Welcome to May! This month’s challenge takes place on the electric grid.
May goal: To reduce your overall energy use by taking an energy break.
The average household in New Zealand uses about 8,000kWh of energy each year, which breaks down to around 22kWh per day. That adds up to an average household energy bill of $2,320 each year ($6.38/day). But of course, it’s not just about money. Our collective household energy consumption contributes 585 kilotons of carbon to the Earth’s atmosphere each year, which means NZ comes in 55th place (out of 218 countries) in per capita energy use.
Now imagine not using energy for one day each month, or even half a day. If we all did this, we would make a small but significant impact on our collective carbon footprint. An energy beak is a day without energy, or at least with as little excess energy use as possible.
The average New Zealand home’s breakdown in energy usage* looks like this:
Space & water heating: 46%
Obviously, the season is getting cold and you can’t go without a heat pump on a cold day if that’s how you heat your home. It’s also not practical to turn off our refrigerators or hot water heaters for just a few hours. But there are lots of ways you can unplug and take a day off from superfluous energy use – especially in the categories of appliances, lighting, and range.
Turn off the TV for a night and go for a walk instead. Have a candlelit dinner – especially popular with kids or romantic partners – or take a candlelit bath. Read a book, do a puzzle, or play a board game instead of spending time online. Have an antipasto dinner of cold meats, veggies and cheeses, or find other no-cook recipes (also, here).
For this month especially, it’s important to not just push off our electricity use to another day, but to actually practice using less energy. So don’t just postpone the charging of your laptop or phone, but instead find other ways to use your time that don’t include electricity use and fully eliminate that hour or two that you would have spent online.
In the longer term, you can also make bigger decisions that impact your overall energy use such as choosing new appliances with high energy star ratings when it’s time to buy a new one. Insulate your hot-water heater to retain as much heat as possible, turn appliances and electronics off at the switch when not in use, change to high-efficiency light bulbs and keep lights turned off when not needed. There are lots of easy everyday changes we can make to decrease our overall energy use. The important thing is to remember that every little bit helps. If we’re all making small changes, it can add up to big impacts.
How to participate:
Choose the level below that works for you, and don’t forget to upload a picture of yourself finding creative ways to take an energy break! Include the hashtag #OSOFSustainableMe and you’ll be in to win a copy of the book Young Ocean Explorers – Love Our Ocean. We would also love to hear your tricks and tips for energy fasting and hear how this month’s challenge did or didn’t work for you. Post in the comments below, find us on Facebook or Instagram. Please share your experiences with the Plastic Free NZ community so we can all learn from each other. All entries for the month of May are due by 12:01am on June 1 2017 to be eligible for the prize giving. Check out our official rules here.
Here’s what to do:
Beginner: Pick one day this month to test out an energy break. Power down for 1 hour or more to start, and if that works, then try it a bit longer the next time. Find ways to make it fun for your entire household to give this the best shot at working.
Step it up: Commit to a full- or half-day energy break once a week.
Want more? On top of a weekly energy break, look around your house to find out how to make more impactful, longer-term changes to your home or your lifestyle. See the resources section below for more information, or seek help from your local council.
How does it help?
Every bit of non-renewable energy that we use contributes greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. Those gasses are the main drivers of climate change including ocean-specific concerns such as rising sea-surface temperatures, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. Your small reductions in energy use, combined with those of your friends and neighbors, can make important impacts at a much larger level.
Resources: (Please note, this is not an endorsement of these organisations, stores or products from OSOF, just a suggestion of how to get started)
Learn more about Energy Star and find out how much energy your appliances use based on their energy star rating
Facts about NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions – Ministry for the Environment
World Bank – electric power consumption per capita
Beginner: Stop using plastic straws and cutlery for one month. Don’t just omit eating out this month. Instead, seek out an alternative that works for you and practice it.
Step it up: Same as beginner, but add in coffee cup lids and plastic/polystyrene takeaway containers. Some takeaway restaurants will allow you to bring in a reusable container for your food, and be sure to bring along a box or jar for leftovers when you go out to eat.
Want more? Become an advocate for ditching plastic and talk to your favourite cafes and restaurants about plastic alternatives. For inspiration, check out the café at Otago Polytechnic, which has recently eliminated takeaway coffee cups altogether and have come up with some creative solutions.