Click here for more stories from No Impact Week.
So far this week:
Click here for more stories from Day 2: Trash.
Today, I officially began my experiment with No Impact Week. The theme was to eliminate trash and waste in my life. Although my life as a high school teenager limits the amount of trash I could possibly accumulate in a day, since I spend 8 hours at school, there were still many places I could reduce my carbon footprint.
The most notable area of improvement was the trash accumulated by my lunch. Following the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle, I first consolidated the components of my meal to use fewer bags. Then I brought home my plastic bags and paper lunch bag to either reuse or recycle. While this system still is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction.
Beginning this project, I have found it hard to strictly stay with the day’s specific goals. If I am to have a No Impact Week, I feel I should do whatever I can to dramatically reduce my impact as soon as possible. In order to avoid stepping on the toes of the other days, I will consider these measures as training to prepare myself for the other days' objectives.
I have also found that most of the efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint are interconnected. You cannot think about reducing waste without thinking about the energy and water that those measures conserve. Once I got on the subject of conservation, my mind was perpetually finding more ways to conserve—turning the water off in my shower while soaping, turning off the lights and heat in my house when unneeded, and carpooling to school. These efforts were so simple that I just could not wait to do them on their respective days. Although these were vital carbon saving actions, I know that on the days covering energy, water, and transportation (tomorrow), I will find even more ways to limit my impact.
The final portion of today’s efforts to reduce my carbon footprint involved a strategic trip to the grocery store. Although my mother did drive her car there, she avoided products with excessive packaging, kept her produce free of wasteful plastic bags, and put the PLU stickers that she would normally affix to the outside of the produce bag to a piece of recycled paper.
While food is covered on Wednesday, we prepared ahead of time by buying most of the food our household would need at the beginning of the week, which will save carbon consumed by periodic trips to the grocery store.
In order to make something fresh, healthy, and package-free, my mom used a slicer to cut a sweet potato into thin slices to bake into sweet potato chips. Unfortunately, my mother cut her finger on the slicer, which led to the most waste generation of the day as I rushed to get gauze pads and bandages to stop the bleeding. This was one event we hadn't planned for, but it's expanded my awareness of what can be prepared for.
If you get nothing else from this blog, at least remember this: When transforming sweet potatoes into delicious chips, a process that is as simple as cutting them and baking them with a pinch of salt and olive oil, be mindful of the relationship between your fingers and the blade.
Click here for more stories from Day 2: Transportation.
The first thing that came to mind when I thought about efficient transportation was riding my bike.
This was an exciting notion because I am a cycling aficionado who loves the sense of fulfillment you get when you arrive somewhere by bike. You get to avoid traffic, breathe in the fresh air, and get exercise. I have found this to be a much more enjoyable way to get around the city, especially since I can often make a trip by bike only marginally slower than by car.
When I presented this idea to my mother however, she encouraged me to search for an alternative mode of transportation. She pointed out that with my schedule, I would end up riding in the dark, a notion that frightened her to the bone. I took her advice and ultimately arranged for a fellow classmate and her sister to give me a ride to school. This option made sense because she had to make the same journey anyway. It would require less preparation, forethought, and sweat. I would avoid riding in the dark during rush hour, and I got to ride to school with not one but two pretty girls.
Today, many teenage drivers commute to school by themselves, even though they have classmates with whom they could carpool. To me, commuting solo was an act of convenience since I could depart when I was ready and I was not reliant on anyone’s schedule or propensity for being late.
Commuting with others, however, is an experience. Instead of solemnly listening to the radio on the way to school, I was able to take my mind off traffic and have a nice conversation with two pretty ladies. We collectively jammed out, sang, and laughed on our fifteen-minute ride.
We arrived at school awake, happy, and ready to tackle the challenges that lay ahead of us. Besides, the three of us used half as much gas as we would on a normal day. Since I did not have the convenience of being able to leave school during my free period at the end of the day and catch a nap at home, I instead worked on some homework. This has allowed me to have a much more relaxing night and consequently go to bed earlier. Carpooling is the gift that just keeps giving, as it is putting me on a better sleep schedule and preparing me more for each day. I will continue to build on this experience and carpool just as I have kept up yesterday’s initiative to reduce waste.
At first my friends did not understand why I was carpooling to school when I had a car. But after a brief explanation, they thought it was a cool thing to do. The No Impact ideas are spreading, as some of them are now considering carpooling or biking to school. While reducing my own impact is a great thing, much more will be accomplished if I can convince my friends and family to adopt many of these carbon footprint-reducing measures. As football player Walter Payton says, “We are stronger together than we are alone.”
I encourage you to join these efforts. Even if you only change one thing in your life, the collective impact can be great!
Click here for more stories on Day 4: Food.
This week, my family pledged to opt for more sustainable food. We cut out processed foods, ate drastically less meat, and bought local and organic produce when possible. This experiment with new foods has been fantastic. We have consumed far more vegetables and legumes which are more sustainable that the meat that we would normally have eaten. These efforts were not only better for the environment, but also healthier. This also allowed my family to explore tasty new cuisines.
The food we eat is a necessity, but how much do we truly think about what goes into our bodies? As a child, the main criteria I used to determine what foods to eat was taste. I, like many Americans, am particularly attracted to three main tastes—sugar, salt, and fat—which explains why those flavors show up in many of the foods we eat.
As a small child, my favorite part of any meal was, naturally, dessert. I never understood why I had to eat vegetables and could not just eat straight macaroni and cheese and chocolate. As I have grown up, I have consistently learned more about nutrition and what I should eat. Lately, I have discovered that food is more than just a commodity. Just as all humans are different, so are all tomatoes, spinach, corn, and even chickens.
When my mother ventured to the supermarket, we realized how hard it is to buy foods that fit categories like organic, non-GMO, and especially local. In the produce section, there were only five products grown in Texas: mushrooms, spinach, corn, yellow cluster tomatoes, and grapefruit. We found it quite interesting how we have lost touch with the seasonality of food. Today, we have access to most foods year-round because we can get produce flown in from every hemisphere. While it is wonderful to be able to enjoy strawberries in the winter, this is not necessarily the best environmental practice.
Tonight's meal was sustainable. My mother prepared a vegetarian chili chock full of legumes and seasonal vegetables. The carbon footprint of this meal was much smaller than a typical meal in our household since we used local, organic vegetables instead of meat. It was delicious and healthy, but it wasn't something we would have eaten had we not been prompted by No Impact Week. What's even better is there was very little waste from this meal because it was a one-pot meal with little packaging.
When our schedules are busy, we often pick up takeout food from restaurants—an easy option when a home-cooked meal isn't possible. I can foresee takeout as being an integral part of my life when I leave the nest next year and become a starving college student. The downfall to such easy food alternatives is the large amount of waste that comes from the takeout packaging. I have started to shy away from restaurants that serve their food in throwaway containers in favor of those that provide containers that can be recycled.
Although I have become more aware of seasonal products, I am not ready to completely give up urban luxuries and produce that I have come to enjoy year-round. It's a challenge to balance convenience and sustainability.
Click here for more stories on Day 5: Energy.
As I sit in my dimly lit room, with only the glow of the computer and the headlamp on my head, I realize how silly I must look. Today, I tried to reduce the amount of energy I consumed as a part of No Impact Week. When I woke up this morning, I consciously turned each light on and off when I entered and exited every room to make sure I was only using the amount of light that I needed. I later opened the shutters, after the sun rose, so I would not need any light at all.
For the vast majority of the day, however, I had very little control over my energy consumption. As much as I would like to, I cannot really go around turning the lights off in my school to save energy.
I felt helpless as I basked in the florescent glow of the hallway lights. Wasn't I supposed to be promoting change? While I did walk past a couple of compact florescent light bulbs that I changed during Earth Day last year, it is important for me to realize that I only have control over so much. Instead of worrying about the factors out of my control, I must actively influence the factors that I can control. It was not until I arrived back home at the end of the day that I started actively saving energy.
When I walked in the door, I found my house lit up like a Christmas tree, with no one around to enjoy the light. I embarked on a mission through my house turning every non-essential light off and every thermostat down a couple of degrees.
It is interesting how we like to keep the lights on in unused spaces. Maybe we do this to scare off the Boogeyman or maybe it is to feel less alone, but either way it is impractical … especially during No Impact Week.
I then went upstairs when I thought about my camping headlamp. Special circumstances call for extreme methods. As I worked on my homework, I felt that finally I was reducing the amount of energy I was consuming since I would normally be surrounded by at least four sixty-watt light bulbs.
Although I may look like a fool, I am a fool that is having an adventure and enjoying every moment of it.
Click here for more stories on Day 6: Water.
Can I do it? Take the world’s quickest and most efficient shower ever?
As I lay in bed at 6:40 in the morning, I plan my strategy to maximize my efficiency. This whole week I have cut my shower time down from roughly five minutes to under a minute by turning the water off while I applied soap.
But today was different.
Normally I like to let the warm water run over my head and down my back to warm up. Normally I would also lollygag in the shower long enough to belt out a favorite tune, but today was different. Today I wanted to cut that number in half and take a shower in under thirty seconds. While your first impression of this goal may be to think that there was no way that a shower that quick would be remotely hygienic, I assure you that I planned to take a completely legitimate shower.
I started out with a couple of push-ups and jumping jacks to mentally prepare myself and get warm. I turned the water on and wet my hair and half my body. After the first five seconds, I shut the water off and scrubbed my hair as fast as I could in order to generate body heat. Once I was content with my hair, I turned the water on for another seven seconds to simultaneously rinse my hair and the rest of my body. After I had covered everything, I prepared to rinse off. I started the water, rinsed off with blazing speed and shut the water off at exactly 20 seconds.
If this is not the world record for short showers, it has to be close. Those twenty seconds account for approximately .833 gallons of water from my low-flow showerhead versus the 12.5 gallons that I would have consumed had I taken a normal, five-minute shower. While this quick shower may not have been as relaxing as a typical shower, it was more satisfying and I emerged from the shower refreshed, awake, and feeling accomplished.