By Bonita Davis, Master Recycler and SE Resident

No Impact Man, The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet by Collin Beavan seemed more like a work of fiction rather than an autobiographical account as I was browsing through the Multnomah County Public Library’s catalogue. 

Nonetheless, curiosity led me to place a hold on it with nothing more intended than to skim through it.

Turns out Beavan and his wife Michelle and toddler Isabella lived a comfortable life in a 9th floor Greenwich Village apartment in lower Manhattan

Comfortable that is, until Beavans’ environmental concerns and lifestyle choices collided. He realized he needed to do more than just worry and talk about climate change, wasted resources and the health of the planet. It was time to just do something, starting with his own behavior.

Beavan and his family engaged in a yearlong project to live as near a zero impact lifestyle as possible, and of course, to write about it. Not a climate scientist or activist, he did his research along the way. 

Focusing first on carbon from fossil fuels, he started with how he and the family moved around. Walking and biking on used bikes replaced cars and subways. No more elevators at home 

Think about it… every time the dog needed to go out, it was nine flights down and nine back up. Eventually this expanded nixing the electric appliances including the washing machine, refrigerator, heat and air conditioning- in NYC!

Simultaneously, paper products were removed from the household. No more chopping down trees for one-time-use paper bags, towels, plates, take out containers, wrappers, diapers, and even toilet paper.

Take-out food on paper plates were replaced with locally grown foods prepared at home. Frequent stops at the food coop and farmers market eased storage issues. The single household waste can was removed and the recycling bin remained empty. Board games, conversation and soup dinner parties replaced screens in the home. 

It took a lot of ingenuity and research throughout the year as their lifestyle choices were evaluated and revamped and basically, everything changed. Establishing rules to guide them and asking advice from experts helped them navigate their journey into a lower impact household. The book’s Appendix is impressive.

How did it all end? Was it too extreme? Actually, it hasn’t ended. Some changes implemented were sustainable, some not, but happily, many of the changes the family made resulted in better overall health and quality of life.

Beavan believes the system needs to change and all of us are part of the system. It isn’t just up to industry, government or technology to solve. It starts with doing something.

Why not try something new as we begin a new year? What a great time to get that recycling right, try out fresh food, home cooking, more trips by foot, bike or bus, or solar power, or whatever else you can imagine that would help reduce impact in your household. Who knows what might be possible?