4 Post-Pandemic, Environmentally Friendly Lifehacks for 2021

As we spent most of 2020 confined to our homes, we watched the planet struggle. Every day seemed to bring new headlines about raging wildfires, devastating hurricanes, and melting polar ice caps.

Even with all Covid-19 restrictions lifted, most of us probably will not engage with these disasters directly. What we can and should do is reduce our carbon footprint.  

This past year has been a crash course in dropping old habits and picking up new ones. In other words, it’s practice for the sweeping lifestyle changes we’ll need to make in order to deal with climate change.

Nobody would call Covid-19 “a good thing.” But one of its greatest silver linings is that it’s jump-started some overdue lifestyle shifts:

1. Put the Keys Up and Pedal Down.

Everyone needs to move about. Many of us truly need our vehicle to get to work and other essential activities. However, the pandemic has helped many of us redefine what we mean whenever we use the word “essential.” 

Too often, we reflexively get behind the wheel of a car when it’s not necessary. It’s time to fight our ingrained response to grab the keys.

One option is to trade four wheels for two. An electric bicycle is a convenient and, when necessary, sweat-free alternative to gas-powered transportation. Cyclists get the benefits of fresh air, a bit of exercise, and a fatter wallet, all while not contributing to urban smog.

Infrastructure improvements are making this even easier. Many cities and towns are building new bike lanes and trails. Plus, cyclists rarely need to worry about finding (or paying for) a parking space or garage.

2. Rethink Your Relationship With Plastic.

Pre-pandemic, our use of plastic was declining. Many Americans had begun shopping with reusable grocery bags and ditching bottled water for reusable containers. Various states had begun banning single-use plastics. 

Then came Covid-19. Fear of viral transmission caused many to set these priorities aside in the name of sanitation. Suddenly, single-use plastics were on the rise again

People became fearful that shoppers were toting the virus along with their reusable bags. Plastic walls of protection were installed at the checkout, masks were discarded everywhere, and much of the progress made toward reducing our plastic consumption vanished in record time.

In reality, no research has linked Covid-19 transmission to reusable grocery bags.   If your canvas bags have been collecting dust in a closet somewhere, toss them in the car next time you head to the store. If your local store still prohibits their use, ask for recyclable paper bags instead of plastic when you hit the checkout line.

Think beyond reusable bags. Have you sworn off disposable water bottles? Do you avoid overly packaged products? Do you reuse plastic containers as, say, compost containers? Reduce, reuse, and recycle — in that order. 

3. Turn It Up, Down, and Off.

If the pandemic forced you to start working from home, you’re probably feeling it in your utility bills. And if your family began online schooling at home, you’re definitely feeling it in several associated maintenance expenses.

That programmable thermostat worked like a charm when you were at the office and the kids were at school every weekday. Now, you’re required to keep the inside temperature comfortable 24/7 — or deal with distracting complaints. Your light switches remain in their full, upright position for substantially longer periods of time. And you don’t want to know how much water you’ve been flushing down the drain since you stopped using the office bathroom.

Some of those added expenses may disappear once you return to the office and the kids go back to school. But many employers have figured out that they don’t need a physical office. Terms of employment may be renegotiated, requiring many people to continue to work from home. 

Should that happen, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce energy and water use: Start by turning off lights and unneeded appliances in rooms you aren’t using. Unplug unused devices wherever you can. Open your curtains and blinds so that daylight creates a greenhouse effect in your home.

If your local climate is pleasant, open a few windows. Let in fresh air, rather than constantly running your air conditioner. Ceiling fans, which cool in summer and warm in winter, are relatively inexpensive to buy, install, and operate.

When the heat is on, dress warmly and keep your thermostat turned down. Swap the t-shirt and shorts you wore this past summer for a hoodie and sweats. Cover your feet with those fuzzy slippers Grandma gave you for Christmas.

To keep water usage down, consider flushing every other time (assuming you’re only taking “a No. 1″; human urine contains very little bacteria). While you’re at it, place a brick or pebble-filled plastic bottle in your toilet tank as an easy way to displace water and drive down demand. 

4. Recycle Religiously.

This year, spend some time rethinking what and how your household recycles. More can be reclaimed than you might think.

Pay attention to what ends up in your trash (and the local landfill). You might already be all over the aluminum, glass, and paper that goes out your door: Great! You might even live in a community that offers curbside pickup for those items: Also great!

But what about the clothes you weeded out of your closet during one of your “pandemic purges”? Taking a trip to the local Salvation Army drop-off is always a good bet. In fact, it might even get you a modest tax write-off. 

Other items might find a home somewhere else. In addition to the good old neighborhood garage sale, there are now online outlets where ordinary people buy, sell, and give away just about anything. Give it a shot! The person buying your old stuff won’t be buying something newly manufactured, reducing their carbon footprint.

Assuming none of these options appeal, you can always place your usable old stuff on the curb with a FREE sign. Metal items that truly are trash can be taken to a recycling center. You might even make a few cents turning in that bent aluminum storm door or those rusty mower blades.

From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)

The writing is on the wall: Everyday life may never get back to what we think of as “pre-pandemic normal.” As far as Mother Earth is concerned, that’s a good thing. 

A few of us will choose to go “off the grid” completely, but for most of us, that’s not realistic. However, if all of us would trade just one of our pre-Covid, environmentally harmful habits for something less destructive, our combined impact could be tremendous.