October 25, 2020

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How to craft your eco-friendly pandemic plan

Audit your disposables, eat smart and opt for washable masks

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times</p><p>When dining out, take your own resusable container for leftovers.</p>

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

When dining out, take your own resusable container for leftovers.

Maybe you’re appalled by the tidal wave of takeout containers from your favourite restaurants or the sea of disposable masks littering the streets. Perhaps you’ve noticed sustainable achievements starting to slide. Or maybe you’ve just got more time on your hands and you’ve always wanted to make your lifestyle more sustainable — so you figure you may as well start now.

Whatever your motivation, here are a few tips community activists, zero-waste experts and eco-friendly shop owners recommend specifically for the pandemic.

Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune</p><p>Washable cloth masks are more sustainable than disposable ones. </p>

Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune

Washable cloth masks are more sustainable than disposable ones.


Still using disposable masks or N95s? Hoiyin Ip, an environmental activist, suggests you transition to a cloth mask you can wash along with the rest of your laundry. They are reusable, sustainable and generally more comfortable too.


To know what to save, you must know what you waste, right? Leslie Campbell, founder and CEO of zero-waste store Sustain LA, recommends looking through your trash and recycling bins to see what you throw away. If you’re trying to improve your business’s practice, hire someone to do an audit of your disposables.


You may be tired of your own cooking, but eating at home is an easy way to avoid waste. Try sprucing up your repertoire of dishes with The Times’ recipe database. If you take food from home out with you, pack it in a washable container.

Buying from local eateries is generally good for the environment, because it supports local food producers and keeps carbon-emitting travel to a minimum. But what is an eco-conscious person to do with all the takeout containers, throwaway utensils and paper products these days?

If you choose to dine in at a restaurant, Glendale environmental advocate Monica Campagna recommends taking your own reusable container to pack up leftovers. Campbell encourages paying attention to the restaurant’s sustainability practices too. Sometimes she checks the restaurant’s social media before going out to eat to see what kind of containers they use and how much waste she can detect.

When ordering takeout, Ip suggests asking the restaurant to keep its plastic cutlery and paper napkins.

"Before you walk away with your to-go bag, check, look into your bag (to see) if you have this stuff, and give it back to the restaurant," Ip said.


Gone are the days of bringing your own jar to fill with rice at Bulk Barn. Bulk supermarkets and refill shops are following different procedures now. But Campagna is creatively adapting by purchasing large quantities of her essentials — like rice, pasta and cereal — and refilling a reusable container at home. While she doesn’t get rid of disposables altogether, buying in bulk avoids lots of small plastic bags, and the bigger bags can be reused.

That mindset can translate to household items too. Refill shops sell essentials such as dish detergent, body lotion and household cleaners in reusable containers you can bring back again and again. Now, many shops have their employees sanitize every container and refill it themselves. Transitioning your household items from disposable to reusable "doesn’t require a purchasing overhaul," Sustain LA owner Campbell said. Use what you have and the "small steps add up quickly."

Since the pandemic began, Glendale environmental activist Campagna has been noticing all the plastic in her home. It’s in her dish brush, her toothpaste tube, even her deodorant stick. So once the item is used up, she replaces it with a sustainable option, like a wooden brush or deodorant in a jar.

"It’s been cool to try out these new products," Campagna wrote in an email. "Next I plan to try out the shampoo and conditioner bars."


Since most of the world has gone virtual, we are all using our electronics — and their power sources — more frequently, which means they are getting used up more rapidly. Once your electronic device has worn out, recycle it. Many major electronics retailers, cellphone providers and municipalities will take old cellphones, laptops and tablets, said Carl Smith, president and CEO of Call2Recycle. He also advises collecting old batteries in a bag and recycling them at a drop-off location near you.

"Don’t think about something as being waste as much as it has graduated from your use and somebody else can use either it or parts from it," Smith said.


These kinds of lifestyle changes aren’t as simple as flipping a switch. It takes time to change habits. You’ll soon develop a sense for sustainability, and the pandemic is the perfect time to cultivate it, Campbell said.

"You get superhero vision of things," she said. "Things that you didn’t previously notice that were just completely habitual and we were told we need, you start to question and you start to change. It can take a while."

— Los Angeles Times


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