I am probably not alone in having found myself re-prioritizing my values during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. With the sudden “lockdown” and panic for supplies, my zero waste and environmental convictions seemed to fly out the window. I became more concerned about getting whatever toilet paper and groceries I could get my hands on, and less concerned with whether or not that toilet paper had recycled content, or was made from FSC-certified wood. The health of the environment took a back seat for many of us as we hustled to be sure our families had the necessities for our lifestyles.
But, as the crisis has matured, our realities have changed. This crisis has shown us that we are in fact interconnected globally and that we must live in balance with other living species to protect the health of all. And the display of human cooperation in performing individual behavior change for the public good shows us, encouragingly, that we are capable as a species to act together when needed to affect change.
In her very-wonderful blog post, “COVID-19 and the Power of Community,” Lindsay Anderson, Director of Programs and Operations, discusses the many lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and concludes that there is hope that we can use the lessons we’re learning—those lessons being (among others): a new understanding about our interconnectedness; the power of individual and collective action; and learning what is truly meaningful in our lives — to fight the global climate crisis and create sustainable lives. She quotes Margaret Wheatley, a renowned writer and management consultant, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
As we discover what we care about, it is important that we act on our new understandings. It is time for us to move from feeling hopeful that we can improve the way we live on Earth, to taking steps to institutionalize new ways of being and build systems that respect the interconnectedness of all beings. Let’s not allow ourselves to go back to “the way things were,” but rather build a more sustainable, meaningful future for all of us. We need to act individually and collectively. We need to change our personal behavior and also influence the behavior of corporations and our governments.
If, like me, your commitment to practicing the many R’s of zero waste and sustainability (think refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle for starters) took a back seat during the early days of this pandemic, it is time to bring those commitments front and center. Find a way to make your zero waste and environmental values add meaning to your lives during this disrupted time. Our individual actions will build to collective action and affect change.
Living the R’s. There are dozens of “R words” that can guide you in living more sustainably. Choose some that speak to you and get inspired to action.
Here are some of the R words that the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance has chosen to focus on in 2020:
If you can get outside, these long days are a great time to get out in nature and rediscover your connection. In our mountain communities, there are many opportunities for benefiting from the healing, restorative qualities of being in nature. Go ahead, hug a tree! Practice forest bathing. Observe the new growth emerging with spring. This experience of connection helps us appreciate our human place as one of many in a living network. Consider our role in preserving the environment, and nature’s place in protecting us.
Use that connection to guide you in your choices. Take the time to look into where your consumables come from. Are critical habitats being destroyed to create land for your favorite coffee or the wood for your furnishings? Purchase products grown in protected forests and made from FSC-certified wood. Avoid palm oils and other products derived from tropical habitats that threaten biodiversity.
Consider joining and supporting conservation organizations who work to protect natural spaces. Some local organizations to look at: Conservation Colorado, Environment Colorado; Mountain Area Land Trust; and many more both local and national organizations that need our support to continue protecting natural spaces and wild lands.
Let our elected representatives know that land preservation and biodiversity are important priorities for our futures. Explore the bills under consideration by our Colorado General Assembly. Voice your support for those that are important to you. Just now, in a search under Natural Resources & Environment, I found 145 bills to explore, 32 of which are being considered in the 2020 Session. Right away, I found SB20-201: Species Conservation Trust Fund Projects. This bill concerns appropriations for species conservation trust fund projects. I’ll research this bill and, though the Colorado legislature is temporarily adjourned due to COVID, I will e-mail this bill’s sponsor to express my support or concerns about this bill.
Refuse, Reduce & Reuse
These are the R’s with which we are all most familiar. The constraints in supplies of many products during this time are teaching us to reduce and reuse. Rather than shopping for new clothes, we can repair those that we have, or even refashion them. Darn your socks. Patch your jeans. The more we reduce and reuse, the less impact we are inflicting on natural resources, and ultimately, on our health and that of other living beings.
Refuse to purchase items that are not biodegradable or recyclable. If the grocery items you want are wrapped in plastic packaging, find another way to purchase what you need, or change your recipe/menu.
Recycling remains an essential service and should not be forgotten during this time. Recycle any recyclable materials you end up with that can’t be reused. Recycling markets are weak and will likely continue to be as supplies of recyclables outpace demand. Purchase products from businesses that use recycled materials in their products.
At the legislative level, several bills were introduced in the 2020 session which address our needs for reducing waste and developing markets for recyclables. Many of the bills will be sidelined due to budget constraints associated with reduced tax revenues caused by COVID-19 closures. SB20-055 Incentivize the Development of Recycling End Markets, concerning the creation of a recycling end market development center to attract new businesses to the state, is still alive. Contact our Senate District 16 Senator Tammy Story to let her know you support this bill which will create more markets for our local recyclables while also creating jobs. Encourage our representatives to continue working toward passage of the sidelined bills that support elimination of single-use plastics and encouragement of composting and organic waste management.
Can you find a better, more ecological way to accomplish your goals? This can be as simple as always bringing your own coffee thermos or water bottle with you so you are not consuming take-out coffee cups, lids and stirrers or single-use plastic bottles. A simple habit change can save the environment and our health from the impacts of non-biodegradable materials in our environment, and especially during the pandemic, can protect your health.
Rethink what companies you buy from. How are their supply chains impacting our health and environment? Purchase from companies that have a responsible supply chain and whose products will biodegrade. Check your investment portfolio. Who are you invested in? What’s their carbon footprint? Are they doing anything to help the environment?
Rethink what elected officials stand for. Support candidates who understand there is more to building a successful society than increasing the GDP.
Rot & Regenerate
Make your lifestyle more circular and less linear. Break the take-make-waste cycle in which natural materials are extracted from the Earth to manufacture products, which are ultimately thrown into landfills where they do not decompose properly. Look for ways to imitate nature’s system of regeneration: trees die and decompose, feeding the seeds of new trees via millions of other living organisms in the soil.
Gardening is a great way to connect and to practice regeneration. Join one of EAS+Y’s community gardens or start a home garden. Evergreen Sustainability Alliance board member and expert gardener, Dave Lystrom is making biochar as a regenerative project.
Composting food and yard waste is a significant way to put natural resources back into the ecosystem. Start a backyard compost or join the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance’s Community Compost program in which residents and local restaurants drop-off food waste to be commercially composted by A-1 Organics.
Support HB-1047: Develop A Statewide Organics Management Plan concerning the development of a statewide organics management plan to promote compost use on Colorado soils to advance carbon reduction through carbon storage, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation. Explore this bill and let Rep. Lisa Cutter – our House District 25 Representative and one of the bill’s sponsors – know you support this bill.
As we rebuild our lifestyles, economies, and institutions to accommodate our new understandings of interconnectedness, let’s follow the examples we find in nature. Let’s create circular, whole systems that respect the natural resources we’re using and that allow for regeneration of resources rather than depletion.
We have a unique opportunity now to create positive change. If we act individually and collectively, with attention to our personal choices and to those of our governments, we can rebuild a more resilient society. The growing awareness of our global interconnectedness and our ability to work together for change are reasons for hope, and we all need to take action now to ensure we don’t miss this opportunity.