Earth Day is next week, but coronavirus has really put a damper on the holiday (despite doing great things for air pollution!). Park cleanups and other events have been cancelled, and social gathering restrictions mean we can’t protest for climate action. So how can you go green in quarantine?
I’ve come up with 35 different things you can do lower your footprint while stuck inside and dealing with the pandemic. Most of these tips are useful no matter what’s going on in the world, but I do have a short section on coronavirus-specific tips. Let’s get started!
The first handful of tips to go green in quarantine are about utility usage, specifically water and electricity. You may have become more aware of your water and electricity use now that you are home all day instead of going to work. So let’s look at how you can reduce it.
1. Shower Less
One of the perks of staying home is there’s less of a reason to shower. Switching to every other day or even every third or fourth day will greatly reduce your water usage. If you still want to shower frequently or if you want to take it a step further, take shorter showers to reduce water use.
2. Shave Less
Another perk of the quarantine is not needing to shave as often. For men still working from home, perhaps this doesn’t apply as much, but for women, it can easily save water. While I support women not shaving and rarely shave except my armpits, I understand other women may enjoy a clean shave. Since you’re at home, no one’s going to see your legs though.
When you do choose to shave, conserve water. I have stopping shaving in the shower so water doesn’t just pour down the drain while I’m focusing on my legs. Instead I shave right afterwards and wet/rinse my legs by dumping cups of water on them.
3. Flush Less
A single flush on an average toilet uses 1.6 gallons. Assuming you live alone or with people who’ve agreed, flushing every two or three pees will save gallons of water per day. There’s the motto: When it’s yellow, let it mellow. When it’s brown, flush it down.
4. Install A Bidet
With the dumb toilet paper hoarding has come a rise in bidet use, which is an awesome way to go green in quarantine! We don’t have one because my husband doesn’t want to mess with the plumbing in our apartment, but we will get one when we buy a home.
Bidets cut down on toilet paper use, and in doing so, they reduce water use. How might this be if bidets use water? A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water to manufacture. With Americans using a roll a week, that’s a whole lot of water that could be saved by using a fraction of a gallon per bathroom break with a bidet.
5. Full Laundry Loads
To get the most use of the water you use to wash clothes, make sure you’re waiting until you have a full load. Since many people are now at home, you won’t be dirtying clothes as fast and won’t need fresh work clothing each day. Despite this, wait until you have a full basket before heading down to the washing machine.
6. Use Natural Lighting
While we can’t go outside too much, don’t close yourself off from the outside world. Open up your blinds or curtains during the day to let in the natural light. Not only will it save on lighting costs, but you’ll feel happier than sitting under a lamp, have a bit of a view, and stay in sync with the day (so you’re sleeping/awake cycle doesn’t get too far out of whack).
7. Use Cooler Water
In all of your water using activities, keep the water a bit colder. This means a cooler shower (doesn’t need to be a cold shower, just nudge the handle down a bit), running a cold wash for laundry, and using cooler water for washing dishes. If you own a home, you can also adjust your water heater’s max temperature to automatically have cooler water (even if it’s just a few degrees).
8. Turn Off Appliances And Electronics
Many electronics suck energy even when we aren’t using them. By unplugging them or turning off the power strip they are connected to, you save energy that was literally being wasted on absolutely nothing. For example, we keep our microwave unplugged except for the few minutes a day when we’re using it.
9. Reduce Electronics Use Overall
An even better way to reduce energy use from electronics is to not use them in the first place. Cut down on your social media surfing or Netflix binge watching sessions. Use that natural lights. Get into the habit of not using electronics in the hour before bedtime (this tip also allows for a higher production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, so you can fall asleep easier).
Our shopping experience has changed a lot since before coronavirus; however, there are still plenty of ways to shop green in quarantine. A few of these tips will also help reduce your need to shop, therefore reducing your exposure to the public.
1. Reduce Number Of Purchases
First and foremost, reduce how much you’re buying. Luckily, the virus has kind of wiped out physical retail therapy, but there’s still the online market. Reduce the strain on Amazon employees and don’t be buying unnecessary items right now. Beyond that, be a good person and don’t hoard groceries, especially perishables which will likely end up in the trash before you have a chance to eat them.
2. Support Local Businesses
When you do shop, keep it local as much as possible. The owners and employees are your neighbors, and they really need your help during this time. If there’s a smaller grocery store or restaurant, try them first before going to the big name chains. Local businesses are way more likely to be led by people just trying to make a living and even give back to the community rather than by people putting profits above all else.
3. Support Zero Waste Online Shops
When shopping online, you should still try to support smaller businesses. I posted a list of 15 zero waste online shops that are still open during the pandemic (some on my original list had temporarily closed). Go green in quarantine by making your next purchases responsible ones, plastic free ones, and sustainable ones.
4. Put A Note On Your Amazon Account
If you do make purchases through Amazon, send their customer service an email requesting a note be made on your account asking to reduce packaging waste. All you need to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org from the email your Amazon account is linked to and request they add this note to your account:
“I have an Amazon account under email@example.com. I would like to put a note on my account letting packers know I would prefer as little packaging as possible, especially plastic air pillows and bubble wrap. Thanks!”
5. Plan Grocery List To Reduce Trips
The last time my husband went grocery shopping, he stood in line for almost an hour before even being allowed inside. Don’t waste your time like that, so plan ahead. Create a full list of everything you’ll need for the next week or even two weeks so you won’t have to head back later because you missed something. When the store is out of an item, improvise and substitute instead of resigning yourself to the line of people standing six feet apart.
6. Shop Your Cabinets And Fridge First
This tip goes hand and hand with the grocery list. What ingredients do you have right now? Try planning a meal around them instead of having to buy a complete recipe. Check dates and use up items close to expiring, but remember: use by/best by dates are not safety dates and do not necessarily mean the product is bad to eat (EXCEPT baby formula, follow the dates for baby formula).
Now that you’re back from the grocery store, let’s look at how to go green in quarantine with our diets.
1. Eat Less Animal Products
The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to cut out animal products (meat, dairy, cheese, etc.). While you may not be inclined to go full vegan or even vegetarian, try incorporating meatless meals into your diet. Head over to my Pinterest board for a ton of recipes and advice for eating a plant-based diet.
2. Eat Leftovers To Reduce Food Waste
Food waste has always been a toughy for me. Make sure that a) you are keeping leftovers, even if it’s a small portion and b) you eat those leftovers before they become a carpet of mold. Keep leftovers in clear containers so you see what’s inside. Keep leftover containers toward the front of the fridge so they don’t get lost. Add a “leftover day” (or two) to your meal plan to ensure you eat them.
3. Meal Prep
Meal prepping is great for saving time on making lunches for work. But now that you’re at home, should you bother? Absolutely! By cooking a large amount at the beginning of the week instead of 7 separate times, you save on energy costs from cooking. Economies of scale exist in cooking so making a lot at once will use less energy than making the same amount over multiple days.
4. Drink Tap Water
Don’t buy bottled water. Period. Bottled water companies are just plastic bottle companies. Your tap water is safe to drink. If you are super concerned, get a water filter, but don’t keep buying single use plastic bottles.
Cleaning and Chores
Spring cleaning has taken a new meaning during the pandemic and become super important for our health.
1. Switch To Rags
While surfaces should be wiped down frequently, don’t waste paper towels on them. Collect a stash of cloth rags to do the trick instead. Use wash clothes or cut up old t-shirts and store them in a jar or bucket for easy use. When they’re dirty, throw them in the laundry and wash them.
2. DIY Cleaning Products
Make your own cleaning products to avoid harsh chemicals and to substitute when stores are out of stock. Hydrogen peroxide and alcohol (like rubbing alcohol or even vodka) can be used as an antiseptic to kill germs. Make sure you don’t mix the wrong chemicals.
DO NOT MIX THE FOLLOWING:
- Bleach with vinegar (creates chlorine gas)
- Bleach with ammonia (creates chloramine)
- Bleach and rubbing alcohol (creates chloroform)
- Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar (creates peracetic/peroxyacetic acid)
3. Hang Dry Laundry
We’ve talked about washing clothes in the utilities section, but what about drying them? Try hang drying and cut out every watt of electricity. You can hang outside or inside, although obviously outside is faster. The sun also provides a bleaching effect that helps with stains too!
4. Switch To Hankies
Similar to rags, switch from tissues to hankies. I’ve made some little squares out of old clothing. They are so much softer than tissues, and you can just throw them in the wash after use.
5. Declutter Home To Donate Items Later
Now that you’re home all the time, your house may be becoming a bit messy. Spend some time going room by room and decluttering useless items. Get rid of that stack of junk mail on the table, set aside clothing to donate, and figure out what items you just don’t need. Minimalism and zero waste are a frequent pair of lifestyles because both reduce unnecessary things and simplify our lives.
6. Repair Clothes And Other Items
One of the main R’s of zero waste is Repair. Take this extra time to add patches to clothing, sew on lost buttons, or fix other items around the home that need some love. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on just about anything. By repairing items, you lengthen their lifespan and save some money.
Working From Home and Paper Usage
Many people are now working from home instead of going to the office, which has been a huge adjustment for most. How can you go green in quarantine while in your home office?
1. Reduce Paper Usage
This is the biggy. If you don’t need to print something, don’t print it. Use double-sided printing when you do. If you need to add a signature to something, add a digital signature instead of printing, signing, and scanning. Recycle the paper you use after you’re through with it too!
2. Digital Day Planner And Notebook
This also helps cut down on paper usage. Switch from a paper calendar to one on your computer or phone. This also makes it easy when there’s changes so you don’t have a bunch of crossed out items. Switch to a digital notebook as well to take meeting notes (alternatively, reuse paper for notetaking, although this can get messy/disorganized). I use OneNote because it’s easy to organize and add tables, to do lists, and even draw stuff.
3. Switch To Paperless Billing
Cut down on paper even more by switching your accounts to paperless billing. This way you’ll receive emailed statements and bills instead of being mailed paper copies. It’s a super easy thing that’s usually just a click of a button or a phone call.
4. Reduce Junk Mail
Millions of pounds of junk mail are thrown out/recycled each year. Head over to optoutprescreen.com or DMAchoice.org, or contact companies directly to get yourself removed from mailing lists. In addition to physical junk mail, sift through your email inbox and unsubscribe from email lists to save the energy used to email you that promo.
Although I’ve mentioned coronavirus making a lot of the above changes easier or necessary, they can be adopted and used in perpetuity. The following, however, are a bit more specific to the pandemic quarantine.
1. DIY Cloth Masks
There is a worldwide shortage of PPE. The CDC has recommended everyone wear a mask, even if it is cloth. My town has implemented a mask policy where anyone outdoors must always be wearing one. So my husband and I sewed our own out of t-shirts. There are lots of tutorials online for various styles, but the key points are multiple fabric layers and a close fit around the nose, face, and chin. These masks can be washed and reused which avoids a single use product and isn’t reducing the masks hospital workers need.
2. Bag Ban Work Around
Many cities have lifted there bag bans due to health concerns. These bans prevented stores from provided plastic bags or installed a charge per bag on the customer and encouraged shoppers to bring their own reusables. Now reusable bags are not allowed. But you can still go green in quarantine and avoid store bags! To work around this, ask that groceries just be put bare into your cart. Once at your car, put them into your own bags.
3. Coffee At Home
You may still be tempted to head over to the Dunkin’ or Starbucks to grab your morning coffee. While previously it was possible to bring in your own cup to avoid single use, many cafes have suspended these policies for health reasons. Instead make your coffee at home to both avoid the public and a single use disposable cup/lid/straw/whatever.
4. Quarantine Birthdays
A lot of people are unfortunately having birthdays in quarantine. The good thing about not being able to have a party is not needing wasteful decorations. Call them or send an ecard instead of buying and sending a physical card. Gift them an experience instead of providing a physical gift. With the future unknown at the moment, hopefully a promise of tickets can stand in for actual event tickets.
5. Climate Strike Online
As I said in the introduction, Earth Day is right around the corner, but we can’t go outside. Thousands of people have found a unique way to go green in quarantine and shift the climate protests online. The hashtag #fridaysforfuture has been coupled with the new hashtag #climatestrikeonline. Post a photo of yourself with the sign you would’ve brought to a protest to spread the word digitally instead.
The last way to go green in quarantine is to spend your time wisely. It’s so easy to waste entire days playing video games or watching Netflix, but these use up a lot of energy (and aren’t too productive).
1. Low Impact Hobbies
I recently wrote an article on low impact hobbies that are easy to pick up, can be done inside and/or alone, and don’t tax the environment as much as other hobbies do. The list is organized by impact size from low to least and includes over 15 different hobbies. Go check it out!
Although our lives have changed and been slightly put on hold, we can all still go green in quarantine. This will pass, but it doesn’t need to be wasted time. Keep yourself busy working on transitioning your lifestyle to avoid the anxiety and depression coronavirus causes. Use this time wisely to start new habits that can continue once this is all over.