June 25, 2007 — -- Mornings at the Beavan household look pretty ordinary. The Beavans have breakfast, brush their teeth and get 2-year-old Isabella ready for day care.
But look a little closer: There's no morning paper, no morning television and no coffee. Coffee isn't grown locally, so it's off-limits.
Colin Beavan and his family are midway through a yearlong experiment to see if they can live their lives without creating any waste, and therefore, have no negative impact on the environment. Colin has dubbed himself the "No Impact Man," and he is writing a book about the family's experience.
The experiment has just entered its next stage: turning off the electricity.
"The first night we turned off the electricity I said, 'What the hell are we doing?' I wanted to read," said Colin. "Slowly you adapt and then you start to see the good things about it. … It's the transition that I found hard at times."
The family gets power from a solar panel on the roof and also uses candles and solar lamps, and Colin says that the family is spending more time outside since they turned off the electricity.
Colin said that overall, the experiment has actually helped his family and friends become closer.
"For entertainment, we don't watch TV. We play charades or something. … It's actually building community," he said.
For most of us, the Beavans' rules seem extreme. The family buys nothing new, nothing that comes in any packaging, no food that isn't grown or made within 250 miles and they don't use transportation -- even public transportation, including elevators.
Colin and Michelle share a scooter to get around New York, and they walk up and down some 50 flights of stairs a day. He shaves with a straight razor, makes bread for the family and shops at a local farmer's market.
"The average piece of food Americans have on their plate has traveled 1,500 miles," Colin said. "That produces a lot of carbon dioxide."
Oh yeah, and they don't use toilet paper either.
"It's an experiment. I'm not saying that this is what we'll do for the rest of our life," Colin said. "It's just an experiment to show that we can all live with a little less. Nobody thinks they can live with a little less."
Isabella is adapting most easily.
"In a lot of cases in this project, I think Isabella is more the teacher than the student," Colin said. "She doesn't have to have something. She gets into whatever she's doing. Isabella loves washing the dishes. It never occurs to her that there is something other to do while washing the dishes."
The no-impact project is also helping the family physically and mentally, Colin said.
"I've lost 20 pounds," he said. "Everyone tells Michelle she looks like she's glowing… We're in shape. It helps our minds, because we're not watching TV."
But it hasn't been easy. "I miss my iced quad espresso," said Michelle Beavan. "That was my drink -- four shots of espresso over ice. … I dreamt about coffee." Coffee is off-limits because it isn't grown locally.
The Beavans' friends think Colin is "kind of a lovable kook," he said, but his example is creating some converts.
"But now they say, 'You're stuck in my mind. Now I can't use paper towels. When I leave the room I have to go back and turn off the lights,'" Colin said.