5 Tips From the Zero Waste Movement That Could Help During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Not meaning to add to the hysteria but it’s scary stuff, this pandemic business, isn’t it? Thankfully I haven’t had to self-isolate, but I know people who have, either because someone in their household is ill or they’re elderly or they have a health condition that would make it more serious if they were to get ill. Like a lot of people, however, the main effect coronavirus has had on me so far is the craziness I experienced at the supermarket when I went to get my weekly shop, with people swarming the aisles and putting enough pasta and tins of soup and the like in their trolleys to feed a small army. While I think that panic buying is not the way to go, it’s understandable that people are worried about what will happen if they suddenly need to hunker down at home and don’t have enough provisions, or if the shops aren’t able to restock as quickly as people are clearing their shelves.

It strikes me that perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from the zero waste movement. Their mantra of ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’ is all the more relevant if we don’t have access to some of the consumables we usually buy and, while geared more towards helping the environment than anything else, some of their practices seem really pragmatic and sensible in the current climate. So here are some ideas about how to reduce your reliance on the weekly shop and your consumption in general (and if they can be carried on in your normal life after this has cleared up, then that’s all the better):

Meal planning

Creating a meal plan ahead of time means that you know exactly what ingredients to put on your shopping list, which helps to make your trip to the supermarket a bit less stressful. It also makes it easier for you to only buy what you need, saving you money as well as reducing food waste. Of course, some adaptability is needed depending on what’s available – for instance, there was no spaghetti at the supermarket when I went so spaghetti is now off the menu but there was still some rice so it’s now been replaced with a rice-based dish (the Mexican Chilli Bean dish, as it happens :)).

Batch cooking and freezing meals

As an alternative to bulk buying staples for your cupboard in case you need to self-isolate, next time you cook up a big dish of something like lasagne or a pot of soup, make sure there’s enough for a couple of extra portions to put in a Tupperware in your freezer. This doesn’t mean panic cooking in order to completely fill your freezer – it’s something that can be done over a week or two, at the end of which you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’ve got several decent, home-cooked meals up your sleeve in case you need them. Even if you don’t need to self-isolate, they’re still useful to have in your freezer and are great for mid-week dinners or any time you just don’t feel like cooking.

Grow your own veg

OK, so this is by no means a quick win – we’re very much playing the long game with this one! But if, as it currently looks like, there’s going to be special measures in place and a bit of disruption for some time, then growing some of your own vegetables may be useful. And it just so happens to be the perfect time of year to plant things! You don’t need a massive garden or an allotment to get started – it can be something as simple as a few pots on a window sill or balcony. Although most of us are unlikely to be able to grow enough to be completely self-sufficient, any reliance and pressure on the food supply chain that we can reduce is helpful.

From an environmental point of view, growing your own veg reduces the amount of emissions produced in transporting it to the supermarket or your home, the amount of plastic packaging produced and the amount of food that’s wasted (if you’ve put the effort into nurturing a plant and tending to it until it produces something you can eat then you’re more likely to use every last bit of it). From a quarantine point of view, given that gardening is positively linked with mental health, then if we have to spend extended periods indoors then having a plant to look after may help to keep us sane as well!

Reusable cleaning cloths

I’m a big fan of reusable cleaning cloths. I’ve spent far too much time looking into this so I can say with certainty that cleaning cloths are substantially cheaper and more environmentally friendly than paper towels, because unlike paper towels you don’t need to constantly go and buy more. Chances are you already have something around the house that could be repurposed as a cleaning cloth – an old cotton T-shirt or a tea towel, perhaps – but if you do need to buy some then you can get them cheaply online. At the moment, keeping things hygienically clean is a top priority, so it’s understandable if some people have misgivings about using anything other than paper towels, but reusable cleaning cloths are absolutely fine to use as long as you properly disinfect them, otherwise you’ll just be spreading germs around your house.

Speaking of single use paper, you may have noticed that toilet paper has suddenly become a highly valuable commodity. Now, I have heard of reusable toilet paper (yes, it’s a thing!) but I haven’t properly got my head around it and I don’t know how I feel about it yet so I can’t really comment on it!

Reusable period products

This is obviously a ladies-only suggestion here… Single use products that you have to stock up on every month have been the norm for a long time, but there is also a whole range of reusable products on the market, from reusable period pads to menstrual cups. There is an initial outlay but once you’ve bought your product of choice then it will last you for years to come. Because these are such intimate products, making the decision to change them can be difficult and is very personal. I for one was very reluctant to try a menstrual cup but I can honestly say that it’s the best period product I’ve ever used by far and would recommend anyone to give it a go.

With all of these suggestions, how effective or realistic they are will depend on your individual circumstances. It’s about finding things that work for you or adapting them to suit your situation.

At the end of the day, humans are incredibly adaptable and resourceful creatures, and it’s easy to forget that when things are going well. We won’t do everything perfectly and we will definitely make mistakes along the way, but I have no doubt that when we rise to the challenge, be it coronavirus or climate change, we will achieve things we never thought ourselves capable of.

If you’ve got any other tips and ideas on how to reduce waste or the amount we consume, I’d love to hear them – send me a message or leave a comment below!

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