Well before the pandemic, Big Oil had pumped billions of dollars into plastics manufacturing. Faced with more competition from renewable energy sources and dwindling demand for its products, the industry hopes to make up for these losses by pushing more plastic, which is made from fossil fuels. And now, even lower demand for fossil fuels due to the pandemic—travel has ground to a halt, for example—will make plastics appear more attractive to Chevron et al.
Meanwhile, the plastics industry has been busily trying to convince the public that plastic is safer than disposables and has lobbied governments to overturn plastic bag bans. In reality, Covid-19 lives longer on plastic (up to 72 hours) than other materials, such as cardboard (up to 24 hours).
Although we may not be able to shop exactly as we used to, we can still reduce our plastic footprint in many ways. Also, keep in mind that zero-waste living goes beyond the plastic packaging. It’s a whole lifestyle—a package deal.
The following tips will help you address the plastic scourge in the age of Covid-19.
1. Buy more fresh fruit and vegetables
If you eat more produce, you cut out the packaging of highly processed food. With everyone eating at home now and cooking more, you might assume that our diets have improved. Alas, no. According to the New York Times,
Farmers are […] learning in real time about the nation’s consumption habits. The quarantines have shown just how many more vegetables Americans eat when meals are prepared for them in restaurants than when they have to cook for themselves.
Buck the trend and eat your vegetables.
2. Bring your reusable bags and fill them yourself
Store policies vary. At the grocery store near my mother’s home, the staff would not allow me to use reusable shopping bags, even if I kept the bags in my shopping cart and bagged the food myself. However, they would allow me to put the food into my granny cart.
Back at home in California, the state has issued commonsense guidelines to stores for preventing the spread of Covid-19. Regarding bags, these guidelines state the following:
“If customers bring their own bags, ensure:
- Bags are not placed on conveyor belts or any other area outside of shopping carts.
- Bags make no contact with employees.
- Customers bag their own groceries.
- Customers do not bag groceries in the checkout area if they cannot maintain physical distancing. Groceries can be placed in a cart and bagged elsewhere by the customer.
- Increase the frequency of disinfection in bagging areas used by customers.”
3. Ban store-bought bottled beverages
You may have witnessed scenes of bottled water hoarding early on in the crisis when people panic bought water along with bathroom tissue, cleaning supplies, flour and more. Some worried that the coronavirus would get in our tap water and so bought bottled water, which often contains merely tap water but at a giant premium. The World Health Organization, however, has stated that the coronavirus has not been detected in drinking water.
Eliminating purchases of water, soda, energy drinks, juice and other beverages packaged in plastic (i.e., almost all store-bought drinks) eliminated piles of plastic. If you crave a fizzy drink, you may want to try making my ginger beer, hibiscus soda or naturally carbonated lemonade. They all require a ginger bug to ferment them (a starter made of simple ingredients). This 4-ingredient strawberry soda doesn’t require a starter.
4. When you buy food in plastic packages, look for giant packages
Buying giant packages of food reduces the overall amount of packaging you bring home over time. Picture one, 25-pound bag of food versus twenty-five, 1-pound bags.
Now, if you won’t eat a 25-pound bag of broccoli, don’t buy it. You don’t want that food to go to waste and rot in a landfill, where it will emit methane gas, a greenhouse gas much more potent that carbon dioxide. But if you will eat 25 pounds of rice, consider buying the huge bag. Make lots of fried rice, rice pudding, dosas, paella and so on.
5. Start a bulk buying club
If you have a group of people interested in buying in bulk (and saving money), consider starting a bulk buying club. You can browse wholesalers’ catalogs, settle on what to buy, order it, split the cost and—when order arrives—split the goods.
Wholesalers to check out in the US:
You’ll have to do a bit of research into these—where they are located, the minimum order, how they ship and what kind of packaging they use. To buy from wholesalers, you sometimes need a reseller’s license. Click here to find out how to apply for one in your state.
6. Brew coffee yourself
In January or February 2020 BC (before coronavirus), if you had been launching your mornings with an Americano from Starbucks, that habit may have come to an abrupt end.
Consider investing some of that money you have saved into a French press. My sister has a beautiful stainless steel insulated model. I have the standard inexpensive glass carafe with plunger version (less than the price of a week of coffees). Pick up some beans at a café or grocery store—many grocery stores have grinding machines—and brew your coffee at home. Watch the sunrise as you sip. You’ll save a small fortune and you’ll likely enjoy your new morning ritual.
7. Learn to cook
When you learn to cook, you won’t rely on highly processed, overly packaged foods. You’ll also know what to do with the food you have on hand and so you’ll reduce your food waste. Yes, packaged food is more convenient but that convenience is killing the planet and its inhabitants. You don’t need to cook gourmet meals every night—no one has the time or energy for that at the best of times. Just use fresh ingredients and cook simple food. Here’s a list of easy meals using what you have on hand.
8. Plan what you’ll cook
You don’t need to spend a lot of time planning your meals or creating a complicated spreadsheet that details every breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and beverage you’ll consume for a month (unless you want to!). But if you plan even a few meals in advance, you won’t feel tempted to grab a bunch of frozen entrées at the grocery store.
Go here for easy, 4-step meal planning.
9. Involve the whole family
They’re stuck at home too so put them to work. They demand pizza for dinner? Hand them a damn recipe. It’s absurd to expect mom to do it all, while also expecting her to retain her sanity. Tell your family they only have to help if they eat food. I know my male followers help at home, but most of my followers are female (90 percent) and some have told me that they haven’t been getting the support they need at home.
10. Install a bidet and/or switch to reusable wee wipes
This past week, my daughter back in California ordered a bidet for her dad’s house. It will take several weeks for the backordered attachment to arrive and while it does consist of plastic, over time, a good-quality bidet will eliminate both bathroom tissue and all of its accompanying packaging.
You may also consider using wee wipes to blot urine dry. You can make these quickly by cutting up old cotton t-shirts—everyone has old cotton t-shirts. Or if you love to sew, finish the edges, add snaps and make a roll. Store the wee wipes in the bathroom along with a basket or container for used wipes.
11. Buy less stuff
Sitting at home day in, day out, surrounded by all of our clutter from which our eyes have no respite during waking hours, many of us who hadn’t thought about it until now have suddenly realized we own way too much stuff that we don’t want or need. Having to live in our nests crowded with our stuff, we must be doing a lot of Marie Kondoing during this quarantine.
Don’t declutter only to re-clutter. By refusing to buy more stuff, you reduce not only the plastic you see—the stuff itself and the packaging it comes in—but also all the waste in the supply chain that went into producing said stuff.
12. Support organizations fighting plastic pollution
You may feel helpless to stem the tide of plastic pollution. And while I firmly believe individual changes do make a difference—not only does collective action add up, industry will not change without pressure—we need corporations to stop pillaging our home.
If you have the means, you can financially support groups like Plastic Pollution Coalition or The Story of Stuff, which fight against corporate polluters. You can also sign their petitions, follow them on social media and spread the word about their important work.
13. Don’t feel guilty!
You did not create this system. And you have likely reduced your plastic consumption in many ways by default.
When will your synthetic bra need a replacement if it merely sits in a drawer or hangs on a doorknob day after day, week after week? How often do you wear makeup or use personal care products, most of which are packed in plastic? When’s the last time you wore your dry-clean-only clothes that the cleaners cover in plastic garment bags?
You likely don’t shop much, you definitely aren’t flying and you may have taken up skills like baking, sewing or mending that help you live a more sustainable lifestyle. Keep up the good work!