Being quarantined in our homes hasn’t been without its challenges, but it’s also given us the opportunity to do things a bit differently — and more sustainably — than before. We’re driving less (nowhere to go!), reducing our meat consumption (who can find it?), and starting gardens and baking our own bread (hey, it’s a better option than the grocery store!).
If spending more time at home has inspired you to make even more eco-friendly changes to your lifestyle, Kathryn Kellogg, founder of GoingZeroWaste.com, author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, and National Geographic’s spokesperson for plastic-free living, can help.
And don’t be intimidated by the term “Zero Waste.” Kathryn’s philosophy is: “It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices.” Her website, book, and Skillshare course, Sustainable Living Basics: Simple Steps to Make an Impact, are all about spreading love and positivity and sharing small, actionable steps that anyone — regardless of living situation or budget — can make to live a more sustainable life.
In advance of Earth Day on April 22, we sat down with the Berkeley, California-based activist to learn more about how to honor our planet from home.
What have been some changes that you’ve made in your own life since we’ve been social distancing?
I’ve been taking time to reflect on things that apply now, or anytime, and those that don’t. For me, this time is about really getting to the core of a Zero Waste lifestyle, which is reusing what you have, learning to be more self-sufficient, and relying less on consuming new things constantly. But I’ve also been making a few more things from scratch than normal and am having a more simple and pared-down existence.
One of the biggest changes is that you’re not allowed to bring your reusable bags inside the grocery store. I totally understand why that’s happening but, of course, that is a bummer. And one of my big fears is that it’s going to last a lot longer than I would like for it to.
To make do, several stores are offering stock boxes, which is great. You can grab a box from the stockroom, which is a great way to reduce packaging waste. I’m also signed up for Imperfect Produce and have been for years — they deliver groceries in a box, mostly plastic-free. Also, we have mostly been going to our corner store instead of the grocery store, so we can carry a lot by hand. But we typically do a stock-up at the larger grocery store about once a month, and we do wind up with a few plastic bags then.
How are you changing or getting creative with your cooking routine?
Normally, my husband and I would have a date night and we’d go out to a restaurant about once a week. We still want to support our local restaurants, so we’re getting takeout now, which is unusual, but this is a very unusual time!
I would love for people to support local businesses even if that does mean creating a little more trash, so one way to reduce waste is to make sure that you ask for them not to include any sauces or silverware or packets. As most of us are eating at home, we don’t need plastic silverware — we typically have a drawer full of it!
What are a few other small lifestyle changes that people can implement during this time?
There are so many small things! People are really conscious of not wanting any food to go to waste, since most of us don’t want to run out to the grocery store constantly.
I know a lot of people are cooking more beans, which is great! Eating more plant-based protein like beans is super great for the environment. I have a hack that I love: Put dried beans in the crock pot with water, place them on low for eight hours, and you’ll have perfect beans. And they freeze super well! You don’t have to keep buying cans, and it is so much cheaper.
I also think now is a great time to compost it up. (Read Kathryn’s tips for composting on her blog.)
Also, make sure that you’re really being mindful of your scraps. For instance, with lettuce: If you have a head of romaine and you’ve cut the base off, you can put that stalk in a little cup of water, put it on your counter, replace the water every day or every other day, and you will actually sprout around a cup of new lettuce.
With things like onion skins or leftover garlic or the tops of your carrots… throw that in your crockpot, pour water over it, and you have a delicious vegetable stock that you can use to make rice or quinoa. Find ways to reuse items that are still good, that are going to save us money and save us trips to the grocery store, and find new life.
Click on the video below for a lesson exclusive from Kathryn’s Skillshare Original, Sustainable Living Basics: Simple Steps to Make an Impact. In this lesson, Kathryn covers reducing packaging waste, composting, and hacks for making your food last longer.
Those are amazing tips, and many people are using this time as an opportunity to do things like this they wouldn’t have time for in the past.
Are you optimistic that these habits will continue?
There are a lot of things happening that I am hopeful about, like people growing gardens and learning to cook things from scratch. And they’re beginning to say to themselves “hey, these changes don’t take that long.” So often we’ve been told that convenience is the best, but how much longer does it take for me to put my beans in a crockpot and press “on” than opening the can? There’s a little bit of wait time, but most of these changes don’t take that much. I am hopeful that a lot of these habits will continue and that people will slow down a little bit more.
“It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices.”
Also, I think a lot of us are consuming a lot less, and we’re realizing that some of the things that we bought and put our time into might not have been the best use of our time or haven’t been serving us as much as we thought they would. It’s a really nice moment to reevaluate what’s really important and make sure we’re supporting things that align with our values.
Earth Day is April 22, and many events have been canceled. How can people creatively celebrate and honor this day from their homes?
There are so many ways! One of them is switching your energy provider. There are energy suppliers like Arcadia that will work with your existing energy provider to provide you with clean energy. You don’t have to change anything, and you will probably save a little bit of money on your bill. If you live in an apartment, it’s still totally acceptable and you don’t have to buy solar panels, but you can personally transition yourself away from fossil and non-renewable fuel sources.
If you’re interested in doing an online climate strike, there are a lot of those that are going to be happening, especially next week.
Another thing that I personally am doing during this time is promoting ecocide law. The goal is to add the crime of ecocide to the Rome Statute, which is one of the most powerful documents in the world and is collectively known as crimes against peace. The law currently makes four crimes punishable in International Criminal Court: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The goal is to add the crime of ecocide, so that people who are knowingly destroying the environment, which endangers all humanity, can be taken to court. Go to ecocidelaw.com—it’s something very simple that we can choose to support, and hopefully make sure that we are creating a better world.
Any other inspiration for people who are seeking to live a more sustainable lifestyle during this time?
I always think that the greatest problem many people face not wanting to make any lifestyle changes is letting the fear of being perfect hold them back. They’re afraid of doing something if they can’t do it perfectly.
And now, more than ever, there is no perfect. And so now, more than ever, is the perfect time to embrace the perfectly imperfect way of just trying to do a little bit better.
Want to learn more from Kathryn? Check out her Skillshare Original, Sustainable Living Basics: Simple Steps to Make an Impact, and see how small changes can make a huge difference on our planet.