On October 23rd, 2019 I started measuring everything I use and consume in a series of spreadsheets, and now one month has passed, so I thought I’d publish some of the data, and try to draw some conclusions on what I have been using and how I can use less. Here are the stats:
As far as food is concerned, I have a pretty healthy but sizeable diet that mostly consists of rice and beans, fruits and veggies, and a decent amount of bread and cheese. A few times this month, I splurge on almonds or milk and cereal, and there were isolated occasions where I would have fish, chicken, eggs, pizza, pasta, kombucha, beer, liquor, or sweets/candy. The sources of these foods is very difficult to track- most packaging lists the facility where food is processed but not where it is grown, and foods like pizza which have a variety of different ingredients are even more difficult to trace back to their source. Because of the monumental near-impossibility of tasking myself with tracing all of my food to its source, I found a happy middle ground in shopping for most of my fruits and vegetables from Moab’s local Coop, where I could get locally grown lettuce, carrots, squash, etc. My total cost for food drinks for the month: $175. And that includes $15 for beer/liquor, and $22 for going out to eat or a cup of coffee. So that makes my at-home food cost about $138 for the month, or about $4.48 per day. Not too shabby, but certainly a little room for improvement. Without beer/liquor, going out to eat, and by cutting out kombucha, plus shopping in bulk, I think I could drop my daily food cost to about $3.75 per day. That is my goal for the month of december.
I learned a lot from measuring my water usage. The very first day I started measuring my consumption, I took a 7 minute hot shower, did my laundry, washed some dirty old gear so I could bring it to the gear consignment shop, and used the sink liberally to do my dishes, all of which totaled to nearly 50 gallons of water used for that one day. This was really shocking to me, and I immediately began finding ways to cut back. The following 3 spikes around 20 gallons represent either washing my clothes or running the dishwasher. They are amplified by toilet flushing and dishes. The 2 smaller spikes on the 6th and the 21st were also shower days, but I only had the water on for 2 minutes- one for getting wet, shutting the water off and lathering, and one more to rinse, using cold water to save on the energy bill. My best days were between the 15th and the 17th when I went car-camping and hiking in Bears Ears National Monument and only used about a gallon of water to drink; all of the food I brought was pre-cooked and didn’t require water to prepare. Easily the biggest ways I’ve found to save water are to reuse the same bowl and spoon for every meal, even if they’re dirty- If it would be gross, like putting milk and cereal in a bowl with hardened rice, bean, and cheese mix, I would use just the smallest amount of water with no soap to scrub out the bowl, then pour in my cereal and milk, thus reducing the number of times we need to run the dishwasher- to shower less and to shut the water off between rinses, to wear clothes longer before washing them, and to simply pee outside. The trip to Bears Ears confirms to me in a measurable way that my water usage will decrease drastically when I start living out of a backpack again.
All of my waste for the month could be recycled, and it all fit into one trash bag, including large empty bottles like a 1.5 gallon almond milk bottle and a 2 liter mouth wash bottle that took up a lot of that volume. Most of that waste was plastic from food waste, like bags for rice and beans, bread bags, bags for grapes, etc, which for many people is extremely difficult or impossible to avoid. Even if I shopped all of my food from the bulk section at the coop, those bulk items arrive at the coop in some sort of packaging. Let’s say I shopped all of my food from the local farmers market where I could eliminate packaging entirely and trace the source of all of my food. That would require regular farmers markets throughout the year, a wide enough supply of food that one could fulfill all of my dietary requirements, not to mention the ability to afford the higher cost of locally grown or organic foods. Even in communities with regular and widely supplied farmers markets, frankly it’s just easier and cheaper and more reasonable for most people to shop at the big supermarket with the plastic packaging, or to get things shipped to their house through Amazon rather than to shop locally. Thus, living on a pretty tight budget, the best solution I found to reducing my plastic waste is to buy in bulk at the supermarket, and to reduce, reuse, and recycle what plastic I do consume.
Most of the paper waste I have from this month is from cardboard food packaging as well, plus a shocking amount of receipts that I didn’t ask for or want but were just handed to me, some sheets of homework from Spanish lessons I’ve been taking recently, and spam mail. The 2 cans of beans I got on the first day of measuring my consumption, and I quickly switched to buying dry beans in bulk to avoid buying more cans. The bottles and other cans were treats and a conscious choice, but for a month of consumption I’d say that’s not that much and it’s all getting recycled anyway. The fabric came from the thrift store for a series of projects I’ve been doing to make my own clothes and gear, which saves me money and means I’m reusing materials that already exist to make something new. The compost is mostly banana peels, avocado skins and seeds, bell pepper and squash guts, etc. and it all fits into a coconut oil jar and one gallon-sized ziplock bag. Given how many fruits and vegetables I eat, the best way I’ve found to reduce my food waste is to shop smart and to use every part of the fruit or vegetable. When I cook squash for example, which is cheap and in season right now, I’ll make sure to scrape out every molecule of flesh, and bake the seeds too. I even tried to make some sweet squash cookies out of the guts once this month, but it was pretty bitter.
This is a good baseline. For the month of December, I’ll keep measuring all of my consumption and see what changes. How can I find new ways to consume less? How will the cold weather affect my consumption? How will the last-minute getting-ready-for-my-trip tasks contribute to my consumption? As for this month, I’m pretty satisfied with the creative solutions I’ve found for using less, but most happy about just getting it all into the spreadsheet and looking at it. As the months start to add up, I’ll be able to find more long-term trends in my usage, and compare my consumption living at home to my consumption while living out of a backpack. If you have any suggestions for how to use less, some good stories about how you use less every day, or just want to say hi, leave it in the comments below. Thanks for following and subscribe to the email list in the sidebar to stay up to date with how things go next month and for all of the posts that will come from my adventure.