Plastic Bag Guilt
Sustainability during quarantine has me feeling really guilty lately. All the plastic I’ve been bringing into my house is cringe worthy, especially all the plastic bags! I have really made an effort this last year to reduce the amount of plastic and paper bags I get from stores, so much so that I have even run out of bags to use in my bathroom trash can. Furthermore, I carry a small reusable bag in my purse for quick store runs and I bought mesh produce bags so I don’t have to use plastic for my produce. I also keep my reusable bags by the front door so I don’t forget them. It’s become a good habit that I’m proud of.
Now I am by no means perfect. I do sometimes forget my reusable bags or buy more than I intended and have to supplement with plastic. Usually, though, I make a point of reusing those plastic bags at least once. I also recycle any plastic bag packaging I get (like from lettuce or the plastic wrap on toilet paper.)
The problem is that during quarantine most places are no longer allowing you to bring your own reusable bags. Consequently, I have an excess of plastic bags and anxiety after each grocery trip. I’m running a sustainability blog and I have like a million plastic bags! How can I let my arch nemesis into my home? I do understand the potential contamination reusable bags could cause, so I wouldn’t bring my bags right now even if they let me. I just can’t help but think about all the other impacts, both good and bad, this pandemic has had on the environment.
As a result, I decided to take a hard look at how my carbon footprint has changed during this pandemic and have highlighted both the negatives and positives below. Hopefully focusing on the positives can help me combat the guilt I have everytime I shop for groceries. Since I can’t do anything about the plastic bags; my assessment allowed me to see some easy improvements I can control and habits I can start forming and carry into the future.
If you’d like to assess your carbon footprint check out my how to post!
1. Too many plastic and paper bags
I’ve totally been collecting way more of those now and have so many that I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reuse them all. The only way I’ve been able to combat it is to continue recycling my plastic bags at my local grocery store. Paper bags actually have a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. Our local trader joes uses these but I only shop there once a month for a few specific items. This means I don’t have too many paper bags but how else am I supposed to carry home all my essential quarantine wine!
2. I’m using more water
Since we are home more we are cooking more, washing more dishes, and therefore using more water. To combat this I’ve been exclusively using the dishwasher instead of hand washing even a couple dishes. I try to only wash my knives, stemware, and pots and pans by hand. Newer dishwashers are much more efficient at water and energy use than hand washing. I also always set my dishwasher on the energy efficient mode, which helps.
3. I’m using more electricity
Being home more of course means we are using more electricity. We are good about keeping our thermostat set a little higher than normal and try to use fans to supplement. We keep the thermostat stable whether we are home or not, only turning it down at night. However, staying home all the time still means more time to watch tv, lights are on more, and electronics are plugged in more as well.
4. Holy cow we’ve been eating beef
We’ve actually eaten more beef than usual for two reasons. First, we’ve found some great sales on steaks, which we’ve bought twice in the past three months, and we actually bought ground beef once as well. On top of that we’ve also been supporting our fave local taco shop and have ordered carne asada tacos a few times. Normally beef isn’t something I crave, but the husband loves a good steak; so we do buy them occasionally during a sale or for a special occasion. Overall we generally do not eat much beef at home but I’m a sucker for a sale and the carne asada at Taco Sahuaro has been bringing us quarantine comfort.
Beef is one of the worst foods you can eat in terms of sustainability! It has the highest green house gas emissions of almost any food. This is why I post meatless recipes every Monday! I also wrote an entire post on sustainable foods. While we have been eating more beef than usual we have also been eating more of the plant based meals you see in my posts. I’m sure we will return to our normal scant beef purchases soon, especially with beef prices on the rise.
5. So much more Trash somehow?
I’ve seen first hand just how much trash we’ve been producing since we’ve been home. Normally when we’re at work I take advantage of the easy access to recycling bins since our apartment complex no longer offers recycling pick up. We’ve been working from home though, and consequently the trash has been accumulating quickly with the normally recycled items. I did some research and found a community drop off point not far from me and will now be saving those items to recycle! I plan on using the paper bags I’ve accumulated to help me transport the items since they can also be recycled in the same spot! Knowing one is close by makes it easy for me to just drop it off on my way to the grocery store or, in the future, on my way to work.
Do you know your local recycling rules? What can and can’t be recycled in your area?
6. We’re using more paper towels
I’ve been cleaning like crazy since I’ve had the time, and I am also wiping our counters, door knobs, and light switches down with bleach more frequently. This has led to an increase in our paper towel usage. My old kitchen towels and washcloths are repurposed for cleaning but there are certain jobs I just don’t like using those for. I have really started researching alternatives to paper towels and am working on a sustainable plan to phase them out over the next few months. Don’t worry, I will keep you updated once I find the best solution!
7. All the Amazon boxes!
Is there anything else I need to say? I’ve kept most of these since, as they say, a large part of being an adult is deciding whether or not to keep a box because… it’s a really good one.
Have you gotten rid of paper towels? If so was it difficult? Make sure to comment below with your experience!
There have been some very positive improvements we’ve made on lowering our carbon footprint over the past few months.
1. Way less driving
First and foremost, both my husband and I are working from home, social distancing, and only venturing into public places when absolutely necessary. This has led to a drastic decrease in our car usage. I’ve only filled my car up once since March 13th and DJ is only just headed to fill his car up this week! Considering we would both fill our cars up every two weeks prior to the pandemic this is making a major impact. Driving was one of the largest contributors to our carbon footprint prior to the pandemic so I hope this offset will really help make up for the increases in other areas of our life.
2. More gardening
I love my little balcony garden, and now that I have gotten a little more of a green thumb I have started growing a few things I can actually use in my kitchen. With the limited space and sunlight I have I have to be picky about what I choose to grow. I have tried to focus on things we use often that are easy to grow and don’t require much space or direct sunlight.
I started growing green onions a few months ago from the scraps of some I bought in the grocery store. I’ve also been growing pea shoots to use on our avocado toast. These microgreens pack a lot of nutrients and flavor! I can usually get two harvests from a single planting. I’ve also just bought a cilantro plant since we often end up buying too much and throwing some out. I’m hoping this will help reduce food waste!
Tip: Store fresh cut or store bought herbs upright in a cup of water in your fridge to prolong their shelf life!
3. Less frivolous spending
One of my favorite things to do is wander around World Market, Marshalls, and thrift stores all day, and pre quarantine I often did so to reduce stress. I didn’t always buy things but I definitely bought more than I am now! The lack of store runs I’ve made has led to me buy less stuff in general. This means less clutter in our home, less plastic waste I’m responsible for, and a bit more money at the end of the month.
4. Washing clothes less often
We’ve been waiting until we completely run out of clothes before heading to the laundromat. Instead of every week we’ve been going every 3 weeks. Since we’re working from home we are wearing less clothes so we just have to make sure we don’t run out of underwear!
5. Less Saran wrap
Right before quarantine I found these little plastic nets that easily replace 99% of the saran wrap used in our household. I found them at Dollar Tree so they were only $1 and I’ve been using them for about 3 months now. They’ve held up surprisingly well. Since I couldn’t find these on the Dollar Tree website so you’ll have to check your local store. I included a picture below with the brand name though.
We already use glass containers and tupperware for 95% of my leftovers but there are always a few things that don’t have a lid so I can either use saran wrap or transfer it to another container and wash the original bowl. This solves both issues! While it’s still cheap plastic and not ultimately very sustainable, but it was a cheap investment and allowed me to really see how often and in what capacity I would use a more long term sustainable product. I’ve already begun my research on more sustainable items and will share and review those items for you in the near future. Most of these items are a little more expensive initially so I want to make sure I’m not just buying something I won’t use or that doesn’t fit my lifestyle. This just creates more waste.
How is your sustainability journey going? Have you had more sustainability successes or fails during quarantine? Comment Below!