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How to Live Sustainably, Even During a Pandemic

For most Americans, living sustainably during the coronavirus pandemic has been the least of their worries. With concerns over rising unemployment, school closures, a possible second wave of the virus, inequities in access to treatment, and, most importantly, getting sick, living sustainably and decreasing carbon footprints have never been further from people’s minds. And while social media sites have been flooded with images claiming that the earth is ‘healing itself’ due to lack of human presence in public spaces, waste, especially food waste, is on the rise. Paralleled to these images of goats taking over a town in Wales or skylines visible that were previously blocked by smog are stories of pig farmers forced to kill most of their livestock and mass quantities of fresh vegetables being harvested and immediately disposed of, largely due to plant closures and other disruptions to the food supply chain.

Though sustainable living is understandably far from many people’s minds in these unprecedented times, the disheartening images of massive food waste coupled with that of food bank lines that stretch for miles have left many of us social distancing at home wondering what can be done.

Those who have found themselves with a new surplus of free time or perhaps those who are looking for new activities to engage their children may be pleasantly surprised to know that there are easy ways to pass the time while helping your community and the planet right from the comfort of your own home, or with limited social interaction. For those of us wanting to make a difference while staying distant, here are 4 easy ways to live more sustainably during the Coronavirus pandemic.

1. Collect food scraps and build a compost bin

While the need for composting has existed long before the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is one of the easiest ways to live more sustainably without leaving your home. Such benefits are endless; according to Derby Hoover, senior research specialist in the Food and Agriculture program at NRDC: “Compost adds nutrients and organic matter back to soil, which benefits agriculture, reduces our reliance on synthetic fertilizers, diverts methane-producing organic materials from landfills, and improves soil’s water retention capacity so you don’t need to water as much.”

Beginning to compost is simple: first, start by collecting food scraps in a composting bin. Bins can be purchased online from retailers like Amazon or Home Depot, or can even be an old Tupperware container. While composting drop off sites are normally available to New Yorkers and to residents of other cities across the country, organizations like Grow NYC have unfortunately suspended their drop off sites to limit person-to-person contact. Not to worry! Composting can easily be done in your own home, even in apartments with limited or no outdoor space. For some leads on the best composting bin for you, check out this link, and read Grow NYC’s advice on how to compost during a pandemic. Composting is an easy way to limit food waste and to get family members involved in an ongoing activity.

2. Rely less on disposable items and produce purchased from grocery stores

There’s no denying that grocery stores are some of the worst places to be right now; going to the grocery store means gearing up in PPE, waiting on long lines outside the store, and being disappointed when the store is once again out of toilet paper. And while I can’t say I know of any suggestions for getting around our country’s toilet paper shortage, there are many ways to spend less time at the grocery store. For starters, steer clear of disposable items. With not too many places to go, stay away from to-go sized and packaged food items like plastic water bottles. While staying in doors, try to drink tap water. And even before reaping the rewards of your compost bin, try planting your own fruits, vegetables, or herbs. A personal garden doesn’t need acres, simply a few square feet in a garden or a window box is all you need.

3. Donate to or volunteer for local food banks, especially those that are utilizing produce that would otherwise go to waste

While living through the pandemic has been difficult, we have seen the emergence of plenty of good samaritans and hometown heroes, like food bank organizers who are working to close the gap between food that is going to be wasted and the lack of food available to those struggling to feed their families. In New York in particular, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has said that the state will give food banks $25 million to buy products made from excess milk on farms in the state, and is working with several manufacturers to turn the excess milk into cheese and yogurt.

While volunteering for food banks may be off the table for those following strict social distancing guidelines or are staying home to take care of family members, those who have the means to do so can help their community through charitable donations. See how food banks in your community are utilizing excess food.

4. Stay home, stay home, stay home

I am far from the first person to say this. The benefits of social distancing at home are endless, with many scientists and politicians crediting the implementation of social distancing guidelines for limiting the spread of the Coronavirus. And while being confined to our homes and the disruption of daily routines has been difficult for us humans, the earth has gotten a needed reprieve from greenhouse emissions. In China, smog levels were reduced after factories shut down during the Coronavirus outbreak in the country, and satellite images have shown a significant drop in air pollution in Italy during the country’s shutdown.

Results have been similar in the United States, considering that more than half of all car trips are to and from work and school. So while it is frustrating feeling shuttered in our homes and not being able to travel, let us momentarily take advantage of the slowing of society’s pace and continue to limit use of transportation. And though transportation is necessary for some Americans, especially those on the front lines of the pandemic in hospitals, grocery stores, and pharmacies, there are still a great deal of us who can largely do without cars and planes for the time being. Instead of taking the car to the grocery store, ride a bike instead.

Cities have noticed an increase in bike traffic in the last several months, and have therefore opened up streets to make more room for bikers. If biking isn’t your thing, try to walk to your daily or weekly activities, maybe even make it an event with kids or family members. Cars will be back on the road and planes back in the air soon, so for the time being, let us stay home and stay away from transportation.

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