Let’s face the elephant in the room: zero waste has become significantly harder during the pandemic.
For starters, all bulk shopping sections I know have been abolished for the time being. That makes buying pantry staples without packaging significantly harder. Coffee shops have stopped accepting customers’ reusable coffee cups.
And because COVID-19 doesn’t look like it’s leaving us any time soon, I’ve put together 10 zero waste tactics that still work during a pandemic.
COVID-19: 10 Zero Waste hacks that still work in a pandemic
1. Continue to use your reusable shopping bag
Initially, all grocery stores banned the use of reusable shopping bags in California. This has luckily been reversed and single-use plastic bags are banned once again; if you forget your reusable bag, you’ll be charged $0.10 for a reusable plastic bag.
As far as I’m aware, only Trader Joe doesn’t allow shoppers to bring their reusable bags into their stores. They have installed a packing station outside for customers to unload their shopping trolleys and baskets into their shops.
2. Buy unpackaged fruit & vegetables
Just as pre-COVID, buying unpackaged fruit & vegetables is one of the easiest, healthiest, and cheapest zero waste hacks. It means you can buy as many or as little produce as you need, avoiding food waste.
If you can manage to buy them from your local farmers market – even better: that way you can support local farmers.
3. Order from online zero waste shops like Zero (groceries) or Fillgood.co (household products)
The online shopping revolution has arrived with eco-conscious consumers. Some pioneering businesses in the Bay Area are trying very hard to marry the convenience of online (grocery) shopping with the clean conscience of a zero waste lifestyle.
Zero will bring you your favorite brands in jars, tiffins, boxes, and any other sustainable packaging that can be returned. They will then clean the reusable packaging to FDA standards.
Fillgood.co offers a similar system for beauty, personal hygiene, and cleaning products.
4. When buying food in plastic packaging, look for giant packages
This one isn’t ideal, but it follows the logic of the penguin: the bigger the inside, the smaller the outside (did you know that the largest penguins, the Emperor Penguins, live near the South Pole where it’s coldest? That’s because the bigger they are, the less exposure their outside has to the cold… don’t ask me to prove this math to you!)
So, you may want to consider reviving your Costco membership to buy large quantities of non-perishable food to reduce the overall amount of packaging (but look closely – often Costco will have smaller packaged segments within a large package, defeating the objective…).
5. Start a bulk buying club
Related to 4. above – if you’re concerned about food waste, or can’t possibly munch your way through 20 lbs of oats, then consider sharing the load with your community – friends, neighbors, family, etc.
Surprisingly, Amazon offers quite a few pantry staples in large packaging. Or consider getting a large bag of rice from your favorite Asian store. Or a barrel of wine or cask of beer from your winery/brewery of choice. No judgment.
Just google “Wholesale Groceries” to find a suitable wholesaler to order from.
6. Share, swap, and barter with your community
I feel like COVID has brought our community closer together. There were lots of initiatives of neighbors helping neighbors with food shopping or mask making.
And lots of people are using the extra time to clear out their households. Rather than putting the excess stuff in the trash, people have taken it to the local thrift stores (once they re-opened), or put it on local Nextdoor or Facebook market places or buy nothing new groups.
Check out those groups for freebies or for sharing your surplus items.
7. Wear a reusable mask
Ok, given you’re reading this blog, I assume you’re already wearing reusable masks. If not, then please put on your single-use mask now, pull it out away from your nose and let it snap right back into your face.
8. Use soap and shampoo bars
Luckily, soap and shampoo bars are items we can still buy without packaging. Use soap bars from everything from washing hands to washing up. There are great shampoo and even conditioner bars out there that can help reduce the plastic waste from our bathrooms.
9. Make your own
Use the spare time (if you have any) to start making stuff that you would otherwise buy in plastic packaging.
10. Grow your own
A close cousin to 9. above: if you have even a minimum of space, you can start growing your own green/spring onions or herbs. If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony or garden, have a go at growing fruits and vegetables. A loofah makes a great washing-up sponge!
These are 10 zero waste tactics you can still apply during the Pandemic (COVID-19)
I hope this list was helpful, if certainly not exhaustive. Which zero waste tactics have you been able to maintain or take up since lockdown? Let me know in the comments. Cheers, Bettina