How has life in lockdown affected our efforts to live a less wasteful, greener life?
by Kate Sibcy
EARLY on, I recall someone saying that climate change needed to hire coronavirus’s publicist. There was so much information, so quickly.
We’d barely digested the images of hospitals being thrown together in Wuhan when consumables started disappearing and everyone tried to protect themselves and their loved ones from coronavirus by buying stuff before anyone else did. It was as if consumerism, buying hand sanitiser and loo roll, was a necessary response to protect ourselves and I worried that ‘being green’ might have to take a back seat until it was all over.
It started with ‘to panic buy or not’? Remember that? Five weeks ago ‘panic buying’ must have been the most frequently uttered phrase of early 2020. Never had so much shame been attached to wanting a bit more loo roll than normal. It was interesting that, as a global pandemic made its way towards us, we all reached for loo roll as if we could bear anything but running out.
Yet anyone who has endured either an extended trip in a developing country, a slightly messy childbirth or even a short stint on a French campsite will know: loo roll is not the only way. Indeed, it has become something of a tradition in our family (for the children!) to perform a quick ‘Paula Radcliffe’. Should nature come calling on one of our long walks, a splash of water and a quick shake and we’re ready to rock and roll again. No loo roll needed.
I started thinking about what, should the ‘worst’ happen (and I mean running out of loo roll – even with a four-sheet rule in place!), would we do? I’d just pop a plastic jug beside each loo, make sure there was a stack of fresh towels, or even cut up old ones, and a wash-bin to pop them in afterwards. Seriously, I know that might sound unconventional, but I really wasn’t stressed about the loo roll. Washing after a movement is what half the world does and it is arguably a lot more hygienic than pressing it in with paper.
This crisis must have made us all a bit more resourceful. I‘ve said before that convenience is the enemy of living green and this becomes really obvious when, after the panic, you settle on a strategy. Ours was that one of us would leave the house no more than once a fortnight to get essential supplies.
We started two weeks before the official lockdown because we have two ‘vulnerables’ in the household. So we are now in week seven of our ‘self-imposed lockdown’ and I’ve been shopping just three times. I have, for the first time, had to really plan what we are eating and ‘convenience foods’ do not fit into that at all. I’ve noticed that many refrigerated and packaged foods (even the ones in recyclable tins or twee little baskets) have a short shelf-life and take up a lot of room in a freezer if you’re cooking for five for a fortnight.
So here’s my ‘greenish’ shopping list for a pandemic:
Giant pots of yoghurt, which last for ages and can be used in savoury foods or sweetened with jam for breakfasts and desserts. And there are plenty of re-uses for the larger containers.
The biggest cruciferous vegetables I can find, red cabbage being the most useful. It lasts for weeks, makes a robust salad (mixed with red onion, olive oil, any wine vinegar and fresh mint) that keeps for days and is amazing for your blood – or something.
Some boxed, frozen fish and bags of frozen vegetables and berries.
Flour – whatever I can get my hands on. I discovered it is actually really easy to make a decent loaf of bread and we’re fortunate to have had fresh bread every day. But it wasn’t me who bought out the supermarket. I bought a catering bag wholesale, if you must know.
Fresh fruit and veg for the first week, then tinned fruits for the second when the kiddies still want a pudding and the fresh fruit is finished. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but we get to reminisce about school dinners and avoid scurvy. Also, Emma Richardson-Calladine, the government’s recycling manager, said that if you only keep one thing to recycle, let it be tins. So we’ll be adding a fair stack to the pile when this is over.
Pulses, tinned and dry; oats; curry pastes; cold-pressed oils; eggs; 800g blocks of cheese; tinned tomatoes; dark chocolate and so much peanut butter. All come in recyclable or zero-waste compostable packaging if you look for it – and you can store the recycling indefinitely. At the moment, my car is housing all of our empty tins, cardboard and paper because, let’s face it, I’m not using it and the first thing I’ll do after lockdown is clear out. My car looks like a shed anyway.
For milk, I’ve bought a litre per day until the dates run out then we just have a few milk-free days. We have cheese if they need a calcium hit and it’s not forever. Tins of coconut milk or non-dairy milk packs are great for smoothies and cereals too.
Other than the frozen food and tins, much of this has been available at Scoop which is doing a packing and collection service for members and non-members, making it easier to continue with less waste. Woodside Farm also does some package-free vegetable deliveries alongside other foods.
We don’t eat meat but usually I buy fresh, unpackaged fish. Because we really want to limit contact with others, this has been the main compromise for me and I’ve bought plastic packs of smoked fish, which lasts longer than fresh.
What I’ve noticed we’ve had a lot less of is crisps, biscuits and other convenient junk foods because it just wasn’t a priority to buy and we haven’t missed it. We’ve been able to bake biscuits which are a home-learning jackpot of reading, maths and science – and then you get to eat it.
We have run out of some things and had to make do: they liked bread and butter pudding but they did not like nettles for dinner (tastes a bit like spinach). Nor did I, to be truthful, but I got right into the wartime spirit of it all. I might have gone a bit far there. But the garden already has a bounty of other things that can enhance a meal. I’ve learned to identify some wild edible herbs and even the humble mint spring I planted from a wilting supermarket pot a few years ago comes back strong and fresh at this time of year. We have reused all of our milk cartons as seed pots. Even the new ‘plant-based’ ones are holding up well, so far.
I’m relieved to say that I have, mostly, been able to continue to shop in a way that does not waste much. The limitations of lockdown have not stopped us from caring about the planet or being conscious of our impact. Many will have found a deeper connection with nature on their lockdown walks because maybe, for the first time in a long time, they have had time to slow down and see nature unfurl. I just hope they don’t inadvertently catch sight of one of my lot doing a waste-free wee!
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