By: Charlotte Phan
From wearing masks every time you step out, the rise of online meetings, and entire county lockdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have affected every aspect of our lives, but that doesn’t mean we should let it affect our efforts in being sustainable.
Measures used to limit overcrowding and encourage social distancing have had some positive impacts to the environment itself which you can read more of here. Even levels of air pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures taken to control the virus (Henriques, 2020). However, the pandemic has not been shy of bringing in negative impacts along with the positive into the environment.
Due to safety precautions, takeout is packaged and sealed in materials such as plastic wrap and styrofoam. Disposable masks, although an extremely crucial part of protecting one’s community, have begun piling up in landfills and are even seen discarded on the streets of cities. Not only do we have to face the reality of the pandemic’s impact of families and workers, but we must also be conscious of how it has started to affect our Earth. Despite these realities often becoming discouraging, here are a few ways to practice sustainability during a pandemic!
Reuse, Reuse, Reuse! (Safely)
Although sharing water bottles with others might not be the smartest or safest choice during a pandemic, using your own reusable water bottles helps in limiting your carbon footprint. Just make sure to wash your hands as well as your bottles after every use! Plastic water bottles can still be avoided, and reusable water bottles are just as safe (as long as you’re not sharing)!
At times, having a disposable mask could be the only way to protect yourself and others when going out, and that’s okay! However if you are able to, purchasing reusable masks is definitely the more sustainable (and usually more cost effective) route. And always make sure to wash after use! Keep in mind that N95 and surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare providers and first responders. Normal cloth masks are just as protective!
From takeout to shopping, sometimes plastic bags are the only option, especially when certain stores may turn down bringing in reusable bags depending on your location. But don’t fear! If you must use a plastic bag, make an effort to bring it home and provide it with a second life! They can be used for storage, or even a fun plastic-bag crochet project. You can also use them as smaller trash bags for your trash cans, extending the life of the plastic bag.
Taking-out (What You Need)
Some restaurants will discard utensils that were given even the slightest touch by customers, even if they were not actually used. When ordering takeout over the phone or in drive-throughs, tell restaurants ahead of time (either by phone or immediately after ordering if you are in person) how many utensils you actually need, if you need napkins, and turn down plastic straws if you are able to.
Advocate With Your Wallet
For some of us, the pandemic has restricted us from going out which limits our ability to purchase things in person. Due to this, many have turned to online shopping for necessities. As you buy products, look for businesses and sellers who are ethical and use sustainable practices. If your favorite businesses do not have any practices, reach out and let them know! Customer feedback is always helpful. Using your consumer power could do wonders for the Earth as well as future sustainable practices other businesses and corporations might follow!
The realities we face now may be shocking, discouraging, and may even make you feel hopeless. However, during a situation like this, we should be encouraged to step up as a global community and help create solutions to help others during a time like this!