Sustainable Sustainability during a Global Pandemic
Any chance you’ve been thinking of sustainability recently? Given the variety of adjustments we've all needed to make recently, it's not surprising if whatever you initially considered to be sustainable has since gone out the window. That's OK—your primary focus should be on keeping yourself and others healthy. But if you're still interested in practicing a sustainable lifestyle, how can you do that safely during a global public health pandemic? Read the below tips to learn how you can keep practicing sustainability during these disrupted times.
If you managed to get your hands on a few (or twenty) containers of antibacterial wipes, you might be tempted to use them each time you need to clean a frequently touched surface. Of course, disinfecting is important, but have you considered saving those wipes for use outside of the home and instead using a disinfectant spray and old rag during daily cleaning? You might use more rags than you typically do, but you'll be keeping excess wipes out of the landfill. Additionally, the "number of cleans" in one standard bottle of disinfectant spray tends to be more than the number of disinfectant wipes in a container—ergo, fewer wipe bottles used overall, which will reduce your plastic consumption. Plus, the higher “number of cleans” in the spray bottle means you get more bang for your buck, and you can ensure that you still have a supply to use both outside and inside of your living space.
Although choosing products from bulk bins is one of the easiest ways to shop sustainably, your grocery store may be restricting bulk bin access for the time being. If you're now needing to choose from prepackaged options of oatmeal and flour, for instance, look for the biggest containers you can find. Though the price will be higher than a smaller container, the price per ounce tends to be lower—plus, buying one larger version of a product, as compared to multiple smaller versions, often reduces the amount of packaging material overall. Buying a bigger container also means that you won’t run out as quickly, so you can minimize your exposure to other people by not going to the store as often.
When shopping for produce, consider choosing the "loose" options. You can often find various fruits and vegetables that aren't already wrapped in plastic. If you’re nervous about purchasing something with edible skin, like an apple, which might have been touched by others, remember that there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to transmission via food products. When purchasing produce, scientists, doctors, and food microbiologists recommend simply rinsing your produce in cold water.
Who doesn't love a quick (or nowadays super-quick) run to Target? Unfortunately, the dos and don'ts of social distancing recommend reducing your Target strolls or at least switching to curbside pick-up. If you're going one step further and transitioning to only ordering online, at least you don't have to step very far outside of your home.
Normally, ordering items online is frowned upon by those who support a sustainable lifestyle. Ordering packages requires extra energy spent on shipping items from one place to the next, including the gas used by delivery vans.
However, ordering online is one easy way to keep yourself and your family healthy. Staying inside your home reduces your and others' exposure to the virus. Some services, like Amazon, will allow you to choose an option to ship your items in as few boxes as possible. You may also be able to select what kind of packing material the retailer uses (look for paper options over film plastic, which is more difficult to recycle).
If you order online, limit where you place your packages inside your home. The National Institutes of Health have reported that the COVID-19 virus can stay stable for up to 24 hours on cardboard and 2–3 days on plastic. Open a package as soon as you receive it, place your items on a clean surface, and immediately dispose of or recycle any packaging outside of your home when possible. You can also use your disinfectant spray and rag to wipe down the outside of any packaging that needs to remain in your home for longer than a few days.
If you're still putting on your slacks and button-downs each day you work from home, more power to you! Treating your work hours seriously by putting on "work clothes" helps you stay focused while you're in front of the computer at home. But how can you start to approach your work-from-home outfits sustainably?
Consider how often you tend to wash each item of clothing you wear. Does all of your clothing go into the hamper at the end of each day? Have you gotten used to dry cleaning on a weekly basis? You're no longer using public transportation or going into the office every day, so how can you readjust the way you do laundry?
If you've fully transitioned to jeans or leggings, wear them at least a few times before washing them (this will also help the color from fading, keep elastic stretchy if you hang-dry, and reduce the electricity used by a dryer). Worried about wrinkles? Invest in a garment steamer! This will smooth out any wrinkles while also killing most germs and freshening up the fabric (you can also try hanging your garment in the bathroom while you shower). Also, remember to hang up your shirts at the end of each day. Allowing for air flow through a piece of clothing will help keep unwanted smells from lingering; you might even try a couple sprays of Febreze or that Bath and Body Works spray you’re still holding on to.
Many of the suggested measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 involve keeping to yourself and avoiding others. For those who are used to seeing friends and family on a regular basis, these new practices might feel like self-inflicted social Siberia. Nobody said combatting a global pandemic was going to be fun 24/7, but there are steps you can take to make it bearable.
Try to remember that everything is relative. Something you might normally consider to be a sustainable way of keeping happy, like attending an exercise class with friends or going to the movies for date night, is not as accessible right now. It might feel like you’ve always done those things—but in the period of your life when you weren’t able to, you found ways to sustain your happiness.
Relative to what’s accessible to you now, how can you promote your happiness? It might feel impossible, or at the very least super frustrating, but try to think about all of the things you can still do, instead of focusing on the things you can't accomplish for now.
Here are some simple, sustainable ways to invite happiness into your life, all while maintaining social distancing:
- Create daily positive affirmations and practice saying them in front of a mirror.
- Remind yourself to smile once an hour, especially if you're feeling blue.
- If you have hardwood floors at home, practice sliding across them in your socks (carefully!).
- Use a funny voice to narrate the activities of your new coworkers (spouses, kids, pets, and plants). Pretend you're a TV host on a nature show.
- Color-coordinate your shelves so your books are in rainbow order.
- Pretend you're in a mockumentary TV show and make exaggerated facial expressions at the hidden cameras.
- Try gratitude journaling for a few minutes each day. Even if all you're writing about is that you're grateful for Netflix, it counts!
- Practice your Oprah interview as you clean. When she asks about the most defining moments in your life, what will you describe?
- Try aligning your happiness with someone else's for a while. Taking the pressure to be happy off yourself by instead focusing on lifting someone else's spirits can in turn end up raising yours.
- Let go of some of the standards and rules you’ve set for yourself. Stick your hands (after washing them, of course!) all the way into the big container of beans. Imitate the funny way your pet sleeps. Have a mid-morning dessert. Practice your celebrity autograph. Pull your socks all the way up your calves, instead of scrunching them down around your ankles. Perfect your one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi counting. Try anything that you would normally write off as too silly or a waste of time.
Just as with so much else, sustainable sustainability has taken on a new definition during this time. Practice your adaptability, and you'll soon learn what's newly sustainable in your routine and what you can set aside for the next few weeks. The goal isn't to be perfect, but to still thrive while in survival mode.
Sarah Mania is the operations coordinator for the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON) and a member of the Sustainability SIG.
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