Before the devastating hit of 2020 and all of the stresses it has put on our lives, efforts in sustainability were higher than ever. People around the world were cutting back on plastic usage, increasing the use of reusable items and were focused on sourcing products and foods from eco-friendly, environmentally conscious businesses. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it harder to live a sustainable lifestyle. 

“Most of the things that I was doing for sustainability reasons prior to the pandemic, I’m still doing,” Karen Troxell, Commute Trip Reduction Coordinator, said. “I still bike or ride the bus to work. I just wear a mask, keep hand sanitizer with me and immediately wash my hands.”

Biking to and from work, school or the grocery store is an easy way to sustainable during the pandemic, but it is a little harder in other areas. 

A major change that many people have seen is in grocery shopping. Many stores have been refusing reusable grocery bags since March and are still hesitant. People’s collections of plastic bags are growing. Some locations have been allowing reusable bags, like Trader Joe’s and Huckleberries.

Bulk shopping has also been restricted at many store locations across the world. It used to be easy to go in with a reusable jar from home, fill it up, and go home with zero waste. Now, we must purchase prepackaged rice, spice bottles, and flour bags. This unnecessary waste is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Though stores and establishments are taking secure steps to ensure safety, it has created some obstacles in the world of sustainable living. 

“If you are grocery shopping, bring your own bags for packing groceries,” Madison Dougherty, Sustainability Leadership Programs Coordinator, said. “Tell the cashier you will bag your own food or use the self-check-out stand. I personally try to reuse and repurpose the containers and bags that I’ve been collecting.”

Dougherty works in the world of sustainability and she has even found that zero waste isn’t an easy option right now. She said that she is producing more waste than she normally does. 

Buying glass instead of plastic is also a helpful tip when shopping. Glass jars can be reused for leftovers or reused as kitchen cups. 

Creativity and patience are key when trying to stay sustainable during the pandemic.

“My greatest tip I can offer is become a D.I.Y master,” Dougherty said.

Make your own cleaning products. To make all-purpose cleaner, all you need is: one-part white vinegar, one-part water, lemon rind and a couple of rosemary sprigs. To make glass cleaner, all you need is: 2 cups of water, ½ cup of white vinegar and ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol. You don’t need to pay $13 a bottle or have to buy a new bottle every time. Put your homemade recipe in a reused bottle. 

Another D.I.Y. tip is to thrift shop but safely. Being careful to wash and sanitize newly purchased items is incredibly important. Also, wearing a mask and being diligent about hand sanitation while thrifting is vital in maintaining safe COVID-19 practices. 

“There are some instances where health has to win out over sustainability,” Troxell said. “It’s important to do our best, but we also need to give ourselves and others grace as we redefine what it means to be sustainable in a time of turmoil like this one.”


Allie Noland is a staff writer.

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