COVID-19 global lockdowns have given our planet and all of us humans living on it, a rare opportunity to experience life with dramatically less pollution in it. A life where we have all been moved to reduce, reuse, and recycle in numbers never seen before. And though it has been a chaotic time of fear and uncertainty, it has also opened our eyes to ways we might be able to do things a little wiser and a little kinder to the planet we call home. 

Reuse it

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When the urgent demand for masks exceeded the supply, a lot of us lost access to them. Many manufacturers repurposed their factories overnight and crafty people everywhere got to work churning out everything from basic paper masks to camouflage, paisley, and even branded masks for those wanting to express themselves while covered up. Our creative and unified approach to meeting this demand also became a great lesson in reusing what we already have. 

What could this mean for you? 

Go grab one of those ratty t-shirts your ex left behind, or the dated hawaiian shirt shoved in the back of your closet, dig up some sewing supplies and make something old useful again. Recycling fabrics, as well as finding a second-life for other existing items, takes big environmental pressure off our growing demand vs supply needs.

Minimalize

Can’t get out to pick up all the storage boxes and organizing trays you thought you so desperately needed? Take this shopping-detox as an opportunity to look at your possessions and decide for good what you actually need. Go through the rooms in your home, look at what you’re holding on to and decide what value it actually brings to your life. 

Asking yourself the following questions might help when deciding what items to potentially pass on to someone else.

Have you used it in the last 30-60 days?

Is it expired or otherwise unusable?

Am I keeping this for sentimental reasons or gift-guilt? 

Do I know someone who could use this or enjoy it more than I?

After downsizing and keeping only what brings you joy, you might find that you already have everything you’d need to organize your things without purchasing more plastic containers. Those storage boxes and trays might seem convenient but only add to our growing dependency on single-use plastics and will sit in our landfills forever more. Try up-cycling empty containers or boxes to organize your drawers, or for storing small items like rubber bands and paper clips.

Grow Your Own 

Yes, we’re talking about growing your own food. Challenging yourself to workout the green thumb you didn’t know you had is easier than you might think. If you’ve grown to dislike the mostly unripe, tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store and accessing your nearest farmer’s market is a challenge, you can counter this and more by starting a garden to fit your sunny-space requirements. A simple herb garden is not only easy for the beginner, it saves you from purchasing expensive herbs while reducing waste and emissions by growing your own. Get creative with your new gardener-self and see what works best for you. Here’s some other ways to totally own growing for yourself.

  • Sprout the seeds you get and save
  • Ask your garden-chic friends for advice, and for mulch
  • DIY raised garden beds from existing materials
  • Search for obtainable ways to improve soil quality
  • Reuse plastic water bottles as self-watering 

Sounds adventurous, right? At the very least, it’s a beneficial diversion for us and a big step towards saving the planet. Getting your hands in the dirt and creating edible results can be a natural and inexpensive therapy for such an anxious moment in time as this. Break the indoor-lifecycle with healthy gardening time in the sun and you absorb your essential vitamin D while you stop to smell the rosemary.

Shipping and Handling With Care

While it’s true our social-distanced lives increased our anxiety around a sense of scarcity, many of us soothed ourselves with the instant gratification of spontaneous online shopping, without putting much thought into the environmental implications of our late night ship-binges. 

The convenience of shipping goods is undeniable. You can order just about anything online, and it’s never been easier to get your everyday necessities, like dishwashing detergent and toothpolish on your doorstep the next day. Unfortunately, as in most cases of convenience, small and frequent shipping orders come at an environmental cost. Try planning out your weekly, or even monthly purchases, and order more of your necessities at one time. Find online shop clubs committed to shipping mindfully. Most major online retailers have box optimizing selections at checkout to help reduce shipping box waste, and some companies reward you for shopping wiser with money back memberships or discount offers. Unless it’s a vital and immediate need, do the planet a solid and switch to wholesale or bulk online ordering and guarantee eco-shipping. 

Bonus eco-points are awarded (figuratively) for choosing locally-sourced companies and brands having traveled less distances, saving you time and helping the planet. When you consider that freight vehicles are a top producer of US carbon dioxide emissions, changing the way you shop online may seem small but it’s actually a big win. Not only does faster shipping demands increase our carbon output, the simple fact is, the more you buy, the more packaging is created and fuel burned. All of which negatively affects the planet by putting too much stress on her natural resources.

Park It

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If you live in a big city, you may have noticed how clean the air smells with less cars bumper-to-bumper on the highways and streets. Up until recently, Lincoln Boulevard has often been stated as the ugliest street in all Los Angeles, California is now described by locals as eerily calm and even pretty. In India, where pollution frequently reaches dangerous levels, the Himalayas are being seen for the first time as the veil of air pollution has lifted due to dramatically reduced emissions. 

Gina McCarthy, former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration, was interviewed by the Guardian and spoke about the global pandemic resulting in sharp dips in air pollution across China, Europe and the United States. The article stating the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels at a record-breaking 5% annual drop. By maintaining low global-commute-demands, and when people consciously decide to walk or ride vs. drive, we can literally change the game on pollution.

The waters of Venice are clear, wildlife wander around Yosemite national park in California, wild boar boldly roam the streets of Israel, and now, with a lull in traffic and fishermen staying at home during the city’s lockdown, dolphins are swimming and jumping in the waters of the Bosporus in Turkey.

Simply put—the planet is smiling. 

When Greta Thunberg begged people last year to reconsider airline travel it seemed such an unlikely scenario. Meanwhile, in the last three months nearly eight in ten flights globally have been canceled, and many of the planes in the air are only carrying a handful of people. 

Carpe Diem 

It’s become abundantly clear; we’ve never had a better chance to make a greener world. The pandemic brought undeniable environmental benefits, from lower carbon emissions and a respite for wildlife, to cleaner air. Now the big question is whether we can take these lessons to heart, having seen the real possibilities for change, and commit to doing whatever it takes to keep the momentum going for a happier, healthier planet.