Now that the World Health Organization has declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic, many of us are asked to work remotely. Spending more time at home may increase the volume of waste we produce, but we can take this sign as a “wake up call on our habits”.
“If there is a good side to COVID-19, it is that we have more time to think about treating the planet more carefully, and time to do more of the right things for the environment,” Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, told Forbes.com. “We are forced to slow down our activities, and that means we are likely to be living more sympathetically with the planet in any case.”
Here are five tips from recycling experts to help you deal with your waste in these weird circumstances and, why not, once it will all be over:
1. Take Your Time To Inform Yourself
Certainly we are not lacking time. In fact, we have plenty of it at our disposal “to do some of the things that we should be doing routinely anyway” as Berners-Lee suggests.
“A recent research project we took part in, identified lack of time as a specific factor in making recycling more difficult for people,” Pierre Condamine, waste policy officer at NGO Zero Waste Europe, says. “Properly sorting waste for separate collection, like rinsing plastic and glass containers, reduces contamination and keeps the material value high. Moreover, taking out the bins is a (much needed) opportunity to leave the house, if only for a couple of minutes!”
We can research and finally learn about the usual guidelines that apply in our neighborhood. “If you are uncertain how to collect and recycle your waste, check out your municipality’s website for information on this,” says Shia Su, founder of the blog Wasteland rebel.
Collection days will no longer be mysteries to you, as well as what do local rules require in terms of sorting bags or bins. “The tricky one could be plastics, since not all plastic packaging is collected and recycled,” Condamine adds. “One should check what the packaging is composed of and this information can usually be found at the bottom of the container.”
2. Keep Clean
Keeping clean has become your mantra, however it doesn’t mean you need to throw everything away. Instead of switching back to single-use plastic items, just wash your tote bags and reusable cups.
“Yes, we still use handkerchiefs and wash them at 60ºC [140°F],” Su says. “As you should with tissues, we only use each handkerchief once before we put it in the wash. Ironing them also sterilises them.”
Although it is unlikely to catch the virus from food according to the German agency for risk evaluation, wash hands and food thoroughly before and when cooking.
The amount of waste produced is roughly 1.34kg per capita daily in Europe, so it’s important to be careful and not create more unnecessary trash either. “We have been very cautious to stick to the guidelines published by our government agencies,” Su adds. “In fact, it is advised to not use sanitiser, but wash our hands thoroughly and often with soap instead, to avoid a shortage of sanitiser for medical institutions.”
Larissa Copello, consumption and production campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, notices that an increase in tap water use could be a positive shift “as water bottles are mostly consumed by tourists and people spending their days outside.”
3. Don’t Buy (Too Much) Stuff Online
Stuck at home and without a boss to check on you, it may be tempting to spend your time scrolling through the websites of online retailers. The reality is that “we have been just as busy as we still have to work, only from home,” Su reminds us.
Shopping driven by boredom can be substituted with other online activities, like board games, virtual visits to museums, movies and series. Also, while technology is there to help us feel less isolated, we don’t have to use it all the time. Some of the things we need can be built, what is broken can be repaired and others can be transformed with a new purpose. Use the internet to find new ideas, rather than new needs.
We are drowning in a sea of packaging waste, so better not to make the issue worse.
4. Prepare Your Own Food
By spending more time at home, we are cutting our transports emissions. “We also tend to consume less, which reduces the environmental impact even further,” Su says.
Cooking your meals is another good way of spending time and, according to Condamine, it means better recycling. “We now are less likely to grab a quick snack on the go, which almost always comes in single-use packaging,” he says.
“Ultimately, we are hopeful that accumulating waste in one place, instead of doing it in a fragmented way while walking on the streets and at the workplace, will throw into light the full extent of our waste habits, encouraging people to be more conscious of the waste they produce.”
The choice is not always an easy one. “On the one hand food delivery will likely make single use packaging increase, while on the other hand it helps local businesses in a difficult time when they can only rely on take away,” Copello adds. Whenever you choose takeaway, remember it has to be safe for you and for the people delivering.
5. Avoid Stockpiling
This one seems obvious, but a pandemic shouldn’t make us panic and empty shelves. The practice of running after every single roll of toilet paper or sanitizer is being condemned by supermarkets themselves.
Beside it being disrespectful to others who can’t afford it for various reasons, it often results in a waste of money.
“More waste could be produced if people panic shop and end up stockpiling perishable goods they’re not going to consume,” says Copello.
If you’re already guilty, try to make good use of it. For instance, most fruits and vegetables can be frozen. You can also make jams, chutneys, pickles, or ferment them. Cooked meals can be frozen, too. Use the parts you’d never use before, such as scraps and peels and roots. Many books will teach and blogs you how.
“It could boost people’s creativity, in learning how to prevent food waste by using everything that’s about to expire.”