The global pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, including revising our priorities as we balance personal and public health with meeting our basic needs, figuring out new ways to work, and determining the best ways to be both social and safe. In times such as this when our focus is on the short-term goals of staying healthy, keeping businesses afloat, and finding a way to the other side of the pandemic, it can be difficult to also keep an eye towards long-term goals, such as keeping the planet healthy for future generations.
This is exacerbated by some of the necessary changes put in place to reduce transmission and protect both consumers and workers. For example, we can no longer grab a cup of coffee in our reusable mugs, and many grocery stores are no longer allowing the use of reusable shopping bags. While many of us are not driving as much, we are increasing the environmental effects of transportation by ordering everything online and having it delivered to our doorstep. Those who have replaced dining out with regularly ordering takeout and delivery now have stacks of single-use food containers going into the recycling bin or to the landfill every week.
The focus needs to be on keeping ourselves and each other healthy and working together to get through this. This requires using more disposable products than most of us would like, but there are still steps we can take to maintain a greener lifestyle while focusing on these immediate priorities.
We can start with these:
1. Resist the urge to stock up on bottled water.
The water supply is not currently under threat. Continue using your filter pitchers, fill your own jugs at Rainbow Bridge, or establish delivery service for three- or five-gallon, reusable jugs that you return to the provider.
2. Start a compost pile.
If you are cooking more than you used to, you have more kitchen scraps to discard. If you don’t already have a compost bin or pile, start one to put those scraps to good use in your garden.
3. Invest in a sparkling water maker.
Products like SodaStream let you make your own sparkling water and flavored sodas, which means fewer cans and bottles to recycle.
4. Green your takeout and delivery routine.
We cannot use our own containers when we order food to go right now, but we can still limit the waste that comes with these orders. If you are picking up food to eat at home, refuse the utensils, napkins, and straws that usually come with takeout. If you are having food delivered, specify that you do not want utensils and napkins delivered with your order. When picking up food on your lunch break or on your way to a socially distanced picnic, bring your own cloth napkins, reusable straws, and utensils. There are lots of travel sets available with carrying cases that you can keep in your car or bag to make sure you always have reusable options with you.
5. Change your buying habits.
Look for simple ways to purchase fewer single-use products. For example, buy yogurt that comes in reusable glass jars instead of plastic containers that need to be recycled. Or, better yet, if you are spending more time at home, you might think about learning how to make your own yogurt.
6. Make the best bag choices you can.
If you cannot use reusable shopping bags at your favorite places to shop, ask for paper bags. If only plastic bags are available, sanitize them and stash them away for later use as trash bags or poop bags.
7. Consolidate your online orders.
When we are spending more time at home and ordering most of what we need online, it is easy to fall into the habit of placing orders whenever you think of something you need. This is particularly true if you are one of the many who do most of our buying through Amazon Prime with free shipping on however many orders we place in a day. Reduce packaging waste and transportation by treating your online shopping as you would in-person shopping: make a list and consolidate your shopping trips. Instead of jumping online to order nail polish today, a case of canned tomatoes tomorrow, and then yarn for a new craft project the next day, make a shopping list and place your orders at the same time. You can even place things in your cart so you won’t forget about them – just resist the urge to hit “Buy Now” every time you want something. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can reduce packaging waste and transportation even more by forgoing the much-loved, two-day shipping and choosing Amazon Day instead. With this program, orders are consolidated into as few boxes as possible and all delivered on the same day each week.
8. Support local crafters by purchasing reusable masks.
Reusable masks are better for the environment than single-use options, and there are lots of local folks who have taken up mask making to supplement incomes reduced by the pandemic. Keep in mind that reusable masks need to be washed after each use and that some materials provide better protection than others. Before buying masks, do a quick online search to educate yourself about the best options.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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