Right now it’s hard to think about anything more than staying at home and being surrounded by COVID-19. At this moment in time it feels almost impossible to work towards being zero waste.
I live with my grandparents who are susceptible to the virus and I have no desire to find out what would happen if they did contract the virus. In order to ensure our safety we have been confined to our pretty spacious, but two bedroom New York City apartment. For the first few weeks I was the only one going outside to buy groceries. Where I could control the amount of plastic and single-use items. But since the virus has gotten much scarier and severe we have relied on grocery delivery services. The numbers of cases keep rising and it feels so does the threat of being infected with the virus. I now have no control over the packing, or plastic bag usage, and it truly pains my earth-conscious heart to see things double bagged in plastic bags, or a single potato in a plastic produce bag.
In this unprecedented time, I recognize our health is most important and so I focus on what I can control. My unavoidable increase in single-use plastic products doesn’t change what sustainable swaps that I continue to do. For example, I
Nothing is perfect right now. We need to focus on self care and health. We have all been affected by this in different ways, so taking care of ourselves, is the most important to get us and others through it. The planet is healing itself as we isolate ourselves, and for us to further help our one and only planet we must be healthy and heal ourselves.
Even when everything is looking gloomy as we tune in on the news, there is some positive news relating to our planet, in a sort of, reset state. People in Punjab are able to see the Himalayas for the first time in nearly thirty years! Also india as jobs came to a halt, “In Delhi, where air is normally choking, levels of both PM2.5 and the harmful gas nitrogen dioxide fell more that 70 percent.” (National Geographic) “In China, carbon emissions were down an estimated 18 percent between early February and mid-March due to falls in coal consumption and industrial output”’ (National Geographic) Overall, our toxic emissions have lowered since there are fewer cars on the road, fewer factories are up and running, fewer planes are flying. We are all in a standstill moment, which gives good old Mother Nature a nice breather.
If you have the resources, making your own hand sanitizer and masks will help the health of both yourself and others. I suggest using the actual Aloe Vera plant to be completely plastic free and you can compost the skin. I got mine in my local grocery store!
Hand sanitizer is:
⅔ rubbing alcohol
⅓ aloe Vera gel
For mine I add tea tree essential oils for the antibacterial properties and lavender essential oils for a nice smell (plus it is relaxing).
We never truly know what small thing becomes significant later on, for me that was going to environmental club in the fifth grade, which I guess you could say is where my zero waste and sustainability journey began. From then on I was hooked on learning how we could positively impact our one and only planet. I have always been interested in nature and animals, even as a kid I would always watch Animal Planet and read books about animals like sharks, spiders, or snakes from the library. One of my prominent memories was doing one of my science projects in elementary school was about windmills, I went to visit them in order to learn more about how they work. To be honest I don’t remember much else about that project but the memory of visiting them is forever ingrained in my brain. We always recycled and composted at my childhoods home, even though I didn’t always understand the impact we were having, I just knew it as something we did.
I did always have this image of making art to show the world how we can change ourselves and eventually the world to help as whole, I could see how we as humans have built homes and a city into nature, living in the suburbs solidified that as we were surrounded by hills and valleys. Even when I saw a bug or weed trying to live and survive by emerging on the sidewalk or on other daily man made objects that are around us, I knew that we share our space with them. When I was a Sophomore at SVA, I made this sculpture piece with hand painted wood, glass jars, and air plants to represent how we have built in the middle of nature. Then in the first semester of my Junior year at SVA, to talk about the polluting plastic in the ocean, I created a sort of freestyle installation of watercolor painted fish and coral and I hung found plastic fish toys around it. It was to embody how our fish are pretty much made of plastic due to how much they accidentally eat and evidently die from.
The true turning point of my journey into focusing completely on how we negatively impact the planet was during the second semester of my Junior year when I did a study abroad in Rome, that was when I came across Bea Johnson and discovered the zero waste community. From then on my whole world opened up, I started watching other YouTube videos about the lifestyle, such as Lauren Singer who became famous because she lives in New York and was able to reduce her waste so much that it as a whole fit into a single mason jar. I also found Gittemary Johansson who lives in Denmark and has explained how and why you should reduce your waste, and how making some smarter purchasing choices can directly impact both the planet as well as those who make the products and those who live near the production sites. Once I found these incredible people doing more that I could ever imagine was possible, I made it my life goal to be able to do the same. This open door of possibility got my desire to learn more about sustainability, our impact on the planet, and how we can make a difference on a fast track of absorbing as much information as I could. From then on out I watched as many documentaries as I could, such as “No Impact Man”, “A Plastic Ocean”, “Cowspiracy”, “Chasing Coral”, “Before The Flood” and I rewatched “An Inconvenient Truth”. Once I got back to the states and had the tools accessible to me I started making small switches to reusable items to reduce my waste, it started with a bamboo toothbrush and tote bags to the grocery store. I knew this was exactly what my focus needs to be on.
My final year at SVA had arrived and all I knew was that my statement needs to be about what we can do to help the planet and how we have also created the destruction of our only home. Both semesters were installations that you could walk through and feel immersed in, be one with the artwork. “Biodegradable Self” was completely made out of materials that if put in nature, would completely break down. I made a body cast of myself and used it as a mold to recreate myself multiple times over out of burlap, twine, and flowers. It’s to show that even as one person, we still have an impact. “Plastic Ocean” was a kelp forest completely made out of found plastic water bottles and plastic sheets that were painted on. I had blue lights over it to solidify the vibe of the ocean. When you walk through it you are just completely surrounded by plastic kelp and hit with the realization about how we have polluted our oceans with single-use plastics as well as the impact of micro-plastics have on our marine life.
After graduation you just feel like you are being dropped into the world with a “Good Luck” card. I focused on what I could do and change for myself to move forward on my journey. I got deeper into changing my lifelong plastic habits and mindless consumerism. I went to the farmers market more often, found bulk stores near me and bringing my own jars and produce bags, I got more into natural and homemade products by making my own toothpaste, body scrubs, and body butter. If there was an item I could switch to a more sustainable one I did, I got a safety razor instead of the plastic razors, I got a diva cup instead of tampons, I switched to bars of soap instead of body wash. I continued to compost and recycle but the reason behind it is because I realized and learned that things never truly “go away” when you throw them in the trash, we only have so much space on this planet and wasting it on space for something that could be recycled or composed or repurposed didn’t make sense. I made it my mission to always have either a repurposed jar or a reusable cup or thermos when I go out gallery hopping or to get coffee, I wanted to practice the lifestyle the best way I could. My journey hasn’t always been glamorous or perfect, sometimes I forget to bring my reusables or I give in to a packaged snack craving.
One of my favorite zero waste memories of mine was being at the farmers market composting section, dumping out my weeks worth of compost and I notice a photographer and a guy taking photos of a bracelet, I immediately recognize it as the “Braceletote” from a podcast episode on “Kiss That World” that I had recently started listening to. I started asking the photographer if it was indeed, the “Braceletote” and how I’ve heard about it on the podcast, but he had no idea and explained that he was just the photographer. The incredible thing was, the founder, Amer Jandali was the other guy and he was so surprised that I had heard about him and his product. It just goes to show that it’s important to compost.
The other advancement in my journey is that I briefly started a Zero Waste meetup group while living back home in California. We had weekly meetings and talked about any updates that have happened worldwide, and how we as individuals can make small changes to have a big gradual impact. I even set up a google docs page that whomever joined my group could add to and have access to the information that we have gathered. I was only able to have about a few months worth of meetings before I decided to move for a job, which fell through, but it did bring back to New York. Now on my sustainability journey I do my best to buy produce package free when I can, I bring my own togo container with me when I go out to eat, wash my hair with natural shampoo bars and conditioner bars, clean with natural supplies like distilled white vinegar that I get in a glass bottle when possible, I’ve been eating as a vegetarian for a little over a year to lower my CO2 emissions, take public transportation as much as I can (which is much easier in New York!), I even took Amtrak across the country from CA to NY instead of flying. I recycle properly, making sure that all the items are thoroughly washed and are indeed recyclable, I try to solely buy clothes that are secondhand and thrifted which ironically I started because I thought it was like a fun scavenger hunt, but now I understand more about the negative consequences of fast fashion and underpaid overworked sweatshop workers. I am nowhere where I want to be but this where I am at right now, and the more I learn, the more I will be able to reduce the negative impact I am having on our planet.