Reflections on a one week carbon cleanse
Organized by the “No Impact Project”, I joined hundreds of other people from around the world in a week of personal analysis and change with the goal of reducing our carbon footprint and leading a better, happier life in the process.Posted Jan 21, 2010
The No Impact Experiment
I first heard about the “No Impact Experiment” through the popular blog No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan. Last fall Colin released a really great movie documenting his family’s attempt at going zero-waste and carbon neutral over the course of a year in New York City. They got rid of their TV, rode their bikes everywhere, ate only local, organic foods, and were surprised how much better their quality of life was. You can watch the movie trailer here.
The No Impact Experiment encourages people to find out if reducing their carbon footprint will also make them happier. It’s a unique challenge that takes place over the course of a week. You begin by ceasing to buy new things (except food) for the week starting Sunday, and then by collecting all of your trash over the course of the week starting Monday, followed by low impact transportation starting Tuesday, local organic food starting on Wednesday, energy conservation Thursday, water conservation Friday, community contribution Saturday, and an “eco-sabbath” (no impact) conclusion on Sunday.
I joined the “New Year’s No Impact Group” of over one hundred other people around the world taking part in this cleanse simultaneously. Below are my reflections on the week.
Reflecting on the Week
The week started with a challenge to “Live a fuller and happier life by buying less stuff.” For Sunday the goal was to consume no new goods (except food). As explained above, this challenge began on Sunday but continued through the week ending the following Sunday. For me, this was a fairly easy challenge as I usually don’t buy non food related items during the week. That said, what was important about this challenge was looking closer at my consumption habits in general.
How often do I buy something new when I could have:
- Bought it used instead,
- Borrowed it,
- Built it myself, or
- Not bought it at all?
I had to remind myself that the three R’s of recycling are in order of importance!: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.
A very good short video about consumption I highly recommend: The Story of Stuff.
Starting Monday, the challenge was to “find out if wasting less improves your life”. You have to stockpile all of your trash to get a good idea of what your waste is for a week. I found this very helpful in isolating areas in my life that I have overlooked. I already compost all of my organic waste, but I did notice that I used a lot of teabags, which could easily be replaced by using loose-leaf tea instead (saving hundreds of sachets a year – not to mention tea boxes).
I also noticed that I have fallen into the habit of using paper napkins and towels, which can be easily supplemented with reusable cloth napkins and towels. Another big waste factor for me was packaging from food. This forced me to think creatively about how I get my food and what form it comes in. A few examples:
- Plastic produce bags: Think about how many of these you go through getting your veggies! Try using re-usable mesh/cloth/plastic bags of your own.
- Dry goods (pasta, rice, cereal, etc): Instead of buying these by the box/bag, get them in the bulk aisle. (Also use your own bags/totes for this). You can also research where you can buy dry good items in large quantities. Buying bulk will save money, time, and packaging materials! For more information on food storage read our article here.
- Meats: Most packaged meat sits on a Styrofoam tray, and is wrapped in plastic. Styrofoam = the devil. This stuff never dies! If you can, get your meat straight from the butcher/meat counter in your grocery store to avoid this packaging.
It is surprising how many things can easily be done in your day-to-day life to reduce your waste output. You just feel better when you adopt these habits too!
Tuesday’s challenge was the toughest for me: “Burn Calories, Not Fossil Fuels”. The goal was to switch to the lowest carbon emission transportation possible. I work from home, but commute 10km across town every evening to the gym where I train in Mixed Martial Arts. It takes me 30 minutes or more during rush hour traffic to do this, so I feared it would take forever to use transit or a bike.
After some research using Google Maps, I discovered a route that I could take on my bike which would take advantage of a street with a dedicated bike lane, and also intersect with a community bike trail that would bypass the downtown core. This trail conveniently uses an old fashioned trestle bridge to allow pedestrians to cross the waterway that normally takes 10 minutes to cross if you are driving (the car bridge gets really backed up during rush hour). When the time came for me to test this new route on my bike, it was pitch dark, pouring rain, and windy. I figured this was a good thing because if I could enjoy the trip in poor conditions then most days it would be fun.
The best part was that it only took me 15 minutes by bike to make the commute – It was twice as fast as driving!
As it turned out, the trip was pretty painless. The scenery going over the trestle bridge was strikingly beautiful, and when I arrived at my gym I was already warmed up. The best part was that it only took me 15 minutes by bike to make the commute – It was twice as fast as driving! That said, it was a no-brainer for me: no more driving to the gym.
(Image to the left: the trestle bridge)
Wednesday’s challenge was to lower the carbon footprint of one’s food intake, and try to eat healthier as well. This means eating less meat, more (seasonal) veggies, and trying to source as much food as possible locally (closer the better) – ideally local and organic. I am lucky to live in a region where there are quite a few local farms and vineyards, so this was not a difficult challenge for me. Nearby is a great Farmer’s Market where I can get locally grown goodies at a fair price.
Two of my habits did change: switching to locally harvested honey instead of imported sugar, and making a conscious decision to buy beer and wine from local vineyards/breweries. There were some tough decisions to be made though. Is local and non-organic better than organic from hundreds of miles away?
Thursday’s challenge was to reduce energy use. This is something that I’ve got pretty good at so far. In my house I have CFL and LED Light bulbs installed to reduce energy consumption, as well as smart power-strips. These items can be bought at Eartheasy if you like here.
Although I had electricity covered well, there was room for improvement. I stopped using my dryer, and got a clothes drying rack instead. I’ll also be using a clothes line in the summer. Weatherization is an area that needed improvement as well. I took time to seal cracks in the house, and put up plastic window insulation. At Eartheasy, we have quite a few good weatherization products for this, found here.
Kitchen Energy Savers is a great article for learning how to conserve energy in the one room in your home that uses it the most.
Friday’s challenge was all about H2O: conserving as much water as possible. There are many ways to conserve water, and it’s so important.
There are already a number of water conservation gadgets installed in our home: low flow shower heads, faucet aerators, toilet tank banks etc. These are great ways of saving water, but I wanted to see if I could change my daily habits to do even better.
Things I tried to pay attention to:
- How long my showers were (over 5 mins? Not good).
- How long I ran the faucet when shaving and brushing my teeth.
- How much water I was putting in the kettle in the morning.
- How I washed dishes (making sure to use a bowl in the sink to wash the dishes in).
These things take no effort to do, and make a big difference when you add up all of their small contributions.
Saturday: Giving Back
This challenge was the most important in my mind. Instead of reacting to things, you are going on the offensive and being pro-active. The goal was to see how you can give back to your environment / community in as many ways as possible.
Actions can be as simple as writing a check to a charity or volunteering with an environmental group. Giving back for me means being more of a community focused person: engaging people in conversation, getting to know the neighbors, lending a helping hand, and being outgoing and friendly. If you focus on making other people’s lives better on a daily basis, life has a way of rewarding you for your efforts.
For Saturday’s challenge I considered how I could get more involved in my community and really make a difference. I put together a list of local charities/environmental groups I could volunteer with, and made plans to organize potlucks and outdoor adventures with my friends.
“We are hard-wired to care and connect” is an interesting article on how the human brain is wired to reward caring, cooperation, and service.
For this day the challenge was to not use any resources, and give yourself and nature a break. I got on my bike and went for a ride, reflecting on things and really focusing on the beauty of nature. It’s crazy how we overlook the most amazing organisms and creatures that surround us every day. By taking the time to appreciate nature – experience it, enjoy it – you feel a lot more passionate about making changes in your life in order to preserve it.
My one week carbon cleanse through the “No Impact Project” was a great experience. I was able to look closer at my impact on the planet and reduce my personal resource consumption and waste output.
I was also able to better understand the concept that convenience and the “easy” way of doing things do not always equal greater happiness. It’s convenient to use the bags the grocery stores give me, but I feel so much better bringing my own reusable bags and saving all that waste from going into the landfill. It was “easier” driving to the gym, but I am way happier (and healthier) riding my bike!
After looking at my life in more detail I made a number of changes and am now happier because of them. One of the biggest changes I have made is how I get around town. Since I work from home, and now commute to the gym on my bike, I don’t really need to own a car. So (with some deliberation – this is a big decision for me!) I decided to sell my car. There is a car share co-op in my city, so if I really feel the need to have a vehicle I will join that. But starting February I will be car-free! Kind of scary, but exciting too.
Big thanks go out to Colin Beaven (AKA No Impact Man) for initiating the No Impact Project, and Stephanie Bleyer for organizing it. You can read Colin’s blog here, and buy his movie here, and get his book here. If you would like to join the next global No Impact Week, it’s coming up in March. You should do it! Learn more here.
The No-Impact How To Guide
Tips for Change
Some cool iPhone apps to help you