A Day in the Life of Our Carbon Footprint

I recently read a post at Sober Veg Mom, called Pandemic Day in the Life, where she detailed all the things her family did in a day’s time. The post got me thinking about how we spend our days as well, specifically how we may or may not be living a low-impact lifestyle, so I decided to do my own Day in the Life post.

It is your average Monday morning in March. It is 49 degrees outside and the thermostat is set at a comfortable 72 degrees inside. Angie and I are snuggled beneath a patchwork quilt that my grandma made in the early 1990s, fast asleep.

5:30 AM – The alarm on my cell phone goes off. Angie gets up, goes to the bathroom, washes her face, and brushes her teeth. She then goes into the kitchen to start the electric kettle to make coffee in our French press. While the water heats, she unloads the dishwasher. During this time, she has turned on the bathroom and kitchen lights, a set of grow lights we are using to raise seedlings in the living room, and a lamp. She has also placed my phone on the charger, and set our Kindles on the couch.

6:00 AM – Angie wakes me up, pours our coffee, and waits for me to join her on the couch to read for an hour.

7:00 AM – I start my morning rounds. First, I make the bed. Next, I wash up (I only shower every other day, unless absolutely necessary) and get dressed. The clothes I wore yesterday are the clothes I put back on today. Meanwhile, Angie is making breakfast. Since this is Monday, we’re having homemade soy milk yogurt with fruit, toast with homemade jelly, and green tea. When I’m dressed, I water the plants. In the windowsill and on the patio we are growing kale, carrots, snap peas, lettuces, herbs, and tomato seedlings. I take my phone off the charger and put my Kindle on.

7:15 AM – I turn on my computer and check my work log to see what’s in the queue for the day. Depending on the time of the month, I may have reports to edit and grants to write, but mostly it’s just one or the other. Angie brings breakfast to me at my desk, then settles down at the dining table to listen to a podcast while she eats. I place my tea on an electric warmer plate to keep it from getting cold while I work and eat.

9:00 AM – I take my first break from working and load the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher. Angie is washing up and getting dressed. Most Mondays I start a pot of vegetable soup around this time. Right now, most of the ingredients come from the produce section of Kroger or Aldi, as we are almost out of the veggies we froze or canned last summer. The soup will be our lunch for the week.

9:30 AM – I’m back to work, having left my computer on while I was away. Angie is getting started with her morning workout in our bedroom. She is following a video routine on YouTube while listening to Spotify on the TV and using her phone for a timer. The overhead light in the bedroom is on. Angie’s routine may consist of weight training (using the weights or bands we purchased last year), stretching, or cardio.

11:00 AM – Angie tries to get me involved in her workout. Sometimes I acquiesce and sometimes I don’t. Today, we do a kickboxing routine and a stretching routine from YouTube. Though I’m away from my desk, my computer is still on. The soup is still simmering in the kitchen.

11:30 AM – Angie cleans up her workout space, runs the robot vacuum in the kitchen and living room, and starts making a salad for lunch. I go back to work, fighting the robot vacuum as it tries to go over my feet and eat the cords beneath my desk.

12:30 PM – The soup is done and it’s lunch time! When it’s warm, we like to eat lunch on the patio, but today it is windy so we eat inside, while watching part of a documentary on Netfilx. After lunch, we work on our Spanish lessons, using apps on our phones. After lunch, we clean up the kitchen, putting the dishes in the dishwasher.

1:30 PM – I text my mom to see if she needs anything from the store. Today, she does not, but oftentimes we have to make 1-3 stops on the way to her house when we visit. I also take this time to finish up any work I have been doing online and turn off my computer. If I remember, I turn off the power strip too.

2:00 PM – We turn off all the lights and drive to my mom’s house in our 2015 Chevrolet Spark. She lives 7.1 miles away. Sometimes we drop off our recycling on the way, but not today.

2:15 PM – We spend the next few hours visiting with my mom and taking care of any small chores she may need help with. Today, we are planting roses and mulching the flower beds. If we weren’t going to my mom’s, we would probably go for a walk or a hike.

3:30 PM – We break for snack, which is a dumpster apple with not so much as a bruise on it, rescued over the weekend from Aldi.

5:30 PM – We start the 7.1 mile drive back home, but we are hungry and have a $5 discount for Moe’s, so we order dinner on their app and drive the extra 13.8 miles (round trip) to pick up take-out. Though we told them no utensils, we get 2 plastic forks to go with our 2 plastic plates (with lids) and 2 plastic salsa cups (with lids). All of this is tied up in a plastic bag.

6:00 PM – We are back home eating dinner when the phone rings. It’s our niece so we catch up with her while we eat.

6:45 PM – Angie is washing the plastic plates and salsa cups to put them in recycling, while I finish loading the dishwasher for the day.

7:00 PM – This is the time of day when we either catch-up on things that we’ve not had time for (ie. finishing any work we might have, blogging, or prepping for meals) or we relax (ie. working a jigsaw puzzle, taking an evening stroll, or working on a personal project). Today, I cut a pattern for a sewing project while Angie puts together her workout routine for the following day.

8:00 PM – Angie takes a shower. I change into my night clothes and finally remember my Kindle is still on the charger. I remove it and finish the chapter I was reading this morning. This week’s book is No Impact Man by Colin Beavan.

8:20 PM – Angie is out of the shower so we go to the kitchen to find a bedtime snack. Tonight, it is unsweetened applesauce and graham crackers.

8:30 PM – We retire to the couch to eat our snack and watch TV. We would normally watch the rest of the documentary we started at lunch but it was not interesting to either of us, so we watch an episode of Chicago Med on Peacock instead.

9:15 PM – Angie brushes her teeth first, while I put the snack dishes in the sink, and then we swap. While I’m brushing my teeth, Angie turns off the lights and makes sure the doors are locked.

9:30-ish PM – We are fast asleep!

For the most part, this is a typical day, with the only exception being Moe’s. We very rarely dine out but on this occasion, having the coupon (combined with being tired) made it all too easy not to grab take out.

Armed with this information, I took to the web to find out just what kind of carbon footprint our current lifestyle produced. Depending on where I went, I got all sorts of different answers.

The EPA says that our carbon footprint is 16,821 pounds per year…

While conservation.org says that it is 265 trees per year…

And carbonfootprint.com says it’s 4.49 metric tons per year…

Wait, I’m confused?!?!

The questions from all of the sites seemed to focus on three areas: household energy use, transportation, and travel, but none allowed for very accurate or detailed calculations. For example, the EPA site allowed deductions for washing clothes in cold water, having CFLs and Energy Star appliances, and drying clothes on a line but it did not allow deductions for (nor did it ask about) composting, eating local/organic produce, consuming less meat, or reducing water usage. All of these things can reduce your carbon footprint just as much, if not more, than their suggestions. I mean, not using a microwave saves far more energy than using one with even the most stellar Energy Star rating.

About the only thing that I can really tell from these calculations is that we’re below average, which is good, but I would have liked a little more info on what we could do better. To get that, I had to do my own “energy audit”. By my own calculations (which are not very scientific) and a whole lot of Googling, I found that we are doing some things well:

  • We eat low on the food chain. Our diet is mostly whole plant-based foods (with a few chips and Kind Bars mixed in for good measure).
  • We buy a lot of our produce locally from farmers we know and trust. We also (try to) grow a few things.
  • We try our hardest not to waste food – and sometimes we even rescue food that the grocery store has wasted.

These things are important because the world’s food system is responsible for about 25% of the planet-warming greenhouse gases that humans generate each year. That includes raising and harvesting all the plants, animals and animal products we eat, as well as processing, packaging and shipping food to markets all over the world. 

Along with our food choices:

  • We buy used clothing and household items (when possible).
  • We wash our clothes in cold water and only do laundry once a week (approximately 2-3 loads). We also wear our clothes (except undies, of course) for multiple days at a time.
  • We recycle.
  • We drive a tiny car that gets great gas mileage. We maintain it regularly and try to combine errands when we go out.
  • We set our thermostat to 78 in the summer and 72 in the winter, and regularly turn the unit off completely in favor or opening the windows.
  • We use a low-flow showerhead and take short showers, every other day.

Which is all well and good, but there are still some things that can use some improvement:

  • We (as in I) tend to forget to take our reusable bags into the store.
  • We can’t seem to escape plastics. We’ve purged our containers twice in the past 6 months and yet, our plastic-ware drawer is still overflowing and we have Ziplocs coming out our ears.
  • We (as in I) tend to forget to turn off the power strips. We installed them at our most used outlets thinking it would help reduce energy vampires but that only works when we (as in I again) remember to do it.
  • We used to shop the bulk aisles but sadly, COVID took that away, so we’re buying a lot more single-use packaging than we want to.
  • We don’t compost like we once did. Since moving into our new apartment, we have no space for a large compost bin and my mom no longer wants us to keep a compost pile there.

But rather than complain or make excuses, here are some things we plan to do to up our game:

  • I recently found an app called ShareWaste that connects people who want to compost with people looking for compost. We have someone nearby and I plan to reach out this week to see how we can get that started.
  • We put the reusable bags in the car for easier access.
  • We are once again going to purge the plastics, and this time we will not accept anyone else’s discards just to keep them out of recycling. We will use our mason jars (trust me we have a ton of them!) for leftovers and food storage.
  • I put a sticky note on my desk to turn off the power strip.
  • We recently made several zero-waste swaps (which I will talk about in another post).
  • We plan to buy almost all of our produce from the Amish this summer and can or freeze enough to help offset our dependence on the grocery store this winter.
  • I have made the commitment not to fly anywhere this year. Angie is still gong to fly to Texas this summer, but that will be her only flight.

In the book, No Impact Man, the author talks about how one person’s efforts do make a difference. He uses the story of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back to illustrate how every single effort (the straws already on the camel’s back) builds the framework for the next effort, until one day (hopefully in our lifetime) there will come a “last straw” that breaks through to reversing climate change. That last effort will be no more powerful than the collective effort that everyone has put in by doing their part, it will just the the one that gets us across the finish line. What that says to me is that even if the only thing I can do is eat less meat, it’s still something. If the only thing my mom can do is recycle, that’s still something too. By doing a whole lot of little things together, we can turn the tide and maybe, one of us will even get lucky enough to be the last straw.

Join the conversation. What do you do in your home, school, neighborhood, or community to fight climate change? What can we all do better together?

For those of you who have been around awhile, I’m sure you’ll note that we are now using the dishwasher instead of hand washing our dishes. Our new kitchen does have Energy Star appliances, which makes it more efficient and cost effective to use the dishwasher. To test this, we did an experiment: hand washing only for 1 month vs. using the dishwasher only for 1 month. Our water bill was $8 higher the month we hand washed, so we use the dishwasher now and hand wash only a few dishes.