Failing upward

| 08 Mar 2012 | 12:32

I have to come clean. My car runs on regular old regular unleaded. I eat meat. My carbon footprint just isn’t as petite as I’d like it to be – yet.

That’s not to say I haven’t made some attempts. Like last summer, I saved old bathwater to water my vegetables. Aside from the splashing that saturated every rug while I carried water from bathroom to garden, a smelly yellow film developed after the water had been in the tub for a week. Failure.

I got a jolt of inspiration after watching the documentary “No Impact Man.” For a year, a writer and his family make no garbage, use no electricity, eat only local food, yadda yadda. The credits rolled and left me giddy. I scoffed at my husband, who seemed unenthused. Clearly some of us didn’t care, I announced, but I was going to make a few changes.

Day zero? I’d expected “No Impact Week” to start at the beginning of the work week, and here I was getting an email on Sunday. Dutifully if resentfully, I found an old Chinese food container, a plastic fork and coffee thermos. This would be my mess kit for the week. I fished out a brown paper bag to use as my personal garbage bag, in case I slipped up and created any garbage.

Next morning, I brought my mess kit to Dunkin Donuts. “I’m doing this thing this week,” I said, “where I’m not making any garbage.” The woman buttering my bagel didn’t seem to understand. “No basura,” I said. She said, yeah, I get it, but how should I give it to you? I held out my Chinese food container and she put in my buttered bagel.

Lunch brought my first slip-up. Reciting my line from that morning, I handed the barista my Chinese food container, now full of poppy seeds, and she scooped in couscous and yams. But as I was fishing money out of my wallet, she slapped napkins and a plastic fork onto my tray. Once napkins are on your tray, they’re kind of yours. I stowed the napkins as future tissues, and the fork in case mine broke.

At day’s end, I brought home the garbage I’d made – a wrapper from vending machine nuts, a plastic pod from the office coffee machine. I could eliminate this trash by bringing a snack to work, and maybe getting a French press to make coffee at the office. Totally doable, I thought, and felt good.

It was all downhill from there. On transportation day, I carpooled to work with a co-worker who commutes from the city, and after work, I rode back to the city with her. Wandering alone in the disposable kingdom, I might as well have been an alcoholic at a bar, telling myself I’d drink ginger ale. I was hungry, tired, and carrying three bags – work bag, gym bag, trash bag – on and off subways, bumping pedestrians. I squeezed my bulk into a corner Starbucks and ordered a chicken sandwich on focaccia packaged in cardboard and plastic (garbage!). I went to a drug store and bought a toothbrush (garbage) because I was spending the night at a friend’s. I went to a yoga class, where they forced a name tag on me (garbage).

Back on the street, I dumped all my garbage into a garbage can – including a banana peel, which normally I’d compost. Instead of that annoying third bag, I now had my self loathing to lug around, which at least didn’t bash other pedestrians.

Post-relapse, I ask husband Joe whether we learned anything from that godforsaken experiment. He holds up a cloth napkin. “No paper?”

Baby steps. Becca Tucker, editor