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For many of us, this time of year often evokes images and memories of home.  So, we’re offering a special 25% off deal on our Discovering a Sense of Place discussion course to help explore the places from which we’ve come. Order today!

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After much hemming and hawing about what to take on for my EcoChallenge this year, I settled on a combo approach. I set out to eradicate my plastic “consumption” and to reduce our household energy use.

The no-plastics challenge was inspired by recent efforts to reduce our household garbage—and the resulting realization that many things that we were throwing away were hard to recycle or non-recyclable plastics.  I went into the EcoChallenge knowing that a hard-line “I will not purchase plastics” approach was not very sustainable for the long term, but during the two week event I realized that there were some simple changes I could make that were sustainable.

A month after the EcoChallenge here are the changes that have become the new norm for me:

1)      I started a grocery shopping “kit” that contains jars and bags to reuse for the bulk bin (I’m still not ready to dive into washable bulk bin bags yet—since it’s one more purchase to make and one more thing to manage).  It was simple to throw together with things I already had, and I’m generally good about remembering my reusable bags, so now I just grab one more bag and I can leave the store with fewer plastics to throw away or recycle.

2)      I am much more aware of packaging. In addition to being easier on the planet, buying items in bulk results in time savings—less recycling to sort, and fewer trips from the kitchen recycling bin out to the bin at the curb. Lately our lives have seemed very full, and every little place I can cut a corner and “buy some time” is welcome.

3)      Eating on the go is a major source of waste and plastics, so I’m trying to make very conscious decisions around where and when I buy meals and snacks on the go.  I run a lot, which means I eat a lot, and the amount of plastic that grabbing lunch or snacks on the go results in was one of the more eye-opening aspects of the EcoChallenge for me.  Since many places won’t let you bring your own container for to-go items, I have been planning ahead more—and choosing food options that don’t entail containers whenever possible.

While plastics were my primary focus, I also set out to find ways we could cut our household energy use, both during the EcoChallenge and beyond. My husband installed an energy monitoring system, which made it very easy to see our energy consumption in real time. We established our baseline energy levels during the first week of the EcoChallenge and then starting making adjustments to reduce our energy use wherever possible.

The changes that we’re sticking with include:

1)      Our dryer is the main energy sucking appliance in our house, and I’m still struggling with the dilemma of replacing our very inefficient—but still very functional—dryer with a super-efficient one.  For now, I have recommitted to air drying as many of our clothes as we can—it takes longer for sure, but having the instant knowledge (provided by the real time energy monitor displays our kwh usage) that we’re keeping our energy use at a very low level has inspired me to keep this up. Now if only I could convince the kitten to stop pulling all the clothes off the drying rack, thereby requiring that I hang them all up multiple times…

2)      Our energy meter made it very clear that our energy use was quite high when our basement lights were on—which turned out to be because we have five bulbs down there. Unscrewing two of the bulbs made very little difference in the lighting and reduced the energy use.

3)      Power strips make it very easy to take care of “phantom energy use”—or the energy that continues to pull when items are plugged in but turned off. We put a power strip in most rooms, and can quickly cut the power off.

On the surface, none of the changes I’ve proposed seem very radical, but cumulatively they move our consumption levels down a notch, which is exactly what I was hoping. I was hoping to finish the EcoChallenge up feeling like we had a few new eco-friendly practices in place, and to identify some habits that we’d be able to sustain over time.

After last year’s EcoChallenge, when we took on the 100 mile diet, and for two weeks ate nothing that didn’t originate in Oregon, save for olive oil and salt, we added three chickens to our family.  I knew that our changes this year wouldn’t be quite that dramatic (or demanding), but I finished the EcoChallenge feeling just as inspired. Taking on the EcoChallenge with so many members of the NWEI community makes me very grateful for the passionate and committed NWEI volunteers and staff!

(Sidenote: The photo of the energy monitor was taken shortly after we installed it–the top number is our baseline for both of us being home on a weekend morning, but sadly the bottom number is not accurate–the bottom shows the daily average, and since it was day 1 with the monitor this reading is off. We’re averaging around 5-6 kwh/day, with gas heat and a gas stove.)

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