Sunday, March 27, 2016

Compare Your Consumption

Many years ago, when sustainability, resource depletion, and Peak Oil were constantly in the news, we could find calculators that would allow us to compare our usage to other people.

Back in 2010, I often wrote about our usage. For those of us here in the US, we always came up on the heavy end of usage. In fact, regardless of our lifestyle choices, just revealing that we lived in the US added negative points to our overall sustainability score, which irritated me, sometimes, but I understand. Just calculating the transportation factor alone (given that most of us in the US have and heavily rely on our automobiles - especially in rural states, like Maine, where everything is so spread out) increases our usage compared to places that have a mass transit infrastructure.

I haven't heard as much talk in the news or around the web these days about personal usage, and so, when I saw
this article on Der Spiegel, I was excited to try it out.

Some of the answers were a bit skewed, because we don't purchase meat from the grocery store. We raise our own chickens and rabbits, we eat wild meat (deer, turkey, fish), or we purchase a meat share (pig, cow, lamb) from a local farmer. With the way that our meat is packaged by the butcher for our family of five, we end up eating about 1.4 lbs of meat per person per week.

We also don't throw away food. Whatever food waste there is either goes to our chickens or goes in the compost pile, but I still put a number in there, because, maybe there are times when something gets put in the garbage that should have gone outside.

The electronic waste question was also a difficult one. My house is full of electronics. Everyone one of us has a laptop computer, and we all have either a smartphone or a Kindle. The thing is, however, that we do, as suggested in the article, repair instead of replace. Deus Ex Machina still has the first smartphone he ever purchased, an iPhone 4. One of the buttons no longer works, but the phone itself is fine. He wouldn't have gotten the smartphone when he did, except that none of the cellphone carriers in our area could support his old razor. We've replaced the screens on my daughters' phones on several occasions when they cracked. As for computers, we rarely replace those, either, because if it works, it works. Why get a new one? And we're just as likely to figure out what's wrong with the old one and replace a part (like putting in a new hard drive, which we've done) as we are to purchase a new one - and even then, the new-to-us computer is just as likely to be a refurb.

The clothes question was an interesting one, because many of the clothing items I own were purchased second-hand to begin with, we tend to wear our clothes until they can't be worn anymore, and when the clothes are no longer fit to wear in public I keep them so that I can make them into something else - like oven mitts, cloth sanitary napkins, bath mats, or surprise clothing items.

I estimated that 10% of my wardrobe consists of things I don't wear often, but that number is, possibly, misleading. I have lots of sweaters that I don't wear at all during the summer. I have some dress clothes that I only wear when I'm ushering at the theatre.

It's been a long time since I filled out one of those calculators, and we've changed a lot in our lifestyle habits. With regard to answers on this calculator (which, I believe, assumed I was German and so I wasn't automatically dinged for being an American :)), we're not doing so bad.

How do you compare to the world?

My answers:

Your consumption in comparison with the world:

  • Your spending: 26 % – People in in Botswana. spend a similar amount on food as you do, measured as a percentage of total expenditures.
  • Your meat consumption: 0.6 kg – Your weekly meat consumption is 0.8 kilograms. That is comparable to the weekly per capita amount available ****.
  • Your household of 5 person(s) throws away 0.5 kg food – At 0.1 kilograms per person, your household throws away less food than those in all European countries for which data is available.
  • You're responsible for 5.4 kg electronic waste – You are responsible for roughly the same amount of electronic waste as people in the Dominican Republic.


  1. Our meat consumption (we also raise part of our meat and the rest is bought sustainable) and food thrown away are the same as yours.
    Our food spending is the same as people in the Republic of Korea. But I think that doesn't really say anything about how much we spend on food.
    And our electronic waste is comparible to Guatamala.
    I agree with you, we're not doing so bad. :)

  2. Interesting, but the test was a little confusing. I buy lots of used items, clothing, don't eat as much meat as most, recycle foods to our chickens, build w/recycled materials. I had my last phone for 4 years, but the battery was burning hot, so got a new one. It was recycled for Vets. Interesting look at things...

    1. I agree. It was confusing, and I had a hard time with how to answer a few of the questions.

  3. Since we moved to the tropics, going from a very roomy 1,800 ft2 4 bedroom home to a 900 ft2 2 bedroom (and about 90% fewer possessions) has been truly eye-opening, and the learning curve is still smacking us around a little.

    Because we have no freezer (yet) for meat storage, and our refrigerator is incredibly small, we must buy more fresh items. We also no longer have a compost pile, and because we rent (and are not allowed a compost bin by our landlord who lives in one of these 5 units) our options are limited as to what we can do with our left-over food (I'm still working on that one, as I absolutely loathe the idea of just chucking it all into a tightly-sealed bag and then into the trash can outside).

    This is teaching me/us a lot about only getting enough food for what we think we'll eat, preparing meals with "just enough" (and only enough left-overs for possibly one more meal to be eaten the next day), etc.

    Eventually I will get into solar dehydrating, canning, etc but for now, we're doing our best to adapt to a completely different lifestyle! Food goes bad quickly here in the tropics, too.

    So, food (and food waste) is still an issue for us - that's my challenge for this upcoming year (we're looking to move to a slightly larger 3 br apartment with the ability to have a compost area out back).

    As for purchases, other than food we have bought very little that we didn't strictly need. It is much easier to wash clothes by hand and dry it here (you can easily wash and dry 2-3 consecutive clothesline-full loads a day since the sun dries clothing fairly quickly here!). I purchased a $10 plunger-style hand washer. We do have a small washing machine, but I try to use that only when things are just too far backed up and things too busy to get on top of it, but typically I'm lucky if I do a machine load once a week-to-10 days (and as mentioned, it's a very small front loader with an economy cycle that takes only 20 minutes).

    We just got our power bill. For the past three months, our bill was $400 (so about $135/month). This is pretty darned unheard of here in the tropics (and this is in Aussie dollars and in a country where electricity is very expensive), especially since we are just now coming out of the summer months and therefore were using fans and a/c every day, 2 laptops, 2 ipads, microwave and electric stove, electric hot water, vacuum cleaner (1x/week - needed to suck up and escort potentially-venomous spiders out of the house), blender, lights, and occasionally the TV.

    Now that the weather is cooling off a bit, we're using the a/c much less often and getting outside more during the middle of the day (something you don't do when the UV index is 14 and it's 100F with 80% humidity outside), so I anticipate that figure is going to be decreased likely in half as the weather continues to become more bearable to be outside for long periods.

    I reckon, not too bad so far.

    We brought some clothes and toys with us, and are enjoying a more minimalistic lifestyle with those items.

    I think so far so good, and of course we can only improve as we focus more on it :)