Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reducing my consumption levels

I have starting keeping up with Sharon Astyk's blog Casaubon's Book. Her topics and ideas are great food for thought regardless if I agree with her perspective or not. Throughout various entries, she kept mentioning something called Riot 4 Austerity, piquing my interest. Once I found a web link, I followed it here. To summarize, people pledge to reduce their consumption in one, some or all of seven different categories by 90%. This means they try to use ten percent of the current levels of consumption of natural gas, consumer goods, gasoline, water and electricity, only throw away 10% of the garbage, and increase the amount of locally grown and purchased food. Being the numbers gal I am, I calculated several numbers to compare my consumption to the average and see how close to 90% I am. To be honest, I did not think I would have made it close, but I had the sense I was running ~50% of average numbers. How did I measure up?

Riot 4 Austerity: The average American uses 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. Ten percent levels means 50 gallons per person, per year.
In keeping track of my miles per gallon, I had a handy-dandy notebook that could tell me how much gasoline I have consumed in the past year. From July 7, 2007 to July 8, 2008, I consumed 377.35 gallons of gasoline, just over 75% of average usage. This number was achieved with minimal carpooling, combining trips, driving to and from work five days a week as well as at least monthly visits to see family. When I did carpool twice a week, eliminating one trip to work per week, I used 366.87 gallons of gasoline (July 6, 2006 to July 7, 2007). With similar consumptions rates for the last two years, I can see that I have not really reduced my gasoline usage. I have started working from home once every two weeks, occasionally carpool to work and am conscious of how much driving I do. I hope I reduce my consumption, but anticipate it will not drop below 300 gallons unless the mpg suddenly skyrockets. In fact, since I have started keeping track of my consumption, I have reached and passed the 90% reduction goal of 50 gallons in two months. However, this number may look promising, but my gas mileage decreases in the winter compared to the summer. I would love to achieve 300 gallons in one year, but I could reach 350 gallons for one year.

Riot 4 Austerity: The average American uses 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH.
I like my modern life equipped with my iBook, TV, dehumidifier, lights, oven and refrigerator. However, some of these, Energy-Star certified or no, suck down the kilowatts like price is no object. I used 4,705 kW of electricity from July 2007 to June 2008. While this is 42% of the average consumption, I know my electricity usage spikes during the warmer months. Between central air and dehumidifiers (and adding in a chest freezer), my consumption dramatically spikes compared to the cooler months. I average ~400kW per month, four times the goal. While I buy 300kW worth of renewable energy, I have not completely offset my usage. I want to reduce my usage to an average of 300kW per month so I am solely buying renewable power. With the cooling season almost over, reducing my AC use is easy. In fact, I have already seen a drop in my most recent bill compared to the month before. I am slowly replacing my incandescent bulbs with CFLs as the incandescents break. The clothes dryer is convenient especially in winter, but I will try a few days in the winter to hang out my clothing. I am still looking for other ways to reduce my electric consumption without giving up all my electric-powered toys.

Natural gas
Riot 4 Austerity: US average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR.
According to my calculations, I used half the average amount in 2007--500 therms, but this is still above the 90% reduction suggested. While it is easy to keep the consumption low during the summer since only my water heater is pulling natural gas (last bill, I used 6 therms), winter is my highest usage. I already set my thermostat as low as I can handle it, but I plan on setting it lower during the nightime hours. Last winter, I set it to 55 when away from home, 64 when home and 58 when sleeping. I will have my daytime and nighttime temperatures agree this winter and see if I can decrease my usage further. I have a down comforter and an electric blanket. With the electric blanket to take the edge off the cold bed just before I climb in and the down comforter, I should stay warm overnight. Blankets, slippers, robe and sweaters are my usual winter wear. I have supplementary heating based off electricity, but I will try not to use it much to keep my kilowatts down as well.

Riot 4 Austerity: The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.
This is a tough number to hit. If I cannot reduce my natural gas, gasoline and electricity usage to 10% levels, how could I get water down to 10 gallons a day? According to my water meter, I use about 1,100 gallons per month. This comes out to ~36 gallons/day. Guesstimating what I use when at work, I believe I use ~45 gallons per day. This is pretty good, about half of the average daily consumption. My biggest water waster is the shower followed by the dishes. I could halve the amount of water I use in the shower if I shut it off when lathering, but in my current setup, this is a hassle. I am working on minimizing the water I use to rinse dishes and hoping I can further reduce the water used. My goal is to get to 1,000 gallons a month.

Riot 4 Austerity: The average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.
I mentioned in an earlier post about how surprised I was to find out how people could throw away 4.5 pounds of garbage a day. Between recycling and composting, I have reduced the amount of waste coming from my household. The fewer packaged items (especially plastic) I use, the emptier my garbage bin is. I put out my garbage can less frequently than my neighbors including the person who occupies the other half of the duplex and is there less than 50% of the time. I estimated that I throw out about half the average person, but have started keeping track of the garbage I discard. Based on the last nine weeks, I have discarded approximately 2.75 pounds of garbage per week. This is based on the weight of the garbage in from house plus ~1lb/week allowance for work and eating out. Since I eat out approximately once a week and up until September, used paper towels in the bathroom, I thought this was adequate. I am thrilled I can meet at least one of the 90% reduction goals. This calculation excludes the weight of my old windows. The installers said they did go to the landfill (minus one pane I kept). If I take that weight on myself (and I am unsure of the total), I would exceed the 90% reduction, bringing my total closer to 5 pounds/week. This is less than the typical household, but I will keep working on this number. Being so conscious of what I discard, I feel guilty when I throw away plastic I cannot recycle or reuse (e.g., CD-ROM for an old printer).

Consumer goods
Riot 4 Austerity: The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, on things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR.
So how is this one calculated? The site states: Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not goodwill and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out - that is, if someone says, “If you don’t buy it, I’m going to toss it.” Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills. Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost.

With that in mind, I am attempting to keep track of my spending on consumer goods. According to my totals, I have spent $128.58 since July 12. I cannot exclude I have missed a few entries, but most of my purchases are for secondhand goods, many of which have no dollar charged to them since I purchased the items at a charity thrift shop. The remainder are trips to the hardware store and one excursion to Bath and Body Works. I rarely purchase music since I have $5.11 left from my $25 iTunes gift card from Christmas 2007 and have only purchased a used book this year. I hope I can hit the $1,000 mark, but know that garden purchases and any electronics will bring me closer a lot quicker than I anticipate. I would like to keep it under $2,000 and will report on my progress here.

There is one other category (food), but I have chosen to work on these six. How do you think you measure up to the "average" American consumer?

1 comment:

  1. Very intersting, going to check out the book and try and hit some of those targets.