Plastic-Free in the Time of COVID-19

Girls in the garden

Way back in March, I was going to write a post about our family’s adventures in composting but when a global pandemic hit it seemed sort of irrelevant. Four months later, in this “new normal” of social distancing and mask-wearing, I’m still figuring out what it looks like to reduce our waste while maintaining hygiene standards. Gone are the days of reusable grocery bags and open bulk bins at the store. Suddenly we’re swimming in plastic bags again.

Our goal as a family to use less plastic has coincided interestingly with a new anxiety of mine in the time of corona. Food security was something I worried about quite a bit at the beginning of the shutdown in March. Though we live in a region where you can grow quite a bit, farming is not a major industry here. The amount of food produced locally is not enough to sustain the local population. Our grocery stores are stocked by ferry and barge from the mainland. If the Sunshine Coast were to be truly cut off from Vancouver, we would definitely suffer from food shortages. Thankfully, even as ferry travel was limited, essential transport was open and while we saw the same shortages of yeast and flour that everyone else, we were never truly short on food. (Dairy was hit and miss in the early weeks as were some types of meat but that has since returned mostly to normal.)

First carrots from our garden!

In an effort to settle my own anxieties, I planted a vegetable garden for the first time ever. Like a lot of other people, we started making sourdough bread. This has expanded to crackers, tortillas, pizza dough, and bagels. I also started looking into what I could purchase from local farms. In April I began making semi-weekly orders from a farm in our neighbourhood where I bought radishes, kale, jam, strawberries, and starters to plant in our own garden. I could order and pay on-line and walk over with my girls to pick-up.

In June we joined in with something called a Community Food Box. This is a joint program of several farms on the Coast, providing a pre-paid vegetable box once a week for sixteen weeks. It’s a pretty classic CSA model except that it is a partnership between multiple farms. The cost is paid up front which enables the farms to invest right back into their infrastructure. The amount of fruit and veggies we get each week is more than enough for a family of four and the quality has been fantastic.

Week one of the Community Food Box

As well, we can add what they call provisions each week. These aren’t included in the cost but I can add things like beer, eggs, honey, and even coffee to my order and they’re all locally produced. It might sound silly to say that this has made me so happy but it really has. We’re eating more veggies than ever and supporting our local economy and food production.

We didn’t embark on any of this with our plastic usage in mind but I’ve realized that it has been an unexpected perk. When I pick up our food box, I transfer all the items into my own grocery bags and leave the box there to be sanitized and reused. Some of the veggies are in plastic bags while others are loose or in cardboard boxes. It’s definitely less than at the grocery store these days. (It doesn’t hurt that this also means we can go longer without visiting the grocery store.) Making our own bread and other things also means less plastic packaging.

At the same time, while trying to figure out more ways to support local businesses, we have been able to reduce the amount of goods we’re having shipped around the country and the world. I’ve been slowly switching out my skincare products to a locally made company. Most of their packaging is glass and bamboo and it’s delivered straight to my door from about twenty minutes away.

Modern Hippie Skin Care

I do have to acknowledge that I’m showing a certain amount of privilege here. We’re able to reduce a lot of our waste because we have the time and resources to do so. Being a stay-at-home parent means I can devote time to figuring out alternate solutions. Our lifestyle also means that we’re able to stay home safely so we’re not using the disposable masks and wipes as much that so many others require. Our family has reusable masks and use them as needed. We purchased them for our girls but for now it’s my preference to avoid situations where they need to wear them. And, again, I know I’m lucky to be able to do so.

As I’ve said before, our family is not zero waste. I’m not even sure that zero waste is our goal. Our goal is to always be looking at what we use with an eye to creating less garbage. As always, I love to hear feedback and ideas! Leave a comment and tell me how things work at your house!

26 thoughts on “Plastic-Free in the Time of COVID-19”

  1. I am certain there is a chicken coop in your future!
    We are thrilled that reuseable bags are a ‘go’ at our stores again. We haven’t made too many changes during COVID but the scarcity-anxiety in April was very real.

    1. I love the idea of fresh, local eggs but chickens seem like a lot of work. We have friends who just got chickens this spring and they were saying that the amount of work and expense that has gone into it, they’re certainly not yet saving money on eggs!

  2. We never stopped using reusable bags – not sure why they’re a bad thing? I just sanitize my hands after emptying them and then don’t use them again for a few days by which time any pesky virus on them would be dead. Well done on the vegetable patch! My dad used to grow loads of veggies and it’s true that they always taste better than shop bought! Even if you do have to conduct stop and search operations for lurking caterpillars… 😉

    1. Our grocery store bags groceries for you so I think it was just that the reusable bags were another thing the employees had to touch. I believe that now we can bring our own again if we’re willing to do our own bagging. I actually haven’t set foot in a grocery store since May

      The veggie patch has been so much fun. I’ve already learned a lot and am excited to keep it going. My family never gardened so it’s been a big learning curve for me but very satisfying.

  3. Good on ya! I do miss being able to use reusable bags, although now I just order online and the groceries get dropped off in my trunk as I wait, so no complaints about that. I love the look of that community food box, that would make anyone happy! My gosh those raspberries look divine…

    1. Any fruit in the box generally gets eaten the same day! This week we were away and so gave our box away to some friends since we couldn’t pick it up and there were peaches! Fingers crossed there are more in this week’s box!

  4. Ah, reading this is so encouraging! Reducing waste is such a big task that it’s hard to even know where to start, but clearly the answer is: one thing at a time.

    I’m especially excited about your vegetable garden- I have one too, and love getting to eat the fresh food every summer. I’ve lived on a farm for most of my life but haven’t always had a garden- there came a point a few years ago when I realized I had the opportunity to be a lot more self-sustaining, and it seemed crazy not to take it. Some things don’t work out every year (the onions didn’t grow this time around, sadly) but there’s always something that does better than usual, also (my potato crop this year is large enough to feed my entire family for the next full year, which is exciting!).

    I’ve also finally joined the bandwagon and started a sourdough starter- we didn’t have much of a shortage on bread here, but I’ve never liked processed breads much and was finally in the mood for a new project. This is still the first week so it’s not ready to be baked yet and could still go wrong, but I’m excited to try it out! Hopefully it’ll go well and I’ll never want to go back, lol.

    1. Unfortunately that does happen sometimes, lol- last year it was cucumbers. I live close enough to most of my extended family that I can usually pawn off the surplus so it doesn’t go to waste, but whatever isn’t eaten goes back to the soil- I have a handy cornfield in my backyard right next to the garden. It’s sad to see good food go, but it’s a natural part of the process. And sometimes I’m able to freeze or can the extras too, which is great.

    2. The joke around here (and other places too, I’m sure) is that you shouldn’t leave your car unlocked in the summer because you’ll return to find it filled with zucchini! But you’re right, I don’t mind the excess going back to the soil so much, if it can’t be used otherwise.

    3. Ah, I actually hadn’t heard that before but it makes sense! I’ve definitely been guilty of pushing extra veggies on anyone stopping by when I have a surplus, lol. As far as annoying urges go I suppose we could do worse than wanting to share fresh produce though!

    4. I remember when I was reading The Egg & I that the author would talk about canning that year’s crop and seeing all the jars still on the shelves from the previous years. They couldn’t give it all away, either, because people could only take so much. It super weird to hear about harvests that aren’t corn or soy beans these days.

    5. Ah yes, my grandparents recently moved into assisted living housing and my family has been helping clean out their house room by room; in the pantry, we found home-canned foods old they couldn’t even be identified anymore. People really seem to hate fresh food going to waste, so much so that they’ll do anything other than throw it out! Sometimes letting it go is the best answer. I mostly only keep corn in any sort of bulk, and beyond that nothing I won’t use up in the winter. And I think you’re right about the term ‘harvest’, it is mostly used in relation to field crops, especially corn and soy beans, at least in the Midwest. I used to love riding along in the combine as a kid and seeing those harvests in progress, but now that I’m grown and running the machinery the novelty has long since worn off! 😅

    6. We didn’t live on a farm, but my brother worked on one, and the story goes that one other hired guy would do a bunch of speed and then harvest all the fields in one night because he was so wired. I’ve never done drugs, but I like that story.

    7. LOL I will be fantasizing about a farmer on speed bringing in all the crops for us this fall! It typically takes us 6-8 weeks of very long work days to get everything in, which I do not enjoy. But honestly, I do use caffeine and sugar as tools to keep myself going, so maybe using drugs to get the work done isn’t so far off, haha.

    8. I’ve also read an enjoyable novel called Two Small Birds by Dave Newman, which is about a poet-turned-truck-driver who eats drugs to drive more and longer. Things like that worry me when I think about my blog friend Bill, who is actually a trucker and better be driving sober.

    9. Absolutely, one thing at a time! It was super overwhelming when I thought of it as a complete life change but then I started thinking of plastic-free options to replace things that needed replacing in our home and it became much more manageable. There is plenty of plastic in our home still but we reuse it as much as possible.

      Gardening has been a fun adventure. Carrots and lettuce were my big successes this year. I tried some others that never came up and something keeps nibbling at my squash so we’ll see if that turns out but it’s all been an interesting challenge. We’re far from self-sufficient but hopefully next year can grow even more.

      Good luck with your sourdough starter! It was much simpler than I expected but you do have to be consistent. We’ve just come back from a few days away so I’ll have to see how my starter does after a week in the fridge!

    10. It’s very motivating to be reminded how one small change at a time can make a worthwhile difference in the end.

      Carrots are so fun, imo! You never know exactly how they’ll turn out until you pull them out of the ground, and it’s weirdly satisfying (for me at least!) to see the end result after watching the tops for weeks. I’m definitely not entirely self-sufficient either, but it is fun to try new fruits and veggies year to year and see what works.

      Thanks! Your pictures of the bread items look SO good, I’m really looking forward to experimenting a bit once I get the hang of the basics. I’m only on day 4 so far, but it looks like it’s supposed to, which is encouraging. I hope you had a good time away and that your starter did well in your absence! 🙂

    11. The carrots were probably the thing my girls were most excited about. We especially enjoyed the weird shapes and angles they came out at!

      If you google sourdough starter recipes you’ll find a ton. I’ve had great success with bread and we make crackers from the sourdough discard on the days when we’re not making other things. This week I hope to try sourdough cinnamon buns!

  5. I’ve read how time now is so fluid that people are just losing track of the typical markers we used to have, such as a weekend of fun and travel, to distinguish what’s up. I forgot about meat being harder to get in the U.S., especially since a Tyson plant near me was hot with COVID and had to close. I still can’t roast beef on my sandwich at Jersey Mike’s, which is weird….

    With dairy, it was less that they ran out and more that no one was buying it, so farmers were dumping the milk. Yes, cows always have to be milked, but pasteurizing the product costs, so they weren’t going to lose money on it.

    The only thing that has really struck me as to how much time has passed is every time my phone reminds me to do a breast exam. I just added the alert back in February. It’s once per month, but I feel like that notification has popped up a bajillion times.

    1. This is my ongoing joke/not really a joke, that time is now completely meaningless. Especially now in the summer with Peter and I both at home most of the time, I have to stop and think about what day of the week it is.

      A lot of our beef comes from Alberta and there were outbreaks at processing plants there early on and then outbreaks at chicken processing places in Vancouver. We don’t eat much meat anyway so we basically stopped purchasing it in about April and have just recently started buying it again here and there. I’m not sure what the issue with dairy was; we produce quite a bit of it in BC but they never seemed to have enough to fill demand at the store. Peter figured out the day and time the dairy delivery arrived though and would try and shop then!

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