July 1st, 2008


Waste not?

I have watched a couple of episodes of Wasted on Planet Green and it inspires me to do better. I believe I already do better than the average American household, even given that I live alone in a house, because my house is small, decently insulated, and does not contain big energy suckers like an air conditioner, because heating and water heating is gas, because I am reasonably good about turning lights off, because my house has nothing but energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, because I take showers and they aren't very long, because I drive an efficient hybrid car and keep it maintained, because my landscaping covers a small area and is comprised of drought-tolerant plants and uses a drip irrigation system...and so on. But it's fun to challenge ourselves to do better, I believe.

So I was thinking about what I can do that I can actually measure. Cut energy use by some percentage? I think I can cut back on gas by not brushing my teeth in the shower (I have gone back to using the sink without water running since I started watching that show), by not taking showers every day, maybe going for 1-1/2 days, by keeping my heating requirements low (not an issue in the summer), running full loads of laundry. I can't think of much I can do to reduce electricity use that would not require a major outlay of money, like for fuel cells of some kind. I intend to replace my refrigerator, which is not very energy-efficient (but isn't large and is new so isn't that bad either) and replace my dishwasher, gain a bit from that, but not just yet.

A woman proudly proclaimed -was it on Planet Green? - that her recyclables for the last month were larger than her trash. That's a kind of goal, although recycling is also a failure of a sort, as avoiding the use of materials that need to be recycled is better anyway. So I won't set that as a goal. I could go back to driving my car a max of a certain number of days per week. Four days? Is that something I can keep up?

All this got me to thinking, would others enjoy such challenges too? What can we measure so we can verify what we've done?

more waste

I just watched a program on the Sundance channel called Outrageous Wasters or something similar to that. It made Wasted look like a walk in the park.

The team came to the house of the Withers, in England, and noted their wasteful ways. They didn't recycle anything, they bought packaged food from all over the globe, they didn't compost anything, the son's electronic gear was always on standby when not being used, and on and on.

The first thing they did then was the tell the fam to pack small bags for a week away from home. They had no idea where they were going. They were taken to a place called the House of Correction, which turned out to be a yurt in the middle of a field. Nearby was an outhouse with separate compartments for pee and poo, some chickens and pigs, and a garden. There was a stove inside for burning wood from the nearby foresty lands, and some beds and odds and ends.

The woman immediately rebelled. She complained forever, did not want to know anything, much less do anything about their waste. She liked their comfortable life, had no use for camping and on and on. Her teenage son, same thing. So after one night there she rebelled, said she and Dave (the son) would not put up with it. They wanted out.

The team took the fam to a hotel for the night. During that night they talked, and by the next day Stella, the wife, was okay with giving it another try, but Dave was not. So Dave was shipped off to a relative while the adults went back to yurt living.

While they were learning where food comes from and how to forage and keep fires going and save water and in fact leave no footprint, there was a team hard at work on their home. By the end of the week Stella had come a long way. Her husband was already open to the whole thing so he didn't go as far.

They came back home to a special recycling setup that was made rather fun, a new entrance to their home that came in from a new straw-bale insulated porch, a solar cell panel powering a battery inside Dave's room, for his gadgets, and a list of rules for the week. Oh yeah, and chickens for eggs. Oh yeah, and their two cars were locked, booted actually, and a new little vehicle, a "Twike" I think it was called, was waiting for them. A small electric car that had three wheels.

The rules included buying only local food, encouraging neighbors to recycle, only plugging in gadgets when in use, recycling, saving water (no baths), and more. Amazingly, the family stepped up. And became absolute converts.

Sometimes major changes are easier to make than small ones.