It's a scary time in our history. We've never experienced anything like COVID-19 before. With uncertainty comes unease and the need for some sense of control. For some, that means making a large to-do list and checking off all the boxes. For others, that means buying a mound of toilet paper. In either case, these are strategies to help us cope with the unknown. But before we go stockpiling on beans and toilet paper, let's consider a few things.
The first consideration is: COVID-19 will eventually pass. Today, it might not seem soon enough but when it does, we will, hopefully, be better prepared for the next pandemic. The next time will be less of a shock and we will be ready.
The second consideration is: plastic pollution and climate change will still be major problems when COVID-19 is over. While plastic gloves and face masks are being littered world-wide, the global economic shutdown has brought blue skies where pollution has blanketed for decades. When COVID-19 passes, our normal way of life will still be polluting our oceans and our skies.
When taking these things into consideration, it's important to act sustainably now and continue to do so after COVID-19. Here are my 3 biggest tips:
- Reduce food waste
- Make your house energy efficient
- Refuse single-use plastics
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
The NRDC estimates that 40% of the food we produced is wasted. The production, packaging, and shipping of that food produces carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. A lot of that packaging is plastic which clogs our landfills or pollutes our oceans. And when food breaks down in a landfill instead of in a compost, it gets compacted into an airless environment. In an environment without oxygen, food produces methane as it breaks, which, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, is 86 more times more potent than carbon dioxide! Point being, don't waste food!
Here are a some strategies to reducing food waste:
- Plan your meals ahead of time. It's helpful to make a list for the grocery store, and to be mindful to buy only what you need.
- Store your items correctly. Most leafy greens should be stored in a jar of water like fresh-cut flowers. Potatoes and onions can be stored for a longer period of time in a dark cool place. Tomatoes belong on the counter and bread in the freezer.
- Use beyond the sell-by date. Food is usually good one week after the sell-by date. Also, pay attention to the wording of these date stamps. Sell-by, best-by, and other variations don't mean the same thing.
- Compost your food. If your city doesn't have a composting service, consider starting a backyard compost or a vermicompost with red wiggler worms. Could be a great project while being quarantined at home!
MAKE YOUR HOUSE ENERGY EFFICIENT
Making your house energy efficient will save you money on your energy bill. Less energy equals less money. Seems simple, right? Here are some easy ways to reduce your energy usage:
- Switch to LED light bulbs.
- Set your thermostat 1-2 degrees lower in the winter and higher in the summer.
- Turn off your router and cable box before you go to sleep.
- Wash your clothes in cold water and hang dry them in the sun. Drying them in the sun is key for sterilization.
REFUSE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
This one might be a little more difficult right now, but avoid single-use plastic where you can. Here are some helpful tips:
- Refuse utensils and condiment packets. Let your restaurant know you don't need them, especially if you have them at home.
- Choose items that can be wrapped like sandwiches and burritos. Takeout has become a lifeline for many restaurants during this time, but wrapped items can help reduce usage of plastic containers.
- Avoid pre-packaged, single-serving snacks and meals. These are overpriced and over-packaged. Save your money, and buy a bigger portion of snacks instead!
- Don't flush wet wipes down the toilet! Most wet wipes have plastic fibers to make them sturdier. When you flush them down the toilet, they clog sewer systems and eventually end up polluting our ocean with more plastic.
Overall, if you can find ways to reduce your waste during COVID-19, you'll be ahead of the curve when this is over. Continually finding ways to reduce food waste, energy waste and plastic waste goes a long way in helping to protect our planet AND save money at the same time!