Waste not-want not: Keeping tabs on my carbon footprint even when I don’t have time

Being the change isn’t always easy.

I decided a couple of years ago to cut our carbon footprint one step at a time, by attacking areas that actually make a big difference annually. We’re past the “remember to tun off the light” and “switch to low energy light bulbs” stage. Looking at the overall annual carbon emission from our consumption, unfortunately the light bulb change doesn’t make much of a dent in the huge figures at the end of the year. What would make a difference is intercontinental flying, but aging family in Europe makes that, if not impossible, at least cruel towards them.

Last year I found a useful site that appealed to me because it actually gives clear estimates of how much you “save” by making each change.

Staring out by looking through the biggest sinners on the list, I decided to target 3 areas:

Food and diet, the drying of clothes and our driving habits.

Our family diet was actually already quite low in carbon footprint. I cook vegetarian for 80-90% of the time, so there was not much to save there it would seem.  (Eating a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for one year results in a carbon footprint nearly 1 ton lower than your meat-eating neighbors).

I was wrong!

The difficult thing with eating a lot of vegetables is that there is great potential for producing waste instead of delicious meals if you don’t pay attention. Every head of lettuce, tomato, carrot and zucchini that goes to waste has a carbon tab attached to it.

The other step was weaning myself off the dryer. The clothes dryer is one of the most energy-sucking appliances in your house. Air-drying all your clothes for a year can reduce your personal carbon footprint by a bit over 600 kilograms. I’m not a big fan of dryers in the first place and would never put “good clothes” into it. For sheets, blankets and towels on the other hand, it’s been a great convenience. Trying to use the dryer as little as possible has certainly made things more complicated around the house.

The third step was to try to cut down on unnecessary driving, that for my purpose was defined as anything shorter than 1.5 km that didn’t involve heavy lifting. I have to admit I made some exceptions for days when the temperature dipped to below -15, and walking didn’t seem compatible with staying alive…

These past 2 days my resolve has come right back to hit me in the head.

We’re preparing to go on vacation for 10 days, and the plan was that we’d eat out of the fridge to empty it before we left.

Somehow we got lost on that point, and tonight, with departure just a few hours away, I found a troubling amount of vegetables that were crying for attention: fresh bok choi from the local farmer’s market, a bag of left over bell peppers, 3 apples that had seen better days, over-ripe bananas, strawberries left over from a picnic yesterday, 1/2 zucchini, a small shallot onion, 3 tomatoes past their prime, large amounts of spinach and some cream cheese opened last week.

That almost convinced me that “for once” we’d have to throw out food. But I gathered all my strenght and started cooking:

one spinach pie with cream cheese – good to bring with us on the trip tomorrow to avoid the horrible fast-food traps along the highway.

I puff-pastry dessert with a compote of the leftover strawberries and apples (now in the freezer).

Banana muffins – also good for the trip tomorrow.

A “stew” (for lack of a better word) with all the leftover vegetables – eaten with bread for supper.

The bok choi was steamed and then quickly passed in a skillet with garlic, soy sauce and some olive oil. It now sits in the freezer waiting for our return.

So I was pretty proud of my ability to stick to the program – until my 17-year-old came out of her room claiming she had no  clean underwear.

My last deed of the night was to take her undies from the clothes line and throw them into the dryer.

You can’t always win!

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~ by Hege on July 3, 2010.

3 Responses to “Waste not-want not: Keeping tabs on my carbon footprint even when I don’t have time”

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