Living Lightly In the Time of COVID
Do you want to do more to reduce your impact on our earth but are finding it hard during the COVID-19 outbreak with so many changing rules and regulations? If so, this post is for you!
Before I get started, I want to acknowledge that these are strange and often difficult times. I hope you and your loved ones are ok. And, whatever you are doing to minimize your waste (or not!), it is completely fine. Be gracious, kind and realistic with yourself, because you can only be good to mother earth if you are looking after yourself first.
So, choose your own adventure:
- If now is not the time to make additional changes in your life, put a pin in this post and read it later.
- If you want to be doing more for the environment, keep reading for tips that will help you continue with your mission to live lightly, even now.
First, I want to give a big shout out to the folks on the front lines in health care, grocery and other essential services. Thank you for all that you are doing!!! For the rest of us, we are suddenly at home more than ever before, and whether you are finding you have more time to yourself or you are in a busy home with multiple family members under the same roof, these changes in our lifestyles offer us new opportunities to take a closer look at the way we interact with our groceries. Here are a few things you can do now that may help you buy less in the long run and keep your packaging waste down.
Tips for Living Lightly During COVID-19
Meal planning reduces food waste, packaging waste and how frequently you need to make trips to the store. Carve out an hour to plan your meals and snacks for a week, or even two weeks, with a list of all the ingredients you will need. Then, just buy those items—no more. This will reduce the amount of food and packaging you need to throw out every week. And, with the average Canadian household throwing out $1700 worth of the groceries annually, this change could be great for reducing waste as well as the burden on your wallet.
Use what you have
When meal planning, take the time to dig into the back of your cupboard and rediscover ingredients you haven't seen for a while. Not sure what to do with those hemp seeds? Google it! In our house, we've been making granola, split pea soup and other recipes that we normally don't get to—all with food from the back of our pantry. Just remember to make sure your food is still good for consumption and hasn't gone bad.
Another way to use what you have, is to start thinking about the fruit and veggie scraps you are throwing out. Lemon peels can be infused in vinegar for cleaning solutions (or if you are feeling fancy, added to your favourite cocktail!), veggie scraps can make vegetable stock and carrot tops can even be used to make pesto. Who knew?!! With so many chefs and food bloggers out there on a mission to reduce food waste Google is a great place to start figuring out what to do with those scraps.
Slow down your cooking
Whether you are working your paid job from home, childminding or learning a new skill, you are likely at home and close to your kitchen. Try making something from scratch that you don't usually make. Maybe it's applesauce, or homemade pasta sauce. At our house, we've even been experimenting with homemade pasta noodles—although, despite being fun, this one is rather time consuming.
Less challenging than homemade pasta, is cooking dried beans. Dried beans are the perfect low maintenance ingredient to cook away while you do other things. Once your beans are ready, you can make hummus, refried beans or black bean quesadillas without the cans or hard plastic packaging! Make large quantities of beans and throw the extras into jars in the freezer for easy use in weeks to come.
No one is getting their favourite coffee shop muffins these days so it could be the perfect time to rekindle that old passion for baking. When your first batch of cookies is ready, eat some fresh (because yum!) and freeze the rest to make your homemade baking last. And, if you have kids at home, baking could be the perfect group activity. Everyone gets tasty treats and the kids are entertained, win - win!
One way to avoid the packaging of that bag of chips is to go for home popped popcorn instead. Popcorn is one of my favourite low-waste snacks as one package of kernels can make a lot of tasty TV watching munchies.
How about a snack of celery and peanut butter or carrots and homemade hummus? Those hits of protein can help stop you from reaching for over-packaged sugary treats in the middle of the day. But, if that sweet tooth really needs satisfying (and sometimes it really does), your own baking can also be a great low-waste snack.
Keep your food fresh for longer
Reduce food and packaging waste by prepping the items you buy as soon as you get home. I cut up carrots and celery and throw them in water and wash and dry lettuce so it's ready to go. And, use wax food wrap like Abeego, to protect the ends of veggies, bread and cheese as you use them. By keeping your food fresh you won't need to buy packaged replacements as often.
Deposit based container programs
While many refillable bulk food stations have been closed to reduce cross contamination, the Soap Dispensary and Nada have taken steps to create healthy options during COVID-19 with their expanded deposit-based container programs. They fill their containers with your favourite products, you bring them home, and when you are finished with the containers you return them (clean!) to get your deposit back. This way fewer people are touching your food and by using jars, you can easily wipe them down when you get home to prevent virus transfer.
Buy products with less packaging
Don't have the option to shop at zero waste stores? Buying larger pack sizes can reduce your overall packaging waste. If you are buying more than you can use now, split it with neighbours or housemates (if you can do that without cross contamination), or process and store for later in the year. If you are buying large pack sizes please leave essentials for others on the shelf...don't hoard!.
You can also be mindful at the shelf by selecting products that have less packaging than their competitors. Some companies use more packaging to make their products look like you are getting more when you aren't. Pay close attention to the product weights and make sure you aren't being sucked into buying something that looks bigger than it is. Be especially mindful of “bulk buying” pre-packaged items wrapped in EXTRA packaging. If companies want to offer us a discount for buying larger quantities, they should find a way to do so with less packaging instead of more.
Avoid buying disposables for cleaning
Items like cleaning wipes may sound attractive when we feel panicked over how to handle COVID-19, but other cleaning supplies are just as efficient or better. Wipes can become dry quickly, making them ineffective. Plus, they may not have the alcohol content required to properly sanitize surfaces. Use recommended cleaning solutions for counters, doorknobs, light switches etc.
We also keep hearing over and over that washing our hands with soap is the best way to keep COVID at bay, so start there! Bulk packages of bar soap are a great way to reduce your packaging waste. If you are going with liquid soap, buy large sizes to use less packaging overall, and then refill your pumps at your sinks so you don't have to use disposable soap pumps each time.
Bring Reusable Bags
While we initially recommended that people reuse disposable shopping bags, we have noticed that many stores are now allowing people to reuse their own bags again. YAY! To avoid cross contamination, load your bags on the floor of the grocery store and wash your bags after every use. If you live in an area where using your reusable bags is not an option, select paper bags and use them for compost or reuse plastic bags for bathroom garbage.
If you have other tips that help you live lightly in the time of Covid we would love to hear them. Comment on our Instagram post or in the comments below so others can learn from you.
My hope is that the tips above can help empower you and others to make a difference while your shopping is constrained. Tune into your own capacity and select the actions above that make sense for you right now. Do not feel guilty about your shopping, this is not a competition. The last thing anyone needs is more stress and we are all doing our best. Make changes that fill you up and make you happy. Every bit helps.
Edit - We previously noted solutions for reusing disposable bags. This has been changed as many stores are allowing reusable bags again.