Coronavirus and Zero Waste

Close up of Cherry Blossom Tree

I didn’t expect to write an article about the Coronavirus this week but honestly according to my website and social media stats it’s all people seem to be interested in, that and cooking recipes, or yoga tutorials.

Going by my neighbours we started self-isolating earlier than most people. In fact some of my neighbours are still allowing the kids out to play in communal areas, or having playdates, or meeting friends for walks! The mind boggles. I think how some people have chosen to respond during this pandemic shines a light on why it’s so hard to get people modify their behaviour to prevent climate change. If people won’t change their behaviour to protect the vulnerable in their own community, what hope do we have of getting them to do so to protect the vulnerable in other countries?

Nothing mentioned in this article has been sponsored. It’s all just my own personal opinion. If you like your sources to remain independent then please;
share this article, or
buy me a coffee on Ko-fi, or
make a one-time donation via Paypal
Photo is my own. Feel free to use for non-commercial reason, credit me and link back to my website.

We started our quarantine on a strong footing three weeks ago, going out only to buy food or for some exercise. Week one and two were easy enough, after all we’re a house full of home-birds and introverts, but now some of us are beginning to climb the walls. Okay, it’s me! I’ll admit it. I was relishing the opportunity to get some work done; I could focus on my college work, tidy up that garden, maybe squeeze in some crafts. I reflected back to the visit of the ‘Beast from the ‘East’ back in 2018. The slow down in the speed of society was fabulous, I caught up on all my to-dos and a few more! Life was good, but this time it’s different.

Life is not slowing down, if anything it appears to be speeding up. Not only are employers demanding full-time hours, college students are expected to keep to pre-Corona deadlines, with some tutors loading on extra work to keep idle students going. All completely missing the fact that some of us have the added workload of distance learning and perpetually hungry children.  I know it could be worse. My heart goes out to all those who’ve been laid-off as a result of this pandemic. I do hope it’ll be temporary and that in the long-term everything will work out. I’m also deeply appreciative of all the hard working shop workers and medical staff and bus drivers and everyone who’s keeping the show on the road. Makes you wonder about the real heroes in society, eh?

In terms of having the kids at home, I know we’re quite lucky. My kids are actually quite self-contained and aren’t very demanding. Perhaps it’s because I never felt the need to entertain them once they got past 5. If they came to me and said they were bored, I’d reply ‘Great, that gives your brain a change to be creative’. They hated hearing that, but it worked. They now spend the day playing in their rooms, drawing, bouncing on trampolines, playing video games and watching Youtube. We do an hour’s worth of schoolwork with my son (age 10) because, to be honest, we don’t have the time and he doesn’t have the interest in doing any more. My daughter (age 12) on the other hand is spending about 4 hours a day on schoolwork. This is primarily because she’s working on a history project that she’s deeply interested in.

I’ve seen some articles online asking ‘is Coronavirus the end of the Zero Waste movement?’ and some such nonsense. I have to ask, why on earth would it be? In fact I’d say the opposite. With a recent study finding that the virus can live on plastic and steel packaging for up to 72 hours it seems you’d be far safer refilling your own containers than buying packaged goods.

In fact I’ve think living sustainably has made it much easier to manage with quarantine than we would have previously. Here are some ways it’s done so;

  • Despite what some people think I don’t visit 5 shops a day! I buy certain goods in bulk in shops every 4-6 weeks, usually when I happen to be in the area for something else. This means that we have about 4-6 weeks of frozen meat, store cupboard goods and cleaning products in stock in the house at any one time. In fact buying bulk means that I’ve actually got a years supply of some items like vinegar and washing up liquid.
  • A lot of the items we use are reusables so we don’t actually need to buy much when we go shopping. This means that we’re in and out of the supermarket quite quickly reducing our exposure.
  • Because we only really need to buy dairy, bread, fruit and veg every few days we’re able to get these in smaller stores, which don’t tend to have queues into them, making shopping quicker and easier.
  • We like to buy from local growers / makers / suppliers and we’ve found that they’re much more likely to have delivery slots than the big supermarkets where most people are shopping.
  • Having switched to bar soap, which lasts way longer than liquid soap, we didn’t have to rush out and stock up. One bar of soap per bathroom does us for about 4 weeks.
  • Although we’re having to buy a lot more packaged goods than we’re used to we are able to decant the groceries out of that potentially-contaminated packaging into one of the many jars or containers we have at home.
  • Because we tend to buy multiples of something when we do go to a store we tend to have a back supply of goods. This makes it’s much easier to put packaged goods like tins of tomatoes or chickpeas in quarantine for 3 days to avoid contamination.
  • Using predominantly washable cotton totes as shopping bags means we can launder them after we go shopping.
  • It’s been a long time since I shopped for fun, so not being able to shop now is no biggy for me at all. I’m sure the same can’t be said for most South Dublin dwellers, who appear to treat shopping like an full-time occupation.
  • Living sustainably has afforded me the opportunity to learn more skills; like repairing items, clothes mending, knitting and cooking from scratch. It’s helped me become much more self-sufficient and resilient. We aren’t concerned if end up not being able to buy bread because we know how to make it. Same with tortillas, crackers, pizza dough, pizza sauce and on and on and on. Knowing how to do these things makes me a lot less anxious about not being able to procure items or services from others.
  • I know this is strictly zero waste, and may sound flippant but boy am I glad to have undyed long hair at the moment. This wasn’t something at the forefront of my mind until I started to hear people talk about it. Sounds like there are going to be a lot of roots and split ends doing the rounds by the end of this crisis. Oh, how lovely to be a low-maintenance kinda woman!

Unfortunately I’ve been sick on and off for the past 3 weeks, which has left the hubbie to do most of the shopping. Trying to squeeze it in along with full-time work meant shopping uber locally, resulting in less organic food and more processed and packaged goods. But look, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay.

Yesterday I felt well enough to walk to our local zero waste store The Good Neighbour. I did so partially to get exercise, partially to escape jail (the house), partially to talk to someone other than my family, partially to stock up but primarily to support them. It’s a difficult time for all retailers and I want to make sure that the retailers that share my values survive into post-Corona times.

The zero waste store limited the number of customers to 3 and had a stack of clean scoops for us to use, which we returned after each use for cleaning. I believe they’ve also introduced a click and collect service, which can either be put into paper bags or your own containers if you drop them off by 12pm. A few items weren’t available but I didn’t mind. I have my pantry with back-ups so I’m not desperate for anything.

Another place I managed to venture out to last week was our local farmers market at Airfield farm. At it I was able to get fresh olives, bread, organic veg and homemade granola, Unfortunately I see that it’s not open this weekend, which is such a shame. It must be haemorrhaging money at the moment. I hope it doesn’t jeopardise it’s future.

Mentally I’m already at the Coronavirus after party, visualising mass hugging sessions and rounds of cheer in the local pub. It’ll be interesting to see if there’ll be any lasting impact from this pandemic. This afternoon I listened to a podcast on the 1918 Flu pandemic, which said people reverted back to their normal way of living quite soon afterwards. Perhaps we will too, but we do so knowing that Nature has the capacity to take it all away overnight.

And now for This Weeks’ Positive Sustainable News (to catch it earlier like our Facebook page.)

How to turn an old dresser into a dolls house

How to fix holes in the holes of runners / trainers / sneakers

Car subscription service that doesn’t require a licence! Coming soon to Europe

The Eden Project is coming to Northern Ireland. Yippee!

How to response to negative responses to Zero Waste living

Seven landowners join forces to create largest lowland heathland nature reserve in UK

Make your own reusable sanitary / menstrual pads with Heidi

Burger King are completely ditching toys, while McDonalds will allow parents to swap a toy for a book or bag of fruit for a trial period. I know who’ll I’ll be supporting if I need a junk food fix

Very emotive video with stunning images and the soothing yet inspirational voice of Jane Goodall

Build a greenhouse for a pittance. This is an American video but I’ve watched it and think practically all the materials can be sourced in Ireland

Some great ideas on how to make use of all those plastic plant pots we end up with

Love this podcast series. This one is about population growth; one of the key factors driving the climate crisis. It’s a much more positive picture than I expected

Stay safe, stay indoors


Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “Coronavirus and Zero Waste

  1. Elaine, I’ve just read this post – its so uplifting and honest and I love your style of straight talking! Deirdre (must meet up again if you are in town or want an escape from ‘jail’!!). Hello to Paul. Deirdre J.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: