End of Earth Week, What a Challenge it Was

I challenged myself to live with as little use of electricity, and gas along with creating zero waste this week.  It wasn’t always easy, but I have found a few things I will continue, along with a couple of things I really missed.  I promised an update on how the week went, so here it is.

I am proud of the challenges I set out for myself and those that I accomplished.  I created no garbage this week, nor did I have any recyclables which needed put out.  I did not purchase anything new other than food.   As for individual challenges, there were only a couple which were hard to stick with.

Needing Heat

I thought this week would be easy, the weather was perfect with summer-like temperatures. boy how wrong I was.  We had temperatures in the high 70s for most of last week, so to begin I turned my thermostat off in my apartment.  Monday morning I woke to freezing temperatures and snow on the ground.

My apartment building is  heated (and heats water) using steam, but that steam is created by electricity so I wanted to eliminate my electrical usage. This would be the worst part of my challenge this week.

Fortunately, my place is small and well insulated so while it was 30 degrees outside my apartment settled at 58 degrees.  By Tuesday the snow had turned to rain and the dampness made my bones ache inside.  No amount of sweaters or throw blankets seemed to take the dampness out.  So I turned the heat back on.  I haven’t been able to turn the heat off yet as it’s still hovering in the low 40s outside but at least I know I’m not using a lot of energy to heat this small space.

I do wonder if I used any additional electricity by turning on my heat as the boiler was being heated whether or not I used it.  What do you think?

Food for the week

I decided to eat an all raw, vegan diet this week.  I succeeded, but it was a challenge.  With the colder temperatures I craved a hot bowl of soup, but that would have meant using electricity.  The biggest thing I missed was my cup of hot chamomile tea in the evening, how great that would have felt on these cold evenings.

My diet consisted of fruit in the morning, and salads in the late afternoons and early evening.  Finding locally grown was pretty difficult as our growing season hasn’t started yet.  I was able to find produce that at least wasn’t from overseas or Mexico.  I purchased all produce without plastic wrappings or containers which made for little variety in what I found.

Tonight I’m making a large pot of soup!

Car-free can work

Going car-free wasn’t much of a challenge. I haven’t moved my car in 24 days and use it so rarely that even on the colder days if I needed to go out I just planned my outing for early afternoon when the temperatures were the warmest.    The slower pace of getting around has been something I had pretty much forgotten from my youth and am enjoying it much more than driving.  I was one of those teens who couldn’t wait to get their license and first car.  I never thought I would ever want to live without one, guess we can change after all.

Other electrical usage

Hot water: With my water being heated centrally I’m not sure how much I saved by limiting my hot water use, but I still tried.  My showers are always short as a few years ago I started taking Navy showers.  If this term is new to you, it’s because on ship the water must be conserved, so the Navy men and women turn the water on to get wet, turn it off to wash, and turn it back on to rinse off.  This way makes much more sense to me with water being a limited resource. If you want to know how much you use in your shower check this out.

I did my dishes quickly with a small pan of hot soapy water and rinsed everything at once.  Having only myself, normally, to clean up after takes only minutes.   I timed when I did my dishes to have natural daylight to see by eliminating needing additional lighting.  Since I don’t eat much in the evening the only thing left for the next day would be a glass from my water.

Lighting: I was able to eliminate all use of electrical lights this week and used natural beeswax candles to see by.  Showering this way was strange and I will return to turning on a light from now on, but it worked.  I found myself going to bed a little earlier as the dimmer light made me feel sleepy, but I was waking earlier as well so it worked for me.

Refrigerator: I initially tried living without a fridge when I first moved here.  It was something that seemed to complicate my life.  What I purchased was a small dorm-sized fridge which sits under my counter top.  It uses $3. of electricity per month.  For this month, I left it plugged in, refusing to give up the convenience of it.

Computer: Since I work from home I need to use my computer.  I was able to limit the amount of time on the computer to two hours or less.

Music: I don’t watch television, don’t own one.  Instead I enjoy listening to music daily.  This week I wasn’t able to do that as I only have two ways to do so.  I could have plugged in my radio with its CD player, or I could have listened to Pandora on my cell phone.  By using the cell phone I would have needed to plug it in frequently.  The first couple of days wasn’t bad.  The quiet was nice, but it began to get to me.  I made it though, no music for the week.

What I will continue to do

  • Water usage will continue in the same manner.  There wasn’t much I changed this week from my normal routine.
  • I will continue to use candle light when possible when I am alone.  Most evenings I use one lamp which I purchased at Ikea for all my lighting needs when I am alone.  It has a 20 watt bulb (all their lighting is created using California standards so it uses less electricity than a normal 20 watt bulb check out their sparsam guide to see how much you can save).  This lamp can be turned upward to give a soft room light or angled for task lighting.
  • I will continue to limit the amount of time I am on my computer. I won’t be able to do this every day, it will depend on my work load, but I will be more conscious of time wasted on it.

What I will not continue to do

  • Diet: I feel deprived by an exclusive raw diet.  I will continue to eat plenty of fruit and salads, but I need to balance that with fresh cooked foods as well.  I will continue to look for foods not packaged, but it’s disappointing to realize I have to pay more for loose produce than that packaged.
  • Heat:  The trade-off between zero waste and comfort is one I am not willing to trade completely.  I need heat, I just can’t bring myself to turn it off and freeze in my home.

Conclusions

I believe we must balance our concerns for wasteful behaviors with those of our necessary comfort.  When a choice makes us unhappy and uncomfortable the price may be too high.   I made a choice a year ago to live a much lighter lifestyle and I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do. I don’t miss anything I let go of, and am happier than ever with this lifestyle but to give up the ability to listen to music or a cup of tea on a cold morning, for example, because it uses a little electricity is too drastic  for me.

So my question to you is,  how much do you think we can give up before we lose the ability to be content to conserve the planet’s resources?

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