The Crunchy Chicken Extreme Eco-Challenge

Extrme Eco Challenge - Crunchy Chicken It’s almost May and it’s time to decide whether or not Will and I are going to accept Crunchy Chicken’s Extreme Eco Challenge. She is a blogger like us who leads a pretty normal life but is working to make life a little greener. One of her favorite methods for greening the world is creating challenges for her readers. This winter she offered the Freeze Yer Buns challenge asking folks to lower their thermostats and this month she’s running a Buy Nothing Challenge. Next on the agenda is a hardcore eco-throwdown.

There are seven options, increasing in difficulty. According to the rules, participants may have one day off a week (sorta like Lent, depending on which teachings you follow). Here they are along with some of my thoughts.

1. No plastic (don’t buy or consume anything in plastic). I initially had visions of starving to death. No tubs or shrink wrap or produce bags or bread bags, which means no frozen food, no cheese, no condiments… Will told me I was being melodramatic and with a little more thought I realized it was manageable. But definitely challenging.

2. No paper products. This seems easier to me except for three items: my calendar, my notebook, and toilet paper. I have been experimenting with a TP-free method but so far I’m not ready for a total switch. Hmmmm.

3. No driving. Will says he would happily do this and let me chauffeur him but I told him I didn’t think that would count. Actually, he would have very little trouble giving up his car but I use mine almost daily to commute to work and to field trips that are not accessible via bus. I’m sure I could cut back my usage dramatically but I couldn’t go car-free. And we do have a driving vacation planned at the end of the month that involves his brother’s wedding…

4. Local food only. I’m thinking about trying this challenge in July but right now we’d be eating an awful lot of eggs and salad greens. I also think that eating 100% locally is too extreme and it makes more sense to shoot for a diet that’s about 80% local so you can still enjoy other cuisines and foods that simply don’t grow where you are. But maybe I’m just a wus. :)

5. No garbage output (compost and recyclables only). This is a noble goal but it seems pretty unattainable. No waste at all? There are pieces of trash like candy wrappers that literally just appear in our yard. And there are a few things I’m not sure will ever be recyclable or reusable. Used dental floss? Sticky labels from produce? I think we already do pretty well minimizing our trash. Still, I’m sure if we took up the challenge we could find a few more areas of waste to trim.

6. No excessive water usage (drink as much as you want but use a bare minimum for bathing, brushing teeth, washing clothes, washing dishes, etc).
This actually sounds easier than some of the others although I do enjoy long hot showers and using the automatic washing machine. And if I took Crunchy Chicken’s advice and really thought about what it would be like to haul in all the water I use from a stream, I’m sure I could cut back on my usage dramatically.

7. No electricity (you can leave your fridge on if you must). There are three big challenges for this one. One is heat, which we could probably do without in May. One is cooking, since we have an electric stove and oven, although I guess if necessary we could eat cold food most of the week. And the last is computers. Will really needs his for work and he works from home most of the time. So maybe we could do a modified version with an allowance for computer use for work only. Oh, and it would suck a lot to not have hot water. But maybe I would be motivated enough to procure a solar shower bag. And I’m sure we’d find a whole new set of ways to entertain ourselves in the evenings without electricity.

Which one should we try? Which one would YOU try? Or has this crossed over into the realm of crazy crunchy eco-extremists? Let us know quick – May 1st is just around the corner!

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13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andy said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

    Is this a pick one or do them all sort of challenge? Maybe I should go to their blog and find out myself.

    The problem I have with things like this is that it sounds like a diet. So many people think a diet will make them skinny, only to find that it barely helped, they rescinded back to their old ways, and in the end there was no change, but they were inconvenienced. I would argue that a challenge like this might ultimately fare worse in the end. If you go crazy on a topic with a short time frame in mind, you will think more about counting down the days till it’s over, rather than trying to find a real solution to the problem. For example, if you try not to produce trash for a week, you are more likely to just stop buying everything or getting anything than trying to find where to buy products with little/no packaging. So my suggestion is to find the solution, not just look at the problem.

    I once tried to think out how to make my lifestyle more sustainable, and the list you have here is certainly a good place to aim for, but you can’t just jump into it instantly, hold that for a week, and accomplish anything in the end. I’ll tell you what I did which I think worked great. I focused on one aspect of my lifestyle that I wanted to target, such as trash. I kept every piece of trash for a day (including those little stickers on fruit!) and then at the end of the day I weighed it and wrote down everything that was in the pile. I had no time frame in mind because that has absolutely nothing to do with this test. The idea is that I would learn how to track and change my trash production, and be able to reduce it more and more over time. This lasted for about 6 weeks, because by that point I was making as little trash as I could imagine, had figured out how to buy goods which were less packaged and/or more recyclable. I have no numbers for what my previous trash weight was, but at the beginning of this period I was making between 50-120 grams of trash in a day, and by the end it was around 0-30 grams, and almost half of the weight was from medical supplies (I’m type 1 diabetic and I haven’t found a way to reduce my supplies). In the end, it came to about 1.5% of what the average American throws out. Ok, so I must admit this was more effort than a week project, but isn’t the end goal to change lifestyle habits in this direction anyway?

    I have done this kind of change with trash, gasoline (hypermiling and posting my gas usage on gassavers.org), heating (keeping track of how many bags of pellets used in a week and trying to turn down the thermostat when I left), cooking propane (cooking in batches and with a haybox), and electricity (tracking time used and watts consumed with a kill-a-watt device).

    If you are trying to live more green, I would recommend skipping over the short-term challenges, and taking an approach that will make you find the solutions. It’s just too easy to hate the problem (i.e. “I make too much trash!”) without finding how to solve the problem if it is just short term.

    -Andy

  2. 2

    cinco said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    Hmm. Well, sadly, I don’t think any of these are going to be possible for me! Which is a shame, because I think it’s a great idea.

    1. No plastic (don’t buy or consume anything in plastic).
    …Yeah, that’s not going to work. Probably two thirds of my food comes in plastic. I try to avoid packaging, but for food items it seems nearly impossible. Even my vegetables came in plastic. I do shop at the Farmer’s Market, but I got there too late for most actual vegetables this week and had to get them elsewhere. (Note to self: get up earlier.)

    2. No paper products.
    Work makes this totally, completely impossible. I don’t keep a paper calendar or notepad these days (but I do write myself notes occasionally–I try to always use paper out of my recycle bin. M, you could make small notebooks for yourself using the back side of recycled paper–I used to do that), but there’s still toilet paper (I did buy a squirty bottle but I haven’t implemented it yet) and tissue (I swear I am going to buy some handkerchiefs but I haven’t figured out the most affordable option yet). I am hopefully getting closer, though.

    3. No driving.
    Well, I don’t own a car, and I commute via bus. I do accept (and occasionally solicit) rides from other people (at least it’s carpooling?). I could potentially go no-rides-in-other-people’s-cars for a month, but I have plans with friends to go to nearby towns that are not transit accessible that I would hate to have to cancel.

    4. Local food only.
    I’m not sure that’s possible just in the amount of TIME that it would take to source everything, not to mention cook it.

    5. No garbage output (compost and recyclables only).
    I’ve tried pretty hard to reduce trash, and I recycle as much as possible. Right now I am trying to reduce food waste, and I think that’s as close as I can come to this one.

    6. No excessive water usage (drink as much as you want but use a bare minimum for bathing, brushing teeth, washing clothes, washing dishes, etc).
    Hmm. I’m already a short showerer (under 15 minutes), and I wait for full loads before doing laundry or dishes (and I hand-wash things that aren’t filthy). I’d like to get one of those showerheads that stop the waterflow when you push a button, so you could save water while lathering your hair, but since I rent it seems like a pain in the neck to install one and uninstall it in 8 months.

    7. No electricity (you can leave your fridge on if you must).
    All my appliances for cooking are electric. I do have most appliances and the tv and dvd player on outlet strips. I really need to start turning my computer off more, and of course I only use lights when I’m in the room, but I think that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

    It’s definitely food for thought about what I could do more of!

  3. 3

    Maggie said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

    Andy –
    I totally hear where you’re coming from but I think for me doing a challenge like this for a month would be a great way for me to think about how to change my behaviors long-term. Of course, it would be a challenge to not get too discouraged so thanks for your suggestions too!

    Cinco –
    Yup, sound about like what I’m thinking but I do like the idea of seeing how drastically I could change if I put my mind to it. It’s pretty amazing what people can get used to. And I’m definitely looking forward to owning a place where it really feels worthwhile to make changes like replacing the showerheads and putting blankets on the water heater, although 8 months is probably long enough to make it worthwhile. For me it’s more the intimidation of working on plumbing… :)

  4. 4

    Andy said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    Maggie, I think a month is not a bad amount of time. For some reason I was thinking this challenge was a week, but maybe that came from the 1 day off per week thing. I think in general though, putting a time frame on something which you want to be a lifestyle change defeats the purpose a bit. What do you do after that time period is over? If you go back to using more plastic, driving more and such, then it shows that the solutions weren’t found, which to me seems like a reason o keep trying; not just sop there and say ‘I tried but failed’.
    -Andy

  5. 5

    Jessica said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

    I’m already working hard at #1, but its damn near impossible when you live with your mom. She just thinks I’m being extremist. I don’t want my son to grow boobs and lose all his sperm (BPA, found in many a plastic, mimics estrogen in your body)!
    #2, thats just not going to happen, for the same reasons as you, planner, books, magazines, etc. I’m curious as to what your TP free method is, though, because I am trying to eliminate disposable paper products like paper plates and paper towels. I figured TP is the only one of those things I can’t eliminate. I don’t know the 5 shells method.
    #3 I wish. That doesn’t seem possible either, given my location, my work location, my daycare location, and my hours. One day …
    #4 I like your plan, mostly because when the day comes that my only choices are local food, I want to be able to remember oranges.
    #5 I’m minimizing as best as I can. Thats damn near impossible when you have a baby.
    #6 I’m trying. Its so hard to measure excessive. I want a grey water system, then I won’t feel so bad.
    #7 Ha! Lots of people live this one simply because they can’t afford utilities. That one might be the easiest of them all. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.
    I must check out this blog though. I’m working on my own buy nothing challange and didn’t even know someone had issued a similar challange to all.

  6. 6

    Andy said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

    I’m just going to write out my thoughts on the 7 topics:

    1. No plastic (don’t buy or consume anything in plastic).
    This is possible for me but difficult until June. Last summer I was almost off plastic except the occasional Nalgene for water and juice (I’m diabetic, hard to get around that although I did make my own juice for a month when rhubarb was in season). Finding ways to extend the season of unpackaged food is the trick, and I was at least able to cover about 2/3rds of my lunches with unpackaged food I saved over winter.

    2. No paper products.
    TP is of course the difficult one here. I don’t use any new paper anymore in anything I do. I take all notes and read most everything on my laptop (maybe a higher impact in the end though). When I need paper I reuse computer paper that others discarded, or in the case of TP it is recycled paper (No not recycled TP!) But I have used the wipe, fold, repeat method which uses 1/3rd TP as before.

    3. No driving.
    Well, I drive for work, but it’s essentially public transportation to campus that allows 13 cars a day to be off the road, so in this case I think it’s allowable. I ride my bike (infinite mpg) or moped (~80mpg) otherwise.

    4. Local food only.
    Again, difficult here until June, mostly because of poor planning. As I said, most of my lunches are local foods I stored since last August/September, but other than that it is slim pickings at the moment here.

    5. No garbage output (compost and recyclables only).
    As I said earlier I tried really hard for about 6 weeks and got down to 1.5% of the typical American’s waste. I can’t get beyond that without curing diabetes.

    6. No excessive water usage
    My water heater holds 19 gallons, which is enough for about 12 minutes in the shower. I usually use most of that, so I guess I could still reduce there. I use about half a gallon to wash dishes as mentioned in a comment to an earlier post. I wash clothes about every 3-4 weeks in full loads.

    7. No electricity (you can leave your fridge on if you must).
    This winter I offset most of the fridge’s power usage by filling it with ice made naturally outside. If I owned this place, my fridge would be outside. Have you ever wondered why we heat the indoors AND have a box to say cold there also? It baffles me, but I guess it’s convenience. I have a medium multimedia center, an alarm clock, a toaster oven, water heater, and this laptop as the only other things that use electricity. Did I mention this laptop uses the same amount of energy as a small 60 watt-equivalent compact fluorescent light bulb? 13 watts. :)

    So I have some room to improve, and I’ll certainly need to relearn some solutions when I move in 4 weeks, but I feel like I’m on track to fit these challenges if I were to take them.

  7. 7

    Maggie said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 2:14 am

    Andy –
    For me, the challenge would be to stretch myself well beyond my comfort zone so that after the challenge my comfort zone would be expanded. As an example, I currently use about 20 gallons of diesel per month. If I stopped driving for a month, I’m sure there would be parts that would be hugely inconvenient and there would be parts where I would go “oh, I guess it’s really not that bad to take the bus downtown.” After the challenge, I’d like to think that my “normal” diesel use would go down, lets say to 12 gallons per month, because that would suddenly seem like a major luxury. So I guess for me the challenge would be
    1. a way to recalibrate my expectations (a 2-minute hot shower? awesome!)
    2. challenge me to find some creative solutions in a short time period
    3. get me thinking about what I’m comfortable changing in the long-term
    There are days when I feel like I could live an eco-extreme life but there are others when it sounds like pure torture and so I want to be realistic about what balance will work for me. It sounds like you’ve found a pretty hardcore eco style of life that works for you and I applaud you. I’ll see if I can’t steal a few of your ideas. :) And I totally hear you about the fridge. I have seen a number of cool options out there, including the indoor/outdoor refrigerator option where it’s built into the wall so in the winter you just take off the back insulating panel and let the weather do the cooling. My personal pet peeve is people who run their air conditioning at night even though the outdoor air is plenty cool. I’d like to see an A/C system that was smart enough to turn off the compressor if the outdoor air was as cool or colder as the thermostat setting.

  8. 8

    Maggie said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 2:18 am

    Jessica –
    I am planning to post on my TP-free method once I do a little more experimentation but the basic idea is to use a squirt bottle to rinse and then a little bootie shake to dry. I haven’t tried for #2 yet but I also haven’t been terribly satisfied with the method for # 1. It mostly just makes me feel wet. I had been planning to use cloth toilet paper, discussed at cheaplikeme’s blog: http://cheaplikeme.wordpress.com/2007/07/17/eco-quandary-to-use-toilet-
    paper-or-to-use-toilet-cloth-that-is-the-oh-so-personal-question/
    but then I read another post talking about how the squirt bottle method is way easier: http://arduousblog.blogspot.com/2008/01/warning-this-post-contains-tmi.html

    I’m hoping eventually I’ll find something that works. For now I’m focusing on using 3 squares of recycled toilet paper and reminding myself that it’s good to stay hydrated. Oh, and if you know any women who can pee standing up without making a mess, I’d love a lesson. I keep hearing it’s possible but no one will give me a demonstration. :)

  9. 9

    Julie said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

    Hmm. I’m intrigued. Working at home on computer rules out the electricity one. I could manage paper products except I am not hard-core enough to give up TP. No driving I could probably handle since I work from home—at least for a week or two. But then travel plans will get in the way. I’d love to try local food only but, because I’m in Illinois, I’ll have to wait until summer’s in full swing too (or so I think). I’ve started composting and recycle what I can but, realistically, wouldn’t be able to pull off a zero-garbage policy without really putting some thought into everything I purchase, use, etc. So that one I’ll consider but for now it’s on the backburner. No excessive water usage I try to do already but could do more, so that’s a good one for the list. And no plastic? I’d love to try it. That might be first.

    So, to sum up my rambling, I plan to try (in the near future, though I can’t promise it’ll be this week, and in no particular order):

    1. No driving
    2. No garbage
    3. No excessive water use
    4. Only local food
    5. No plastic

    Can’t wait to see what you all do!

  10. 10

    arduous said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

    I have reservations about Crunchy’s challenge for some of the same reasons Andy mentions. But I’ve agreed to try things out: the plastic for a week, the water for a week, and the electricity for a day.

    I was thinking of trying the garbage out too, but you’re right about the floss.

    Ultimately though, I think the attitude to approach this is one of: look, I’m going to (somewhat) fail. But even if I fail, I’m going to be doing so much better than I WAS doing. It’s less about reaching ZERO plastic/paper/etc, and more about greatly reducing and realizing what you need to use and what you really don’t need.

    And that’s why I’m not doing paper. I use very minimal paper that is mostly just TP for number 2, and scraps of what is usually junk mail for notes and grocery lists and stuff. I’m happy with that paper consumption, and I don’t really feel the need to change.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. 😉

  11. 11

    Jessica said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

    Maggie,
    Ha! Thats pretty much how I had to wipe after I had my son. Episiotomies suck. I can’t believe I didn’t think about that. The wetness didn’t bother me too much, although I was practically wearing a diaper. The aftermath of childbirth is gross.
    To pee standing up, you could get a PUD (personal urinary device). The military issues these to women who will be travelling on convoys in Iraq so that they can pee off the side of the trucks if they need to and not stop, just like the men. At least, thats what my first sergeant told me. I have seen ads for civilian versions of them before, and I thought that it would be really handy for camping, but I dont think it would eliminate the need for toilet paper.

  12. 12

    Maggie said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 12:31 am

    Jessica –
    Yeah, the woman who suggested the squirt bottle method said it was pretty common for women to do that after they give birth, which I must admit creeped me out a lot. I’ve been reading up a little on pregnancy and childbirth and there is just so much crazy information!
    I had a friend who got a PUD and really loved it. I haven’t tried one myself. I think TP would still be required and I think you still have to pull your pants down a fair amount but perhaps I’ll get one and do some actual experimentation. Well, after my plastic-free month. :)

  13. 13

    The End of the Eco-Challenge | GreenCouple.com said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

    […] is officially over so we have finished our Extreme Eco-Challenge. Our original goal of eliminating plastic was completely abandoned and our goal of generating no […]

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