Yes, You Can Still Live Sustainably During Quarantine — 3 Simple Ways To Better The Planet
When we first heard from Lauren Singer in 2014, she was just embarking on her zero-waste journey. "I don't make trash," she told us then. "For real. No garbage bin, no landfill." What started as a personal promise quickly transformed into a movement: Fast-forward to early 2020, and she's the unofficial spokesperson for the zero-waste movement with her own online, plastic-free retail company, called the Package Free Shop, to boot.
But now in the midst of a global pandemic, Singer decided to buy packaged goods for the first time in eight years. "Two weeks ago, when the reality of COVID-19 set in, I made some choices that went against the way I have lived my life for almost a decade," she writes to her 382K Instagram followers. While the decision was compromising, she ultimately prioritized her health and safety. "I made the choice to shift my values and buy plastic," she shares with me on the mindbodygreen podcast. "It was hard for me, but I don't regret it. I just wanted to be prepared."
Despite this dilemma, Singer isn't discouraged by our new normal. Far from it: She's finding new, creative ways to practice her values during quarantine, discovering how we can live a low-impact lifestyle without compromising our health. Here, Singer offers three simple ways we can make sustainable choices while in self-isolation. With these tips, you'll see that attaining a sustainable lifestyle isn't so difficult, even if you've already stocked up on packaged goods, and if we can do it in quarantine, who's to say we can't continue once the world resumes?
According to Singer, composting is the best thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. "Composting has a really amazing, important, positive impact," she tells me. Throwing food away and into landfills contributes to methane production, which is incredibly harmful to the environment and significantly increases global warming.
If you have a backyard, it makes composting a little easier. You can bury it in the soil, creating a fertile breeding ground for diverse microbial life and healthy plants. If you don't have a yard or live in an apartment building, you can still keep your composting game strong: Like Singer, you can freeze all your compost until facilities are up and running again. You don't have to give up your entire freezer (Although, Singer's is primarily packed with compost, as well as some fruit for smoothies), even with a small section you'll be making a huge impact.
Learn to make things yourself.
"Now is the time to learn how to make things yourself. Lattes, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning spray, condiments. Look at the things you buy packaged in plastic that are pretty simple to make," says Singer.
If you're looking for another home project or weekend activity with your kids, why not simultaneously make an environmental impact? When you make your own items with sustainable materials, you might not even want the traditional, plastic-laden originals when quarantine ends. After all, Singer says, "When you prioritize efficacy and sustainability, the form is always beautiful." Meaning, you might look at your bamboo toothbrush, feeling proud of your work, and start to prefer it over a typical brush you'd find at the drugstore.
Learning how to make items yourself is also a great way to keep the whole family engaged, says Singer. And you don't have to stick to making your own household tools: "Having kids roll out pasta or make homemade tortillas can help keep you occupied," she says. "These are tangible skills you can take with you after quarantine is over." And who knows, you might refrain from purchasing a plastic container of pasta or tortillas in the future.
Re-evaluate your clothing choices (and do less laundry).
Perhaps the easiest tip of the bunch, as you might be rewearing more of your clothes than usual. Singer surely is: "I'm definitely doing a lot less laundry because I'm not wearing a full outfit during the day and changing into something comfortable at night." Fewer loads of laundry means less water waste and fewer microfibers leaching out into our oceans. So if you rotate through the same three pairs of sweatpants on a weekly basis, you might be living more sustainably without even thinking about it!
Also, now that you're wearing comfy clothing on the regular, you can reflect on what fabrics feel best for your body and lifestyle. "Now more than ever, I'm thinking about what I have on my body because I'm sitting in the same clothes all day and thinking about what my sweatshirts and pants are made of and how they affect my body and health," Singer notes.
That said, notice what fabrics feel best to you—both on your skin and with your values. It's why Singer is partial to wool, linen, cotton, and bamboo fiber fabrics, as these materials are regenerated easily and don't require a large amount of water during manufacturing.
While we're facing a global pandemic (and your health and safety should be your No. 1 priority), it is possible to make sustainable choices that better the planet. Even the act of staying home can have an impact, with less pollution from cars on the road leading to a reduced carbon footprint. If there is one silver lining to an at-home quarantine, perhaps it's how we can give the Earth this much-needed break.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.