Have you ever heard the term “embodied energy?” It refers to energy that has already been spent to create something.
Take a box of cereal as an everyday example.
Embodied energy is everywhere
Inside the box there’s cereal. The embodied energy in the cereal contains everything from the sunlight and water (energy) that fed and made the grain grow, to the human laborer or machinery and fuel (or a combination of all) that harvested and processed the grain into a food palatable to humans.
Finally there’s the box itself, made of cardboard, hence of wood pulp or, to go to the source, trees, which takes us back to that water and sunlight.
There’s other embodied energy in a cereal box—the ink on it, the human designers who made the product branding, etc. Their genetic material, cultural memory and education if you really want to drill down. But let’s just suffice it to say that what we generally see when we regard a cereal box is not the embodied energy of any of it, nor the relationship to nature or the people who made it.
We generally just see food and trash.
Cradle to cradle
Everything we eat provides our bodies with embodied energy, and we burn the energy as the fuel for life. When it’s packaged foods, it also comes with packaged embodied energy, as I mentioned. Again, something we usually see as trash.
When a product is un-packaged but has waste parts, such as if we don’t eat a peel or hull or shell, we still have embodied energy to work with. A chicken’s body made that egg shell after all, from bugs and grain and water. Sun and water and cell growth made that banana peel, and so on…And the amazing aspect of life on earth, with it’s perfect closed system of decay and death becoming the food stock or “embodied energy” for growth, is that most of that unpackaged organic waste is the stuff we make compost out of, or what we return to the soil to nourish it once more.
Now this exposition on embodied energy isn’t just to remind you to compost. It’s also intended as a new way of looking at what you purchase and how it’s packaged so that you can make the best choices in how you:
- Spend money.
- Use embodied energy.
- Deal with waste products.
Sacrifice and bliss
What initially got me thinking about embodied energy a few months ago, as I touched on when I wrote a post on using already heated water to heat up other foods, was simply making current resources go further. This has become very necessary for me because about four months ago I gave up paper towels.
Hard-core conservationists may wonder what took me so long to do it. All I can say is that I can be as mindless as anyone, or as motivated by convenience as anyone. Not that I ever used a lot of paper towels. And I’ve always also used linen cloths, too. But I did in fact use paper towels until I gave them up this year.
In the process I’ve discovered some of the ways I really appreciated those paper towels. Less so for the quick wipe ups, and more so for things like draining greasy bacon or sopping up some oil from a pizza slice.
So what I’ve done is become a lot more conscious about how I use items that have embodied energy in them, such as cereal boxes and paper wrappings on a loaf of bread. I’m not only recycling them for things like wrapping paper, raw materials for making craft paper projects with my girls, boxes for holding things, or biodegradable materials for the lawn. I’m also using their absorbency to mop up light spills, or as a drain cloth for bacon grease.
Go green at home and in the public square
These may seem like small shifts—and indeed I’m much less of a “365 ways to go green” girl than I am interested in simply using less of everything. But small shifts must necessarily add up in some small way.
The issue is that they can’t be all we do. What’s much more crucial is getting involved with seeking changes in your local, state and federal government, and seeking to hold corporations accountable for their abuses. If you even did one action on that front per month, it would be a start. And would give even more force to the embodied energy you have as a rightful citizen of not only your communities, but of our earth.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List
Have a cold? Read my post on giving up tissues in favor of hankies.