After starting my new role as a clinical research analyst at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in December 2019, I was ecstatic to learn about and be part of the UHN Green Team. Then, COVID-19 struck. At the beginning of the global pandemic, we all have been struggling to adapt to our own version of a “new normal”. For me, this meant using more single-use items than with what I was comfortable. It took a bit of trial-and-error but I managed to reduce the amount of disposable items I was consuming whilst still following public health guidelines and institutional policies. Here are some tips and tricks I learned that I hope will ease your plastic-induced anxieties during this unprecedented time.

  1. Reusable masks

Apart from wearing disposable masks in the healthcare setting, reusable cloth masks not only reduced the amount of waste I was producing, but also helped save money from continuously purchasing disposable ones -especially now when masks are mandatory in indoor public places. There are many Canadian companies that have been created to fill this need by employing workers who were laid off due to the pandemic. Not only should we keep each other safe, we should support those in our communities that have been affected – and this checks both boxes (with the added bonus of being sustainable).  Many Canadian-based companies such as TakeCare or Moji offer cloth masks that allow you to insert a disposable filter. Although they recommend using dried unscented baby wipes, I found that paper coffee filters work just as well and they can go right in the compost!

  • Grocery shopping

After being accustomed to shopping with reusable produce and shopping bags, it was quite a change to go back to single-use plastic bags. Although unavoidable, I was able to reduce the number of bags by using empty stock boxes in the store to carry my groceries. Going to local farmer’s markets on the weekend was a great way to limit the amount of plastic packaging commonly used in grocery stores. Not only will you get your pick of a variety of in-season fruit and vegetables, you would also be supporting our Ontario farmers. If you live in the area, you can also try visiting the Unboxed Market, an innovative zero-waste grocery store located on Dundas West and Dovercourt Road, that issues back your deposit for their reusable containers. If all else fails, purchasing less meat or going meatless altogether can make a big difference in reducing your carbon footprint.

  • Working from home or riding to work

As Toronto is beginning to lift its restrictions on public places, we are already beginning to see a bounce back in traffic. Working from home as much as possible has multiple benefits – lower gas emissions, fewer accidents, gas savings, and reduced insurance rates (up to 15% off your monthly premiums!). If coming in to work is a must, take advantage of the good weather and try biking with the now expanded curb lanes for pedestrians and cyclists in Toronto.

Go here to see the city’s new map .

  • Coffee

If you live on coffee or tea like I do, you probably noticed that reusable coffee mugs are no longer allowed at your local joint. I found this problem to be the easiest one to solve – making my own drinks at home! I finally busted out my French press (produces no waste except for coffee grounds!) and started creating my own version of lattes, iced teas, and even bubble tea! Not only will the planet thank you, your wallet will too.

Homemade version of a black sesame tea latte
  • Clothing Donations

To minimize the amount of waste going to landfills, I usually would donate my clothing and household items to Diabetes Canada (now open again). When Diabetes Canada (and many other charitable organizations) closed their donation boxes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, I had items that I wanted to donate. Of course, I could have waited for the donation bins to reopen, but I was able to repurpose a few items that I would otherwise repurchase. For instance, rather than buying new fabrics for my embroidery projects, I was able to repurpose linen items from my donation pile. Oftentimes, we are quick to dismiss items instead of thinking whether we can reuse or repurpose them.

In stressful times like these, our environmental efforts often fall to the wayside- which is understandable. It is important to remind yourself that it is not about one person doing everything perfectly, but every one of us doing it imperfectly – that is where we are going to see real change. As we work together to protect the health and safety of those around us, we can also use this time of reprieve and re-evaluate our priorities and reconnect with the natural world.