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Sustainability during the COVID-19 pandemic looks different than one might think

A roll of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. Eco-friendly toilet paper is one sustainable swap that people can make during the pandemic. // Photo by Winnie Killingsworth

By Winnie Killingsworth

Take a deep breath in and slowly let it out.

Feeling more relaxed? Good. 

A little less stress is something we could all use at a time like this because trying to balance self-care and your environmental duty while the pandemic continues can feel daunting. 

Morgan Cook, author of the sustainability blog "Mostly Eco Morgan”, focuses on creating an eco-friendly lifestyle. She highlights how to make swaps that balance sustainability and self-care while keeping the environment in mind.

“You’ve got to be kind to yourself,” Cook said.

Sislena Ledbetter, who has a doctorate in social psychology and is Western Washington University’s executive director for Counseling, Health and Wellness, agreed.

“This is a time for us to be a lot more forgiving of each other and absolutely a time to be forgiving of ourselves,” Ledbetter said.

One way we can prioritize our health and practice self-forgiveness is by ordering to-go meals from local restaurants. Not having to try to figure out what’s for dinner and getting out of the house for a bit to pick it up seem like small things, but can be a way to relax at the end of the day. 

To-go orders can be sustainable, too. 

You can limit the amount of single-use plastics by asking to not get silverware or other single-use plastic items with orders and using your own utensils instead. You can also find restaurants that use recyclable or compostable packaging. 

Avoiding single-use plastics isn’t only a more sustainable choice for the planet — it’s better for us, too. 

Single-use plastics contribute 60-95% of marine plastic pollution according to a study from ScienceDirect. 

Not to mention, a study commissioned by the environmental charity World Wide Fund for Nature found humans eat about 5 grams, the equivalent of a credit card worth of plastic, every week.  

It can feel like nothing about the pandemic is positive, but that’s not true.

For the first time in decades, emissions dropped during spring 2020 while the world was in lockdown, according to a study in the academic journal “Nature Portfolio”. 

This came in part “because we have been quieter as a species,” said Terri Kempton, Fairhaven and Huxley College of the Environment instructor.

One of the ways we have been quieter is by working from home. It has given people extra time that can be used to learn about sustainability.

Find a course, Instagram account, blog or whatever piques your interest about how sustainability relates to something you love. Cook recently published a blog post with details about seven free online climate change and sustainability courses. 

Learning about sustainability can also reveal swaps for everyday items that you might be interested to try. 

Some simple swaps Cook recommended are compostable toothbrushes or toilet paper made of something other than fresh-cut timber. 

You can find toilet paper made of bamboo and recycled paper. Who Gives a Crap is one company that offers both. 

It can be a challenge to make some of these changes, so give yourself room to explore and see what you like because perfection isn’t the goal. 

Self-care is still a priority, even when exploring sustainability. 

“There are so many eco-friendly ways to just nourish our minds, nourish our bodies, [and] challenge ourselves to be light on the environment,” Ledbetter said.

Getting outside in some way for fresh air and listening to music are two that are achievable for most people.

Don’t just say you’ll get outside. Plan it as a part of your day and remember, it doesn’t have to be long. Take time to appreciate the world we are trying to save by making sustainable swaps. 

Don’t be afraid to blast your favorite tunes either, whether you’re alone or in a group.

Ledbetter said she starts online meetings with music as a way to brighten people’s day. Her most recent fan favorite: “Papa was a Rolling Stone” by The Temptations.

Increasing water intake while decreasing water use is another way Ledbetter sees the marriage of self-care and sustainability. 

She suggested playing the game of “what is the least amount of water I can use and walk out the shower and not be funky” as a way people can lower the amount of water they use and have a little fun while doing it. 

Self-care shouldn’t be something we sacrifice when making sustainable swaps, and taking care of ourselves is always important especially in these unprecedented times. 

Whether you are making major changes to be more sustainable or have made changes to protect yourself and give you some peace of mind during the pandemic, it’s OK.

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