This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


13 September 2010

Laundry day!  Definitely time.

I'm saving 3 gallons of water every day (of my 15 gallons total) to use for cleaning at the end of the week (2.3 gallons a day for laundry=15 gallons end of week) and (.7 gallons/day for a 5 gallon bucket shower heated in the sun).  Here's how I do it:

(1) dump in 1/4 cup of laundry detergent

(2) boil a gallon of water (about 0.625 kWh) and dump into 5 gallon pail with 3 more gallons of room-temp water (dumping over detergent makes it foamy)

(3) add clothes

(4) let soak for an hour

(5) stomp on clothes.  stomp until all clothes are flattened in the bucket then move them around again and re stomp (water is still warm after an hour so its kinda nice)

(6) mash up clothes with hands (this is actually an awesome stress reliever if you really get into it)

(7) dump wash water (if I had used homemade detergent I could probably use this for plants....not there yet) Also, its actually quite gratifying to see all the dirty water going down the drain, it is dirtier than you would think being that we never see how dirty our wash water actually is, makes you feel like you really accomplished something)

(8) refill with room temp water and mash the clothes again, a lot. This gets all the soap out

(9) refill one more time and dump (total of three fills is about 15 gallons)

(10) hang clothes in the tub on a line.  The clothes will be really wet (not like when you take them out of the washer and they've gone through a spin cycle) so they need to be wrung out and put in a place they can drip for a while. 

I did a little research on a typical washing machine cycle so that I could compare it with my bucket method.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency the average washing machine uses 41 gallons per load.  Higher efficiency washing machines bring this number down to under 28 but that is still quite a bit of water.  When I was doing bucket laundry I started thinking about what a washing machine does and how I could substitute myself for one.  Basically, the washing machine fills the tub up with water and agitate it with the center agitator for a while.   After that, it drains all the water out by spinning it into the side holes and refills to rinse the clothes, and spins again.  While I'm not a washing machine, I think my clothes mashing did a pretty good job of cleaning in general, and it was all using my own energy for washing, a total of 0.625 kWh (heating water).

According to

hot/warm cycle uses 4.5 kWh/load
warm/warm cycle uses 3.5 kWh/load
hot/cold cycle uses 2.8 kWh/load
warm/cold cycle uses 1.9 kWh/load
cold/cold cycle uses 0.3 kWh/load

I'm assuming these numbers are taking into account the energy needed to heat the water and that is why they are different, I'll be metering my washing machine next time one of my roommates is washing...


12 September 2010

With almost a month of the project down, I sorted through the waste I have accumulated over the last 4 weeks to see what patterns there were and what waste types I can try to eliminate. 

There really isn't  any 'random' garbage, all of the things I've accumulated can be put in categories more or less:

_twist-ties (from wrapping greens and other vegetables together)
_milk top plastic rings (even though the containers/caps are reusable there is still this small waste)
_bottle caps
_sunflower oil bottles/plastic tops
_beer/wine bottles
_plastic packaging (from books ordered online and empty soil bags)
_paper waste (junk mail, office paper waste)

Even though the majority of this waste (at least size and weight) is recyclable, I cannot recycle during this project because, that too, uses petroleum to fuel recycling trucks.  Both recycling and waste trucks have the lowest gas-mileage numbers of almost any vehicles made, around 3-4 mpg ($20 per gallon).  They are really big, heavy, and carry lots of stuff.  So while recycling, yes, is better, it still isn't great.  Finding ways to eliminate waste altogether is a much better way to deal with the issue.

Ways I have found so far to decrease and eliminate waste are:

1_Buy in bulk: almost ANYTHING can be found in bulk at food co-ops and more and more at regular grocery stores.  Buying bulk is cheaper because you aren't paying for any packaging, and it is almost guaranteed to be fresher.  "Once you buy bulk you will never go back", (Marcos Lopez-Carlson at the Wedge Co-op))
2_Bring reusable containers for all your bulk shopping and produce shopping.  This eliminates the need for all those small plastic bags which cannot even be used as garbage container bags.
3_Compost: Either indoors with worms (if you live in a small space with no yard) or outside in a backyard bin.  Composting eliminates organics which turn to sludge in landfills and are unable to decompose, it also can be sold once finished to gardeners.  Many cities (or neighborhoods) are starting compost collection pickups.  With worms, however, compost hardly accumulates, so your organic waste literally become a non-accumulating cycle.)  Compost also allows our house to take out the trash less often because our trash doesn't smell, and it fills up less quickly. 
4_Give preference to products which come in returnable/reusable containers.  I haven't found many of these so far, but in Minneapolis you can get milk in returnables from Cedar Summit.  Find breweries that allow you to buy returnable growlers (Great Waters, Town Hall and Flat Earth in Minneapolis) thanks laurie :)
5_Opt out of junk mail (
6_Reuse whatever waste you can (reuse glass jars for filling bulk foods, as planters...) I save all rubber bands that come on greens for later use.
7_Shred newspaper for composting (soy wax can be safely composted) and use as worm bedding.

Virajita mentioned to me today that there are actually different amounts charged for various sizes of garbage cans, and her family was able to switch their large garbage cart for a smaller one.  I had no idea Minneapolis did this (or any US city for that matter) and I'm guessing a lot of others don't know about it.  If you live in a situation where you have your own garbage cans, contact Hennepin County to get a smaller bin!

"The number of carts and recycling bins at your service address are what the previous owner needed for their weekly services. You will continue to have these for your weekly garbage and recycling use, but if you wish to increase or decrease the number of garbage carts or recycling bins you have, please contact our office at (612) 673-2917" (Hennepin County website)

.When looking at the Minneapolis Solid Waste website (
) it only mentions that there are large or small carts.  This seems like something that Hennepin County could promote as an environmental benefit as well as a way to reduce their own workload and need for trucks/fuel.  Virajita had noticed that they never filled their cart up and called to see about getting a smaller one, they switched it out and the cost is reduced slightly.  Waste (like energy and water costs) are not reflective of true cost.  As petroleum becomes more and more expensive, we will likely see an increased cost for garbage pick up and restrictions for how much can be dumped from each resident.  Until that happens, however, people will likely continue to create waste, unconscious of some of the simple ways they could change their own behaviors to reduce and even eliminate it.

Because it has been almost impossible to not create ANY waste, the little waste I am collecting will be saved until the end of the project.  It isn't a problem to save because there is no organic waste (all being composted) so everything is empty bottles and plastic/paper of some kind. According to the Hennepin County website: "None of your garbage goes into a landfill. City of Minneapolis garbage goes to the Hennepin Energy Resource Co. (HERC).Located in downtown Minneapolis, the HERC facility uses mass burn technology to convert 365,000 tons of garbage a year into electricity that is sold to Xcel Energy, Inc."  While there are benefits to burning waste (like creating energy) there are also major hazards. 

The documentary film, Blue Vinyl illustrates some of these hazards very clearly.  While the focus of the film is on vinyl waste, the topic is an accumulation of plastic waste which-once created-has almost NO safe means of disposal.  It will not biodegrade, you can't bury it without risks of toxins leaching into the soil, you don't want it to end up in your water supply and you can't safely burn most of it without releasing some of the most deadly toxins known to this earth.  Plastic is a huge waste accumulation problem because it is so durable, but burning it really isn't a good option either. 

As much as possible I would like to find ways to eliminate the kinds of waste that I am still accumulating, or find other useful purposes for it.   Ultimately, everything I collect during the 100 days I will personally deliver by bicycle to the HERC facility :) I bet they'll love that.