7 Eco-Friendly Habits to Start at Home during COVID-19
This blog is written by Recycle Coach as part of an ongoing content series with the Carton Council.
Eco-friendly habits are on the rise. A recent survey reports that since the pandemic outbreak, 64% of Americans have been inspired to live more sustainable lives, and 55% are recycling more. During this time of social and economic change, it’s incredible to see people embrace positive habits in response to the challenges brought on by COVID-19.
As our communities rebuild, it’s as important as ever to embrace an environment-first approach to daily living. The novel coronavirus has created an opportunity for everyone to adopt positive change, and that means altering your habits. The question is – how?
It starts with small actions and big ideals.
Today we’re going to share 7 amazing eco-friendly habits that you can start at home, that will make a significant impact on the environment, your mental-health and overall wellbeing.
Forming Lasting Eco-Friendly Habits: The Process
Charles Duhigg wrote the modern guide to habits in his seminal work, “The Power of Habit.” To create lasting change, the author suggests a 4 step framework to establishing new patterns of behavior. These steps are useful when adopting new green practices at home.
1: Identify your routine
2: Experiment with rewards
3: Isolate or understand your cue
4: Have a plan
This simple process involves identifying your current routine and what triggers it, then consciously and actively replacing that behavior with something different. To finish up, you should establish a reward for successfully implementing your new routine.
We’re going to use this process to help you shift from consumption-styled behaviors, to eco-behaviors that are great for your home, your local environment, and the planet you live on.
#1: Correct Disposal and Composting of Food Deliveries
Since the stay-at-home orders were announced, 22% more Americans have been ordering food from restaurants for delivery. That means there’s a lot of food and takeout containers finding their way into your kitchen. Do you have a sustainable food delivery protocol in place?
Your first eco-friendly habit focuses on composting your leftovers and either recycling or correctly disposing of your takeout containers.
Eco Food Delivery Habit:
Step 1: What is your current food disposal routine?
Step 2: What reward in this instance would support a change in behavior?
Step 3: What cue triggers the bad behavior?
Answer these questions to establish your new cue-routine-reward loop!
The Right Routine
Takeout deliveries have two components – leftover food scraps for composting, and food containers. The first thing you need to do is set a behavior for composting your scraps. Get a compost bin and make it easily accessible from your kitchen. Dispose of all compostable food there.
Composting enriches the soil, and helps reduce waste that ends up in the landfill. You’ll have super-plants at home while helping to minimize greenhouse gasses! Your takeout containers are the second part. Check if they can be recycled – your municipality will have an app for that. If they can be recycled, wash the containers and add them to your recycling. Dispose of the rest in the trash.
Takeaway: Spend time coming up with the right routine for your new green food delivery habit.
#2: Switch to Reusable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic, demand for disposable PPE has skyrocketed. This means a lot of non-recyclable PPE pollution is entering our environment. These masks and gloves can put a strain on the environment in your city. Unless you are a front line health worker or otherwise at high risk, have you considered switching to reusable PPE instead?
Your second eco-friendly habit is about switching to CDC and WHO recommended reusable masks and gloves for a greener way of protecting yourself and your family against COVID-19.
Reusable PPE Habit:
Step 1: How do you currently use personal protective equipment?
Step 2: What reward motivates a change in behavior for you?
Step 3: What cue triggers the decisions you’re currently making?
The Right Routine
Switch from disposable masks and gloves to reusable ones, and replace the habits that accompany them. Get a few breathable cloth masks that can be washed each time you wear them. Just put them in a pillow case on a normal wash to keep them clean.
Replace your disposable nitrile or latex gloves with hardy rubber gloves. Wash these with soap and water after use, or disinfect them as you use them at home. These gloves can be used dozens of times and are just as safe as disposable gloves. Always wash your bare hands after use!
Takeaway: Incorporate these reusable items into your new eco-aware PPE habits.
*Medical Disclaimer: Please note that this advice is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
#3: Keep and Reuse Single-Use Plastic
Single-use plastic has made a strong comeback since disposable packaging was deemed safer by the authorities amidst coronavirus concern. Many States have rolled back the bans stemming the tide of plastic that has been threatening the environment. What are you doing with these plastic bags?
Your third green habit involves stockpiling your single-use plastic bags and reusing them as many times as you can, followed by correct disposal. Many retailers offer plastic bag recycling programs.
Single-Use Plastic Habit:
Step 1: What is your current shopping bag routine?
Step 2: What reward would support a change in shopping behavior?
Step 3: What cue triggers your current behavior?
The Right Routine
Single-use plastic bags should be stored in a sealed container in your home for a few days (96 hours). Once this time has passed, they are safe to use again for other purposes. If your favorite local grocery store has banned you from bringing in bags, simply stockpile them.
The time will come again when you’ll be able to take bags to the store for reuse. Once you’ve reused these plastic bags a few times, dispose of them correctly in your trash can. Do not try to recycle them – plastic bags are non-recyclable. If you can use reusable bags in your State, do so. Material bags are the safest because they can be washed for reuse.
Takeaway: Establish a new routine for taking care of excess single-use plastic during this time.
#4: Buy Eco-Friendly Household Cleaners
Scary as coronavirus is, experts say it’s destroyed by most good disinfectants. You may be using harsh chemicals in plastic bottles that aren’t safe for your family or the environment, when there are some amazing green cleaners out there that will keep you safe on all fronts. What cleaners do you use?
The fourth eco-habit to adopt involves investing in a potent eco-friendly disinfectant cleaner that won’t leach harmful chemicals into the environment.
Eco Household Cleaner Habit:
Step 1: What is your current household cleaner routine?
Step 2: What reward in this scenario will change your behavior?
Step 3: What cue triggers the use of chemical cleaners?
The Right Routine
Find an eco-friendly cleaner that doesn’t contain harmful substances, and still suits your budget. Check the official EPA list for brand names that kill COVID-19. The best solution is to buy a reusable glass container that you can refill – they’re available at many household supplies stores for a few dollars.
It makes the organic cleaner more affordable, and cuts down on plastic use. Plan ahead to make sure you have these available in your home. That might mean ordering online, or buying a few at a time.
Experts say that the key to correct home hygiene protocol is scrubbing surfaces, and leaving them wet for a while. First you wash, then disinfect them.
Takeaway: Create a new cleaning routine that suits you with eco-friendly products.
#5: Use Reusable Cloths
Disinfectant, alcohol-fused wipes are the new normal when cleaning at home these days. The problem is that these wipes have disastrous consequences for the Earth. They clog waterways, kill wildlife, and the chemicals they’re infused with aren’t safe for children or pets. How do you use disinfectant wipes at home?
Your fifth eco-friendly habit is about dropping your dependency on disinfectant wipes, and choosing to use a good old reusable cloth instead.
Reusable Cloth Habit:
Step 1: What is your current disposable wipes routine?
Step 2: What reward is going to change this behavior?
Step 3: What cue triggers the purchase of disposable wipes?
The Right Routine
Stop buying and using disinfectant wipes, paper towels and wet wipes. Instead, switch to material cloths for your daily cleaning needs. Avoid microfiber cloths that will release micro plastics into the environment that never decompose. A 100% cotton cloth is washable and endlessly reusable.
Keep several cloths on hand, and assign each cloth a room in your house. Wash them regularly, at least once a week or right after a deep clean. For an added bonus, get the cloths that are compostable at home and add them to your food waste bin on disposal.
Takeaway: Decide to kick the wet wipes habit and replace it with a reusable cloth routine this year.
#6: Clean and Recycle Food and Beverage Cartons
Food and beverage cartons continue to be popular grocery items since lots of staple foods and beverages are packaged in cartons (like milk, juice, cream, soup, coconut water) and they have a long shelf-life.
Social distancing guidelines during COVID-19 have encouraged more people to buy groceries and cook at home more often, which means increased waste created in the home. How are you managing your household’s cartons and other recyclable packaging?
Your sixth environment-first habit is to implement a recycling process for your soup, juice, wine, broth, milk cartons and more, so that they can be recycled and used to make other products.
Carton Recycling Habit:
Step 1: What is your current food and beverage carton disposal routine?
Step 2: What reward in this instance will change your behavior to recycle?
Step 3: What cue triggers the existing behavior?
The Right Routine
Whether getting your groceries delivered or picking them up from the store, experts say that coronavirus is unlikely to be on packaging or delivered items.
To be extra cautious, you can use a disinfectant to wipe your cartons and other packaging down shortly after receiving them. Once your cartons have been used, it’s important that you correctly recycle them as normal.
This means making sure each carton is empty and has no food or liquid inside it. Don’t flatten your carton or throw away the cap! Make sure the cap is tightly screwed on before adding it to the same recycling bin as your plastic, cans and bottles.
All cartons are primarily made from paperboard and are recyclable. This is true even if they have thin layers of aluminum and/or plastic coating the paperboard (you’ll notice the shine). Once recycled, your cartons can be used to make new paper items like toilet paper, tissues and paper towels in high demand during the pandemic. Most municipalities accept carton materials, Find out by adding your zip code in here.
Takeaway: Come up with a quick and easy clean carton recycling routine during coronavirus.
#7: Shop Local and Then Recycle
Buying in bulk and buying local tends to be better for the environment. Buying in bulk often results in less packaging than buying large quantities of individually packaged items. Amongst many other benefits, buying local often means fresh food has less far to travel to arrive at its final destination. This creates a smaller carbon footprint. How are you choosing to shop during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Your final eco-conscious habit is to support smaller local stores, to buy products in bulk (within reason) and to make sure you correctly recycle all recyclable items.
Buy Local Then Recycle Habit:
Step 1: What is your current shopping routine?
Step 2: What reward would spark a change in behavior?
Step 3: What cue triggers your existing shopping and recycling habits?
The Right Routine
Find a local market or store where you can do the majority of your shopping. If they do home deliveries, consider opting for this service during COVID-19. Order in reasonable bulk to limit packaging and reduce travel times. Buy with product recycling in mind.
Choose fresh, unpackaged produce, or products with easily recyclable cartons. Avoid plastic packaging that can’t be recycled or reused. With the right purchasing habits, you will be able to recycle the majority of your cartons and packaging. Then create a regular recycling routine.
Takeaway: Transition to eco-aware local shopping and recycle the product cartons that you buy.
Whether you’re working from home, taking a break, or going to work and then coming home to a family practicing social distancing – adopting new, green habits is a step in the right direction. It’s good for your mental-health, your emotional wellbeing and the health of our planet.
It’s important to use this time to reflect on ways that you and your family can support and uplift your community. As these stay-at-home orders continue to lift, we urge you to continue the positive environmental habits that you’ve adopted while sheltering in place.
In particular – continue to recycle your cartons. Manufacturers need the fiber to make products that are in high demand right now – like paper towels, tissues and toilet paper.
We’ll be living with COVID-19 for some time, but with these new eco-friendly habits – you’ll help negate the environmental impact of the virus on the Earth. Start these at home with your family, and look back on this time as the moment you decided to stand for better recycling, sustainability and green practices.