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Sustainability And Coronavirus: The Swaps We Can All Make

Alice Manning discusses the opportunities for living more sustainably in the coronavirus era

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Image Credit: Cairomoon

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had both positive and negative effects on sustainability so far. For instance, whilst traffic will continue to pick up in a post-virus world where public transport is best avoided, working at home and virtual networking is also likely to continue to some extent, reducing our reliance on polluting transport systems. As we ease ourselves into the new normal, we have the opportunity to use this time to change our habits for the better.

If lockdown has proven anything, it’s that we are able to adapt, and to do that at very short notice. And post-lockdown life is already showing how we can go about our usual activities, with adjustments to keep each other safe. Similarly, this approach can be used to live more sustainably – let’s really believe that we can do better. Just as the coronavirus necessitates drastic action to mitigate a public health threat, climate change and ecological collapse warrants a similar approach. But we should take our inspiration from the sacrifices we’ve all made during the lockdown, and use this to inspire ourselves to do the right thing and live more sustainably.

It helps that sustainable solutions give back to those who practise them. Take face masks, for instance – if you’re going to need them regularly in daily life, it’s much more convenient to have one you don’t have to throw away at the end of the day. Recent ocean trawls in France have shown that the fears of non-profit Opération Mer Propre (literally: “operation clean sea”) are already coming to pass, with disposable face masks going straight into the ocean and contributing to the pre-existing problem of plastic pollution in the oceans. Stories such as these are just one of the collateral effects resulting from the virus and measures to prevent its spread. If we are going to solve one massive societal problem, let it not be at the cost of one that could one day have much deadlier consequences. Reusable face masks are cheap, comfortable, come in fun colours and patterns, and (when sourced appropriately) assist the recovery of small businesses. I recently saw a social media commentator implore their followers to view them as socks – wear for one day, and have one for each day of the week. The one-off cost of buying reusable face masks isn’t important to the benefits it will bring; these are ethical swaps we can all make.

We are realising also, because of the pandemic, how everything is interconnected. For example, it would make sense if the government, aiming to curb obesity rates to reduce the risk to the population from the virus, were to encourage people to grow their own fruit and vegetables. During World War II, people were encouraged to utilise the resources they had and not to rely on outside sources of food. Trying to tackle obesity merely through the arbitrary introduction of watershed for fast food adverts, and the increasing of sugar tax, only addresses the most obvious of the issues involved. Making unhealthy food more expensive does not make healthier choices more affordable or accessible.

Awareness does lead to change. There have already been examples of self-sustainable practise during lockdown. Sales of seeds of all kinds have skyrocketed, whilst those at home without a garden made the most of their free time by growing fresh fruits and vegetables on the windowsill. Fruit and veg boxes have been on the uptake during a time when people either didn’t want or couldn’t get to supermarkets; when they did and could, various items invariably went out of stock at different points. Every person who does this supports local businesses and reduces their overall carbon footprint through fewer food miles and plastic consumption. These trade-offs only provide benefits all round – environmentally, economically, and for human health. Only an approach that considers all sides of the sustainability problem will tackle it well.

Inevitably, not everyone has the access or the means to adapt all parts of their life to be more sustainable. Working with what we have and taking small steps are both very important. Below is a list of resources, both local and national, that you could consider when making sustainable swaps in this new era.

  • Millies – Grocer’s that sells plenty of local produce, as well as offering a selection of veg boxes available for delivery.
  • York Masks – This company offers a variety of patterns and sizes for their reusable masks, available now – the local must-buy item for returning students and freshers.
  • The Giftery & The Shop of Small Changes – Located on Burton Stone Lane, this 2-in-1 store sells gifts alongside plastic-free everyday items (such as toothbrushes) and refills of shampoo, detergent, and other non-food items – all with a zero-waste policy.
  • Recycle York – In this store located just off Walmgate, you can sell and buy quality second-hand bikes at reasonable prices.
  • Olio (national) – This app, free to download, gives users the opportunity to distribute and pick up unwanted (but perfectly fine) food for free! The University’s food outlets regularly advertise meals through this channel, so it’s a useful way of saving money during term time.
  • Lost Stock (national) – When all the clothes we’re going to be buying for the foreseeable future need to be tried on at home, why not take the element of chance to the extreme by buying a crate full of mystery goodies? A kind of grown-up sartorial equivalent to the party bag (kid’s options are available too), Lost Stock sources highly wearable high street rejects to customers, with 37% of the proceeds going to the SAJIDA Foundation, an NGO offering social programmes and promoting public health in Bangladesh.
  • Deaf Action (national) have launched a campaign to fund the creation of face masks with transparent panels to assist those who lipread. You can donate to and share the campaign here.

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