Single-use plastics are everywhere. Even if you do bring your own bags to the store, it’s hard to come home from the supermarket with something that’s shrinkwrapped, in a plastic clamshell, or in a single-use plastic cup. Many food producers are switching to lower waste packaging solutions, or when necessary, using biodegradable or recyclable options.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced hundreds of millions of people around the world to shelter at home, only leaving the cocoon for essential items like groceries. One notable exception to the isolation orders is take-out food. In order to keep local restaurants afloat through the current pandemic, many people order take-out food to go or via one of the many delivery services out there like Uber Eats, Postmates, or GrubHub.
As the world continues to navigate this pandemic, it’s okay to give yourself a bit of slack versus the rules established for the world that was before. If supporting local business means using a few more take-out containers per month, that’s okay. We won’t make a habit of it that stretches on for years, but for today, it’s okay. The trade-off is worth it. Having said that, there are areas we can still optimize as we work through the first phase of this pandemic.
Target Zero Waste (Recycle!)
Whatever the impact of COVID-19 has been on your life, the disruption it has caused presents an opportunity for each of us to reflect on life before. No matter how much we improve, optimize, and streamline our lives, things will never be perfect. Take this opportunity to reassess the waste streams flowing out of your life to identify which products truly can be recycled and how they should be recycled. This varies widely from city to city, state to state, and clearly, from country to country around the world.
Digging into the waste we generate and ensuring we are properly disposing of it is also a great way to identify opportunities for reducing said incoming waste streams. A simple argument I keep front of mind with disposable shopping bags is the fact that they have a functional life on the scale of a handful of minutes. Goods are purchased at a grocery store, for example, loaded into bags for the journey home, then unpacked into the home. They represent very low-hanging fruit for replacement with durable, reusable bags, and many other such opportunities exist.
We would love to hear your best sustainable living tips and tricks in the comments below.
Ditch the Utensils (Reduce!)
Our family has made a point of ordering out a few times per week to support local businesses, but the amount of single-use plastics and similar waste products is tough to stomach. One easy area to make an impact on this is to request that they not include single-use utensils and other non-essentials. This not only eliminates what would very quickly end up in the trash can anyway, but it also saves the local business a few extra cents on the cost of the meal. Many delivery services do this by default, but it’s worth asking just to be sure.
Extend the Life of Plastics (Reuse!)
If you do end up with utensils, it’s worth washing them and saving them for future projects, future meals on the go, or another purpose. Single-use plastics that are only used for a handful of minutes before being discarded is a tragedy, but it’s important to remember that just as accepting single-use plastics can be a choice, so is discarding them. Look for opportunities to extend their life after having accepted single-use plastic products in all their forms.
Just yesterday, I worked on a project with my two sons that required epoxy. It’s nasty stuff, and we reused a rescued plastic knife to mix it before applying it. Using plastic over and over again not only extends the utility of the piece being reused, it offsets new materials that would have otherwise been used instead.
Straws have long been the bane of many an environmentalist’s existence, and while they are not going to single-handedly revolutionize your carbon footprint or annual material consumption, they are an easy thing to slip into your daily kit to cut out just one more piece of single-use plastic from your life. Being small and largely unrecyclable makes them an easy target for cutting out, and alternatives abound.
WonderSip‘s reusable straws offer the ability to crack in half for easy cleaning. A pair of leaves or butterfly wings (depending on which version you buy) makes it easy to open and close the straw when it’s time for cleaning. GoSili‘s foldable silicone straws are easy to take with you on the go and their flexible nature make them easier to clean than some of their more rigid counterparts.
Plan For The Future
Daily life in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic is a far cry from the lives we worked so hard to shape before. This awkward first phase of the coronavirus pandemic can be used as an opportunity to reset and reassess our lives. Things are going to be different in the new future after coronavirus and we can start mapping out that new life today.
Still consuming single-use coffee cups at your local cafe? Why not pick up a durable reusable mug today and commit to using it. In fact, you can start using it at home and simply continue that use when we return to work.
CleanTechnica contributor Chris Dragon shared with me back in 2015 his mobile sustainability kit that lived in the frunk of his Tesla Model S. Among other solutions, it included reusable takeout containers that could be used to transport restaurant leftovers home, avoiding the need for single-use containers from the restaurant. There are many, many other such examples and we would love to hear your sustainability tips in the comments.