Staying Sustainable During the Pandemic

This continues to be one of the most challenging, stressful and sorrowful times most of us can remember. Illness, long recoveries and the loss of loved ones are painful experiences that have already touched many… and that pose a threat to us all. Front line workers of all kinds continue to risk their health every day for our benefit. And even the luckiest have had their lives disrupted, whether that means working from home, losing a job, trying to support distance learning for the kids or simply spending a great deal of time at home with limited ability to socialize.

Amidst this unprecedented healthcare and economic crisis, it may seem like too much effort to continue composting, eating organic food or reducing waste. Yet this crisis is shining a light on the urgent need to live more sustainably.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

  1. Pandemics are environmental crises. COVID-19 is what scientists call a “zoonotic” illness, a type of virus that we can catch from other mammals. Destruction of habitat (forests, jungles, etc.) and exploitation of natural resources can bring humans into closer contact with animals that harbor such dangerous pathogens. At the same time, climate change is causing some diseases to move around the globe. Think Zika and West Nile virus. And industrial agriculture is making us more vulnerable to picking up antibiotic-resistant pathogens from unhealthy livestock. In short, if we don’t repair the environment, we may face a future riddled with new health risks. Supporting organic food, shifting away from gas-combustion travel, switching to solar-powered electricity and buying local, green and much less are all helpful choices.
  2. This is a good time to get resilient. While the initial shortages of food and household staples have subsided for now, weekly grocery shopping is not what it used to be. You may need to spend less right now due to job loss. Or perhaps you are limited to curbside pickup to protect your health. Some of your food stores may even be out of business or still insufficiently stocked. Producing some of your own food is a wonderful solution. This could take the form of planting a vegetable garden and adding cold frames or a small greenhouse to extend the season. Or it may mean raising chickens, fishing, foraging or hunting. Learning to process, cook and store your bounty can help ensure that you will have food in the freezer no matter what this winter brings.
  3. This is an important time to share. Food insecurity is always unconscionably high in this wealthiest of countries. But due to widespread unemployment, hunger is becoming commonplace throughout America. If you can afford to, make a cash donation to the food pantry that serves your area. If you produce food at home, ask if pantries are willing to accept food donations. Due to the pandemic, this option may not be available.
  4. We can still reduce waste…and litter. About a year ago, it seemed like municipal bans on single-use plastics were popping up everywhere. Once the pandemic hit, we suddenly found ourselves using more single-use disposables than ever! Curbside grocery pickup and restaurant takeout are generating lots of extra trash. And while masks are our greatest weapon in the fight against the virus, too many people are casually discarding them — or allowing them to blow away –creating a whole new category of litter. Making matters worse, some recycling options have been suspended during the pandemic. Even so, you can make a difference by purchasing only what you need, using reusable cloth bags whenever possible, switching to washable cloth masks, and making sure you know the current local options for recycling paper and plastic. Also remember that plastic bags may be recyclable at collection containers typically located in supermarket and big-box-store entranceways. The plastic is used by companies such as TREX to make lumber for decks, park benches and patio furnishings.
  5. Love your local. About 20% of America’s small businesses have already gone under. Drive through nearly any downtown and you’ll spot lots of empty storefronts where shops, restaurants and cafes once welcomed members of the community. If you are gainfully employed, you can help (at least a bit) by keeping your dollars inside the community, shopping at local stores and dining (in or out) at independently owned restaurants. Tip well, wear your face covering, and find out if your favorite businesses have GoFundMe campaigns to help employees. Don’t forget to support local non-profits involved in helping your neighbors through these turbulent times.