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The YES! No Impact Diary: Day 2

You've completed your first full day of life with less trash. What's in the bag at the end of the day?
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Actually, just now I ended up with the waxy rind of a lovely organic goat cheese that I just finished with some homemade organic butternut squash soup. Avoiding making non-compostable trash today was relatively easy for me, but my daughter was apoplectic that I would not go and buy her a favorite ramen cup. I tried in vain for an hour to get her to have more homemade organic black beans and rice. Ramen is a special treat that reminds her of her big brother, who was on an overnight with some friends.

I located a large cup of the stuff in the cupboard, not really her favorite, but she ate it anyway, and promptly had a meltdown which required a nap. This week is going to be very difficult for her. The packaging for my food is making this week difficult for me.

I decided to have a salad for breakfast--something I used to do religiously--since I had a loose head of green leaf that had a few wilted leaves. This beauty had been delivered to my door by Farm Fresh to You, an organic farmers collective, a few days back, actually maybe last year! Washed and shredded, it needed something additional to add flavor since I do not use salad dressing, just organic olive oil and seasoned rice vinegar. The last brown tomato was still in the cardboard box with plastic sheathing. Dried organic cranberries were found in a specially designed ziplocked front pocket entry plastic bag. The organic carrots were in plastic bags--two packages and one bag of loose I threw in a bag myself. I found a few opened bags and "clam shells" of various Earth's Best and Trader Joe's org green mixes. That was odd. Or is it usual, that I have so many of these in varying stages of decay?

I hide my consumption in goods that are allegedly "necessities," but is a bottle of Erdinger Hefe-Weizen with a bag or organic potato chips really a necessity?

Yesterday, I tossed two bags of organic blue lake green beans that I bought on sale at the beginning of December to go with a large butternut squash. A month ago! I also found a bag of snap peas with only a few eaten. I distinctly remember them giving me an intense allergic reaction; they were packaged in microwave ready bag. I like to snack on them raw. Well, apparently I like to try to to snack on them raw.

I ate 2 pieces of the left-over fried chicken and turnip greens I made for Imani/New Year's Day traditional African American meal (all organic), but did not reheat the black-eyed peas. They are still in the fridge, along with some roasted potatoes from Christmas dinner. The two bones almost did not make it into my stash because they looked disgusting.

While reducing shopping for THINGS is not an issue for me at all, apparently I a have a very real issue with reducing my shopping for food. I hide my consumption in goods that are allegedly "necessities," but is a bottle of Erdinger Hefe-Weizen with a bag or organic potato chips really a necessity, especially when there are two half full bottles of mineral water, one closed one, a bag of unopened plantain chips and half a bag of kettle corn?! Yes I have two children who snack a lot, but good grief!

And by the way, there are now three empty glass bottles in my pile from yesterday.

The fit of cooking started not only in preparation for this week, but in preparation for the massive fiscal scale back: I work as a consultant and checks did not make it to me before the first of the month. This means a raft of late fees on everything from rent to utilities to cell phone bill. I stocked the cupboard, when I could have been a bit more selective. See, it is not that there is absolutely no money in the accounts; just not enough to go around at this very moment. And when that happens, I tend to nest, to cook.

And le voilà.

Day 2 of the No Impact Carbon Fast, and I am pretty sure that I could not shop for another week and still have plenty to eat. I am grateful for that, but annoyed at the wasted food and the hollow food taking space in my cupboard. I am upset that I do not have a compost for all the trimmings left from making the soup and salads; the skins and wilted leaves are not trash, just dirt waiting to happen.

I suppose that I now have to make the compost happen, along with a pot-in-pot to stop the premature wilting in the first place. Where is that money coming from? -Veluma

While I admire the concept of NO impact, I think LOW impact is just as good. I think there is little difference, statistically, between cutting down and doing without when we are talking about the impact of billions of people. Even the Dalai Lama admits to eating some meat. I've never dieted in my life, so I don't believe in depriving myself. However, I do want to live in line with my values to take care of this magnificent planet. I think it's important not to get too self-righteous about what steps one is taking, and to remember to be politically active.

Want to have the best impact on the planet? Run for office, even if there's no chance of winning. Campaigning gives you the opportunity to talk to people about clean energy and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. It inspires people. I can tell you from experience, there is hardly a greater feeling than having someone tell you that you are the first person they have ever voted for.

I have to say that the Beaven family has many advantages living in New York. Although it seems counter-intuitive, I have to admit that when I lived in New York, my impact was much lower than it is now living in a rural community. In Manhattan, I lived in a small apartment, kept it cold, took the stairs, ate mostly salads from the Union Square farmer’s market, and walked or took the subway everywhere. Things were expensive, so I rarely ate out, and found ways to get into plays cheaply (last minute tickets) or for free by ushering. The city’s parks are endlessly entertaining, and there are great museums. 

The downside of a quiet, rural area is that everything here is spread out, so we drive frequently.

Now, even though we live surrounded by agricultural areas, we shop at a chain grocery and we don’t know where most of our food comes from. There is a farmer’s market in the summer, but most of the produce is gone by the time we get there. We have a large house and even though we’ve replaced the windows to low-E and beefed up the insulation, it still is not terribly energy efficient. We don’t have $500 utility bills like we did in Japan, but I know we could do a lot better.

Sometimes I think most of us should live in cities, so that we could all use public transportation and consolidate services. But then, cities like Sao Paulo, Brazil that had good subway and bus systems have become so congested that people now get around by helicopter.

I know that by developing rural areas and suburbs, animal habitats are displaced. In spite of our interference, I really like having wildlife around—in our yard, we have squirrels and box turtles, lots of birds, and an occasional raccoon, hawk, and skunk. Deer lurk in orchards just up the road.

The downside of a quiet, rural area is that everything here is spread out, so we drive frequently. Most destinations are no more than ten minutes away, and I have an efficient Honda Fit, so I don’t burn much gas, but I do feel guilty sometimes for the number of times I start and stop my car driving from one location to the next to run errands. Unlike many of the residents here, we don’t leave town on weekends very often. But traveling for work means a very long drive to the airport.

There aren’t many locally-owned stores, so I do most of my shopping on the internet. Probably too much shopping. I like to think this has a lower carbon footprint than driving to Roswell or Midland to shop, but I could be wrong.

The recycling program here is growing, but nowhere near where I’d like it to be. We create about two kitchen garbage bags of waste a week, most of that cat litter. We have a large yard, and even though we are xeriscaping, we still use water for the garden and we fertilize the pecan trees. I’m proud that we don’t use any insecticides on the land, and that I “mow” by using an electric weed whacker around my various plantings. We’ve turned off most of the sprinklers.

We compost by dumping leaves in a large wooden box out back. We’ve left a small layer of dirt and worms/bugs, and pile in the fall leaves and then toss kitchen scraps on top. Composting instructions say you’re supposed to turn it frequently and maintain certain balances of different elements. We don’t do this—too much dirt is too heavy to try to turn over. We water it occasionally and by spring we have nice dark dirt. It’s probably not perfect, but I figure it’s better than store-bought soil, and we cut down on garbage. So, I have to say that composting doesn’t have to be as complicated as many make it seem.

So far, this NO Impact week hasn’t been too hard. No temptation to stop into stores to browse. I have had the temptation to look for things online, but I’ve prevailed. The only garbage I think we’ve created is cans of cat food. One of our cats is diabetic and is not allowed to eat dry food. The canned food he likes of course only comes in very small cans, which our community doesn’t recycle, to my knowledge (it’s not on the official list I cut out and posted on the fridge). I think I will start a petition to Purina to make larger cans. -Drum Turtle

Day 2 of the No Impact Week asks you to eliminate trash. I’m doing way better than average for me, but I still threw out packaging from a packet of Korean seasoned seaweed and two tea bags. Oh and some napkins* I used to smash up the cockroaches that took over the kitchen while I was out of town.

As part of the No Impact Challenge, today I wiped my breakfast burrito dribble on a cloth napkin. However, normally I use paper napkins that I’ve rescued from when the waiter gives a too-generous stack. My stash includes the super-thick ones from Likelike Diner, the skimpy ones from the airplane (though I think I used those in today’s roach slaughter), and more typical ones from take-out** when I was too spaced out to turn the cashier down.

I love my lunch time take-out options: Armenian roasted eggplant, turkey meatloaf, cake noodles, yum etc yum. I hate the Styrofoam containers that come with take-out though. I kept a styrofoam log when I first moved to Hawaii but gave up in shame when I realized I was up to a minimum of one container a day (3 styrofoam containers are required to ferry one order of pho home…) I do try to extend the lives of the cleanest ones, rinsing and reusing them for home-cooked leftovers but...

Is it possible to put a worm bin a studio apartment? I generate an embarrassing amount of food garbage. Jealous of San Francisco County’s mandated food scraps composting, I’ve been tempted to make forays into other people’s compost bins to drop off my banana peels, egg shells, and moldy abandoned leftovers. -Annie Koh

My partner Conrad and I are participating in the No Impact Experiment for the second time. 

Since our first experiment we have made a number of permanent changes to our habits that have reduced the amount of trash and recyclables we produce. Some of the practical things we did were: year round composting, using mesh bags for produce, buying in bulk and without packaging, when possible, (almost) always having a cloth shopping bag … you often have to be “quick on the draw” to stop the cashier from plastic bagging your purchase. 

At the time we were using clay cat litter and as I researched disposal alternatives, I found out how harmful the mining done for clay litter is to the environment.

Our biggest trash challenge has been cat litter. When we cut back on our other trash, it became apparent that cat litter accounted for most of our output. At the time we were using clay cat litter and as I researched disposal alternatives, I found out how harmful the mining done for clay litter is to the environment. We switched to a pine pellet variety, which I hoped to be able to compost, but further research indicated that the verdict is out on whether or not it is safe to home compost litter (it may not get hot enough to kill any pathogens). So I now take my pellet litter, in a paper bag to the city compost heap with other leaves, twigs, etc, where it gets heated up enough to be safe. Unfortunately it is closed for the winter, so it’s back to the trash again until spring.

Ironically, I also volunteer at a local cat shelter and when I went in to work on Monday, I found that this week we will begin sending all the pellet litter from the shelter to a commercial composting facility -- a major diversion of trash from the waste stream to a productive use, and a great way to celebrate Trash day. -Elizabeth Marcus, Newburyport, MA


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