The owner of two zero waste stores in Exeter says that although some areas of life have seen environmental compromises during the pandemic, there is much to celebrate as people find more ways of eschewing packaging and supporting local businesses.
Sarah Martin, who runs Nourish Zero Waste in Topsham and Magdalen Road has spent the past few years helping to highlight the message about the need to reduce the use of packaging in order to protect the environment. She thinks lockdown has had good and bad impact on the issues at stake.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that we have had to significantly alter our lifestyles in order to stay safe. In many ways this has been beneficial for the environment – we have all seen the clear waters of Venice and images showing the dramatic drop in air pollution across the globe. We are using our cars less, more of us are working from home - and hearing a plane fly overhead is now a rarity.”
However, she says, in other ways it has become much more difficult at an individual level to maintain the eco-friendly habits we have been nurturing in recent years.
“More people have been getting groceries delivered by supermarkets. They cannot deliver unbagged food into our homes so this has led to a return of carrier bags. One shop I use sells bread a couple of days a week, but this has to be prepacked in plastic to avoid contamination during its movements from the bakery.”
Sarah believes that despite this, there are still many ways for everyone to continue their journey to zero waste. “Lockdown has given a lot of people the space and time to get back to basics, and it’s important that we continue some of the good traits we’ve introduced into our lives.”
These include home cooking - around 51% of us have cooked more since lockdown, taking advantage of the extra time to cook meals from scratch. “This is inherently less wasteful as it relies on fresh produce and reduces the prepacked ready meals in the fridge. Some very organised people are batch-making their own set of ‘ready meals’ for the freezer, perfect for those days when you really just don’t want to cook.”
Then there are those who have been growing their own veg from seed, some for the first time. Suppliers such as the Seed Cooperative have reported soaring sales, as much as six times the demand for seeds as last year. “You don’t need lots of space – cut and come again salad greens and herbs on the window ledge are easy to grow. They are one of those items that are almost impossible to buy from a store without plastic packaging so it’s win-win. You can still plant seeds now and have fresh leaves for the summer months.” For those with gardens, it’s not too late to plant seeds outdoors, including beetroot, carrots, squash and pak choi.
Using local independent shops has become almost habitual for some people keen to support smaller businesses like greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers and farm shops, with many reporting an increase of over 63% in trade according to the grocery industry. “Lots of small food retailers have come up with innovative ways to stay open or introduce ‘click and collect’ or delivery services. As lockdown eases, I hope that we will all continue to support the indies!”
Sarah thinks this is also a good time to consider switching energy suppliers. “Take some time to research green energy suppliers and switch your electricity supply to one that is from 100% renewable energy sources, there are a lot of companies to choose from now and it may even save you money.”
As people start to ease into the new normal, Sarah hopes they will keep the environmental positives right at the forefront of their lives. “Exeter is fortunate to have some great shops and small businesses and a culture that shows a commitment to ideas like zero waste, recycling and reusing. Continuing the journey is vital to the green future of the city.”