Carry-out clamshells. Disposable silverware. Single-use plastic bags. Senior fashion merchandising and product development major Alyssa Roth is always thinking about ways to reduce her carbon footprint.
Day-to-day, Roth tries to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle by buying secondhand, eating a vegetarian diet, limiting the purchase of plastic, eating out less, recycling and buying from ethical brands.
But in the wake of the coronavirus, she said maintaining this type of lifestyle is becoming more challenging.
Since Missouri’s stay-at-home order started, Roth said she’s had trouble finding the vegan meat products she usually buys at her typical grocery stores like Wal-Mart, Aldi and Seoul Asian Market.
“It’s difficult because it’s one of my main sources of protein, and the state of stores in general has led me to eat out more than before,” Roth said.
Roth isn’t the only one who’s been struggling recently. Local businesses are having a hard time keeping up with eco-friendly practices.
On April 19, The Standard reported on the locally owned Soap Refill Station’s launch of a new delivery service while trying to honor the store’s tradition of low-waste and ethical consumerism.
In order to cut down single-use plastic waste, employees at the station are filling reusable vessels and delivering to customers three days a week.
For more on the Soap Refill Station’s delivery service, read the story here:
With the statewide stay-at-home mandate entering its fourth week in Missouri, small business…
Soap Refill Station owner Anne Dezort said she feels strain in her heart to see the accumulation of single-waste plastic during the coronavirus outbreak.
“I myself have been trying to support small local restaurants as much as possible right now, and that waste from the to-go containers really hurts my heart since I've been trying to keep all that to a minimum the past few years,” Dezort said. “I'd say it's my biggest personal struggle.”
Dezort said the most important thing right now for her business is to keep up the tradition of reusing.
“Now more than ever reusing should be the spotlight savior, but I understand the fear associated with it,” Dezort said. “It's hard to monitor people using your space. We are super small. We are dealing one on one with our customers.
“It's not that hard to keep things clean between customers and keep things as ‘normal’ as possible in the shop, but I can imagine monitoring the bulk bins at Hy-Vee and other major grocery outlets could get overwhelming and tricky quick.”
The Soap Refill Station isn’t alone in its mission to operate sustainably. The Coffee Ethic, located in downtown Springfield on the Square just around the corner from the Soap Refill Station, also views sustainability as a top priority.
Owner Michelle Billionis explained the decisions her and her team have made to keep the earth in mind. For instance, Billionis explained buying secondhand and repairing equipment as often as possible instead of replacing it are some ways the Coffee Ethic operates sustainability.
Additionally, Billionis said the Coffee Ethic always choses recycled, reused and biodegradable products whenever possible, despite the higher cost of these materials.
“Some challenges we face concerning operating sustainably is the cost that is involved in operating this way,” Billionis said. “Sustainable products are usually more expensive and this expense impacts (our) bottom line.”
During Missouri’s stay-at-home mandate, the Coffee Ethic used a curbside/delivery app called Joe, which Billionis described as similar to other food delivery apps but is designed specifically for coffee shops.
“Due to the virus, our reusable mug/container program has been put on pause,” Billionis said, referring to a cup exchange program the shop started in November 2019 that allows participants to be involved in a closed-looped recycling process. Users can purchase a cup, and each time they bring it back for another purchase, the cup is exchanged for a different one.
Without customers being able to bring in their own cups, Billionis said it has “dramatically increased the amount of single-use cups going out our door.”
Billionis said the hardest part for her is watching all of those single-use cups go out the door.
“As soon as it is safe, we look forward to starting (the program) back up,” Billionis said. “Safety is our number one priority, so as we move forward, this will be closely monitored and carefully implemented.”
The Coffee Ethic has had to roll with the coronavirus’ punches in more ways than one, although Billionis says operations concerning sustainability have not been significantly impacted.
Billionis explained the Coffee Ethic has used more paper towels than normal as employees are washing their hands more frequently. Furthermore, the shop has experienced some delay with compostable materials and a pause in recycling services, although Billionis cites recycling buildup as a “minor inconvenience.”
Businesses certainly have their work cut out for them when it comes to operating sustainably, but Roth still puts the onus on the individual.
Roth’s advice for keeping a low carbon footprint in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak?
“Only drive if it’s necessary … I’ve been riding my bike a lot,” Roth said.
Roth also warned against online shopping too much during the time at home.
“The fashion industry is one of the leading polluters, but there are many brands that are becoming more transparent about their practices and carbon footprint, and some brands are working with vendors who sell recycled/upcycled clothing,” Roth said “Looking into second hand or more sustainable brands would be another way to limit one’s carbon footprint.”
Roth encourages people to limit their power usage while at home. She recommends opening the blinds and using daylight when possible and turning off the lights when leaving a room.
And when it comes to those carry-out clamshells, disposable silverware and single-use plastic bags? Pay close attention to the packaging, Roth said, because many plastics can still be recycled.