The Coronavirus pandemic is without a doubt one of the worst things that the modern world has had to deal with. Millions of people infected, more than a million fatalities, separation, isolation, mental health problems, rising unemployment. Numerous companies were forced to shut down and many industries had to decrease their production, which favourably affected the environment. With planes being grounded, workplaces being closed and roads being clear, global CO2 emissions have fallen the most since the second World War. At least at first. Now the “temporary relief” is over and with dispensable gloves and masks, plastic visors and screens, takeaway food and drinks and excessive packaging, we are harming the environment more than before. Phrases like “eco-friendly in a pandemic” don’t seem to be a thing.
It’s totally understandable, that with scary news about how fast and in which ways the virus spreads, you wanted to put your safety first, moving environmental issues to the back of your mind. But with growing single plastic usage and personal protective equipment (PPE) washing up on shorelines causing harm to wildlife, we need to take action. Luckily there are ways to keep yourself and others safe, while also helping to protect our planet.
Here are 11 ways to be eco-friendly in pandemic without compromising your safety.
1. Use reusable face coverings.
If everyone in the UK wears a single use mask each day for a year, 66,000 tonnes of additional plastic waste could be produced! Most single-use plastic masks for public use are made from different types of plastic, which being considered a medical waste, usually can’t be recycled. Waste centres can’t separate the components, so most throwaway plastic masks, end up in landfill or incinerators. With time, single-use plastic masks will break down into microplastic particles that are too small to ever be removed from the ocean or rivers. Unless you are a medical professional, save the environment by wearing a reusable mask. According to WHO, reusable fabric masks are perfectly fine for use by the general public. They have to be at least double layered though, so keep that in mind when buying them or making yourself. If you want to put your eco friendliness on another level, find a company that makes masks from second hand or recycled materials, like: &keep.
Leave disposable masks for professions that really need to use them and wear a reusable one!
2. Ditch the plastic gloves.
You think you’re protected by just wearing gloves? Think again! Gloves won’t stop the spread of the virus. According to scientists, they have quite opposite effect and give you false sense of security. The most common gloves, the latex ones, don’t absorb water and are likely to actually keep the droplets with the virus on there for longer. Plus, touching a surface whilst wearing gloves, then touching your face, is the same as touching your face with your actual hand, so any germs on the surface are transferred onto you anyway. WHO doesn’t recommend that the members of general public wear rubber gloves. It’s enough to…
wash your hands often and remember not to touch your face.
If you’re really that scared of touching anything with your bare hands, invest in a little picker.
What can you do if you see discarded masks and gloves?
Your picker can come in handy here as well! PPE that is not properly disposed is hazardous to wildlife. Animals can eat it, choke on it, get tangled or use it to build their nests. The guidance says you shouldn’t pick anything, because it can be contaminated. But if you have a picker, why not help animals stay safe. If the area where you live or work gets constantly covered with PPE, inform your local council so they can send extra refuse forces there.
3. Refill your hand sanitizer.
Do you remember those times from the beginning of pandemic, when every store shelf with hand sanitizers was empty? If you were lucky, you probably also stocked up. But what are those bottles made of? That’s right – plastic! If you already have a few little bottles of hand sanitizer, don’t waste them by throwing them away. Buy a big, even 5 litre container of hand sanitizer and refill your little bottles.
And whenever you have a chance, choose an eco-friendly in a pandemic solution simply wash your hands instead of using a sanitizer.
Scientists say that handwashing (if done correctly) is more thorough and better than gel!
4. Don’t reject bar soap.
There is no evidence that a liquid handwash is in any way better than bar soap. Anything that is a detergent will destroy the lipid biolayer shell of the virus. And bar soaps that come with minimal or zero packaging are way more eco-friendly than plastic bottle with a pump.
But if you really, really have to use soap pumps, find a refill service.
5. Reduce your energy usage.
With so many people working from home and spending more time indoors in general, it is important to start cutting down on our energy usage in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s totally understandable that you need proper conditions to work and after that you want to make yourself cosy, but maybe try turning your heating down a bit, make use of natural light instead of having your lights on, switch off and unplug every appliance that you’re not currently using. And what is a better evening mood enhancer than a few candles and a fluffy blanket? If you already know that you’ll be working from home for the next months, why not invest in a smart thermostat that controls your heating more efficiently and a few energy saving lightbulbs.
6. Save water.
You already know that saving water is crucial for the environment and if you’re on a meter it can save you some money. As washing your hands is super important nowadays, you don’t need the water running through the whole process. Soap your hands and turn the water off until you’re ready to rinse them. The same thing applies to having a shower. Also, remember to do full loads while washing your clothes and washing the dishes in a dishwasher. And if you have a garden, finally buy a water butt and collect rain water.
As we’re on energy and water saving…
washing your masks after every use is super important, there is no evidence that it has to be done at high temperatures. The official advice was to wash everything at 60C (140F), but according to Maitreyi Shivkumar, a virologist from De Montfort University Leicester, even 20C would also do. It’s the detergent that is important. Unless of course someone in your household is suspected or was diagnosed with the virus, then their clothes, towels and sheets should be washed on the hottest setting.
7. Try using reusable coffee cups again.
I’m so guilty of using countless disposable coffee cups in the recent months. Even though they’re biodegradable or compostable, it’s always this additional thing that our planet has to “digest”. When the pandemic hit, many coffee shops stopped accepting reusable coffee cups, because supposedly the increased touch could spread the infection. Now, when we’re in the middle of pandemic…hopefully closer to the end, you could ask your favourite coffee shop if you can bring your favourite reusable mug again.
You should remember though to properly wash your cup regularly.
8. Try cutting down on your online shopping.
I know, I know. You sit at home, you’re bored, you want to reward yourself for being a good girl/boy and staying indoors, you want to experience new things…but you can’t, so you buy new things instead. Most of the time, it’s stuff you don’t really need. But what about the packaging that products are sent in, or the CO2 produced during delivery process. Luckily packaging is nowadays mostly paper or cardboard, so in theory it should be recycled. But that doesn’t always happen. How about a solution that is eco-friendly in a pandemic. First of all, think if you really need this new item. Then, if that thing you’re buying is to replace something or if you can repair the original. You can support local “reuse and repair” pop-ups by giving them some business instead of funding a big chain. And instead of immediately disposing of the packaging, think if there’s anything you can reuse it for.
9. Don’t use wipes.
Did you know that wipes (wet tissues) are unrecyclable? When trying to fight a very contagious virus, cleaning products and disinfectants are our best friends. And what is more convenient than wipes, especially when they promise to be “virus killing”? But lemons and other homemade disinfectant solutions work just as well! Try making homemade disinfectant solutions and sprays using hydrogen peroxide and alcohol. There are many recipes online, but remember…
that to fight Covid, you need to use at least 70% alcohol.
10. Another takeaway?
I’m sure we all ordered some takeaway food during the past few months. I know I did. No need for cooking, plus you’re supporting local businesses. And as great the second one is, unfortunately, takeaway packaging, plastic or not, has recently flooded the planet. Try to limit the amount of food you order and if you want to treat yourself with some delicious ready meals, choose a company that offers biodegradable or compostable packaging! Remember to click off single-use cutlery and small sachets of ketchup, mayo, mustard or any other sauce that comes in a small, plastic packaging. If it’s a pick-up order, ask if the place accepts customers’ containers so you can take some in for them to pack.
11. Go vegan.
Well, maybe not all the way, but since you’re spending more time at home, you have more time to try out new recipes, which can easily be vegan. You’d be surprised how many delicious and nutritious meals you can do with just plants. And vegan food is not boring at all! Scientists agree that the best thing you can do to combat climate change is to go vegan. Plus, eating a plant-based diet has been linked to general well-being and lowered risk of chronic diseases. Plus hmm…remember how the pandemic began in the first place?
Check out my personal vegan chef: Matt’s Plant Kitchen.
Hope you enjoyed my 11 ways to be eco-friendly in a pandemic.
Those are only a few things you can do to help our planet, help our flora, fauna and help ourselves to get through these difficult times. There’s way more you can do! If you have any other tips or you implemented different eco-friendly solutions in your everyday “pandemic life”, leave me a comment or hit me up on Instagram.
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