When it feels like the entire world is in a state of panic, it can be all too easy to temporarily give up on some of our highest values. But crisis time is actually one of the best times to practice sustainability, as it’s a time when we all need help the most. The planet, our communities, and our relationships all significantly benefit from taking steps to a cleaner, greener way of life.
Here’s the top 10, completely doable and approachable ways to be sustainable in the midst of a global pandemic:
- Support local business
- Buy local and organic produce where possible
- Get cooking and learn how to safely preserve your own food
- Choose reusable packaging and kitchenware
- Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store
- Cut back on energy usage
- Install a bidet over toilet paper
- Use zero-waste feminine hygiene products
- Eat less meat
- Be mindful of your impact when social distancing
Tip #1: Support local business
Your dollar goes three times further in your local economy, which means it's more important than ever to support small, local businesses! As countless restaurants, gyms, salons, and other retail operations have had serious limitations put on them, they need our help to survive. As consumers, we can keep these businesses alive by voting with our dollars.
Buying goods and services from local businesses helps keep the local economy alive. It also limits the amount of energy needed to ship things long distances - which in turn reduces the environmental costs of petroleum and lessens greenhouse gas emissions.
While most of these institutions are making creative pivots to offer their goods and services to their communities, they still may not be receiving the volume of business they depend on to sustain their operations. So, instead of turning to big conglomerates, give your favorite local businesses a call to see how you can place orders with them during this time.
Tip #2: Buy local and organic produce where possible
Another great way to reduce negative environmental and economic impact is by reducing the miles it takes your food to travel. When you buy local food, you’re getting the most nutrient-dense produce available, as the reduction in travel means food is picked at peak ripeness and doesn’t require the use of heavy pesticides or preservatives to keep it shelf-stable.
In addition, organic farming practices are better for the environment. If you have organic farms near you, buying from them means you’re voting to keep businesses alive that work in partnership with nature as opposed to being harmful to wild lands and critters.
At the same time, you’re supporting a local farmer. While grocery stores are running out of certain items, there are farmers near us who have lost their outlet for selling their goods. Many farmers markets have been shut down temporarily, and that is likely the main source of income for these family businesses. Consider reaching out to the farms in your area to see if there’s a way you can still buy produce from them.
Tip #3: Get cooking and learn how to safely preserve your own food
If you’re not already big on home cooking, now’s the time to develop those skills. Cooking food at home is the best way to know you’re eating safely, especially if you follow best practices on handwashing and keep your produce clean.
Cooking for yourself also creates less waste than buying takeout or prepared meals from stores, as it uses less packaging and creates less garbage. If you have your own garden or your area provides yard waste disposal, you can further reduce waste by composting food scraps when you’re cooking.
What a perfect time to learn how to safely preserve your own food by busting out the dehydrator, properly freezing fruits and veggies or even canning your own creations. Check with your local Master Food Preservers for recipes and safety tips.
Tip #4: Choose reusable packaging and kitchenware
For all your home food storage and enjoyment, be sure to use reusable products. Plastic cutlery, paper plates, and plastic straws aren’t necessary to keep us healthy. Replacing these items with reusable ones lessens waste. Plus, they can be easily cleaned and sanitized.
A special note about bottled water: While we 100% agree that clean water is what fuels our health and spirit, bottled water comes at a huge environmental cost. Not only are these manufacturers pillaging water from local communities, but the plastic bottle can break down and end up being harmful when ingested. If your tap water is safe to drink, you can store some in mason jars and water jugs (the chlorine will help keep it clean, but you can uncap the container and let it air out for 24 hours to eliminate that taste). You could also consider getting a water purifier and installing it under the sink, but there's still hard plastics involved in these, so do your research on what create the least amount of waste.
Tip #5: Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store
Some states have already banned plastic grocery bags, but even paper bags impose a strain on the environment. When you bring your own bags, you’re limiting the need for those bags that are made with less renewable resources. It’s been estimated that one person using reusable grocery bags can save over 22,000 plastic bags from ending up in the environment. It’s an easy step and best of all, they can be cleaned between each use. Be sure to wash your bag after each use (like you would a shirt) to help reduce the spread of disease.
Tip #6: Cut back on energy usage
With all the shelter-in-place orders we’re facing globally, we’re all spending a lot more time indoors. Naturally, this will lead to a rise in our household energy usage. That’s why this is a great opportunity to do a “green check” on your home.
Programmable thermostats and energy-saving lightbulbs are simple ways to cut back on electricity. Always turn off and unplug any appliances or lights that aren’t in use. Small changes can make a big difference. In fact, according to the National Resources Defense Council, the widespread use of energy efficient practices could reduce carbon pollution by 550 million metric tons per year.
Furthermore, consider finding new ways to entertain yourself and your family. There’s nothing wrong with video games and the occasional Netflix binge, but now is a wonderful time to connect with each other. Playing board or card games, reading together, and reconnecting with our favorite crafts and hobbies is helpful to curb energy usage. As a bonus, these activities are great for our mental health and our relationships!
Tip #7: Install a bidet
Is it time to install a bidet in your bathroom? While grocery stores are continuously selling out of toilet paper, there’s never been a better time to consider the impact that the production of TP has on our world. A bidet, or something similar, can end up saving more water than you think.
Collectively switching to bidets could save an estimated 15 million trees. And while it’s obvious that it takes a lot of paper to create what we think of as a bathroom staple, what’s even more alarming is how much water is needed. In fact, it takes about 37 gallons of water to make just one roll of toilet paper.
All of this is in addition to the waste that’s created by the industry as well as by what’s getting flushed down our toilets. For those of us who care deeply about our water and our forests, switching to a bidet is one of the best things we can do.
Tip #8: Consider zero-waste personal hygiene products
Similarly, the personal & feminine hygiene industry has a hefty environmental footprint. According to Harvard Business School, almost 20 billion tampons, plastic applicators, and sanitary napkins end up in landfills each year. In addition, the particular plastic used to make these products has the largest impact on global warming.
Luckily, there are really great products on the market now that create waste-free ways to deal with that time of the month. Period panties, reusable cotton pads, and menstrual cups are among the options to consider.
And for keeping your lovely undercarriage clean, use products made with toxic-free ingredients for the sake of the earth and your body. Our Sea Witch Botanicals’ Vasheen soap is a zero-waste product made without harsh chemicals, hormone-disruptors, or synthetic fragrances. Alesia formulated a gentle feminine wash after giving birth, but anyone can use it!
Tip #9: Eat less meat
More greenhouse gas emissions are created by the meat industry than all forms of transportation combined. Almost 15% of total global emissions currently comes from the livestock industry, and as the population booms, that trend is predicted to rise exponentially.
Scientists are declaring that simply reducing the amount of meat that we consume will have a major impact on the climate crisis. Giving up meat entirely may be unrealistic for some, but cooking with meat just a few times a week is a great way to be more sustainable in our daily lives.
Tip #10: Use your time while social distancing to reflect on your actions and how it impacts the environment
It’s a great time to consider how we affect our environment and local communities. We’re immediately seeing the environmental impact us humans have on the planet as nitrogen oxide levels drop off within days due to local responses to COVID-19.
The impact on the economy and individual businesses has also been apparent. We rely on each other, both community-wide and worldwide, to have a positive influence on the interweavings of society.
Going forward, how do you want to impact these areas? Think about what ways you can support your local business owners, heal the environment, and reduce food insecurity.
In the midst of all the anxiety-inducing headlines and empty grocery shelves, let’s remember that each of our daily actions has the power to affect our environment and our communities. We can maintain our integrity, even in the most overwhelming of times. As the great Tony Robbins said, “The only limit to your impact is your imagination and your commitment”.
Written by Karie Kirkpatrick