How To Go Low Waste in COVID-19

By Rachel Ashley

The pandemic has been all about adjusting expectations. Sustainability is no different.

The average American produces 1,700 lbs of trash a year (10x their body weight!). The Zero Waste Movement challenges people to avoid sending any trash to landfill. Each year, Plastic Free July participants save 1.8 trillion lbs of trash globally, equal to the weight of 8,000 blue whales. 

This year, Plastic Free July is a little different.

Some states no longer allow reusable bags, grocery stores are pre-packing their bulk sections, and zero waste stores can’t refill containers. Even Lauren Singer, Founder & CEO of Package Free Shop, acknowledges the difficulty of living zero waste in the pandemic.

Let’s accept that 2020 has been all about readjusting our expectations and embracing the present. Instead of completely severing ties with plastic, here are our rules of thumb for living with less plastic in quarantine.

Update your food storage

Not all states allow reusable bags during the pandemic, but you have the power to change how you store your food at home. 

When sanitized between uses, your reusable items present no more risk than single use plastic bags.

Three of our favorite zero waste items for our kitchens:

  • Beeswax wrap: Beeswax wrap replaces single use plastic wrap and can be reused many  times over. Made from organic cotton and coated with beeswax, these wraps can cover any food containers or hold your lunch sandwich.

  • Stasher bags: Stasher bags replace single use plastic “sandwich bags.” Washable and sturdy, stasher bags can be used to stash any snack or item you need to keep, whether on your counter or while out and about. Once you go stasher, you’ll never go back.

  • Reusable dishcloths: Replace paper towels and plastic sponges with reusable dish cloths. They work on every surface and dish in your home. Plus, they’re machine washable and will outlast any sponge you can find.

Most zero waste stores are not open at full capacity but offer options to shift away from mainstream plastic packaging. Check out this list of zero waste stores in each US state to see if there is a store near you. 

Clean your beauty routine

Who knew haircuts would be one of our first quarantine breaking points? You may feel a bit behind on your beauty routine without professional hair and skincare. But  investing in quality, package free products can be an indulgence that is good for you and good for the planet.

The majority of beauty and body products come in plastic packaging. Here are a handful of quick swaps to improve your beauty routine:

There’s so many more options to update your beauty routine and go zero waste. Check out three of our favorite zero waste stores to plan your plastic free future:

  • Package Free Shop: Lauren Singer’s Package Free Shop is a go to for all your zero waste needs. From reusable lunch containers to safety razors and shampoo bars, you can find almost anything you need for your plastic free journey.

  • Wild Minimalist: Similar to the Package Free Shop, Wild Minimalist offers everything you need to go zero waste at home, even products for nursing mothers. The company is based on the west coast and another great option if you want to support a small business. 

Purchase directly from farmers and small businesses

Going completely plastic free during COVID-19 is especially difficult because many grocery stores have pre-bagged their bulk section. A simple way to cut plastic out of your life is to purchase food from farmers markets, farm shares, and local bakeries and eateries. Many farmers markets even allow you to order ahead to reduce exposure.

When it comes to veggies, shopping at farm shares means you skip the little plastic baggies, and even the plastic stickers on your produce. Furthermore, buying more veggies means buying less meat. Besides meat’s high carbon footprint, it’s generally sold in single use plastic. 

Don’t stop at produce. Check your local bakeries and eateries to see the yummy things you can purchase without plastic while supporting your local retailers.

Cook at home

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we’re all more capable of cooking than we thought.  Good news: cooking from home uses less energy and produces less waste.

While delivery produces visible plastic waste, restaurant dining has even more “invisible” single use plastic the customer never sees. Cooking from home is an opportunity to reduce plastic and enjoy fresh-made foods that you might normally pull off a shelf. Here’s a few of our favorites:

  1. Bake your own bread: Most breads come in plastic. Choose your favorite bread or pastry and learn to make it from scratch. If you’re not quite ready for sourdough but want a challenge, try baking challah bread.

  1. Mix your own dressings: Olive oil, lemon, garlic, and red pepper flakes can go a long way on a salad. Skip bottled dressing and recreate your favorite dressing at home. Try out this honey lemon vinaigrette if you’re not sure where to start.

  1. Make your own plant-based milks: Skip the waxy-boxed plant-based milk and make your own. We’ve been successful with almond and oat milk home recipes. 

Bottom line: Clean what you can, forgive the rest 

How do you plan to participate in plastic free July? Whether you take the plunge across the board or change one habit, building long-term practices add up to big impact over time. 

Bottom line: be kind to yourself. You can’t always avoid packaging. If you purchase something with packaging, prioritize compostable packaging or check to see if your city or local municipality can recycle the package. In general, focus on a few things you can change, and accept that the world isn’t perfect.

Stay in the loop.

Subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter to get the latest on climate news and action tips.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.