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COVID-19 Doesn't Have to Stall Your Zero Waste Journey

During a time of global crisis, it’s completely understandable that priorities will shift.

Collectively we are going through something that we’re not quite sure how to navigate. Everyone reacts and copes in different ways and it’s important to be gentle with ourselves, and others.

Zero Waste NYC Workshop is meant to be a community. A place where aspiring and practicing zero wasters can come together to ask questions, exchange ideas, and gain knowledge on how to lower one's impact on our precious planet. Since our March workshop had to be postponed, I’ve put together some some tips on how to stay low waste and live more sustainably from the confines of your home, during a pandemic. Don’t be afraid of reusables.

I’m not out here telling you to continue your normal, everyday activities given that there is an intense virus spreading around us, but not everything has to go back to a single-use way of life. If you are properly sanitizing your reusables you may be better off since you have more control over their cleanliness. With disposables, you don’t necessarily know where they came from or who touched them before you. That being said, do what makes you feel comfortable!

“I think at a time like this we need to focus on "low" waste instead of "zero" waste. If you're not feeling well, use disposable tissues and throw them away. You can make your own disinfectant spray, but make sure to use enough alcohol. I try to use washable towels for cleaning and sniffles normally, but with the uncertainty of the virus, it's better to keep my family safe,” adds Carla Farina of the NYC Fair Trade Coalition.

Where you can, incorporate environmentally-friendly choices for single-use items if you do end up purchasing them. For example, go for recycled and unbleached paper towels and/or compostable plates, cutlery or serveware instead of plastic.

Give DIY a try.

If you haven’t noticed, a lot of us in the zero waste world make our own stuff. From skin care products, to non-dairy milk, to household cleaner, you can whip up anything at home that’s sold in stores. Since we’re trying to avoid public places these days, it’s the perfect time to experiment with some of these recipes. Here are a few of my favorites: DIY Zero Waste Hand Sanitizer DIY Extra Strength Deodorant Homemade Toothpaste And my personal favorite—DIY household cleaner. You’ll find a ton of additives and chemicals if you check out the ingredients in store-bought cleaners. All you really need for a cleaner to be effective is vinegar, water and essential oils (optional for scent). Use an old cleaner bottle or any glass bottle you already have. Experiment with undesirable parts of food.

I’ve said this a million times at my workshops but food waste is one of the WORST contributors of climate change—and an issue that is so easily avoidable. Food is extremely valuable and the current times are a great reminder of that. As a society we have been letting food “waste” go to landfills for decades despite the many ways we can repurpose it.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to food, push yourself to reduce the amount of waste you generate and use every part of fruits, vegetable or other. It’s a good time to create habits that you can implement into your daily life once things go back to normal. We know that meat and dairy production is especially harmful to the environment, so give some vegan recipes a shot. My friends at Fishtown Films, Emily and Austin, are creating content on Instagram which include sustainable recipes. Next week they’ll be featuring a veggie broth recipe so start saving your veggie scraps! You can keep them in a bag or container in the freezer. In the meantime, check out their homemade bread recipe below.

Pick-up only or zero waste delivery.

While we’re on the topic of food, let’s talk about takeout. As I write this, restaurants and bars in NYC are only able to serve food as takeout or delivery. The first thing that came to my crazy, zero waste mind when I heard that was, “wow, that’s going to cause a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.”

I’m not going to tell you to swear off delivery, especially during a time like this when restaurants and cafes desperately need our business. What I will say is what I’ve been preaching about since my workshop series started, which is BYOC—bring your own container. Most of us have a stack of Tupperware or leftover takeout containers to choose from in our kitchens. Grab a few and bring them to your restaurant of choice. Most places will comply, and it’s more sanitary since you have control over how well you wash the containers. Not only that, but it’s good to get out for some fresh air after being cooped up inside all day. Remember to practice social distancing when you’re in the restaurant waiting for your order.

When it comes to delivery, for those of you reading this from Brooklyn, New York—there’s a fantastic service called DeliverZero. It’s the same thing as ordering regular takeout but they provide your order in reusable containers! When you’re done you can return the containers to the restaurant directly or give them back to your delivery person the next time you order. Without a doubt, this is one of the most intense events most of us will experience in our lifetime. Watching the world come together in a time of crisis has been fascinating for me, and it proves that when people want something bad enough they will do whatever it takes to achieve it.

Lauren Sweeney, Co-founder and CMO of DeliverZero, which I mentioned above, said it best:

“The coronavirus outbreak has upended the notion that our individual actions primarily impact ourselves and replaced it with the understanding that we are all connected. Our actions matter in ways that we cannot perceive. But when you add them up, the results of our actions are not imperceivable. Together, we have the power to slow the spread of a pandemic. During these frightening times, it's inspiring to see that masses of people have chosen to upend our lives in order to protect the lives of people we will likely never meet.”

I’m hopeful that this unnerving time will teach us all a lesson in compassion and taking action. Compassion for others and for our planet, and that taking action really does lead to results. Stay safe and healthy, and as always, reach out to me on any channel if you’re in need of advice as it relates to low waste living.

Written By FitPro Speaker and Founder of Zero Waste NYC Workshop, Nicole Teran.

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