Is minimum waste lifestyle in danger now?

Aktualizováno: 20. 5. 2020

The measures related to the coronavirus pandemics have raised an unpleasant question about the hygiene of the “minimum waste” lifestyle. Will it survive the pandemics and the life after it? We are sure that yes!


The efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus have brought strict measures affecting cafés, restaurants and bulk shops. 

These measures generally go against all attempts to reduce waste. No containers of your own, no returnable coffee cups and the overall replacement of all reusables by disposable are a big setback for the whole eco movement. But when it’s about health, ecology is not a priority, right?

What are the measures regarding bulk food sales in Czechia? 

The main authority in charge of hygiene and food sale matters is the National Institute of Public health (NIPH). The NIPH issued the following statement concerning the sale of bulk foods: “NIPH strongly recommends during the emergency state to (…) considerably reduce the sale of unpackaged good into customers’ own containers and to put bulk goods only into new, unused packaging.” (…) “The packaging separates the food from the outside environment, prevents it from contamination and therefore reduces the risk of infectious pathogens transmission.” The logic behind this statement is that the virus can spread via surfaces that were touched by an infected person.  

How did the bulk shops in Czechia react? 

According to the Czech Zero Waste’s podcast, where they asked 7 packaging-free stores from all the country about the coronavirus’ impact, all shops have lost at least 50% of their sales. In my opinion, it shows that most people are in fact more reluctant to buy packaging-free now. Also, as the free movement is limited, people think twice before going all the way to the nearest bulk store (which is usually quite far). Therefore, most of the packaging-free stores came up with delivery options and some of them have temporarily changed to pick-up points only. 

Four of them stopped accepting customers’ own containers and started putting the goods into paper bags. Those who still accept customers’ packaging ask them to wash the containers thoroughly before bringing them to the store. 

Although there’s no such research, I think it is safe to say that people now prefer packaged vegetables and fruits in supermarkets. Those who used to complain why do apples or carrots have to be wrapped in plastic?! actually praise that plastic now. Another factor that contributes to higher plastic consumption is the temporarily ban of all farmers’ markets - the only place where all the vegetables and fruits are sold without packaging and most people bring their own bags. 

Is the transmission of the coronavirus by food real? 

According to NIPH’s statement, the virus “can survive on the surfaces of unpackaged foods, including bread.” However, the NIPH itself adds that “it depends on the quantity of the virus, which we don’t know.” The virus could only be transmitted to the food by workers in production, distribution, in the shop or ultimately, by a customer who literally sneezes on an apple or zucchini. The last possibility is however eliminated by the obligation to carry a mask, which was ordered by the Czech government. 

Personally, I don’t see any reason to stress out whenever I bring an unpackaged tomato or apple home. If we wash our hands and the produce before consumption thoroughly (which we should do always!)., the risk of transmission is minimal.
PC: Nithin P John via Unsplash

The above mentioned hygienic measures make certainly sense in the current situation. Nevertheless, the fact that we can’t bring our own container into a bulk store or to have our coffee served in our own cup doesn’t mean that our sustainable lifestyle is over. There are so many other things that we can do, especially during the quarantine! 

You can use the time spent at home to make products that you would otherwise buy in supermarket. How about a homemade granola? Plant-based milk? Peanut butter or homemade nuttela? Ladies can make face or hair masks. You can plant microgreens and herbs on your window. Or read books about how to behave more sustainably.

Besides, there is of course no reason to stop using your own water bottle, shopping bag, reusable cotton pads or coffee filters as you are the one in charge of their hygiene. You don’t need to start avoiding second-hand purchases either, provided that  you wash and/or disinfect them. 

Last but not least, this pandemics and the quarantine are a good opportunity to think about our shopping habits and rethink whether we actually need all the clothes, cosmetics and other products that we buy. If you throw away food in your household, try to think why and come up with solutions to prevent food waste. Right now is the ideal time to become a minimum waste minimalist! :-)
PC: Samantha Gades via Unsplash

The state of emergency is not going to last forever and it’s important that we get back to our “minimum waste” habits right after it’s over. Why? Firstly, the environmental problems are not going to disappear just because there’s a pandemics. Secondly, not everything that’s disposable is necessarily hygienic. New things give us the impression of maximal cleanliness and minimal risk, contrary to reusable or second-hand stuff. Well, let me tell you that no disposable plastic packaging is sterile. Many people touch it on its way from production, distribution and storage. Plus, there’s a lot of dust and other dirt that accumulates on its surface. It doesn’t mean that single-use packaging is dangerous, but it’s not 100% sterile either. Reusables and second hand things are no more hygienic but when we wash them properly, they become hygienic. After all, using reusables for many years have shown us that this is true. I mean, have you ever heard of someone who got sick from a t-shirt bought in a second-hand shop? Or from a coffee that was poured into his own cup? I’m just hoping that people won’t get too scared and will re-embrace these sustainable habits as soon as possible.
PC: Laura Mitula via Unsplash

So, minimum waste lifestyle is not over for us! Quite the contrary - now it’s actually a great time to start with some things. And once the emergency state is over, we see no reason for not returning to the “pre-coronavirus” practises, which are now limited. The COVID-19 danger is sooner or later going to disappear, but the piles of waste are not.  Author: Tereza Dohnalová, Lucie Jandová  Sources:

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