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, January 4, 2011


November 20, 2010

I feel that trash may be one of the easier ways to make big impacts with small (but consistent) changes to our lifestyles.  In my experiment, I managed to; eliminate organic waste with worm composting, dramatically reduce food packaging waste by buying in bulk, and focused on reducing ALL waste, not just waste which cannot be recycled.
Starting a compost bin was quite an adventure having never grown up composting and being totally unfamiliar with it.  I started composting without worms.  I built a bin made of two rubber tubs which stack inside of each other.  One is slightly shorter than the other and has holes drilled into it so any liquids drain into the lower bin to reduce sludge buildup.  However, after a few weeks of 'composting' I had attracted a lot of bugs in my bin and the food was molding and rotting.  Consulting with a friend who is a composting veteran, I realized that it is easier to start with some organic matter (dirt) already in the bin and that ventilation is crucial without worms.  By this point, my bin was full of maggots (yeah gross) and we decided it was best to start over and do it the right way.  My friend brought me some worms from his bin and I started with a little dirt, food scraps, my new worms, and some damp newspaper for bedding.  Once I had enough accumulated compost I could stop adding newspaper and the worms have done the rest of the work for me for 4 months now.  Some of the common misperceptions about composting are:
Common Misperception #1- It doesn't matter if you compost because organics will just decompose in the landfill. 
I thought this for a long time until I learned that decomposition can only happen in environments with oxygen.  Since landfills are so tightly packed with matter, they become anaerobic environments, turning any organic matter into sludge at best (or simply not decomposing at all).  Because of this, that banana peel you are throwing away might as well be a milk jug because it isn't going anywhere. 
Common Misperception #2- Compost will accumulate and I have no where to put it!
Worm composting is somewhat magical, in that the worms seem to moderate their population to eat as much waste as you throw in the bin.  More food=more worms, less food=less worms, and after 4 months, my compost is at the same level it was at month 1.  The compost becomes a dense, nutrient-rich mixture which is perfect organic fertilizer for indoor plants or to use in a backyard garden in the spring.  However, accumulation has proven not to be a problem. 
The second big change to reduce waste is getting in the habit of buying in bulk.  Luckily, I live 2 blocks away from one of the most awesome coops in Minneapolis-The Wedge, where there is a huge focus on stocking local bulk foods.  For over 3 months I was able to buy only local food and make no packaging waste by; buying milk in reusable containers, bringing my own egg trays, and using mason jars to fill up with bulk foods, spices and oils.  The only exception was cheese (which in the future could be packaged with compostable wrap).  I found local breweries within biking distance which sold refillable growlers for beer or only bought drinks on tap, no bottles.  I changed eating habits and learned to cook with what I could find in bulk when options get more limited.  In the process, I learned to cook from scratch many recipes which I would normally just have bought pre-made: tortillas, fresh rolled pasta, crackers, bread, pasta sauces, pesto, scones...the list goes on.  I eliminated countless preservatives and food additives from my diet which normally come in package foods. According to one of the managers of the Wedge, most of the food in bulk is much fresher than packaged foods as it is allowed to bypass a few steps of the shipping and storage process.  Lastly, I saved money.  Anytime you are buying any pre-packaged food you are also buying the container.  A link to a blog post on this is found here:
Lastly, I focused on reducing ALL waste, not just waste which cannot be composted or recycled.  Although recycling is certainly better than simply throwing items into a landfill, there is still a significant amount of energy involved with transporting this waste.  Recycling trucks (as well as garbage trucks) get around 3.2 miles per gallon, so a trip to even a nearby recycling center contributes significant carbon emissions and fossil fuel depletion.  The better option is to find ways to eliminate this waste in the first place, only using what you absolutely cannot avoid.  While there are not yet many alternative options for household items, food packaging has come a long way and ends up being the majority of our packaging waste anyway.
I collected all waste for the project and ended up with a box of glass bottles and another box of paper products, milk pull tabs, caps for jars and bottles, twist-ties and some plastic packaging.  I ended up with half a paper bag full of material which could not be recycled, and about 3 paper bags full of recycled material. 
100 days of trash

twist-ties from greens, milk sealers, assorted caps and a few plastic tubs

recyclable paper products and carboard packaging

bag of actual trash, which cannot be recycled, mostly plastic packaging

glass bottles, sunflower oil

In the end, while I have not figured out how to eliminate ALL waste, a major dent has been put in this impact by adopting different food-buying habits and feeding my worms!


  1. Here's a way to recycle your bottle caps. Maybe I've already sent this to you?

  2. I simply like the idea. Convenient and efficient.