Sustainable Habits During a Crisis


So I can’t beat around the bush: the world is a wild place right now and many, if not everyone, reading this has been staying home for one reason or another. At the very least, I hope everyone reading this is minimizing trips out and keeping social activities virtual. In this moment I’m learning that sustainability in my life is experiencing a change for better and for worse.

As you may know, I’m passionate about reducing my carbon footprint through my lifestyle choices. I shop second hand, limit my single-use products and reduce food waste where I can. In these respects, some parts of my life have not changed with the onset of social distancing. I’ve been home enough to make use of all my leftovers and food scraps, I haven’t had a desire to even leave the house and shop, and my reusable products are saving me trips to the store and keeping me from hoarding products that I do not need. In some respects, my shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle has made this major change a little easier.

However, in other ways it has been safer to understand that public health must come first and that may require using more disposable products. Look, I’m not about to stubbornly frown upon people from a sustainable high horse while simultaneously putting those people in danger. Disposable gloves, single-use masks and disposable disinfectant wipes are crucial to keeping public spaces safe for immunocompromised people and essential workers. Processed and packaged foods can stretch your pantry to reduce your grocery store trips and that’s okay. Living with someone considered an essential employee means taking some of those not-so-eco-friendly practices into my home, primarily using more disposable paper towels and disinfectant wipes to get surfaces clean without potentially contaminating other surfaces. Also using more chemicals to keep spaces as clean as possible. It’s not an easy change, but it’s a necessary shift for this moment in time. Even Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers has had to compromise some of her sustainable practices for the sake of public health and safety.

So maybe you’re saying “Marcella, what sustainable practices CAN I maintain during this time?” I’m so glad you asked.

Keep in mind that, like Lauren said in her post about prioritizing values during this crisis, the ability to purchase sustainable and unsustainable products (especially in bulk for the sake of the latter) is a massive privilege in this country and in this moment. I’m fortunate to be able to support myself with these means right now. If you, like me, feel this way I encourage you to help where you can: don’t hoard food and support local, non-profit initiatives like food banks and farms.

You can repurpose old shirts, socks and towels into rags for cleaning surfaces. I’ve been doing this recently to give new life to items that can’t be donated to second hand shops. It’s something my mom always did that didn’t make much sense to me until this point in my life. This is helpful especially if you’re trying to limit your paper towel usage to important things like food preparation and cleaning high-traffic surfaces. I use these for kitchen spills, cleaning glass and mirrors and dusting hard surfaces. You can make the most of the paper towels you have by thinking about what HAS to be disposed of versus what can be thrown in the wash. Therefore, no need to hoard.

Using fewer disposable hygiene products also reduces waste and trips to the grocery store. There used to be nothing worse than having to make a trip to a pharmacy or grocery store for just tampons, especially after going to the grocery store the DAY BEFORE. So in this time I’m thankful for my menstrual cup and safety razor, two items that are going to help me save money and reduce unnecessary trips to stores.

Lastly, being home all day and needing to be resourceful in the kitchen is the perfect soup storm. Meaning, save your scraps PEOPLE! Mushroom stems, onion skins, chicken bones – you name it. Roast your scraps to release some deep flavors, throw it all in a stock pot and add spices of your choice and water and let simmer all day while you work from home. Now you have homemade stock, which can then be the canvas for many dinners. Add leftover cooked veggies or wilted greens and give them new life. Add noodles and crunchy carrots for chicken noodle soup, or a beaten egg for stracciatella. This whole experience has made me more resourceful, and cooking has provided an escape from daily anxiety.

I’m so sick of living in these interesting times, and I’m sure you are too. I yearn to see my friends and hug my family, but right now I understand my responsibility to stay home. I hope you’re all staying safe and healthy, and I hope you can relate to some of these sustainability challenges during these times.