Click here for more stories from No Impact Week.
So far this week:
Click here for more stories on Day 1: Consumption.
Today was… EASY! Ha! Take that No Impact Week!
Although, if I’m honest, not consuming anything was only easy because I’m still on vacation, and I’m not following my normal day-to-day habits.
To be even more honest, I had all intentions of doing some “New Year shopping” today, until I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to consume anything new except food. And at first, that completely put a dent in my day. But now that the day is over, it honestly didn’t matter. Did I really need more shirts, pants, skirts, shoes, or leggings?
To some degree—yes. At least I thought so. I thought I needed a new wardrobe for my new student teaching job, but after taking mental inventory of my closet, I realized I already have plenty of appropriate clothes: Enough to wear something different every day for at least two or three weeks! Isn’t that enough? Plus, my sister cleaned out her closet, allowing me to “shop” there, and I have tons of friends with whom I can easily swap clothes. Since I’m technically unemployed at the moment, “hand-me-loves” are probably a much better option for me anyway, right?
I am concerned that it might get a little bit harder to not consume stuff as the week goes on. But being broke might come in handy for once, encouraging me to keep up the process. And for the must-have products, I’m looking forward to exploring better options and supporting people and places by what I do purchase.
So while I consumed little today, I did think a lot about my habits and hope to continue to do so over the course of the week.
Biggest lesson of the day: There’s a huge difference between want and need. Most of the things I buy are things I really just want.
Here’s hoping Day 2 is just as enlightening!
Click here for more stories on Day 2: Trash.
How is it possible to have no trash? It seemed like everything I thought about doing today would have produced some level of trash.
I stopped myself from eating a sandwich on the go, because that would require wrapping it in a paper napkin—trash. I couldn’t go to Jack in the Box or Chick-fil-a (which I was seriously craving)—trash. Thankfully that can of Sunkist and bottle of Izzie are recyclable. I finally caved and HAD to eat, and since I was too lazy to cook, and there was a perfectly good box of Marie Callender’s in my freezer… yeah
Although, since I was feeling very guilty about the prospect of making trash, I decided to recycle the box it came in. And then I looked at the bottom of the tray and noticed the recycling sign! I never knew those things were recyclable! I just used to trash them. Because of this new discovery, I washed the tray and put it in the recycling bin, too!
But now, it’s the end of the day, and I’m longing for my usual cup of flavored tea. And… both the tea bag and its paper wrapper are trash. This is HARD!
I know I’m a skeptic here, but really? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE NO TRASH?!
For the most part, I think I do a pretty good job at being trash conscious. I recycle what I can. I have a Brita filter and have reusable water bottles and travel mugs. I have a few reusable shopping bags—although I’ve never actually used them to shop. But I do save and re-use all the plastic bags I get—they tend to act as trash bags.
Heck, I’m having my tea! The packaging is recyclable, I’m sure. And what’s in the tea bag is biodegradable… I think.
Click here for more stories about Day 3: Transporation.
Day Three has been about transportation, and this is a concept I could get down with.
When I lived in Chicago, I didn’t have a car and took the train or bus almost everywhere. There were downsides—like when I needed to go grocery shopping, or had a lot of errands to run in general—but overall it was a lot of fun. I was saving tons of money by not having to buy gas or do other car maintenance. And it was great downtime to read or just people watch.
But now, I live in Dallas. And let’s just say that Dallas (and Texas in general) is not the most commuter-friendly place in the United States. While people do get by without a car, it’s close to impossible. Or your days are limited to simply working and sitting on the bus.
I actually live along the DART line and have relatively easy access to the train. Except the only place I really had to go today was to work. And that would have meant taking two buses and the train for an hour-long commute. In my car, it takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic.
An hour really isn’t all that bad. Before checking the Trip Planner, I was envisioning a much worse scenario. And if I wasn’t wasting time on a bus, I’d most likely just be wasting time at home.
In the end though, I drove to work. Because I didn’t get off until nearly 9 p.m. and wasn’t comfortable with the idea of riding the bus and train back so late. Which is kind of funny since I rode the ‘El’ in Chicago at all hours of the day when I lived there. And on my few visits to New York, I was all about riding the subway and rarely hailed a cab. But I guess those times felt different because it was what everyone was doing. And here in Dallas, it’s more what people-who-have-no-other-option do.
Which is something I feel has come up a lot when I think about “green living.” While there are some changes everyone can make, there are some things that cost more money or take more time—two things not everyone has the luxury of having. And yeah, yeah, yeah, you can do the math and prove that it saves more money in the long run to choose x over y. But what if you just don’t have the money to put upfront to get that long-term gain?
Like I’d love to bike around more, but I haven’t had access to a bike in almost three years. And at the place I am financially right now (read: unemployed), I can’t afford to buy one—even a used one. I just can’t justify spending that money right now, when there are days when I’m not sure if I’ll even make rent.
The money thing is actually making me nervous in relation to Wednesday’s challenge: Food. My fridge is currently void of anything edible except a Popsicle, frozen chicken drumsticks, and some milk. I also have some canned tuna, pasta, and spaghetti sauce. But pretty much everything would lead to me creating trash, which breaks Tuesday’s rule.
(Confession: I’ve already created more trash today—at my part-time tutoring job, I threw away some paper. And to ensure I didn’t starve, I warmed up the last frozen dinner. Please know that I feel extremely guilty for both. But I also feel today was more proof that it is IMPOSSIBLE to create NO trash).
Anyway, tomorrow I will have to go shopping and so I’ll try to find places and/or products that will put food on my table AND decrease my carbon “foodprint"—all without breaking my already meager bank account. It’s been my experience that organic food is more expensive, and the fresher a product (while definitely nutritionally better for you) tends to spoil faster… and it’s just me, and I hate grocery shopping multiple times a week.
But this No Impact Week wouldn’t be a challenge without some challenges.
Wish me luck!
Click here for more stories on Day 4: Food.
I spent $100.
Not exactly what I would call cheap grocery shopping. Although, I think I got enough food to last the month with maybe only a few occasional trips to pick up one or two more items. I have chicken, pork, fish, ground turkey (as you can see I have not chosen to go the vegetarian route of reducing my carbon “foodprint”). I have bread, an assortment of preserves, peanut butter, fruit, vegetables, and juice. I already had rice and pasta at home.
As much as possible, I tried to stay away from processed foods and things in packages. But really, everything seemed to come in a package—if not a box, then plastic packaging. But I did try. So much so that it took me over an hour to shop! You would be proud to know that I decided to forgo using the plastic bags for some of the fruit and vegetables I bought. I just put them in the basket as they were.
You might also be proud to hear that I used my reusable bags today! First time I’ve used them for grocery shopping! And I got rewarded by getting a 10 cent discount for each bag I brought at the checkout line. Who knew living a No Impact lifestyle had such perks! Granted I only brought two bags and 20 cents didn’t put that much of a dent to my total, but it still felt good. I felt like I was being recognized for going through this process.
And this has definitely been a process. I think about almost everything I’m about to do now, wondering if it’s making an impact on the planet and how I can reduce that impact. There are moments I just want to say “screw it”—after all, I’ve broken that whole No Trash rule a few times today (although I completely felt guilty about it each time). This is too hard. But I’m also realizing that even if I don’t do this thing 100 percent right, I can still make little changes. And I’m of the school of thought where even the smallest effort counts and can make a difference.
Like, I downloaded a shopping list application on my smart phone yesterday. Normally I write down a list to take to the store, but now it’s on my phone! And in a cute and easy-to-use format!
And today was my first time in a farmers market… although, I guess it’s not a traditional one since it’s an actual store. I had a list of seasonal fruits and vegetables and focused on only buying from that list. (Side note: I’ve always kind of thought of spring is for farming, summer for growing, fall for harvesting, and it’s never really occurred to me that things could have different seasons. It makes perfect sense… I’ve just never actually thought about it until today). I also discovered that my favorite brand of bread, Mrs. Baird, is local to Texas! (Something I probably should have known/remembered since my dad used to bring fresh, hot bread home from the factory when we were kids.)
I know that I come off as unwilling and just not “in” to the green lifestyle. And in some ways, that’s true. Being green isn’t easy. You have to make tough choices sometimes, make sacrifices, and sometimes drastic life changes. I’m not sure if I’m “willing” to dive in that deeply. But I am willing to get rid of bad habits and make small changes here and there. One small step at a time.
Click here for more stories on Day 5: Energy.
In Nigeria, the electrical company is called NEPA. I can’t remember what the acronym stands for, but we used to say it meant, “Never Expect Power Always (Please Light Candle).” And this pretty much sums up electricity over there. I hear it’s getting better, but anyone who visits can expect NEPA to “off the light” at any time—no forewarning, and with no clue as to when it’ll come back. We used to go days without electricity. Although, since my family and I lived in a seminary with a generator we would get occasional reprieves that others did not.
I thought a lot about my life in Nigeria today while I tried to conserve the amount of energy I use. For the most part, since I live alone I don’t think I use a whole lot of energy. I only do laundry about two or three times a month and I never use the dishwasher. I have an electric stove in my apartment, but I only cook once or twice a week (and if I’m honest, sometimes not at all). I’m anal about having lights on, so generally if I’m not in a room the lights are off.
But I realize that because I know I always have power (unless I forgot to pay my bill or a bad storm knocks down some lines), I use a lot more than I should. Like, I tend to always have the TV on when I’m home. Because I live alone, my apartment often feels too quiet and so I like to have some sound going. So whether I’m cooking, cleaning, reading, or about to go to bed—it’s on.
I also forget to unplug things I’m not using, like my phone charger and laptop. You know that commercial where the girl is trying to impress this guy and she pretends like she doesn’t own a phone just so he can’t be disapproving about the charger in the wall? Yeah… I’d be that girl.
I woke up this morning and noticed mine was still in the wall. And I was too lazy to get up and pull it out. When I eventually did, I noticed that I had left my printer on … and I hadn’t used it since yesterday morning.
The plan for the day was to not watch TV at all, and to only use my laptop when I was writing my blog. The laptop thing went out the window about halfway through the day. I was using my phone to check my mail, and then realized that if I wasn’t charging my laptop I’d have to charge my cell phone, so might as well use the dang laptop.
No TV went a lot smoother. I honestly didn’t mind the silence too much—I mostly read and worked online. But at dinner, I couldn’t do it anymore. Who wants to eat in total silence? Not me. I needed the company of Chef Symon while he beat the pants off of his Iron Chef challenger. I did leave the TV off while I cooked and washed dishes though, something I generally wouldn’t do. So while I’m sure some of you are shaking your heads at my lack of resolve, I think I get a point or two for that.
For the rest of this week, I plan to keep the TV off as much as possible during the day. Play the piano, do more reading, write a little bit—basically not let TV be the only way I fill the void.
If I were still in Nigeria, a lot of these decisions would be a lot easier: I might not have electricity anyway and wouldn’t have to worry about my energy consumption.
But … when we didn’t have power, we used kerosene lamps and/or florescent lights at night. And kerosene comes from petroleum and the fluorescents were battery-powered. Energy was still being consumed.
I guess it’s more important not to waste energy versus avoiding using it altogether. So my goal is to be more conscious of that from now on.
Click here for more stories on Day 6: Water.
My total water footprint is 557 cubic meters per year.
I have no clue what this means. Is that good? Is that bad? Is that average? And how is it honestly measured? Some days I barely use water, except to drink it. And other days I’m sure my consumption is through the roof.
I decided not to worry about actual numbers, and just become more conscious of how and when I consume water—kind of like I did with my energy. In a lot of ways, energy and water go hand-in-hand. The washing machine uses water and energy, but luckily it’s something I don’t use very often. I need water to cook—wash off vegetables and meat, boil pasta, clean up the mess when I’m done—and energy is often used in that process, too—with the refrigerator and stove, maybe even the blender or rice cooker.
I live in a LEED-certified apartment complex. It was an exciting choice for me to make in May, because I saw myself saving money and saving the planet. The saving money part hasn’t exactly been true—while my electric bills are lower (we’re all required to use Green Mountain, which is a renewable energy provider, and all the appliances are Energy Star), the rent is pretty high.
Since it’s an eco-friendly building, we have dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets and shower heads, so I end up using a lot less water than most with those activities. However… when I brush my teeth, I realize that I tend to let the faucet run. Today, I made sure to turn it off. And with the shower, I like to let it run for at least 5 minutes to let the water warm up. Today, I jumped right in, ended up screaming at how COLD the water was, but it heated up within about 30 seconds or so. I tried to cut back my typical 30-minute shower, and I think I felt clean in about 15.
Thinking about how I use water took me back down memory lane in Nigeria. Like electricity, water is not necessarily something you have running out of faucets all the time. Occasionally, you turn it on and nothing comes out. And then you have to grab a bucket, head out to the well and “fetch” water. My dad eventually had a reservoir built in our backyard, and while the faucets were running, we’d make sure it stayed full so that when they weren’t, the walk to fetch water was more manageable.
As a family, we already conserved water quite a bit because we were never sure how much was available. But when water wasn’t coming out of the faucets, we conserved even more. One bucket of water was your bath. You quickly mastered the art of lathering up and rinsing yourself off with a minimal amount of water. Thank goodness I’m black and only wash my hair about every two weeks, but I have a white friend who had to master washing her hair daily with only a coffee cup full of water while she was in South Africa.
I lived a relatively privileged life in Nigeria, but the average family has to fetch water daily. They carry buckets on their heads, filling up basins or barrels or other containers to hold all the water they need for that day. And then that was it—until tomorrow. Unless they wanted to go fetch even more water.
Water isn’t as ubiquitous as we act like it is in North America. Other parts of the world have no choice but to conserve water. So why does it seem to us like conserving is such a big deal? Why do we waste so much of it? Why don’t we force ourselves to do better?
Why don’t I?
I’m pretty sure I could still get by on a bucketful of water for a bath, use less water to wash dishes, hand wash my clothes, could just use less water all around like I did when I lived in Nigeria. But I don’t just because I know in the U.S. it’s readily available.
My parents aren’t like that though. Nigeria is ingrained in every fiber of their being—they've even gone back to live there now. And I sometimes when I’m in the shower for 45 minutes I can hear my dad’s voice yelling, “Why are you wasting water?!”
And honestly, I don’t really have an answer. Do you?
I continued to try to remain conscious of my energy consumption throughout the day—kept the TV off until 9:30 p.m., and instead read (and finished) a book, played the piano, and volunteered at a homeless shelter. The volunteering allowed me to practice another part of this No Impact Week—transportation.
I had wanted to take the train out, but it would have been a bit dangerous , and the closest train stop wasn’t close at all. But I was able to work out a carpooling arrangement instead, which was awesome! Not only was gas saved, but I had a companion to laugh and joke with on the way there and back!
Click here for more stories on Day 7: Giving Back.
For some reason, today felt harder than the rest of the week. While I didn’t always follow the instructions exactly, cutting down on trash and consumption, buying local food, and conserving water and energy all seemed like concrete things to do. But giving back? That was broad. And I’m not so sure if I gave back today.
I mean, I went to tutor for about four hours, and on my way in there was an old lady walking to the hair salon next door. I greeted her cheerfully, and to my surprise she struck up a conversation. I have always found it funny how we often ask, “How are you?” but don’t really care to know the answer. Personally, I like knowing the answer.
And so a part of me was like, “Hey… This could count as giving back, right? I’m listening to this lady talk when probably no one else has today.”
I thought about going to Starbucks and using one of the gift cards I got over Christmas to treat the next person who walked in with their own travel mug. I thought about going to the park and picking up trash. I thought about going to my aunt and uncle’s and helping out around the house. But instead I just went home, warmed some leftovers for lunch, read, and took a nap. I felt appropriately guilty when I woke up.
But then I remembered what I did yesterday. I went to a homeless shelter with three other friends and we babysat kids while the parents took showers or just had some alone time. It’s something a group of us do once a month. And man was it fun. I built a house and castle out of blocks with a three-year-old, cheered a 'tween girl into winning a round of “Don’t Break the Ice,” tried to convince a 12-year-old boy he was too young to be kissing girls (I was woefully unsuccessful), and had a four-year-old snuggle in my lap while I read him picture books. These kids loved to have us there. And watching the playful way they interact with regular volunteers, it was obvious relationships have been forged and that our presence mattered. And to think that I almost didn’t come. All because of No Impact Week.
You see, before I figured out a carpooling option, I was too concerned about my carbon footprint to want to drive to volunteer. I had been driving all week, and I knew I would volunteer on Sunday anyway (I go to the Ronald McDonald House weekly—help in the kitchen, at the front desk, or with family activities), so I was really hesitant about going. Eventually, I convinced another friend to come along, making it a carpool.
I can’t believe I almost gave up the chance to do something good for someone just because I was concerned about my carbon footprint. While I’m all for being green and making less of an impact on the world, I can’t forget that the world is made up of people, and I don't think automatically dismissing the chance to help and connect with someone in order to avoid driving is necessarily the right choice.
Day 6: Gratitude
- Being a part of a church that focuses on “giving back” – every fourth Sunday, instead of church we spend the morning doing something good for the community. We’ve landscaped an elementary school, held a free fall festival, and throughout this year I’m excited for other projects we’ll do to impact the community around us.
- Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House every week—honestly, it’s such a blessing and just so much fun! It’s the highlight of my week to serve the families that stay there.
- My family—my parents are in the U.S. at the moment and today they drove up to spend the weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. So while I had to drive about 30 minutes to see them, it was so good. And when I told my dad about No Impact Week, his response was, “Praise the Lord! Olubunmi is concerned about conserving energy and water!”
- The privilege to participate in No Impact Week—reminiscing about Nigeria and going to the homeless shelter yesterday made me realize how lucky I am to even have the choice to do something about my carbon footprint. While I am not in a great financial situation at the moment, I’m not homeless. And in general, I have choices.
- Friends to volunteer with and friends who will bring you their old clothes—like my friend Sofie is doing tomorrow so I don’t have to buy new things to look appropriate when I start student teaching on Monday.
Click here for more stories on Day 8: Eco-Sabbath
My Eco-Sabbath lasted two hours. And it was… nice. I came home from church, made lunch, and just curled up on my couch and read. No TV. No phone. Natural light flowing through the window. It was a really good day to curl up with a book too, since Dallas got its first bit of snow this afternoon. It didn’t last long, and it’s already melted and disappeared, but it made the day perfect.
I reflected a lot of this No Impact Week. I was hesitant to do it, but now I’m not sure if I would have traded this week in for the world. It was a week where I really evaluated myself and my choices. Here’s what I hope to implement into my life as No Impact Week comes to a close:
Consumption: I will focus on things I need to buy over things I want to buy. This does not mean I’ll deprive myself of fun things, I’ll just be more conscious of how much I spend on wants versus needs. Also, not everything has to be new. Someone else’s trash can easily be my treasures.
Trash: As much as possible I will reduce, reuse, and recycle. While I don’t believe there is a way to create absolutely NO trash (at least not from what I experience this week), I also make a lot of unnecessary trash. There are some things I’m hesitant to eliminate completely—like using paper towels or my Swiffer Wet Jet (cloths and mops are so germy)—but I think from now on I’ll at least ask myself if there is a way to do things without creating trash, or at least creating less.
Transportation: Once I can afford it, I’m buying a bicycle. While Dallas isn’t exactly bike-friendly, I could at least bike to the store on occasion. Also, if I ever need to go downtown, I’ll take the train. I love the train, and I’ve always wished Dallas was more like Chicago or NYC. And since us DFW people tend to drive a lot, I’ll also try to carpool as much as possible.
Food: I’ll always bring my own cloth bags to go shopping. I think I’ll buy some to just stay in my car; just in case I make an impromptu trip. And I think I’ll make the Farmers Market my regular grocery store. I’ll increase my cooking repertoire to go beyond rice, pasta, chicken, and pork chops, so that fewer things come out of a can or are microwavable meals. I’ll also put myself through rehab and try get over (or at least reduce) my Jack in the Box and Chick-fil-a addictions.
Energy: I'll keep lights off unless I need them and unplug what I'm not using. I’m not sure there’s anything I’m willing to eliminate, but I’m pretty sure I could mitigate a lot of things and will continue to take stock of where and how I can do this—like using fans versus the A/C, or just open the window.
Water: I’ll… take shorter showers. Or I’ll go buy one of shower flow control things so I can turn the water off while I lather and scrub down without wasting water. I'll turn off the faucet and not let the water run mindlessly.
Giving Back: Between church, the Ronald McDonald House, and occasionally volunteering at the homeless shelter, I have a lot of “organized” ways of doing this. Now I think I’ll also try and focus on the little moments. Throughout the day I’ll seek opportunities where I can give back and make the most of them. And maybe one day I can snag a really cool non-profit job.
Eco-Sabbath: I didn’t really get a chance to take a break from everything, but I’m looking forward to doing this at least one day this year. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the technology and “things to do,” but we need to rest, too. So… I’m promising myself at least one day of absolutely nothing: Turning off my phone, leaving the computer behind, and just enjoying the earth. Maybe I’ll plan a hiking trip, or attempt a camping trip. Until I have that day, I’ll dedicate an hour or two each day as my Eco-Sabbath.
The above probably doesn’t sound like a lot to most of y’all, but for me it’s a start. I’m kind of like fellow blogger Cooper Bates’ friend—I’m more lime than green. But who knows? Maybe next year I’ll do No Impact Week again. And the year after that. And the one after that. And each year I’ll move further along the path to being green.