Apr 172020
Low Waste during a Lockdown

In the low waste/ zero waste community, there has been considerable online discussion about how to live a low waste lifestyle in the current pandemic. The general consensus is that well-being and safety come first. We are all under a lot of stress, some more than others, and sometimes we don’t have the mental energy to worry about family, finances, global mortalities… as well as a plastics crisis, mass extinction, and climate change. This post explores how we can live low waste during a lockdown.

Firstly, please don’t feel guilty about buying food wrapped in plastic if you normally buy it loose. There are ongoing food shortages and your first priority should be to feed yourself and your family!

Similarly, the world’s medical waste has drastically increased, particularly with disposable PPE. Again, don’t worry about it! My only caveat is that if you wear disposable masks or gloves, please dispose of them in a medically and environmentally responsible manner. There are unfortunately loads of photos of discarded gloves circulating on social media.

All that said, I wanted to compile a list of some ways you can still incorporate low waste living into your life during Covid-19 lockdown.

For more on low waste living see: Low Waste Vegan Snacks, Eating Seasonally and Locally in the UK while living Zero Waste, and Minimalism – Helpful or Detrimental to Sustainable Living?

Food Waste:

The inspiration for this post came from a gardening You Tuber’s comment that her bin collectors had noticed an increase in waste in late March — it was all the fresh food that people had panic bought, couldn’t eat, and then threw in the garbage! Most of us are in agreement that needlessly hoarding food and panic buying is selfish and wasteful. Sure, get a few weeks’ worth of shopping instead of one so that you can reduce your supermarket visits, but buying loads of fresh food that you know you won’t be able to store properly, or get through before it spoils, is incredibly wasteful.

Fruit Bowls
We use two fruit bowls, the one on the left is fruit that needs eating first (so that nothing goes to waste!)
  • When shopping, look for produce that stores well like potatoes, squashes, carrots and apples.
  • Check out the bulk section for things like beans, pulses, and rice, which need to be boiled before cooking and are therefore safer than fresh pre-packaged convenience items.
  • Sometimes the packaged option is the best option if 1) no other option is available 2) it’s reduced and will be thrown out 3) you are picking up items for a vulnerable person.
  • Freeze or dry your food. If your fresh veg or fruit is starting to go off, freeze it, batch cook with it (and then freeze), or you can dry some things in the oven like apple slices and kale chips. When in doubt, make it into a soup!
  • Eat your leftovers. If you hate eating the same thing twice, try making batches of different meals and then alternate.
  • Reverse meal plan: I normally plan what we will have for the week and then shop for the ingredients. That isn’t happening right now as supplies remain low. Instead, take stock of what you already have, see what you can get at the shop, and then plan the week’s meals.

Part of low waste living is frugality. From a place of boredom, and perhaps anxiety, people are turning to online shopping. Case in point: Lucy waited an hour to access the B&Q website and I was 1400 in the queue when I was ordering seeds from Suttons. Some online spending is reasonable, particularly if your buying necessities, or items for activities your were planning on doing anyways, and now have the time. I worry when the fashion retailers are overwhelmed with orders though… why are you buying a clubbing outfit when you can’t leave the house?

I mindfully purchased compost and seedlings, while also reusing old yogurt pots and recycled containers, and grew seeds from scrap peppers (23 to be exact!) for reasonably frugal gardening.

My point is, spend your money with intent, not just for the sake of buying. After all, low waste living is about avoiding needless consumerism. You can’t control the economic fallout from the pandemic, but you can control your budget in terms of non-essentials.

  • I wait at least 24 hours before purchasing something just to make sure I’m not impulse shopping.
  • Support your local shops. Many small businesses are offering deliveries, or no-contact click-and-collect. I still support small businesses through Etsy (affiliate link), and our local garden centre.
Creature Comforts:
Snack mindfully

The other day I lost count of how many biscuits I’d eaten. It’s okay to give ourselves a bit of grace during this time in terms of that extra snack or glass of wine. In the long run though, eating/drinking out of stress or boredom isn’t healthy. Eating way more food than we need to is also not low waste, particularly as most snack foods contain packaging.

  • For primary school kids, one great tip I heard was to make a mini tuck/snack shop which opens at set times (helps them with time telling), has items that cost a certain number of tokens (helps with counting), and has limited choices so you kids aren’t constantly grazing.
Get fresh air

If you’re able to do so, try to get outside once a day for a walk or just sit in your garden/porch. It really does help with your mental health, and is a zero waste activity!


  • Avoid doing the same set route on your daily walk. Mix up directions and streets to avoid boredom!
Monitor your utilities:

Since we are all home, heating (or air con) is likely running more than normal. Try adding an extra layer before you decide to turn on the heating. Likewise, it’s also easy to get into the habit of taking longer showers (and as summer approaches, watering the garden in excess). As we go into the warmer months, please be mindful of your water usage. The climate crisis remains the biggest problem we face, and extreme weather events like droughts won’t disappear just because we’re focusing on beating a virus.

  • Water plants in the morning
  • Time your showers using your favourite song/s
  • Switch to Green Energy. We are with Bulb and you can get £50 with my referral code: www.bulb.me/katherinea7018


Smart Metre

Talk to friends/family:

Though not not immediately apparent as “low waste”, spending more of your time talking to loved ones is less time you are checking the news, mindlessly scrolling on Instagram, online shopping, or comfort eating. Plus, you can take this time to discuss how much better the air quality is, the types of birds you are hearing, and keep the conversation about the importance of sustainability going (see: A Simple Action: Creating Dialogue on Sustainability)!

For suggestions on ways to keep busy during the pandemic, check out Self Isolation Activities.

Take care and stay safe!


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