If Coronavirus has left you with extra time in your day try spending it wisely on these environmentally friendly lifestyle swaps
With the pace of life at a crawl due to COVID19 lockdown measures, many of us are left with large gaps of time in our daily schedules. As boredom sinks in we have more time with family and enjoying the outdoors. But also lots more time in front of a screen, wishing for something productive to do.
As I took out a big trash bag filled with glass and plastic containers to the recycling bin it got me thinking. I’m a busy person so I often rely on the conveniences of a global economy where products can be shipped to me in disposable containers from all over the world. But now that I have some extra time on my hands, can’t I adjust my lifestyle a bit to reduce my environmental footprint? What are some things I can do, even if they are more time-consuming, to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
By now we are all refusing plastic straws, bringing our own bags to the shop, even cutting back on animal products. But I bet your peanut butter jar still gets thrown in the recycling bin and you broke open a plastic bag or can of something during meal prep today. Did you eat a banana in the dead of winter? From how far away did those leafy greens come?
I grew up on a farm with a frugal mother. We were able to burn nearly all of the trash we created because it was mostly just paper products. We had a small “non-burnables” container under the sink which needed emptying about once per week. Not bad for a family of seven. So much has changed since then!
But it took a lot of time to live that way. Planting a garden, picking bushels of fruit when in season. Canning, pickling and freezing for the offseason. Tending to the chickens and goats. Hanging the washing out to dry. Saving food scraps for animal feed or compost. There were endless chores, something our modern lifestyles simply do not allow for.
But now many of us are collecting unemployment or working from home and looking for something meaningful to do with our extra time. Why not get back to basics by using more of our local and natural resources?
Here are some environmentally friendly life hacks to start getting used to now, while you have the time.
#1 Shop at farmers markets/farm stands
Typically this involves an additional trip out of the house, something I don’t always make time for. I can get all the produce I need for the week at the grocery store in one trip. But the farmers market has limited hours. Getting outside the city limits to visit a local farm stand takes even more time. But the reward is worth it. Building a relationship with local growers is priceless. Plus a beautiful drive into the country will help you stay grounded. The environmental impact is huge. Each avocado you buy from a local farmer saves one from being shipped across an ocean. Not to mention keeping your dollars in the local economy and typically a more nutritious product since it hasn’t been harvest so early.
#2 Grow your own food
Even if you have no outdoor space you can still grow fresh herbs and sprouts in a sunny window. Here are the sprouting trays I like to use and the seeds that are super easy to grow. Growing fresh herbs encourages you to cook at home, which reduces take out waste. If you do have a porch, you can easily grow veggies in large pots. I even use recycled plastic jugs for smaller veggies like leafy greens and peppers. Better yet, if you are lucky enough to have a yard and a full garden. The idea here is not to replace your grocery list (at least not at first) but to supplement it. Once you see how much work it takes to grow a tomato your attitude about food might shift to a more sustainable one. There is a bit of a learning curve so do some research on growing your own veggies and have fun with it.
#3 Can and freeze your own food.
Visit a farm or orchard and ask for the “seconds”. These are the produce items that have mild cosmetic damage but are still perfectly good to eat. They are often quite cheap and can be purchased in bulk without any packaging (bring a recycled cardboard box to transport items home).
There are so many options. You can cut corn off of the cob to freeze, make your own salsa, freeze berries for smoothies, make peach jelly. You might even ask at the local farmer’s market what they suggest you do to preserve fruits and veggies for future use. Use recycled containers to store your food or invest in reusable freezer bags. Again, canning and freezing is a bit of an art form, so be sure to read up. Then approach it as a fun project rather than a chore.
#4 Make your own fermented foods
Did you know you can make yogurt in a rice cooker? Kombucha takes very little equipment and sauerkraut is even easier. My very favorite is homemade pickles. Every time you make a large batch at home you avoid buying the individually packaged items from the store. You can reuse your own bottles and containers at home. Not to mention the many health benefits of fermented foods and knowing exactly which ingredients are in the foods you are eating.
#5 Hang the drying
I shook my head the other day as I pulled warm laundry out of the dryer and wiped the sweat off my face at the same time. It is summertime where I live which means it is hot. Why not just take the extra 10 minutes to hang the laundry outside? All it takes is a clothesline or a drying rack and some clothespins. That was my last load in the dryer for a few months.
#6 Get outside instead of opting for AC
When the house starts heating up in the middle of the day try resisting the urge to flip on the air conditioning. Instead, grab your bike or walking shoes and head for the nearest outdoor space. If you are just going to stay inside and look at a screen anyway, try saving that for the cooler hours of the day if possible. Instead, reap the many benefits from grounding yourself in nature.
Food scraps take up valuable space in landfills and produce toxic gasses when not properly treated as compost. Compost is a valuable resource that doesn’t belong in the garbage can. Composting at home can be tricky if you don’t have a big outdoor space. You can get one of these cool compost barrels.
If you don’t garden, you might not know what to do with the valuable soil once the process has finished. Compost pickup services have become popular in lots of neighborhoods. My covered bucket goes out on the street once a week, just like the trash, and a clean one is left in its place. Because this is a local service, I can go to the farm and take nutrient-rich soil whenever I need it for my own plants at home. I don’t personally create enough food waste to fill the bucket each week so I go to my neighbors to see if they would like to contribute to the bucket. It has become a wonderful way to get to know the neighborhood!
#8 Raise chickens
This is not for everyone as it does require a large outdoor space. And as with any live animal, a bit more commitment is mandatory than growing plants. But chickens are actually very easy to care for. Toss out your scraps, supplement with grains, keep their water-filled, clean their living area, and in return enjoy fresh eggs daily. If raising chickens is not an option consider saving your egg cartons and buying eggs from your local farmer.
Another option is to partner with a friend who does have the space to raise chickens. You could offer to clean the cage once a month and take care of the chickens when the friend goes on vacation in exchange for fresh eggs.
The next time you find yourself tossing a container in the recycling bin ask yourself these three questions: 1) Did I really need this in the first place or could I have gone without it? 2) Is there another way to buy/make this product that uses less packaging or shipping? and 3) Now that I have this empty package, is there a way to repurpose it before recycling it?
We can’t be perfect but don’t let that get in the way of doing better. Especially if you have a little extra time to dedicate to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
We’d love to hear more of your ideas in the comments!
Cover Photo: Marcus Waschenbart