Pandemic-proof sustainable swaps you can do right now

You may have read in my last post that I’ve felt overwhelmed or hopeless at times due to the scale of the challenge we currently face in trying to leave the world better than we found it, and how especially since the pandemic hit, the impact of all this extra single-use has been weighing heavily on my mind – and many others’ too. Despite all this though, there are a few ways in which we can try to regain some control over the pesky plastics/increasing waste in our lives and sustainably survive numerous lockdowns, so I’d like to share some.

Firstly, containers. Now is a great time to do a kitchen audit to work out how much tupperware you actually own and how many jars might be lying around unused, so that they may find a new use (any tubs without lids could be repurposed as plant pots , organisation trays or all manner of things before being lovingly recycled at the end of their life) and you can be prepared for the next time you’re heading out into the world by taking a container with you. Granted, there are currently fewer opportunities to use your own containers while shopping than usual, but you never know when you might need one! Plus, if there’s somewhere you usually refill at, there’s no harm in gently asking them what their current measures allow.

Secondly, the obvious. Reusable masks. These are now widely available and often in upcycled materials too! Simply wear, wash, reuse to avoid those single-use ones as best you can.

Bags for life. These have continued as normal throughout the pandemic so please let’s do all we can to keep this habit going. It’s super easy, even for a forgetful person, if you fold them up small and tuck into coat pockets or loop around bag handles. One of the best lockdown purchases we made was a granny trolley (not sure what the real name is?) and it’s absolutely perfect for our Albany Road shop or a medium-sized grocery run – would highly recommend.

Straws. You can still ask for no straw when drinking out and about and be prepared by taking your own. So long as you wash it at home between each outing, you’re good to go. Many places are serving paper ones at the moment which may well disintegrate before you finish your drink anyway, so best to have one on you in case.

Organic / local veg boxes. When the first lockdown hit demand for these was through the roof and you couldn’t get a subscription anywhere, but as things have settled a bit why not find out if there’s somewhere local to you that offers a veg box delivery scheme? In Cardiff there are the likes of Penylan Pantry, Kemi’s or Paul’s Veg. I’ve been a subscriber to Abel & Cole boxes for several years since living with my in-laws for a while where I didn’t know the nearby plastic-free options; it’s been not only a life saver during lockdown but also a relief because there was less to worry about in when doing the rest of the grocery shop (which for me was a highly stressful experience in which I would always panic buy and forget half my list anyway).

Advantages of local boxes: it’s often sourced super locally, you support a small business and contents vary depending on what’s available. Advantages of larger ones like Abel & Cole or Riverford: you’re supporting a breadth of growers from across the UK, it’s organic and seasonal and their suppliers are all sustainability vetted from the off. I can also add normal groceries into my weekly deliveries as and when required such as dishwasher tablets, pet food or even shampoo bars and so on – but choose what’s right for you based on convenience & individual requirements.

Eat more plants. I know this is controversial for some, but if you follow my Instagram you’ll have seen that I did Veganuary this year after having been vegetarian since early high school. Personally, I’m not in the ban-everything-that-isn’t-vegan camp, but instead believe that reducing by even a few meals a week and working out what works best for you is the way to go. And if you do decide to consume meat or animal products, try to source them as sustainably as possible i.e. organic, free range, local. If you’re finding you have more time at home since the pandemic, why not try some new recipes or swapping out some of your usual ingredients for plant-based options? You might find something you love! As a keen cook I loved the creativity that came with the challenge and although I haven’t remained totally vegan, the balance has definitely shifted!

Water bottles & refills. Just recently, Refill UK expanded their app to include places to take your own containers and shop plastic free as well as refilling your water bottle, which is fantastic! If your local isn’t on there yet, give them a gentle nudge and spread the word. Whilst some places may have revoked the option to refill your water bottle for the time being, you can still take your own around with you to save buying bottles on the move.

Contactless Coffee. As above, this is a little more tricky nowadays but there are still places that will refill your own reusable coffee cup if you ask nicely. Check out Hungry City Hippy’s post for the list, and if you can, please support them. Praise them for being brave enough to follow the science and allow refills during a time when so many chains are refusing to switch back. 

In other words, being prepared is still never a bad thing and better to try and be turned down than not try at all. Taking your own homemade food/drink around with you is also a great option to be on the safe side whilst reducing your waste, especially as food waste is something that initially saw a huge reduction during lockdown, but is sadly back on the rise. Being wary of the packaging that comes with most takeaways and using what we already have at home is also something that shouldn’t change with the pandemic.

Support your locals. This may seem in contrary to the above, but what I mean is that whilst we should be trying to reduce our waste at home be it food or takeaway packaging, when you are planning to treat ourselves then do it from somewhere local – better yet, dine in if you’re able. Shopping local where possible will also help small businesses stay alive, which feeds back into the community and reduces carbon footprint to a degree.

Cycling. At one point in lockdown it seemed like everyone & their dog was buying a bike. Although I was a little late to the party, I too managed to pick up a secondhand beauty that I’ve loved taking out on adventures since. I wasn’t a confident cyclist at all to begin with, especially nervous about navigating roads (cycling routes can be totally different to driving) and braving traffic, but with careful practice and the right tools* I’m much more confident now and trying to cycle within the city as much as is personally feasible – which does feel a lot more cyclist-friendly since lockdown lifted, possibly due to increased uptake forcing drivers to get used to it a bit more. I still need to get lights fitted and I’m still too scared to leave it locked up anywhere, but it’s progress. So if you do have a bicycle at home, why not give it a whirl next time you fancy a walk in the park or a trip across town? It’ll benefit both you & the planet in one hit.
*I’ve started using an app & bike phone holder from Bike Citizens which I often find better than Google maps cycle mode as it tends to avoid more main roads & recommends the route other users take most often. Not an ad, but if you’re interested I’ll link it here.

Lastly, use this extra time at home to try things out that you’ve previously avoided, such as shampoo bars, plastic-free toothpaste or natural deodorant (the latter of which I’ve tried plenty, including most recently the refillable Wild subscription, but not found one that works long-term for me yet sadly). If you’re mostly working from home like me then no one’s going to know if you smell a bit funky, and webcams aren’t often precise enough to tell if your hair’s looking greasy. So, what’s the harm? May as well try it now while you have the chance to hide away if it goes wrong. (Hopefully it doesn’t though and you’re totally converted for years to come!) I’ve had to try several different brands of things sometimes to find one I get on with – everyone’s bodies are different.

This may sound simple and I’m not saying I’m perfect, but maintaining these habits as best we can exercises a bit of control over our own lives in such uncertain circumstances, which really helps not only the impact on the planet but also on your own sanity. Anything else is a bonus at this point.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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