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How to be Zero Waste During an Emergency

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This was not supposed to be my March post, but needless to say things have changed. I’m shocked how fast all of our circumstances have changed. I have never seen anything like the Covid-19 outbreak and quarantine. So how do you embrace emergency preparedness and be zero waste?

It’s hard enough to be a zero waster. It’s even more difficult to prepare for emergencies and be zero waste. We also have to be realistic because when lives are in danger, focusing on zero waste should not be at the forefront of our minds.  That’s why our emergency preparedness should focus on minimization, not elimination. Minimization is applicable in non-emergencies too.

Zero Waste Emergency Preparedness

1. Get to know your neighbors.

Preppers in pop culture are frequently depicted as lone wolves. They live in the countryside, surviving by their wits, and resources. The reality is MUCH different. In reality, most people reside in small, mid, or large cities. Most people cannot afford to leave their homes in the city. They don’t have a country home they can retreat to.

How do you survive and thrive right where you are?

Our biggest resource is PEOPLE. Yes, we need each other to survive. Read about the collapse of Bosnia in the 1990s during the civil war. People quickly learned that hunkering down alone in a bunker DID NOT work. We all have to sleep or we get sick. You can’t trust everyone. There are bad folks out there, but you need a select group of people that you can trust and rely on. Humans are social creatures. It’s just who we are.

people resource neighbors emergency shtf

Knock on doors

When we are no longer under quarantine get to know your neighbors. If you live in an apartment building or a neighborhood, start knocking on doors or put a card under their door or in their mailbox with your phone number and email. Sure, some people won’t like it, but most will. Most people will be glad to get to know someone in their immediate vicinity.

Build a community

Are you a member of a church? I know there’s a lot of unchurched folk out there, but church really does create a community of individuals who protect each other. That’s why churches are the first line of defense. Think about it, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the YMCA, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision and Food for the Poor, United Way, Catholic Charities, and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital are all faith-based institutions.

If you are not religious there are other communal organizations such as meet-up groups, book clubs, Facebook mom groups, Reddit (yes, Reddit is excellent at community building, so find your city’s subreddit), your gym, a bicycling club, a kickball league, rock climbing club, and of course your neighbors. There are many ways to meet like-minded people you can build a community with.

Focus on giving… however small

Check-in on someone by text, call a relative, pick up food for an elderly person during your regular grocery shop, buy a struggling single mom some diapers, or support small businesses by ordering a gift certificate. Focusing on others can help alleviate the stress of your own circumstances.

RELATED CONTENT: How to Go Zero Waste When You’re Broke

2. “Zero Waste” = Conscious Consumption

There’s no such thing as zero waste. Being “zero waste” is a misnomer. Even the zero waste gurus with pretty trash jars are not zero waste. They still recycle and they leave waste upstream at the stores they shop at. When stores receive food it comes in bulk packaging. That packaging is likely plastic. As a zero waster the best you can hope for is to lower your packaging waste, but not eliminate it.

Zero waste should really be termed “conscious living,” which includes conscious consumption. Conscious consumption isn’t just for ourselves. It’s about being conscious and caring for those around us.

We consciously consume by NOT panic buying essentials like toilet paper. Here’s why.

  • Unless you live in a war zone, panic buying is unnecessary under MOST conditions, especially if supply lines are still open and you live in an industrialized country.
  • We don’t want to overburden grocery store employees.
  • People who are on low-incomes cannot afford to stock up.
  • The elderly may not be able to access essentials.
  • As a community, we need to refrain from hoarding essentials, so that everyone has access.
  • Panic buying can be wasteful, which is the opposite of zero waste. Even shelf-stable foods have shelf lives.

grocery store employee restocking

 

Understand the psychology of panic buying

People panic buy in times of crisis. It’s just what happens. Whether it’s storm-related or emergency-preparedness, like the Covid-19 virus. They panic buy certain essentials like toilet paper because it’s a necessary bodily function and it’s something they feel like they can control. Try your best to not fall victim to it.

3. “Slowly” stock up on shelf-stable food

shelf stable food pantry emergency Slow is the keyword. Create a space for shelf-stable food that you use regularly. Use the garage, a closet, or a corner in your living bedroom. Get a wire shelf and start stocking. Only buy shelf-stable food YOU WILL USE under normal circumstances. Shelf-stable basically means the food can last for several months or sometimes years.

I rotate my shelf-stable food out and use it before it goes bad. That’s why you should only purchase items you are likely to use in your daily life. I would not buy a massive can of cream corn, because I hate cream corn and I wouldn’t eat it on a regular basis. The type of shelf-stable food items I keep are crackers, oat milk, canned foods, dried or jarred fruit, peanut butter (in large plastic jars), pastas, rice, beans, yeast, sugar, and flour.

Keep extras handy

I learned from my 101-year-old grandmother to keep an extra loaf of bread in my freezer. So I always have at least one loaf of bread in my breadbox and 1 loaf in my freezer. I buy large packages of products I use daily, such as coffee, powdered lemonade (for my kids), finger foods for my kids, shelf-stable veggies, waffles, baking goods, and … wine.

I order essentials like toilet paper in 48 roll packages from Amazon or Who Gives a Crap. In normal times you can find these on Amazon or at Who Gives a Crap. I typically avoid buying paper products from Costco because they’re more expensive and they are double wrapped in plastic.

4. Don’t focus on eliminating packaging. Focus on minimizing packaging.

lower packaging waste crisis emergencyThe larger the package you get, the less packaging waste you will have. It’s the same rule that applies to bulk stores. Be wary of getting certain perishables in large packaging. Food waste is just as as bad (possibly worse) than plastic waste. Unless you have a large family to feed, you will not likely use a huge package of fresh strawberries. If you need strawberries for smoothies, purchase the frozen variety that will keep longer.

5. Resist the urge to buy bottled water.

don't buy bottled water crisis storm emergencyOne of the first things to go during panic buying is bottled water. It’s confusing because many of the people buying bottled water are on municipal water, meaning THEIR FAUCETS (TAPS) ARE STILL WORKING! A good portion of bottled water is actually from municipal tap water sources. They are literally buying tap water, versus walking directly to their sink. I don’t understand why they’re buying bottled water, but it’s easy to get swept up in this. If you fear your municipal water will fail consider saving water in different ways.

Take old plastic bottles and slowly fill with water

I’m on well water. That means, when I lose electricity, I lose water. My well pump requires electricity to function. So I have a limited amount of water storage on hand. Most of us have plastic bottles around. Depending on how long you keep the plastic bottles, the water may not be the best to drink. When my electricity goes out, I use this “old” water to flush toilets, wash dishes, wash hands, etc.

For drinking water, I purchase 5-gallon containers from Lowes with a water dispenser pump. There’s no need to purchase an expensive water cooler stand. The best part about these containers is that they are high density plastic, so they are reusable. I take them back to be refilled. I also purchased a few 3-gallon containers from Amazon to fill in preparation before a storm.

Lastly, if there’s a storm approaching, fill up your bathtub. Be mindful if you have young children as this is a drowning hazard.

RELATED CONTENT: How to Lower You Household Emissions Immediately

6. Buy bar soap instead of soap in plastic bottles.

regular hand soap kills virusesSoap works. Despite the rumors, you don’t need antibacterial soap to kill viruses. You can use good old fashioned bar soap. “Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and dies – or rather, we should say it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive.” So you don’t need to buy a bunch of liquid soap in the midst of an epidemic. Hand sanitizer is useful, but the most effective method is handwashing.

7. Focus on reusables.

reusables during emergency panic buyingIn the midst of the crisis, my mom’s group has been desperate for disposable diapers, wipes, tampons, pads, toilet paper, paper towels, Chlorox wipes. I don’t consider myself a prepper, but because I have reusables I am been better prepared.

I cloth diaper (I use disposables at night), cloth wipes, I have a menstrual cup, Thinx period underwear, microfiber cloths, spray bottles, rechargeable batteries, reusable mask, and vinegar. There was one mom in my group who didn’t know how to wipe her counters without Chlorox wipes. This is what unfettered consumerism has done to our society. It makes us dependent on disposables, thereby creating a disposable society.

In reality, there some disposables we don’t need as much as we think we do.

8. Keep important items on hand.

reusable washable face mask medical
Image belongs to OakPo Paper Co. Click on image to visit their site.

medical grade first aid kit

9. Keep your prescriptions up to date.

keep prescriptions emergencies CVS and Walgreens have automatic refills for your prescriptions when you are close to running out. Download the apps and sign-up to refill your prescriptions at lightning speed. You will need your medication handy during emergencies.

10. Keep an emergency binder.

emergency binder crisis numbersKeep a non-electronic paper notebook or binder with emergency information. Write down important contact information, medical information, phone numbers for neighbors, repair people, insurance documents, and one set of all bills. Keep at least one paper phone book in your house. Once you have a phone book in your house, you can opt-out of receiving yellow pages so you don’t waste paper. I typically opt back in to receive a new Yellow Pages once every 5 years.

RELATED CONTENT: Stop Junk Mail & Save Trees

Honorable Mentions

victory garden crisis emergencies rationing supplementStart a victory garden

During times of crisis in the early 20th century (WW I and WW II), people were encouraged to plant small gardens on any plot they could find, in pots, in patches of grass, in public parks. Victory gardens boosted morale and supplemented the food supply. Times of crisis are the perfect time to start a garden. Here’s an introduction to gardening for beginners. Youtube is a great resource.

Solar generator

Gas generators are cheaper, but they can be dangerous (as they require proper ventilation) and fossil fuel. A solar generator with a significant load capacity is pricey. I haven’t been able to afford one as of yet, but I hope that changes soon.

Keep a landline

Landlines are quickly becoming a thing of the past, but I keep a landline for emergency purposes. It’s a redundancy that helps communication during emergencies.

Vehicle Preparation

I typically keep at least a half a tank of gas in my tank. I can’t speak for my husband. He lives dangerously and pushes it to fumes! I also keep diapers, wipes, towels, protein bars, and a glass breaker/seatbelt cutter in my vehicle at all times.

A GO bag

I keep a travel bag ready with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, water bottle, socks, one set of clothing, notepad, pen, flip flops, and a hairbrush. It’s not quite a “bug out” bag, which is the terminology that preppers use. It’s actually a travel bag. It saves packing time when we travel. Many of the items in my travel bag are older items I would have thrown out, but instead, I use them exclusively for travel.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on emergency preparedness. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share with me in the comments or on Instagram

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