Where does it come from? (NRC – Part 1)

Hello lovely people!

I just finished a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In it, Rubin sets out on a year-long project to determine the meaning of “happiness” and to boost it in her own life. At the beginning, she set out personal commandments for herself, such as “Be Gretchen”. She made a resolutions chart with concrete actions that would improve her happiness and fulfill these personal commandments. Each month, using these commandments and resolutions, she focused on improving a specific area of her life. The book is phenomenal and had great insights into personal happiness.

As I read it, I realized what one of my resolutions would be.

I frequently think about overpopulation. It really scares me. I think that human consumption of natural resources will damage the world irreparably if it continues unchecked. There are many scientists out there who argue that we have already gone too far. All in all, it makes me feel lousy and I want to do something about it.

My mini-“happiness project” is going to be aimed at answering the question: where does it come from?

In this project, I aim to determine the actual amount of natural resources (e.g. coal, water etc.) that I am using, sometimes implicitly, when I consume goods, be it food, clothes or running the AC in my apartment. As I was trained as an engineer in school, this particularly excites me because I’ll be using equations to quantify the “natural resources costs” of my consumption (YAY MATH!).

I do not think this will be easy, or that I will even be able to comprehensively determine the exact NRC, or natural resources cost, of all of my actions. I foresee needing to call various companies to determine where their products come from and how they were produced. 

This is just the start of my quest for increased understanding of this massive trend. There is so much debate these days about global warming, climate change and our effect on this planet. I always find it hard to see what is the absolute truth. Looking at it from a scientific method perspective, to determine the “truth” you need data and an outcome that can be repeated. I’m going to focus on the data from my own life and go from there.

Here I go!

Let’s start off with my toilet because it involves two of my passions, drinking water and wastewater (yep, you have some normal passions there Ariel…). Every time I flush, 1.6 gallons (6 litres) of potable water is sucked down into the sewer system. I have been up for 2 hours this morning, and I have already used the toilet 3 times (I drink a lot of coffee…). That’s 4.8 gallons (18 litres) right there. I also use toilet paper. I’ve counted the number of squares I pulled out on two occasions. The first occasion, I counted 12 squares. On the second, I counted 10. From this sample, I average at 11 squares. 

For each time I use and flush the toilet in my home, 1.6 gallons of potable water and 11 squares move from my toilet bowl into the sewer system. To calculate the cost of this action, I need to determine the cost from the very beginning.

  • Where did the water in my toilet originate in nature?
  • What treatment process did it undergo before being pumped into the distribution system of my county?
  • How much energy was spent getting that water from the treatment facility to my toilet bowl?
  • How about the toilet paper, what tree(s) is it made of?
  • How were those trees cut down and processed?
  • How did the raw material get to the factory that makes toilet paper?
  • How did that toilet paper get to the store where I bought it?
  • Once the waste is in the sewer system, how did it get to the wastewater treatment plant?
  • What is the treatment process of waste at the plant?
  • How was it discharged back into nature?

There you have it, answering this list of questions is my homework. I’ll report back with my findings soon!

–squariel