When the world first shut down due to COVID-19, there seemed to be a positive environmental impact initially. I’m sure you remember the news stories. Cities that used to be covered in haze suddenly had clear skies. People stopped driving and flying, therefore reducing pollution in the air.
But at the same time, something a lot less positive for our environment was happening. Almost overnight, the desire for plastic products spiked. To protect people from transmitting the novel coronavirus, many businesses took action to limit the spread – including switching to disposable, single-use plastic items.
Suddenly, we needed plastic bags to carry our groceries home, plastic takeout containers to order food, and, of course, masks and face shields made mostly from plastic.
This sharp increase of plastic use due to the pandemic lead to some staggering statistics. Scientific American recently took a look at the impact that all of this plastic consumption has had on our rivers and oceans, and found that:
- More than 129 billion masks and 65 billion gloves are being used — every month
- There was 30% more waste produced in 2020 than in 2019
- If the plastic problem is not solved by 2030, there will be catastrophic global repercussions
The effects of all of this increased plastic use are clear, and urgent. Fortunately, as the World Wildlife Fund has noted, taking small actions in our daily lives can help reduce the impact of all this plastic.
At Sweeping Dimensions, we know it’s not possible to be perfectly plastic-free, but we encourage everyone to make small changes wherever possible. Here are five ways to make easy, sustainable swaps to reduce the use of single-use plastic during COVID:
1.) Don’t Get Plastic Forks or Spoons With Your Takeout Orders
At the end of a long week, ordering dinner from a local restaurant may feel like the best form of self care. And we are big fans of supporting your local businesses and your neighbors whenever possible!
Fortunately, you can do so without creating too much extra waste. You can usually request “no forks” or “no plastic silverware” when you place your order by phone or using an online delivery service. This is a small step with a big impact; since most plastic cutlery can’t be recycled, it generally just ends up in the trash.
If you’re ordering for your home, you can easily use your own forks and spoons, and reduce the amount of plastic that gets thrown away.
2.) Use Canvas or Cloth Bags Instead of Single Use Plastic Bags
During the beginning of the pandemic, many stores in the Chicago area banned reusable bags to prevent the spread of COVID. Now, we’re glad to see that many of those restrictions have been lifted, as long as you bag your groceries yourself.
Reusable bags significantly reduce the amount of plastic that gets thrown away, and they are multifunctional. You can toss a canvas or cloth bag in the wash anytime it gets dirty. If your reusable bag is made of 100% cotton or other plant-based materials, it can also be composted when it’s no longer functional.
If you’re in a pinch or reusable bags just aren’t an option, ask the store if they have paper bags, which can be recycled more easily than plastic.
3.) Switch to Compostable Items Wherever Possible
Plastic items can take more than a hundred years to break down. Biodegradable items, while somewhat better for the environment, still take a long time to decompose.
Compostable items however, can be labeled that way because they break down in a year or less.
Whenever possible, purchase compostable everyday items to reduce the amount of plastic you use at home. While compostable home goods were once rare and rather expensive, you now can purchase compostable garbage bags, plates, napkins, silverware, and other kitchen and food-related items in most grocery stores for about the same price as other everyday household products. This makes it easier to get what you need, without any of the guilt!
4.) Buy Concentrated Cleaning Products
Rather than purchasing a new plastic spray bottle each time you run out of your favorite cleaning solution, buy a concentrated version instead.
Many of your favorite cleaning products can be purchased in a concentrated solution and simply mixed with water, giving you a potent clean without having to burn through bottle after bottle of store-bought cleaning solution.
Another alternative is to make your own cleaning solutions, and reuse the same glass bottles to contain them. You can find recipes for many different cleaning solutions online, using only environmentally friendly ingredients from your kitchen such as vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and essential oils. Check out our starter guide to creating your own DIY cleaning solutions at home here.
5.) Substitute Glass Bottles and Containers In Place of Plastic
There are many ways to make the switch from plastic to glass containers. Many of your favorite pantry items, such as peanut butter, pasta sauce, and olive oil are available in glass containers. Some beauty products can also be purchased in glass containers.
If you prepare your meals in advance or often save leftovers, consider purchasing glass food storage containers instead of plastic, or upcycling glass packaging by using it again and again.
When it comes to reusable containers, glass is one of the best options out there. It can be recycled or reused in many different ways and is typically safe to wash, freeze, and heat in the microwave. (Not sure if a glass container is microwave safe? Cooking Advisors explains how to check.)
You can use clean glass containers to store leftovers in the refrigerator or dry goods in the pantry. You could also use them as flower vases, or as storage for small things in the bathroom. Glass containers keep things neat and allow you to easily find what you’re looking for.
Not only are glass containers better for you when reheating, they are also easier to clean and last longer than plastic. Plus, as Treehugger notes, glass is typically thought of as more recyclable than plastic, since it can be processed and recycled more times without losing its integrity.
To reuse a glass container, scrape out any food or residue left at the bottom. Then, fill the container with hot water to dislodge anything that might still be stuck. Finally, run the glass container through the dishwasher to get it completely clean. Be sure to remove any labels before putting glass jars in the dishwasher, so you don’t clog your filter!
Once the glass container is completely clean, you can either recycle it, or find a way to reuse it around the house. Keep in mind that a container must be clean to be accepted by the recycling facility — if it is dirty, it could be tossed in the trash.
Doing Our Part For the Environment
We want to do whatever we can to limit our impact on the environment. Sometimes that means making a small switch here in the office, and sometimes it means encouraging our loved ones and our customers to try a new eco-friendly alternative!
At Sweeping Dimensions Cleaning Service, we always make a sweeping effort to make life less stressful. Our teams of professionally trained cleaners offer flexible time windows, and can bring all of the tools and products necessary to clean your home, with an emphasis on green, environmentally friendly materials.
Want to talk about putting an environmentally friendly cleaning strategy in place for your Chicago home? Ready to get started making a difference for the planet? We’re here to help! Contact us today for your FREE service estimate!