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Posts Tagged ‘ecological footprint’

It is day 7 into the Daily Footprint Project, and I just realized I have omitted recycling completely. Part of me thought, if it’s recycled, it’s ok, no need to include in the footprint checklist. Recycling is a little like carbon offsets, an easy way out of green guilt. If I recycle the stuff, it is as if I never consumed it in the first place. Is it?

Recycle Bin

Let’s take today’s example. We recycled both of our Sunday papers. A lot of paper, water, and energy, must go into producing and transporting those. Recycling also involves energy, and water to transport the old papers, sort them, transform them into pulp, and produce the new paper. The only things being saved are the trees. Meanwhile, coal plants keep emitting nasty greenhouse gases, and more of our water gets depleted.

The same reasoning can apply to all the other recyclables: other types of paper, plastics, glass, cans and foil, motor oil, batteries, scrap metal.

This is all important stuff. Even more important is the gross approximation that took place in my mind. Recyclable is a double edged sword. It is good in principle. If you are going to buy the stuff anyway, you might as well make sure it is recyclable. Less in landfills, more untouched natural resources. It’s too bad, it also gave me permission to hastily jump to an erroneous conclusion. If it’s recyclable, I can consume as much as I want.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #7

Water

personal:
flush toilet 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash hands 4
two showers at the gym
mom:
communal:
rinse dishes
run full load dishwasher 

Electricity/gas

personal:
electric toothbrush 2
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal 4’
laptop on all day
microwave soup 3’
mom:
toast bread
communal:
lights
dishwasher

Food

personal:
oatmeal with organic milk
tea
organic apple
take out soup from Whole Foods
mom:
salami from Canada
organic white bread
communal:
dinner out Chinese

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
sheets of paper 2
mom:
plastic bag
communal:
3 newspaper plastic wrappers

Recycling

personal:
mom:
communal:
2 Sunday papers
plastic bag 1
newspaper plastic wrappers 3
soup carton

Transportation

personal:
mom:
communal:
drive to gym 6 miles
drive to meet friend for dinner
drive to pick up Lashy 5 miles
drive to drop off Lashy 5 miles

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
communal:

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On the fifth day of the Daily Footprint Project, I relied on my magic key, a bit more than usual.

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Three meetings back to back in the morning, a trip to the gym, another trip to Whole Foods, and last an outing to the restaurant with Prad. I calculated. That’s 27 miles, all in the Prius. Each trip an average of five miles, not counting our night out. This is pretty typical for me. I conduct most of my business locally.

Then, comes the question. Why not bike? The answer is, I am considering the idea. Emphasis on ‘considering’. The truth is, I looooove my car. What is there not to like? The immediacy, the convenience, the privacy, the spaciousness, the experience of moving around in my little cocoon. I can get on the phone while I drive, listen to NPR, spread my stuff on the passenger seat. I don’t have to worry about the other cars so much, I am not as invisible as on a bike. I can cram a lot more activities in the day. I am free to go wherever, freeway if I please, don’t have to plan. No need for a disgraceful helmet. I can wear a dress without having to worry about it flying off. I had never thought about all the advantages, until now. Ask my sixteen year old daughter, car = freedom. Not what the green people want to hear, but the truth nevertheless.

Compare with biking. It has been a while since I have used a bike. I lost my bike in our move two years ago, and even before that, I hardly ever used it. I have to go back years to remember what it is like to bike in the outdoors. What is so good about biking, that would make me want to switch, aside from the obvious environmental benefits? Biking is also about freedom, just like cars. Only, it is a different kind of freedom. No need to refill with gas. No more being stuck in traffic. A bike is small and light, it can fit anywhere. Parking becomes a non issue. Biking can be another way to exercise. It is a way of getting in touch with the environment, the city, nature, neighborhoods. Biking is zen, as in simplicity.

Driving, biking. Two very different kinds of experiences. Driving has the advantage of already being a part of my life. I need a little nudge to make room for biking. That’s where city based initiatives like Velib‘ in Paris are so important. They help jump start the process. I have forgotten how good it feels to be on a bike. The other aspect I want to bring up, is the need for cities to create a safe environment for bikers. In my town, there are only a few routes I could take, where I would not have to worry about sharing the road with cars and trucks.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #5

Water

personal:
flush toilet 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash hands 4
two showers at the gym
mom:
communal:
rinse dishes 2

Electricity/gas

personal:
electric toothbrush 4'
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal 4’
laptop on all day
mom:
toast catherine
communal:
lights

Food

personal:
oatmeal with organic milk
organic apple
organic persimmons
tea
cup of coffee at coffee shop
organic orange
left over noodles
dinner at restaurant
mom:
egg
toast
communal:

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
paper cup at coffee shop (almost forgot to include)
mom:
toast
communal:
three newspaper wrappers
molded cream cheese in fridge
plastics (we take to recycling center now)

Transportation

personal:
drive to 1st appointment 3miles
drive from 1st to 2nd appointment 5 miles
drive from 2nd to last appointment 4 miles
drive from last appointment to home ½ mile
drive to gym round trip 6 miles
mom:
communal:
drive to Whole Foods 4 miles
drive to restaurant 4 miles

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
communal:

 

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Four days. It took me four days into the Daily Footprint Project to become aware of toilet paper.

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The first three days, this most useful commodity did not make it into my list. Again, I am struck by my lack of consciousness. I so much take toilet paper for granted, that it did not even occur to me, to count it. Toilet paper, it’s a small thing.

For more discussion about toilet paper, go to No Impact Man. Collin wrote a great post on the subject, earlier this year. I particularly enjoyed the flurry of comments that ensued . . .

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #4

Water

personal:
toilet flush 11(oops)
wash hands 4
shower  at gym 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash apple 2
mom:
communal:
rinse dishes for dishwasher
rinse veggies

Electricity/gas

personal:
computer on all day
microwave tea 2’
microwave milk 2’
electric toothbrush 4’
mom:
cook cream of wheat breakfast on stove
communal:
lights
stir fry veggies on stove

Food

personal:
tea
local organic apples
chocolate
2 slices pizza
organic milk
mom:
cream of wheat w / organic milk
communal:
veggie stir fry
wild halibut from Costco

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
mom:
communal:
vegetable scraps

Transportation

personal:
drive to doctor’s appointment 1mile
drive to gym 6 miles
mom:
communal:

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
communal:
Note:
Prad took all the non recyclable plastics to the city recycling center special plastics bin.

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Third day of Daily Footprint Project. Six pairs of jeans. I counted. Fresh out of the dryer.

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Part of my sixteen year old daughter’s biweekly laundry. I took her laundry out of the wash earlier, and put it in the dryer. I did that as a favor to her, and also because I needed the wash machine to do my own laundry. That’s when I realized. With my awareness more turned on than usual, I started counting the jeans. Six. I make do with one jean a week.

A big part of my footprint is related to my green softness as a mom. It is hard enough navigating the treacherous path of teen parenting, without introducing some more restrictions. If I was going to be pure green, I would hassle my daughter about so many things. Turning off the lights. Limiting her laundry. Using the Energy Preferred setting for the dryer. Even better, not using the dryer at all, and start using the drying rack more. Not driving to her school, that is only half a mile away. Not dumping recyclable plastics into the garbage. Turning off her computer. Unplugging her appliances. Eating leftovers. It’s not that I don’t tell her. I just don’t follow through with the kind of consequences and incentives that might make her take me seriously.

Call me weak, but I don’t have it in me, right now. I am fighting other battles, and I am not about to take on one more. If my children were little, that would be another story. The best I can offer, is to inspire her through my example, the small changes I am making every day.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #3  

Water  personal:
toilet flush 12(oops)
wash hands 4
shower 1
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
rinse grapes, apples
full load wash machine
mom:
communal:
rinse salad

Electricity/gas

personal:
desk light
laptop on since 8am
laptop plugged in overnight
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal
microwave
full laundry load wash machine
my load in dryer (except for towels and sheet, that went on drying rack)
electric toothbrush 3’
mom:
cook cream of wheat on stove
put Catherine’s load in dryer’
communal:
lights, appliances

Food

personal:
cup of tea with organic milk
organic oatmeal with organic whole milk
grapes
organic whole wheat bread local
organic yogurt, local
prosciutto, US brand from Virginia
apples
mom:
cream of wheat with organic milk
communal:
organic green salad
pizza carryout (4 for Halloween kids dinner)
Halloween candies for trick or treat
organic bread

Waste

personal:
mom:
lots of plastic wrappers from Ikea furniture
communal:
three newspaper wrappers
plastic bag from organic green grapes
compost from salad/veggie peelings

Transportation

personal:
mom:
wife:
communal:
½ mile late night errand to local grocery store

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
Ikea furniture for Charlotte’s room
rug, armchair, mattress, lamp
communal:

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This is not a meal.

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Although it could very well be. No, this is the picture of all the food waste that made its way to the garbage last night, on Day 1 of the Daily Footprint Project. Two day old wilted salad with romaine and radishes. One third uneaten steak from Catherine’s dinner. She does not like to eat leftovers, and I don’t care for red meat. Three quarter left of Angel Food Cake, that I bought for the kids, except it was only Catherine this week, and she can only eat so much of the stuff.

I had never done that before, line up all the food I throw away every day. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture did more to convince me of the decadence of my habits, than days of lecturing from Green Guru. From yesterday’s experiment, I learned a few other things:

  1. The act of simply writing down all of my actions, made me a lot more aware of what I consume in a day. I consider myself a compulsive label checker, but now I know, a lot escapes my relaxed scrutiny. Sensodyne, the toothpaste I have been using for months, bad stuff. It says to not use it for more than four weeks straight. I am switching to Tom’s. The Mango Tango Odwalla juice? Not organic. The 90% dark chocolate? Organic, but from Ecuador. I also discovered that the paper bags at Whole Foods are totally recyclable. Still I will continue to strive for the green bags . . .
  2. I got into a dilemma with the raspberries. I could either buy organic ones from Mexico, or local ones that were not organic. Between organic and local, what to do?
  3. I became a lot more conscious about my driving routes, and tried to make the most of my trips. I was able to squeeze in a grocery stop on the way back from my appointment yesterday.
  4. I put aside all the fruit and vegetable peelings. There was a whole mountain of it that could have made some nice composting material. Instead, I had to dump it in the garbage. The composter is overdue. If Prad does not come through, I am taking over the compost project.
  5. When Prad is out of town, I do not cook for myself, and just get takeout soups at Whole Foods. I realize with takeout, I lose control of the sourcing for the ingredients. Organic? Local? No idea. Also, there is the problem of the paper containers for the stuff. I usually put them in recycling, but I am not sure they belong there, with all that wax coating. Takeout is a bad habit. I should go back to cooking more. Or bring my own containers. I have not seen anyone do that yet. Maybe I can lead the way?
  6. I had a business meeting at the coffee shop. Only there, did I consider the problem of the paper cup. Something else to think about! Bringing my own cup next time.
  7. All three of my car drives averaged six miles, a perfect distance for biking. I need to conquer the inertia of old habits, and also my fears of getting run over by cars, and invest in an old bike.
  8. There is this voice in my head that keeps wanting to decide what is wasteful and what is not? I have been doing some research into the environmental habits of developing countries,and I realized, an African woman would have much different standards, and expectations than I do. What constitute a spartan lifestyle to me, may very well be luxury to her. Nowhere did I feel this more than with water. I take water for granted.
  9. So many of my actions are automatic, that they are not in my ordinary consciousness. It’s not just the toilet flushing, it is using paper towel to wipe every drop, leaving for Whole Foods without the bags, not being aware of what I throw away every day, grabbing the car keys for short errands, . . . It’s been the hardest part, remembering to pay attention, and step out of automatic pilot mode.

I dream of a world where green would be the only option available, so I would not have to think so hard, about what to do, and not do. Right now, it takes a lot of vigilance to navigate around my not so green world.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #1

Water

personal:
flush toilet 11
wash hands 2 11
wash face 11
brush teeth 1i
rinse off shower at gym
shampoo shower at gym
mom:
rinse dishes 11
communal:

Electricity/gas

personal:
microwave tea 2’
electric toothbrush 11
laptop on all day
microwave soup x2
microvave cup of milk 2’
mom:
cook cream of wheat on stove3’
stir fry artichokes in wok
boil artichoke on stove
heat bread in toaster oven
broil steak on stove
communal:
lights in the morning, kitchen and office

Food

personal:
organic: local grapes
Chocolate, Rainforest Alliance producer, from Ecuador
soup from Whole Foods takeout in paper carton
coffee at Peets, paper cup, plastic straw, paper wrapper
organic raspberries
organic oatmeal, organic milk
slice of organic bread
cup of soup from Whole Foods
3 madeleines, non organic
mom:
organic: grapes
Odwalla Mango Tango
Krafts cream of wheat with organic milk
steak, asparagus, bread, artichoke, all organic except for bread from Al Fornaio
communal

Garbage

personal:
scraps, should be composted
mom:
saran wrap prepackaged asparagus
half of whole salad (head of lettuce and bunch of radishes)
almost whole angel foodcake
1/3 uneaten steak
communal:
two newspaper plastic wrappers

Transportation

personal:
Round trip drive to appointment 6 miles, stopped at grocery store on way back
Round trip drive to appointment 6 miles
Round trip drive to health club 6 miles
mom
communal

Non food shopping

personal
mom
communal

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