Is quarantine helping people realize the importance of a sustainable home?
The first thing to sell out was hand sanitizer. Then toilet paper. Then went the bottled water, the flour, the face masks. And now it has become not only difficult to purchase the products we need, but also to physically obtain them; if we’d like to avoid going into the grocery store, we have to schedule grocery pick-up or delivery a week in advance, and when we get there we hear that Kroger never actually had half of our favorite foods in stock to begin with. Rinse and repeat.
Gradually, we’ve begun to see a shift in home hobbies: baking, gardening, sewing. The types of hobbies we’ve always envisioned our grandmothers doing, or people at a commune. People in Facebook groups and remote-work Slack channels are showing off the loaves of bread they’ve kneaded, proofed, and baked; I’m snapping photos of the new herb and veggie garden I share with my roommate; friends of mine are putting old fabric to use as they make homemade face masks. It’s cool to see not only from an entertainment perspective (I fully understand that a lot of these interests are forming out of the desperation to entertain ourselves) but also from one that prioritizes home sustainability.
On a “normal” day (because none of this is normal) we produce a lot of waste. We drive five minutes to the grocery store to pick up bell peppers because we forgot to grab them during our last grocery run. We store the leftover bell peppers in sandwich-sized plastic baggies. We run through paper towels like it’s nobody’s business. We uterus-havers are even used to blowing through a box or two of tampons each month, NBD. At the end of the day, our trashcans are full and as a result, so are our landfills.
But in quarantine, we don’t have the luxury of creating so much waste. It’s hard to find formerly common goods like paper towels. If we run out of Ziplock bags, we have to go buy more, and is that really worth potentially contracting COVID-19? I haven’t tried buying tampons yet, but I’d imagine they’re almost as sought-after as toilet paper. Overall, we have to be much more intentional in how we use precious resources like single-use plastics, because once they’re gone, they’re gone. This has us scooping leftovers into Tupperware, buying reusable paper towels, researching the logistics of menstrual cups, and even looking into bidets.
And what about those gardens—the ones popping up on apartment balconies, in backyards, on kitchen windowsills? When we grow our own rosemary and string beans, we’re not only staving off trips to the grocery store, which reduces our carbon footprint. We’re also reducing food waste (unless you have a huge garden, you’re probably only picking and eating small portions at a time) and plastic waste (no need to package/bag up produce when you’re skipping the middle man).
Right now, we are forced to be extremely mindful of how we use household essentials and where we find our food. Eventually our current circumstances will end and we’ll be able to find toilet paper once again, but that doesn’t mean our sustainability efforts should end, too. The Environmental Protection Agency reports Americans throw away about 267 million tons of solid waste each year, averaging 4.51 pounds per person per day. While there aren’t any statistics on how much trash has been tossed in the US over the past few weeks, it’s unlikely that eating at home, making efforts to save single-use plastics, and even growing our own food have produced the same levels of waste. Similarly, fewer trips to the grocery store naturally results in a reduced carbon footprint. These are habits and benefits that we can carry with us beyond COVID-19.
They say to “never let a crisis go to waste” (no pun intended). When Charmin and Dasani are fully stocked once again, let us remember the times that they weren’t and manage our households—and our planet—accordingly.