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.

I Finally Tried ThredUp and Here’s What I Think

lifestyle, Vintage

So I’m not the official authority on thrifted clothing but I know a thing or two about the whole process. I’ve been trying to make the conscious effort to shop ethically and sustainably which sometimes means shelling out a bit of money for something well made and ethically sourced, or sifting through racks of second hand clothing at my nearest Goodwill or Savers. Personally, I like visiting thrift stores and spending time finding a piece that speaks to me. Without an agenda, a sense of “oh I really NEED a new black dress,” and instead a sense of “what treasures can I find today,” I find the hunt exciting. It’s an activity. However, what happens when you want something specific and don’t want to shell out the money for a high quality version because it’s just not the “worth it” sort of item? That’s when you use ThredUp.

Disclaimer: I don’t want my opinions to deter anyone from using ThredUp. I think any move towards more sustainable options (that may be more accessible due to price point and online fulfillment) is a good move. These are just some questions/concerns/stipulations I had before ordering, and my experiences. Spoiler alert: I would shop at ThredUp again.

I placed my first order on ThredUp on a slow Thursday at work. Honestly, ThredUp can be akin to a thrift store when you surpass the filters and search options, making it a great source for afternoon scrolling. This time, however, I was looking for two specific things: a pair of khakis and a sundress. My first praise to ThredUp comes here: I found both items easily through the filters. I could sort by my size, brands that I like and colors I prefer. I landing on a pair of Uniqlo khakis (a brand that makes pants that actually fit my weird body) and a grey linen Tahari dress.

While I found what I was looking for, now would be a good time to mention some critiques. While I understand that these items are second hand and the site might have a high turn-over rate, clothing often looks a bit disheveled in the photos. The descriptions offer some assistance (both items were classified as “like new”) but when the photo looks one way and the caption says another thing, you get weary. This was actually a deterrent from me ordering clothing sooner. But with enough assurance from other people, I gave it a shot. My other critique: price point. Yes, I know the designer brands and expensive name brands see a high markdown from traditional retail price, that discount diminishes when it comes to other brands. For example, you can probably find Old Navy items in the actual store on clearance for the same price they are listed for on ThredUp, and if you’re shopping second hand due to budget, this isn’t quite the discount you may need. You can probably find some mid-tier brand items even cheaper at actual brick and mortar thrift stores, however without the luxury of pre-sorting items and browsing online.

Nevertheless, I placed my two item order: $29.75. Definitely more than what I’d pay in a traditional thrift store for two items. I actually paid $3 for a pair of pants at a thrift store one week later. Shipping was $5.99 – another critique but something inevitable for an online retailer, I guess. I was STOKED to get a package in the mail, though. It’s like giving a present to yourself. A treat!

Yet, I waited a week for my items to arrive. No big deal, I wasn’t in a rush, but I was less than excited to get two separate packages for only two items. I’m all for sustainability, which is why I shop second hand in the first place, but part of the sustainability process is minimizing both packaging and shipping frequency. Aside from the plastic outer packaging, the inside only had a paper sticker and tissue paper, which was nice because it was recyclable.

Upon receiving both items, I was pleasantly surprised to find them in better condition than they appeared online – a shock as almost everyone looks better online. Good job, ThredUp. The dress was virtually wrinkle free (although that changed once I gave it the requisite wash) and the pants looked as if they had never been worn. I can foresee myself wearing both items regularly and for quite some time, an advantage considering the prices. In addition, both items fit, and while I’m not sure if that’s attributed to good luck or accurate sizing, I’m happy with that fact.

So what is the final verdict? I may not shop on ThredUp frequently. For the higher prices, lengthy shipping time and ambiguous quality, I would rather partake in my favorite pastime and sort through musty racks of clothing. However, for the times when I need a new black cardigan or a specific party dress I can happily turn to ThredUp knowing my purchase will still fit this part of my sustainable lifestyle. When I’m in the mood to spend money and shop online, I’d rather turn to ThredUp.