15 Ways to Practice Sustainability During the Coronavirus Outbreak

It's been almost one month since the United States has started to feel the impact of the Coronavirus. Prior to all of the work from home policies, shelter in place orders, closures of schools, restaurants and small businesses – I had a friend ask me for some tips to remaining zero waste as she feared that she might be unable to purchase package-free produce from the grocery store or found herself purchasing more packaged food for health and safety purposes. Admittedly, this was several weeks ago so I am a little late on this one. And honestly, at the time, I hadn't yet felt impacted by the coronavirus (in terms of my lifestyle as it relates to sustainability). But, here we are several weeks later and our situation is a bit different.

It was about 3 weeks ago that I walked into one of my frequently visited coffee shops and the barista gave me the heads up. "Starting tomorrow, we will no longer be accepting reusable coffee cups." I had wondered when I would be hearing that, I already knew that many other coffee shops were making the same decision. So, I wasn’t surprised or upset by the change – after all, the health of our community is absolutely critical to sustainability. Although it was a decision I consciously made – one to continue to support my local coffee shops – I did (and still do) experience a bit of eco-anxiety every time I pick up my coffee in a single-use plastic cup.

And then I remember that while much of what I practice involves being low waste, there are other aspects of living sustainably that I can continue to do that are not impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak. In fact, I can even use this time to incorporate some new behaviors into my lifestyle. So, over the past few days, I have pulled together a list of 15 ways you (and I) can continue to practice living sustainably while also supporting our community as we continue down this path of uncertainty.

  1. Install a Bidet. We have had our Brondell bidet attachment for almost 2 years now and we love it! In fact, we are getting a second one for the bathroom on our main floor. By using a bidet, we have eliminated our use of toilet paper. We use reusable cloths instead – bamboo cloths we purchased online and the unpaper towels we stock in Dharma + Dwell. If you’re interested in learning more about our bidet experience, check out this previous blog post.

  2. Brew Coffee & Tea at Home. If you want to continue to support your local coffee shop but want to eliminate the single-use plastic or paper cup, most sell coffee that you can brew at home. This is one we would like to do more frequently. For local tea and coffee, I recommend Big Heart Tea Co. (tea bags are non-toxic, 100% plant-based and compostable!), COMA Coffee Roasters, Comet Coffee, and Road Crew Coffee

  3. Review Your City's Recycling Policies. Since we recently re-introduced some single-use plastic items into our house due to more frequent carry out orders and being unable to use our reusable items, I wanted to make sure I was being more diligent about recycling. So, the first thing I did was review what could and could not be recycled through our city's recycling services. I will do write up on recycling here soon (another request, I have received that I am behind on). For now, I recommend 1) reading what can and cannot be recycled by your recycling services and 2) if it feels too overwhelming to keep it all straight stick to just a few things you absolutely know you can recycle and then gradually introduce more items as you continue to learn more. For example, when we started paying attention to recycling (as in, realizing that we had been contaminating our recycling), we eased into it and recycled only aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paper because we knew 100% that those items could be recycled and were accepted by our recycling company. If you use St. Louis City Recycling, you should check out St. Louis City Recycles - both their website and Instagram have great resources for guiding you through what can and cannot be recycled in your blue bin. Sadly, Richmond Heights does not use them for recycling so my guidelines are different.

  4. Carry Out, Consciously. This is one that we have always struggled with, even before the move to curbside pickup. As pescatarians, we feel so lucky to live in St. Louis with so many great vegetarian options – which is another thing you might consider trying during this time, reducing your meat intake! Anyways, when supporting our local restaurants and ordering curbside (or even to-go in general) we try and remember to request no napkins, silverware or unnecessary condiments. You can also check out St. Louis Green Dining Alliance for a list of restaurants who have been certified for green dining practices. Their certification and rating process assess things like water conservation, waste management practices, energy conservation, etc. Each restaurant has a write-up and rating that you can view to help guide your decision.

  5. Simplify. This is probably my favorite on the list. The extra time at home has given us the opportunity to go room by room and reorganize and simplify our belongings. We started with our kitchen cabinets and our second bathroom. We have identified items that we can donate, sell, and recycle. Sadly, there are a number of items that we will have to throw away (e.g., expired medicine, personal care products, etc.). Although, seeing the amount of waste we created from collecting a number of items we didn't need over the years was a good reminder that it is so important not to over-consume – especially during these times where we might feel that the best way to support a small business or someone is by purchasing a physical item. If you are looking for a good resource to help you get rid of “things” you should check out The Minimalists. They have a podcast, several books and a documentary - highly recommend!

  6. Pick Up Trash While Walking (PUTWW). If you are curious, I pronounce this put-wah. We started these last summer as a way to keep ourselves active while also giving back to the community/environment. We recommend always wearing gloves – and never pick up something that could be dangerous to you or your health. When possible, we also carry two different bags – one for recycling and one for trash.

  7. Switch to Unpaper Towels. We use organic cotton cloths (the same ones mentioned earlier) to dry our hands and wipe up light colored spills. We use secondhand reusable napkins to clean and wipe up dark colored spills/food that might stain. We keep those clothes for cleaning under the kitchen sink and those that we might have cleaned up a light spill with but could be used again in a second hand glass jar on the counter.

  8. Unplug. Did you know that 5-10% of your household electricity usage comes from items that you leave plugged in while not in use? Prior to working from home, we had gotten use to unplugging before we left in the morning. Since our daily routine changed, I noticed that we weren't unplugging like usual. We also tend to leave our phones or laptops plugged in at all times – even once they have hit 100%. Not only can we practice unplugging our electronics, now is a good time to unplug ourselves from them as well. Considering limiting your social media, computer and other screen time by giving yourself a time limit for scrolling or watching or shutting down at a certain time each night.

  9. Refill. Well, I couldn't not add this one to the list! Our refillable and bulk items are expanding every week. Given everyone's focus on staying healthy, you might even consider your first refillable purchase to be our hand soap.

  10. Assess your Water Usage. This is a new one for us. After a recent trip to India, I started to become more aware of how privileged we are to have clean water - or access to water at all. Since then, I have started making small changes in my behavior such as turning the water off while I am washing my face and brushing my teeth, watering my plants with water that I might not have finished drinking, using the dishwasher more frequently than hand washing dishes, etc. I have also always had this bad habit of starting the washing machine, forgetting I did and then having to re-wash my clothes a few days later. I also started paying attention to the frequency in which we flush the toilet. You might think I am being over the top or really out there on this one but really, toilet flushing is the single highest use of water in the average home.

  11. Purchase Produce. Yes, there are ways you can still purchase produce over packaged goods! The Tower Grove Farmer’s Market is offering delivery boxes City Greens Market is still allowing pre-orders and pick-ups! Most grocery stores are still allowing you to bring your on produce bags and shopping totes as well. If you continue to pick up items at local grocery stores, consider washing your reusable bags between grocery trips, sanitizing prior to touching any produce and immediately wash your produce and hands upon arriving back home. Be thoughtful while picking out produce to avoid touching items that you do not intend to purchase.

  12. Start Composting. Now is as good of a time as ever to start considering food waste! With the weather warming up, consider building your own or setting up a backyard compost. Not that ambitious? You can also subscribe to Perennial City’s Composting Program if you live in the city. For more information on this, check out a previous blog.

  13. Hang Dry your Clothes. I am not sure how much energy we use drying our clothes, but I imagine it is somewhat significant. So, with the weather getting warmer, I would like to try hang drying my clothes outside on a line. Not only will this impact our energy use, but it will also extend the life of our clothing. Far too many times have I carelessly thrown something into the dryer only to pull it out and realize I had shrunk it.

  14. Green your Cleaning Routine. While we haven’t fully transitioned to all green, non-toxic cleaning products in our house we are well on our way! One staple in our cleaning routine is baking soda and white vinegar. This can be used for SO many things! A few weeks ago, we needed drano for our shower drain. Initially, I went to the store intending to buy what we typically use (chemical filled and packaged in plastic). As I was walking into the store, I thought, there has to be another way. So, I stood in the aisle and Googled. Sure enough! I could actually use baking soda and vinegar to unclog the drain. I was so hesitate that this would work - because embarrassingly, there was so much hair in our drain. BUT YOU GUYS IT WORKED. I was so amazed and pretty excited that I paused before buying that giant bottle of toxic cleaning solutions. This is all to say, baking soda and vinegar is such a cheap, multi-purpose cleaning solution.

  15. Purchase Local. And last but certainly not least! Instead of ordering things you need from Amazon or any other online resource, take a look at what local companies are offering shipping, delivery or pick-up.

This list could go on even longer, but let’s stop here! If you try something on this list, l want to hear about it! OR if you have ideas or additions, send those my way too!

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