It may feel like the whole world is regressing toward single-use plastics, but the waste-free movement is far from dead.
There are a lot of eco-friendly practices that I'm not allowed to do right now. Thanks to the current pandemic, the reusable container policy at Bulk Barn has been temporarily suspended. Reusable grocery bags and bins aren't allowed at the grocery store. Whenever I place an order at a local store, it comes swathed in disposable plastic. The province-run beer store isn't accepting beer or wine bottle returns. My town's recycling program was cancelled for several weeks, with all blue boxes going straight to landfill, and everywhere I go I'm handed single-use antibacterial wipes, something that I always avoided (and railed against) in the past.
I understand that drastic times call for drastic measures, and that many people are facing much bigger challenges, so I go along with it. But every time I use a wipe or a single-use grocery bag, I feel my soul shrivelling a little bit. It goes against so much of what I believe in, strive for, and write about on a regular basis. So I was happy to see an article written by Celeste McNickle, director of Client Solutions at TRUE Zero Waste, a certification system that helps companies to minimize waste output and embrace circular solutions.Writing for Living Standard, McNickle said that now is a good time to "recommit to reduce and reuse." She describes how societal thinking has evolved from focusing on the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – to being obsessed with only last R, recycling, despite the fact that all are very important. She writes,
"In this strange time of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to be mindful of our materials management while going about our daily lives. With constant news of neighbors and loved ones dealing with shortages of paper towels and cleaning supplies, I’m reminded of why I committed to a zero-waste lifestyle to begin with. I wanted to share a few techniques I’ve embedded into my life over the years in hopes it will help others to adopt similar strategies that will benefit not only their health and sense of wellbeing, but the environment, too."
She goes on to offer a list of zero waste alternatives to common household products. It is encouraging to see, a reminder that we can fight back against the rampant waste in small ways. It also got me thinking about zero waste in terms of what we can do now and what we will have to work toward later, once this pandemic is over. There's a proper time for everything.
2. Reduce food waste. Make it a priority to use all the ingredients you buy. This can be challenging for people who are new to daily home cooking, but it's considered one of the single most effective ways to shrink one's carbon footprint. You're also building skills that will reduce the need for disposal food packaging going forward, if you no longer depend on takeout to survive.
3. Establish a zero waste beauty routine. You don't have to go out in public much these days, so why not experiment with cleaner and safer methods of doing makeup, caring for skin, washing and styling hair? Try training your hair to go longer between washes, using a zero waste shampoo and conditioner bar or tablet, body bar, natural deodorant, and homemade makeup remover. More at 13 zero waste beauty essentials.
4. Choose grocery packaging wisely. Avoid plastic whenever possible, prioritize paper and glass, opt for metal if necessary. Buy loose produce. Buy the largest quantity you can eat. Lots more suggestions here.
5. Fight back where you can. There are some places where COVID-19-induced restrictions are illogical. Reusable grocery bags should not be banned, as they do not cause contamination, and the virus can live on any kind of surface, even single-use ones. McNickle writes,
"Public health must be put first, but there is an incorrect perception that single-use materials are the only clean and sanitary option. In reality, these products have been handled many times throughout manufacturing and processing by the time they arrive in your hands. Reusables, however, have the opportunity to be one of the most sanitary products because they have been thoroughly washed by you or in an industrial process through a coordinated effort with programs such as LOOP."
6. Resume the zero waste fight. I fear that brands will backtrack on previous progressive policies to do away with single-use plastics and allow reusables, citing fear of contamination. They can't be let off the hook. As I quoted in an earlier article, "We cannot let one crisis turn into another" – by which I mean a planet clogged even more severely with plastic than it already was.
7. Keep making stuff yourself. Put your newfound DIY skills to good use going forward. Just because you're back at work doesn't mean you have to stop making sourdough, yogurt, and soup. Find a way to work it into your daily (or weekend) routine and continue to derive pleasure from the act of making wholesome, package-free things with your own hands.
Life is far from perfect right now, but then it wasn't perfect before, either. This is a unique chance to hone those "reduce and reuse" skills that can serve you and society so well in the post-pandemic years to come. (And yes, that time will come, far off though it may seem right now.)