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Milwaukee Students Challenge Themselves to Consume Less, Create Less Waste

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
Mechanical engineering student Jessica Hufford invited No Impact Man Colin Beavan to kick off UWM's No Impact Challenge.

UW-Milwaukee student Jessica Hufford spearheaded the first week-long No Impact Challenge on campus last year. She's working to get more students involved this year.

"The way the challenge works is that there is a theme for each day, consumption on Sunday, trash Monday, etc. and the challenge builds on itself throughout the week to ease into sustainable living," Hufford says.

The mechanical engineering major says since then she has tried to incorporate environmentalism into everything she does. “I live on the 17th floor of Sandburg and I take the stairs even with my luggage after spring break, I carry it and I talk about the challenge with everyone I meet,” she says.

Her inspiration for the challenge was a a documentary, called No Impact Man, that chronicles one family’s yearlong experiment in living without modern conveniences. “I got 30 people to do it with me [last year],” Hufford says.

To inspire more people to sign up for this year's No Impact Challenge, Hufford asked Colin Beaven, aka No Impact Man, to speak at UWM.

The Brooklyn resident says he wasn’t a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist, but about a decade ago something clicked. “Because of mounting news of climate change [and] the Iraq War, I realized that I had to change my career and I had to actually bring the social mission into my work,” Beaven says.

"They are capable of shaping their lives and shaping the society they live in, in a way that is better for all of us." Colin Beavan

A writer by trade, Beavan wanted to pick up his pen and chastise whomever would listen, until he realized he was part of the problem.

“One day, a hot summer’s day, I was thinking about what book I would write and I walked into my apartment in New York and it was boiling hot in the corridor. I opened the door of my apartment and this frigid air came out because I had left both air conditioners on because I didn’t want to wait 20 minutes for my apartment to cool down,” Beavan explains.

Within weeks, he, his wife and two-year-old daughter started eliminating one modern convenience at a time - that meant no public transportation , only walking and biking, and saying goodbye to their washing machine.

“What we would do is we would throw the dirty clothes in the bathtub and laundry soap and we would stomp it,” Beaven explains.

But he says giving up stuff also resulted in good. “We got rid of our TV so we spent more time with each other as a family. Because of the local food element, we always had a big pot of soup in the frig. Our friends would come over and eat our good food and then we’d play charades.” Beavan added, “On hot days, there was no air conditioning, (so) we would go to Washington Square Park and my daughter Isabella would play in the fountain.”

The family’s experience didn’t just result in a documentary, Beavan summed up the year in a book, No Impact Man, and created a nonprofit by the same name.

Beavan says he’s not trying to turn back the clock to 19th century living. “I’ve realized that I have the power to change my life….. and I’m here in Wisconsin to give a talk to students and basically that's what I’m talking about– that they are capable of shaping their lives and shaping the society they live in,” he says. “In a way that’s better for all of us.”

Susan Bence's longer conversation with Colin Beavan.

Credit Susan Bence
Marquette University student Hannah Badeau signed up for the challenge.

A few dozen people showed up to hear Beavan’s message at UWM.

Marquette University student Hannah Badeau signed up for the challenge, and she brought friends. “None of them read the book No Impact Man but me….This book earnestly changed my life,” Badeau says.

She says it helped her save money. “I don’t use shampoo, I wash my hair with baking soda. I use baking soda to brush my teeth, for deodorant. I make my own soap. So it’s all incredibly possible,” she says.

Badeau convinced her friend Lorica Jackson is signing up for the challenge, but she’s skeptical.

“Hannah is going to be my little advocate pushing me along here. I feel like the trash, like producing no trash is going to be pretty hard,” Jackson says.

Jackson is a freshman at the Milwaukee School of Art and Design and says she re-uses things but, "recycling is awful. We have recycling bins in the school, but they will literally take everything in the recycling bins and throw them in the dumpster of trash."

If No Impact Man Colin Beavan was here, he’d probably tell Lorica Jackson to simply make the most of the Earth Week retreat from consumerism. Every step helps.

Credit Susan Bence
Hannah Badeau convinced her friend Lorica Jackson to join the challenge. Jackson studies at MIAD.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.