'No impact man' after a year doing without -- what now?
To reduce its environmental footprint, No Impact Man and his family did without toilet paper, elevators, TV, and cars for a year. What did they learn?
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It was a trade they had no intention of reversing, once the experiment was over. So much of what they'd thought would feel like sacrifice had ended up being nothing of the sort.Skip to next paragraph
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When the year was over, Conlin and Beavan didn't want to set any more rules for themselves. After all the restrictions, they wanted to finally let it all go and see what felt right.
Mostly, they stuck to buying their food at the farmer's market. But if they were short on groceries after a late night at work, they would stop at the supermarket — despite the packaging on the food on the shelves, despite the distance it had traveled.
While the amount of garbage they produced increased from a single quart every four days to five gallons, this was a far cry from the 90 gallons they produced before the experiment. Their refrigerator is back on, but their freezer is gone.
They started buying olive oil and some seasonings, even though they're not made nearby. They began saying yes when friends invited them out to dinner. And they started using toilet paper again — but now it was made from recycled paper.
Neither of them wanted to bring back their giant, 46-inch TV. But once a week or so, if they're in the mood, they'll watch a drama on a laptop.
It was an obvious choice to keep the rickshaw bikes they'd come to love — three-wheelers with space for groceries and a seat for Isabella. But now, when it rains, they sometimes take the subway.
The air conditioners once seemed like a necessity. But take them away, and the heat and the lack of electronic entertainment drove the family outside, where they spent most evenings at the fountain at Washington Square Park. They cooled off in the mist of the fountain, looked around at the virtual circus of performers who have made the public plaza their stage. They talked with neighbors.
No longer hunkered down in their family's lonely bubble, they were out in the city. They loved it.
At one point during the experiment, Isabella woke up sick in the middle of the night and threw up. Staring at the sheets and pajamas, Beavan just couldn't face piling them into the bathtub and washing them by hand. Feeling a bit like a failure, he headed downstairs to the building's electric laundry machine and gave in.
The next time he had a pile of laundry, he figured if he had broken the rule once, a second time wouldn't hurt. After that, the slippery slope became a laundry landslide.
It was a rule he didn't really regret breaking. There are some resource conservation measures, it turns out, that could turn even the most fervent environmentalist against going full-out green.
Conlin, too, found her limit. Coffee beans are not grown anywhere near the Eastern seaboard, but local food or no, caffeine was one addiction she couldn't shake. She did, however, ask cafes to fill a portable container so she wouldn't waste a cup.
Toward the end of the experiment, Conlin would talk about how much she wanted a dishwasher again. But when they flipped the power switch, the machine stayed dead. There was no way to fix it, and an attempt to buy a used model flopped. So Conlin did her research and found a new one that seemed the most responsible purchase.
But when they got to Home Depot and saw it, she couldn't stop thinking: All those shiny new parts. The huge box it would come in. All that packaging.
"I just couldn't pull the trigger," she says now, sitting in her apartment, all the lights turned off in favor of the afternoon sunlight wafting through the windows.
Still, she says, "I foresee myself at some point in my life having a dishwasher."
Her husband looks at her in some surprise: "What has to happen before you can do that?"
"We've had so many arguments about the dishwasher," he says, laughing. "So basically the subtext here is don't let Colin for a minute think that he's won this fight."
"When I want one, I'll get one," she says with a smile.
Some of the post-experiment adjustments have been painful.