If Covid-19 completely derailed your plans for 2020, please raise your hand. I for one had many things to look forward to this year including an awesome family trip to Disneyland, however that was quickly cancelled as the pandemic grew from a few cases to thousands. Now I’m sure I am not the only one whose year was derailed by an infectious disease pandemic and was not something I ever thought I would live through. The number of active cases has begun to drop and stay quite low, we are now faced with a strange but new normal for the foreseeable future.
When a new infectious disease starts spreading globally, stopping the spread becomes the main focus and things like sustainability often takes a backseat. The first thing I noticed was coffee shops no longer accepting reusable cups and only offering disposable to-go cups. Then it was grocery stores no longer allowing reusable shopping bags, only offering plastic. For those of us with a sustainability focus, this caused some red flags and concern of how can I protect myself and others, while also keeping the environment in mind. While it may seem impossible to remain sustainable in a global pandemic, it is possible with just a few small steps.
Mask it up. Public health officials recommend wearing a mask or facial cover as one way to prevent the spread of Covid-19. While many stores offer boxes of the disposable kind, this creates a large amount of waste that enters our landfill, with the masks taking years to degrade into tiny fragments of plastic. A much more sustainable and fashionable option has emerged from the pandemic as reusable face masks are becoming increasingly common. Local artisans on Etsy and sellers on Facebook marketplace are making masks in all sorts of patterns and sizes, to help slow the spread of Covid-19 but also to help you look your best.
When choosing a mask it is important to choose one that is made of at least two layers of a tightly woven material, like cotton or linen. Non-medical face masks should allow for easy breathing, fit securely to your head and be worn so that the mask covers your nose and mouth without any gaps. The benefit of a reusable mask is just that, it is reusable and can be washed with your regular laundry and hung to dry, although this may not be true for all masks so make sure to ask the artisan when you are buying. Wearing a mask is not the sole solution to preventing the spread of Covid-19, however when combined with consistent good hygiene and following other public health measures it can slow the spread of the virus.
Sanitizer. Using hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available to wash your hands, is one of the recommended ways to slow the spread of germs. However, this then presents the common problem of plastic waste. One solution is to keep those mini bottles that are great for your purse or backpack and refill them from a larger bottle. Rocky Mountain Soap Co. has a one litre refill bottle, that is Health Canada certified, and doesn’t smell like straight alcohol which you can use to refill bottles instead of buying new ones. The essential oils and other natural ingredients in it give the sanitizer a much nicer smell as well as keeps your hands soft while still providing the recommended 60% alcohol for maximum germ killing.
You may be questioning how buying a refill bottle is really reducing plastic waste and here is why. Rocky Mountain Soap Co. also has a returnables program for their one litre bottles. This means that once you have emptied the refill bottle into all your other bottles, you can drop it off back at the store and they will send the bottle back to their facilities to be sanitized and reused again. When shopping in stores, consumers can look for these reused bottles by a special label giving you the option to purchase a recycled bottle.
Disposables. For the unsung heroes who have been working tirelessly throughout the whole pandemic, practicing sustainable actions can be hard. The requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) have increased in many industries and sometimes must include disposable options rather than reusable ones. If you have to wear disposable gloves, masks or other disposable PPE, please make sure it is disposed of properly.
Sometimes your only option is a disposable one which is okay, but not taking the time to make sure that your gloves or mask has made the trash can is not. It is our responsibility to clean up after ourselves so that we can enjoy the environments that we live in. If you do have to wear gloves, disposable masks, or other PPE make sure they are disposed of properly. Instead of turtles with straws stuck in their noses, we may end up with deer having face mask decorated horns if we don’t properly dispose of PPE.
Shop Local. Something I’m sure we have all heard continuously throughout this pandemic is to buy local as much as possible. Supporting local businesses and producers helps to feed all kinds of sustainable actions. Reducing your carbon footprint is a major benefit to shopping local, especially for groceries. Buying local reduces the length of transportation therefore reducing vehicle emissions and the amount of refrigeration required. A reduction in the packaging waste used to ship products here is also a major bonus when buying directly from producers. Besides reducing carbon emissions, buying from local producers also gets you the best quality ingredients. I don’t know about you but the difference in taste between a store bought tomato and a farmers market tomato is unreal.
Aside from buying groceries, shopping local for other products in your life also provides a great benefit for the local economy. Buying local means your favourite coffee shop can stay open because they can employ local people. Businesses can stay open, grow and provide services in the community when shop local. Oftentimes it’s a cycle of one business using another business’s services who buys from another business and so on. Take some time to explore your local shops and you may just find something you’ve been looking for.
Shopping bags. During the early stages of the pandemic, many places cut their reusable programs for things like coffee cups and shopping bags. Lately many stores are starting to allow reusable bags back into stores. It is important to remember that just like any cloth fabrics, reusable bags need to be WASHED! Not only does this remove any germs from the fabric but it also freshens them for your next trip. Below is a list of grocery stores that are allowing bags to be used again:
- Safeway & Sobeys: allowing reusable bags, however you must pack it yourself
- Save on Foods: allowing reusable bags, however you must pack it yourself
- SuperStore, No Frills & Shoppers Drug Mart: allowing reusable bags, however you must pack it yourself
- Walmart: allowing reusable bags, however you must pack it yourself
- London Road Market: allowing reusable bags, however you must pack it yourself
- Urban Grocer: allowing reusable bags, however you must pack it yourself
- Lethbridge Farmers Market: allowing reusable bags
Working from Home. For many people, the start of the pandemic meant the start of working from home. Some are really good at it while others have a harder time. Creating a functioning and usable workspace is not only important for productivity but also for mental health. Trying to work in an unorganized, bland, too cold space is not where you would want to spend your time working. Check out these simple ways to green your office and make you much more productive.
Educate yourself. While you may not feel like now is the right time for a big leap into the sustainability world, there is one very important thing you can do while we ride out this pandemic. Educate yourself. That’s right, even though you may have a four year university degree it’s time to go back to school. Now I’m not talking about enrolling in a full time lecture based program, unless that’s your jam, but there are other opportunities to educate yourself on the ever emerging sustainability practices. Even for someone like me, who graduated from and has worked in the sustainability field, there is so much to learn and develop, it’s quite exciting.
Use resources like the Green Your Everyday website to help you further your knowledge of living a sustainable life. If you’re interested in learning more about the natural world, head over to the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, where you can explore the river valley with a field guide or take part in an online program. Environment Lethbridge has some great resources and programs to get you started on your journey to a more sustainable life. Once Covid-19 has been eradicated or has at least slowed down to a crawl, you’ll be well versed in sustainability and be able to implement what you know, in the years to come.
Sometimes life throws us all a curveball that we are not expecting, in any way, shape or form. But as humans we adapt and move on with life because that’s what we do. Trying to juggle a pandemic and live a sustainable life is quite the act as some of the necessary steps to protect ourselves are not the greatest for our environment. Doing what you can, even though it may seem small, is all that matters. Even in the middle of a pandemic, we shouldn’t throw sustainability out the window, we should continue riding the railway towards our sustainable future.