Staying home, staying clean - using less plastic?
One of the tougher matters that we have to confront during this very difficult time for the world - and for ourselves personally - is that environmental issues, issues of income inequality, issues of racism and hate that we were dealing with before the COVID-19 pandemic are ongoing. In fact, some of what we are doing to protect ourselves will only worsen some of those ongoing situations.
Unemployment has not seen these levels since the Great Depression. Poverty is up and Food Banks are strapped. There is a shortage of blood donors. The Asian American community is experiencing increased racism and hate crimes. The list of serious matters exacerbated by the virus is long.
I am afraid that I am going to add to that list: plastic pollution is way, way up. We can no longer take our own bags to the grocery store, and people are using disposable wipes to keep the virus out of their homes. We are less comfortable purchasing items that have not been industrially packaged. We are going through cleaning supplies as never before.
Since this blog is devoted to environmental matters, I intend to maintain that focus. That being said, do what you can to help your neighbors – both known and unknown to you – in whatever ways are possible for you to do: if you are healthy then donate blood; if you have some financial cushion, give to your local food bank and homeless shelter, or donate diapers to a local diaper bank, or donate to an organization that helps women in poverty purchase sanitary napkins and tampons; if you see someone verbally abusing a neighbor or stranger, move closer to the person being abused and make eye contact; show the abuser that the person being abused has your support.
And the plastic? Is there anything at all that we can do to mitigate at least some of this environmental damage?
The good news (and I know that we all need some good news) is that the answer to that question is, “Yes!”
Let’s talk first about plastic bags. Many grocery stores in my area that had stopped collecting plastic bags for recycling are now collecting them again. Take advantage of these plastic bag collection bins and take your bags back to the store for recycling. Better yet – ask for a paper bag whenever possible.
If you have some resources (and this, I realize, is a very big “if” these days), purchase a recycling box from Terracycle. The boxes are expensive because the folks at Terracycle go through all of the stuff in the box – by hand - and make sure that everything is, in fact, responsibly recycled. This type of recycling is very labor intensive – hence the hefty price tags. Yes, as I mentioned, these boxes are expensive – so this solution may be impractical for most of us. Yet, if you can afford it, you can do the world a favor.
Terracycle offers different sizes and varieties of product recycling boxes – for example a box for baby gear, or for shower and bath accessories, or for binders and presentation materials. Or you can take the plunge and get an “everything” box, which is for everything except hazardous waste. Each box comes with a pre-attached return label, so there is no cost to ship it back.
Even if you cannot afford a box, it is worth visiting the Terracycle website to learn about the free recycling programs they promote. For example, they just announced a partnership with Bic, to recycle writing instruments of all kinds, as well as watercolor paint containers and markers. There are other free programs listed that you can use at home, or with your neighborhood, or even your office or workplace if you continue to visit those places.
A few more things to consider:
One of my favorite – and not so expensive products – is a set of bags made by a company called, Bagito. Bagito makes washable garbage/recycling bags. They come in sets of 1 very large garbage can sized bag, along with two 13 gallon size bags and 2 small trash can sized bags. The bags are made from 100% recycled plastic, and they are treated with anti-microbial agents so that they do not develop odors. You can throw them in the wash and drip dry them (which takes a very short amount of time) and use them over and over. One of the best things about these bags is that they will actually save you money because you no longer have to buy plastic garbage bags. Finally, 100% of Bagito’s net proceeds go to an organization called POWER2SUSTAIN, which is a K-12 environmental literacy project.
I love my Bagito garbage/recycling bags!
I know I said that I would never endorse a product, but I don’t think there is anything else like Bagito garbage/recycling bags on the market.
What about disposable wipes?
Consider creating your own cleaning solutions rather than purchasing wipes to clean what comes into your house. All it takes is some water and very, very diluted bleach. Current guidelines say that 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water is sufficient. You do need to leave the solution on the surface that you are cleaning for a full minute (this is true for wipes also, btw). You can make a big bowl of water and a little bit of bleach and put a couple of old rags in it. Then you can use that solution for a full day. Wipes are environmentally harmful for a number of reasons: the chemicals in them are bad for the environment, the wipes themselves contain plastic and are not compostable, and the containers are difficult to recycle. Plus, they tend to be more expensive than a bottle of bleach that will last much longer.
So you see: a bowl or spray bottle of diluted bleach can go a long way.
You can also clean with undiluted Hydrogen Peroxide. Put it into a spray bottle, then let it sit on the surface for at least 1 minute before you wipe if off. Hydrogen Peroxide is more environmentally friendly than bleach, so it can be a good choice if you can get your hands on some.
Soap and water also works very well against the virus! Simply soap off kitchen counters (really scrub them!), let the soap sit, and then use water to rinse them. You can then follow with a solution made from 70% rubbing alcohol. You should also let that sit on the surface for 30 seconds before you wipe it down.
But, please don’t use antibacterial soaps! Overuse of antibacterial agents is causing drug resistant bacteria to multiply in our environment. They do not clean any better than other soaps, and the bacteria that survive their anti-bacterial properties (remember that a virus is not a bacteria in any case) just become stronger. Please do not use these products!
A large container of bleach, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, as well as a bottle of rubbing alcohol are all made from plastic. Unfortunately, this cannot be helped. If you make your bleach solution, however, that container of bleach will go a very long way. If you use your own spray bottles, you won’t be putting more plastic bottles and spray nozzles into our landfills or oceans.
Try your best – do what you can.
Most importantly: stay safe and healthy.