Covid 19 Quarantine has spiked the use of disposable and toxic products- masks/gloves lie everywhere, take out delivery is the go-to, single use plastic has drastically increased, and massive amounts of chemical cleansers are being used. So while the carbon footprint has lowered in regards to transportation and human travel -our consumption habits have not- more waste accumulates, harmful for all species and the environment.
Most packaging is used and thrown out without a second thought of where it ends up. For just ONE take out order -which typically contains plastic cutlery, containers, bags, napkins, and maybe a cup/straw- its trash floats around for long after its quick convenient use.
We’ve heard the saying ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.
Unfortunately, due to pandemic restrictions, most places are currently not allowed to accept reusable bottles / personal containers / reusable bags (and so on).
So now, more than ever, we need to focus on REDUCING.
That’s why the saying goes REDUCE. REUSE. RECYCLE. In that order.
Recycling should be the LAST resort, not the first option. There is a myth around the effectiveness of recycling. In the United States, only about 9% of materials are actually recycled out of what ends up at the recycling centers (US EPA 2017). Among recycling triangle symbols (1-9), only few numbers can be recycled, some can be reused.
Another myth surrounds the efficiency of compostable packaging; it isn’t as eco friendly or sustainable as it may seem. We may feel better about ourselves by ordering food that comes in compostable packaging, but that doesn’t mean it ends up at composting centers/hubs. Because there are barely any ‘composting’ bins, most packaging ends up in the trash- and without oxygen and soil, the ‘compostables’ are not able to decompose. At landfills, most trash is mushed into the ground air tight, without oxygen or soil, and therefore ‘compostable’ packaging just ends up adding to the toxic waste.
Additionally, due to the chemicals by which compostable packaging is manufactured, many composting centers/hubs do not allow its deposits. There have not been adequate studies done on the decomposition and how the chemicals affect the soil.
So what can be done?
Our everyday purchases should match our values. We have to make responsible choices, not convenient ones. We cannot expect or rely on systems to change; we have to initiate action.
Basically, we have to CARE.
I understand we are not able to avoid the industry set up -almost EVERYTHING we buy comes in some form of plastic/eco- unfriendly packaging or contaminate process. We are basically forced to purchase items as they come unless we have the awareness, time, finances, and will to go out of our way to find ethical means.
Simplify what products you are purchasing and what packaging they come in.
Notice what packaging comes with food products, skin/hair care, cleaning supplies, & clothing.
Questions to ask yourself
#1. DO I NEED this item? Is it essential?
#2. WHAT IS IT MADE from? Are the ingredients/chemicals harmful to myself or the environment?
#3. Can I REUSE or recycle the PACKAGING?
WHO made them? (what companies/brands)
HOW are they manufactured? (what processes they go through)
WHERE are they coming from? (by which means they are distributed, carbon footprint)
CAN I AVOID purchasing the item in this form?
Is there a sustainable alternative available in a different local store/market?
#4. CAN I MAKE IT myself?
Research the internet as there are natural methods for many products and cleansers that are easy to make and inexpensive!
Recognize the entire cycle of the item
What happens once this product/packaging is in waste? Does it add to landfills or end up affecting sea life in the ocean? How do these chemicals flushing out affect the water and animal life after?
Avoid buying products that come in harmful/eco-unfriendly packaging.
There are SO many certifications now. We can familiarize ourself with official symbols and B Corp companies (ethical/sustainable standards).
This process can be overwhelming if one tries to change everything instantly. The key is to identify and revise one item/habit at a time. Doing so makes one more aware of normalized action that is usually mindless - and eventually it becomes second nature- an ethical habit.
Less IS more. We don’t need as much as we think we do. A lot of waste simply boils down to our convenience and ease, and most of us don’t even think about it- or want to. But nature is responding to how she is being messed with- and every action costs something to the ecosystem, which human life is not exempt from.
Helpful tips (following quarantine guidelines)
- Order less online - ordering/returning constantly leaves a carbon footprint, (i.e. Amazon)
- Avoid buying in plastic / non-recyclable packaging as much as possible
- If ordering takeout, request not to have any utensils, plastic bags, or straws given - #cutoutcutlery
- Support farmers markets / local as much as possible
- Farmers markets can be expensive, but I have found produce that compares to grocery store prices and is even CHEAPER at times. Farmer’s Market / Local produce tends to have better quality, taste, nutrition content, and is usually pesticide free / organic.
It also leaves way less of a carbon footprint. QUALITY over QUANTITY.
- Watch what you buy- MOST companies (clothing, food, technology) are tied in some way to larger companies or third parties that don’t pay full labor, conduct proper regulation standards, or are unethical
- Try using your own bags / if not allowed, then use packaging boxes used by the store
- Request stores to leave a statement to the company to change their packaging ways or buy in bulk
- Cook more at home, experiment
- Consider gardening / community centers
- Use home/natural remedies for make up, cleansing
- COMPOST- I don’t have a garden, but I’m still able to compost. Find your local compost garden / community or school / center. Use any closed container or bin to store your compost and when it is full, unload it at the compost center, wash it, and bring it back to use again. It lowers the amount of your trash too!
*In some other countries, they charge for taking trash by the kilo. So the less trash you have, the less you have to pay! Composting also helps separate dry trash from wet trash.
- Not everything needs to be thrown away instantly; be creative or dispose of it properly
- Reuse compostable packaging if possible or deposit it properly. Research guidelines at your local compost center
- Certain recycling numbers are safe to be reused among plastics
- Reuse glass containers from groceries
- Keep cardboard packaging / boxes for storage or to carry grocery items
- Follow recycling instructions by the number
Don’t be lazy - Rinse plastic/glass/can containers completely before tossing; no food / liquid residue should remain inside. Hot water is a quick solution.
(i.e. pizza boxes cannot be recycled if food/oil residue remains inside)
- Flatten/fold boxes properly
If enough people pay attention to what seems as menial habits, change occurs. People get inspired by observing and watching others.
Written by Mayuri Bhandari
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