With millions of us staying home to stop the spread of COVID-19, here are some ways to help the environment – even if you can’t go out
By Michael Taylor
With people told to stay at home or follow social distancing rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus, environmentalists say everyone can still take important green steps without leaving the house.
Environmental groups are gearing up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, using apps, online conferences and social media – and are urging climate-conscious individuals to join in, even if they can’t go out.
Rather than binge watch Netflix, play video games, or sweat through another exercise class on YouTube, there are plenty of ways to maintain a sustainable lifestyle and keep busy.
“Your house or flat is just as much a part of the environment as the Arctic or the Amazon,” said Helle Abelvik-Lawson, a UK-based campaigner at Greenpeace.
“So if it’s the only bit of the environment you have easy access to, why not make it a greener place to live?”
Here are some ideas from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, Good Energy and Triodos Bank UK for healthy, planet-friendly living under lockdown:
Whether your home is a city apartment or a house in the countryside, you could try turning your garden, balcony, patio, window sill or doorstep into a haven for animals and insects.
Plant vegetables, herbs and flowers in the earth or pots to help nourish bees, butterflies and other creatures. Making a mini-garden can ease stress while working from home – and entertain and educate younger members of the family.
For those with a garden and a sense of adventure, dig a hole to make a small pond. A water feature will provide a sanctuary for insects, frogs and newts – and a feeding spot for birds.
And have you noticed how birdsong is drowning out the noise of traffic? You could put up a feeder, try bird spotting or download an app – like Larkwire or Song Sleuth – to identify different birds and their sounds.
Street protests, global climate talks and conferences may have been cancelled or postponed, but you can still have your say via social media or video discussions.
Whether your cause is single-use plastic, cutting carbon emissions, saving forests or protecting endangered wildlife, go online and see how you can raise awareness, join virtual gatherings or lobby people in power.
“If you’re well, but lockdown has given you more spare time than you know what to do with, please write to MPs and sign petitions to put pressure on our politicians to do the right thing – it’s never been more urgently needed,” said Abelvik-Lawson.
Shopping for all the food you want may be a challenge with key baking ingredients like flour in high demand, but you can still get creative in the kitchen with what is in the cupboards.
A cook-off with friends over a video call could be a fun way to relieve stress, while eating less meat and more seasonal vegetable dishes to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet may help out local growers facing economic hardship.
Don’t forget to make the most of leftovers too – stock is one good way to use up uneaten chicken or vegetables. But if you can’t save the food, try composting waste to help with your home garden and plant leftover seeds to see what emerges.
Now could be the best chance you’ll ever get to clean out the spare room or tidy up the garage. But instead of throwing things out, refill, reuse and recycle – or give them away.
Benjamin Rider at Friends of the Earth also recommends trying your hand at making eco-friendly cleaning products.
“Vinegar is a cheap, non-toxic alternative to popular cleaning products – and it won’t leave your home smelling like a bag of chips,” he added.
You can use old glass jars and bottles for keeping homemade salad dressing or holding candles, stationery or make-up.
Plastic or other containers that cannot be recycled could also come in handy as crafting items for children. Making toys or decorations from single-use plastics is a smart way to educate them about recycling and cutting down on waste.
REWORK YOUR WARDROBE
Don’t throw out old clothes, towels or curtains. With most chain stores closed, challenge yourself to quit fast fashion, and learn to sew and rework some of those items into new ones.
If that’s not your thing, then store unwanted clothing to take to a charity shop once you can. Old T-shirts also make great dusters or cleaning rags.
When stores reopen, you may find yourself wanting to buy fewer new garments, or choose items made of organic and recycled fabrics.
MOVE YOUR MONEY
Switching your electricity to a supply from renewable sources such as wind and solar is another way to shrink your carbon footprint. Even easier when working from home is to pick a room with lots of natural light so you can minimize power use.
You could also think about reworking your finances to support environmentally conscious businesses or funds.
“By moving your money and investments you really can make a difference in the world,” said Bevis Watts, CEO of Triodos Bank UK, which backs ethical and green projects.
“We have a unique opportunity to build a more sustainable society in the wake of this pandemic – one that puts people and the planet first.”