The last few months have been tough on everyone due to the pandemic, but it has also been hard on the earth. Reduction of recycling and increased waste has been a global downfall because of COVID-19. An increase of disposable cleaning wipes and face masks has become a reality in a world of social distance and disinfecting. Although we may have a new normal, it is our job to continue to keep the earth in mind while keeping ourselves safe and healthy. Here are some ways COVID has affected the health of the planet and counter ways we can keep our planet safe.
Disposable masks have cluttered oceans, streets, and cities. Just like any other trash, they belong in the garbage and not on the ground. They are affecting animals by becoming wrapped around them similar to a plastic bag or 6 can rings and polluting oceans in more numbers than jellyfish.
If you must wear a disposable mask, try and wear it multiple times before throwing it away, and when you decide to throw it away – in the garbage – cut the elastics or pull them out so they won’t affect animals if they end up where they shouldn’t. The alternative is to purchase a reusable mask. Most are more comfortable than the disposable ones and they look nicer too! Etsy has many affordable options from small businesses as well. Obviously not everyone can wear reusable masks for serious safety reasons, such as frontline workers who are exposed to the virus, but we can do our part to eliminate the use of disposables outside of hospitals and care facilities.
Cleaning supplies sales have skyrocketed, and for good reason. It is essential that we keep ourselves and our surroundings clean and free from COVID. However, there are alternatives to single use disposable wipes and small hand sanitizer bottles that we should be thinking about. Hydrogen Peroxide is noted to be effective in killing the virus, as well as bleach or alcohol, and these products are normally available in bulk or large bottles, but a more natural ingredient called Thymol (made from Thyme) is also known for killing the virus (Canada Gov).
Unfortunately not many household cleaners that are strong enough to kill COVID come without plastic containers, but we can still get away with using reusable cloths to clean with instead of disposable wipes. As there has been a shortage of hand sanitizer everywhere, this one is a little more difficult. If you can, try to refill small bottles instead of tossing them for new ones, or try buying in bulk if it’s available to you.
Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need
As everyone has probably heard by now, toilet paper was the new big thing throughout quarantine. This type of overconsumption is what leads to overproduction and waste. Even though a household does not need 100 rolls of toilet paper for 3 months, people felt the need to excessively buy just in case they ran out. In reality, there are many other options people have not thought about, such as bamboo toilet paper, or a bidet and reusable toilet paper in extreme cases. This is the same with cleaning supplies. Although it is necessary to have, it is not necessary to over consume at one time. Everyone is aware we need cleaning supplies and they will continue to be made, but it is essential that everyone has equal access.
Local businesses have taken a huge hit. Almost all of their income was from locals, and with everyone in quarantine, they were no longer able to work and customers were no longer allowed to shop. Many stores had to close due to lack of income. Shopping local is essential for less travel, shipping, and quality of products. Now that things have reopened, we should try to support them before buying from big websites like Amazon. If you’re still not comfortable with going out in public, see if the store has a delivery or curbside pick up option. If you do go to local shops, make sure to wear a mask and wash or sanitize your hands regularly. While shopping it’s important to be conscious of waste as well. Bringing your own bags, and seeing if restaurants use compostable take out containers is an added way to support local and the environment.
With restaurants being closed for a while, people were left to fend for themselves and cook all their own meals. If you were stuck in quarantine, you may have had more time to be more experimental in your cooking. A lot of people even turned to growing their own food (which is awesome!). Another thing to continue with or begin going forward is lowering the consumption of meat. Some people are in with the trend of Meatless Mondays, and you may be surprised at how many recipes are so delicious and contain no meat! They usually save you money too! Reducing meat consumption is good for the environment to save water, and reduce greenhouse gases.
Because of COVID, coffee shops like Starbucks and Tim Hortons are no longer serving with “dine-in” mugs or plates, and Starbucks has redacted their BYOCup policy. Unfortunately this leaves paper or plastic disposable cups. If you can, just make coffee at home where you can use a reusable mug or tumbler. If not, always ask from your drink without a straw and try to reuse the cup after the drink is gone for things such as planting seeds, crafts and storing small items. Just remember paper cups can’t often be recycled because there is a plastic lining in them.
No More Plastic Bags!
As plastic and waste has been increasing throughout COVID, we need to be aware of what we can do to decrease it. A simple switch is to opt for reusable bags instead of single use disposable plastic bags. This includes produce bags! A good option is to use cotton/reusable produce bags or ….just go without! It’s strange to think about putting your vegetables directly in your cart, but in reality, your produce is going through multiple hands and places before it gets to your grocery cart. Putting it in a plastic bag at the grocery store probably won’t help much. Washing produce is very important and should be done whether in a plastic bag, reusable bag or no bag, so why not skip the plastic!
Turn to Eco-friendly/Bulk Stores
Most eco-friendly stores are small businesses and locally owned. It would be great to support them while buying essentials in a low waste fashion. Zero Waste Bulk has recently reopened and has again implemented their BYOC (bring your own container) policy. They have small paper bags that you can use instead for some products, or you can purchase jars there. They even have a section where jars are donated for customers to use if they don’t have any. Farmer’s Markets are great for buying local and zero waste produce and items. There is also another Zero Waste Store called Living Eco, in Paris, Ontario.
Positive Changes Because Of COVID
Although the pandemic has not been a pleasant experience for anyone, there are some positives to keep in mind and lift some spirits.
- Air pollution has decreased significantly globally due to less use of cars and transportation
- Many people got some time at home with their families
- We have now truly realized how amazing frontline and essential workers are
- We have connected with friends and family through Zoom or Skype
- Many companies have concluded that their employees can work remotely which saves them a trip to the office and thus less air pollution from travel, as well as less hassle for the employee
- The beaches have been cleaner due to less local use and tourism
- People are cautious to keep washing and sanitizing their hands, which is a good thing not just for COVID but for any kind of harmful bacteria and germs
- People from all over the world have joined together in support for frontline workers, to sing on balconies, and hope that everything will one day return to normal, or at least a new normal where COVID can be managed
- Animals such as dolphins have returned to areas they have not been populated for years because of lack of cruise ships, tourists, and waste
Although the outbreak of Coronavirus has not been easy for anyone, all we can do is try our best to stay safe while keeping the planet and each other in mind.