be firm, friendly and confident. If you’ve been a tenant for several years you can use that as leverage.” It’s also wise to cultivate a good relationship with your real estate agent – sometimes they’ll be in a better position to push landlords on your behalf.
In Thornbury, Bailey decided to be upfront about her green ambitions – at work, she’s the sustainable living program manager at Environment Victoria. She got over her no-backyard blues by rigging up a funnel and pipe system to shift greywater from her shower to the shared garden.
It’s difficult for renters to join the body corporate, but there are other ways to influence decisions. “I talked to other residents about composting,” Bailey says, “and one of the owner-occupiers convinced the body corporate to buy compost bins.”
Environment Victoria has just updated its Victorian Green Renters’ Guide, which includes a comprehensive list of retrofitting advice and a summary of the rebates now available. For flat tenants, it suggests encouraging the body corporate to install low-energy globes and timers for external lighting.
Bailey has found an unexpected upside to apartment living: reducing her overall consumption. “I only have a small amount of space, so I have to reduce clutter. It makes me focus on not building up too much waste or junk, and on reusing as much as I can.”