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Can You Still Be a Good Steward of the Earth During a Crisis?

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Signs discouraging the use of reusables are becoming a common sight around the world right now. If you are permitted to use your reusables, please be mindful to clean them between each use with soap and water. Currently, there is no research into the lifespan of COVID-19 on fabrics. However, the virus can survive on stainless steel and plastic for up to 72 hours or more depending on environmental factors.*

No reusable bags sign

The world has changed, that is an understatement. It seems as if almost overnight the way we work, shop, eat, learn, the way we do everything, has changed. It is easy to have an apocalyptic view on our situation right now, at times of high stress and uncertainty it is human nature to go into survival mode. After all, many of us are worried about our future, whether it be our health, our income, the unknown or all of the above.  So many issues that seemed important just a month ago have taken a back seat to the daily bombardment and reality of fighting COVID-19. Sorting our recycling seems trivial at the moment, and thanks to social distancing, there isn’t even anywhere to drop off your recycling if you DID sort it. To top it off, many, if not, most businesses are not allowing you to bring your own cup, reusable bags, or containers for bulk items.  

So many strides have been made in recent years regarding environmental stewardship. Municipalities in the United States and around the world, have passed laws banning the use of disposable plastic bags, single-use utensils, and straws, etc… For instance, here in Oregon:

  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill (HB 2509) banning “single-use checkout bags” effective Jan. 2020. This does not include bags for produce, meat, fish, dry cleaning and other categories.

  • Retail establishments will be required to charge at least five cents for paper bags (with 40% post-consumer recycled content or more), reusable plastic bags (4 mils thick) and reusable fabric bags. Restaurants may still provide paper bags at no cost.

  • Brown also signed a bill (SB 90) banning the distribution of single-use plastic straws except upon request, effective immediately. The law includes exemptions for certain healthcare facilities, drive-thru establishments, and some convenience store settings.

We can do small things every day to keep the momentum of the great progress we have made to reduce waste and pollution. So, how DO we continue to be good stewards of the earth while adhering to new regulations provided to keep COVID-19 from spreading?

Here are some tips:

  • You may find you have some extra time on your hands and think this would be a great time to clean out your garage, shed, attic, closets, and get rid of those pants that no longer fit. Great! The problem is thrift stores are not open for donations, and it may not be a great idea to have “Craigslist Strangers” come to your house to look at that karaoke station you used only once at the New Year’s Eve party. So what do you do?

 Here in Lane County, there has been a huge influx of transfer station visits. On a recent Saturday, Glenwood Transfer Station served over 1,000 visitors in one day! This puts you and the essential workers at risk of exposure. If these are non-perishable items, sort your items into piles such as, “sell”, “giveaway”, and “trash”. Keep your items in labeled trash bags or boxes and store them neatly until you can donate, sell or go to the Transfer Station. Not sure what to do with an item? Ask the Garbage Guru.

If you are outside of Lane County, contact your local waste hauler and ask them what is recyclable and how.  If you do not have garbage service, contact your local waste authority to inquire about restrictions at your local waste processing location (landfill, incinerator, recycling yard etc).  You may still find information on the Lane County Garbage Guru website beneficial even if you are not a resident of the county.

  • Ordering take-out from your favorite restaurant is a great way to support small businesses, but it also creates more waste. Just say “no thank you” to single-use utensils, we are going home to eat anyway so don’t need them.  If you are like me, and you want to have a “picnic” in your car, you can buy a set of camping utensils and keep them in your car, or just grab a few forks and spoons and keep them in your glove box. 

Got a hankering for a cup of coffee at a drive-thru? You may not be able to use your own cup, but you can say no thank you to the lid. IF you do take a lid, make sure to look in the crease on the inside of the lid. If it is not a #2, 4, or 5 throw it away. Remember, disposable coffee cups are just that, disposable, they cannot be recycled or composted, with the exception of most cup sleeves. 

  • Have you been saving your # 2, 4, and 5 plastics for the next EcoGeneration or other community Recycling Take-Backs? While you may have to wait a while for a take-back, this may be a good time to clean and sort those recyclables! Check out this video for tips on how to remove labels.

EcoGeneration offers an expanded ability to recycle materials that would otherwise be trashed.  Please ensure that you have reviewed the website for prep instructions and a complete list of recyclable materials.

Many stores are asking you not to bring your own bag and not allowing you to bring your own containers for bulk items. You can still reduce your waste when you shop.

  • Don’t use a bag! 

  • Put items back in your cart and bag them at your car.

  • If you need a bag, recycle your paper bag in your curbside recycling.

  • Fill your produce bag to the top when buying bulk items and save the produce bag for things like that cut up apple, a block of cheese you unwrapped, or to pick up your dog’s poop.

  • Look for items in glass jars, glass is still recyclable at curbside and transfer station recycling (in Lane County).

  • Do you need it? We’ve seen a lot of food hoarding lately, although there is no evidence that our food supply chain is in danger. Buy just enough food to last until your next trip to the grocery store, especially when it comes to perishable items.

  • Do you like to can or preserve? If not this may be a good time to learn a new hobby! You can also chop up vegetables and freeze them for later. Check out Oregon State University (OSU) Extension for publications on food preservation:

  • Make it yourself! Instead of buying that premade pesto, buy the ingredients, make a huge batch and freeze it.

  • Consider your food waste.  Did you know that food waste in Lane County accounts for a significant amount of residential waste? Eugene tosses 40 million pounds of food into the local landfill each year!  Food waste is actually the largest category of residential waste according to our last waste audit in the county.  When food and organic materials break down in the landfill, it emits methane. As many of you may know, this greenhouse gas is more potent to the environment than the carbon gases released from fossil fuels. There are many ways to prevent food waste, and we will discuss those in a later post.  Until then, the question really is- What to do with food that needs to be disposed of? The obvious answer is to compost it. If you are unfamiliar with this process, we recommend reviewing the following OSU Website for more information and guides to assist you in the process. From selecting the type of composting system all the way through the composting process, OSU Extension will be a plethora of information for anyone.

Some cities make it easy to compost. The city of Eugene started curbside composting on October 1, 2019, so if you do have waste, put it in your yard debris container. Check here for more specifics on what is and isn’t allowed in curbside composting

We all want to stay healthy while keeping our planet healthy at the same time, and although it may be more challenging right now, when the “Pandemic” is over, the planet will still be here.  We can use this opportunity to continue to identify methods each person can take, to reduce their waste imprint on the planet. Let’s take care of one another while also taking care of our planet. 

*Image caption Continued: The flu virus can survive on fabrics and wood for up to 4 hours, and it is thought that virus cannot live on these surfaces for a significant amount of time, due to the nature of the material’s natural ability to wick moisture away from the virus.- David Gardiepy’s synthesis of the World Health Organization and The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s published information on CONVID-19 and a virus’ ability to live on wood/fabric.

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