Consumption – No Impact Week

I signed up to participate in the No Impact Experiment, with the No Impact Project and YES! Magazine, and today was day 1 of 7. This will be an interesting way to test how much impact my year of life-less-plastic has had on my family’s carbon footprint, and I know it will illuminate the areas I still need to work on, areas that haven’t been touched on through my obsession with plastic.

For almost a full year now, I’ve been working hard to reduce our purchase of any and all new plastic, in any and all forms. We worked with some other homeschooling friends last year on collecting and cataloging plastic from local beaches, then made art from what we found, hoping to raise awareness about marine plastics, and plastic in general, with a project we called Plastic is Forever. Plastic is tied in many ways to our economy and our society’s dependence on unsustainable fuels, long-distance foods, etc, so I suspect that my active avoidance of plastic has helped to minimize my carbon footprint in direct and indirect ways. I still have to bring new plastic into my life every week, but I’ve managed to decrease the amount.

What it hasn’t addressed is our use of our car to get around, or our purchase and use of non-plastic products…For that, I have to thank 18+ months of unemployment, followed by marginal employment in this dire economy. I have to admit, the directions for this first day of the No Impact Experiment concerning shopping, and activities I could pursue instead, made me laugh out loud. I haven’t had the desire *or* the funds to shop since my almost-ex-husband was laid off from his job on election day of November 2008. Before that, our simplicity was voluntary; afterward, during our completely unemployed months, it was involuntary and sometimes frightening. Although things are slightly better now in terms of gainful employment, our blend of voluntary and involuntary simplicity is here to stay. The only thing I regularly purchase is food; I’ve been able to find almost everything else we need or want from Freecycle and our network of friends. We do purchase new gifts for my children’s friends and teachers, when that is what would be most appreciated by the recipient (we have some friends who seem happy to have hand-made gifts, and those are our favorite to put together).

Since we live a couple of miles out of town on an island with a famous number of steep hills, and since I don’t have a bicycle that I can pedal an 8-yr old, a 5-yr old, and a load of groceries in, that’s not a viable alternative for us right now. There is bus service here, but it’s rather complicated for trips during the hours when we need to travel – It requires a phone call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve the bus, and costs $2 per person, per trip. This would make a round trip to town $12, which our budget just doesn’t allow for, not on top of the insurance for our car (which we really need for things that can’t be scheduled ahead of time). So, we rely on our car to get around. We combine trips as much as possible, and carpool with friends whenever we can for adventures. I’ve been thinking this over for months now, and haven’t found a solution that we can afford; this is frustrating, since I know the planet can’t afford my reliance on my car with its fossil fueled internal combustion engine.

But, back to the focus of Day 1 of the No Impact Experiment: Consumption.

Here is my list of items we need to purchase this week:

  • Book and stuffed hamster for my child’s friend’s birthday.
  • Mason jars for home-cooked New Year’s gift for my childrens’ teachers.
  • Perishable groceries.
  • Dishwashing detergent tablets – I haven’t figured out how to make my own that work with our incredibly hard water.

And, in preparation for Day 2: Trash Day, here is the waste we produced today:

  • Food scraps for our hens.
  • Food scraps for our worms.
  • Cardboard box from the Mason jars; this will become mulch in the garden.
  • Plastic wrap from the Mason jars; this can, technically, be recycled.*
  • The toilet paper we used and flushed.
  • The cardboard egg carton I re-used for our hens’ eggs until it was soiled; this will join our compost pile.
  • Parchment paper from baking projects; this will join our compost pile.
  • Plasticized paper label and staple from the Costa Rican pineapple we splurged on**; this goes to the landfill.
  • 2 plastic wrappers from mini candy canes (leftover from the holiday candy houses my kids built); these go to the landfill.

*I think it’s a complete sham to think of plastics as recyclable. There is evidence that a lot of what we all diligently sort and send off in properly marked recycle bins ends up being baled and sent to China, where we lose track of what, exactly, happens to each load. Some of it is burned, some of it is melted down to become who knows what. Even if plastic is recycled closer to home, it is almost impossible to re-use plastics without the addition of virgin plastic feedstock, aka nurdles. There is no sustainable closed loop when it comes to plastic.

**For over 2 years now, we’ve been eating primarily fruit in season and as local as we can find it. But every winter we buy some satsumas and pomegranates from California, and a couple of pineapples from Costa Rica or Hawaii. I can practically taste the oil it took to transport these to us, but we do it anyway.

3 comments on “Consumption – No Impact Week

  1. Dear Rock Farmer,

    I am excited by your concern for reducing your family’s carbon footprint. Some might think that this is for only the affluent who can pay for a smaller carbon footprint or “offset”; that those who can least afford it must put up with society’s inefficiencies and degradations of our natural resources.

    I have added the URL of an article I wrote concerning bioplastic disposal. Soem aspects of it may interest you. It is written for a layman with URL references. It is based on experience at Burning Man where bioplastic use is, apparently, required. The main point is that from a climate-changing viewpoint, not all carbon is the same.

    In the event, good work Rock Farmer!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by YES! Magazine. YES! Magazine said: RT @rebxrock: My No Impact Week Day 1: Consumption wrap-up http://tinyurl.com/25ovua9 #noimpact […]

  3. Thanks, Beck. I have to say, now that I find myself in a different financial than I have ever known, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges we’re looking at to get to sustainability, writ large. So much of what I read is focused on people of comfortable financial means, with the luxury of choice about how they travel, what they eat, how they spend their time. I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making my life more sustainable minus some degree of these luxuries; it’s a perverse enjoyment, but still, it’s real. Some of the goals are easier to reach when you have no choice but to live as frugally as possible, but there are some challenges unique to living sustainably with little cash, especially when you have kids whose developmental issues and physical challenges require certain things, no exceptions.

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