How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

I’m sure you’ve been staying up to date with the news – coronavirus is pretty much all anyone’s talking about. It’s on our televisions, phones, laptops and tablets. It’s the main topic on our Facebook feeds and memes we share. Our entire way of living has been adjusted due to coronavirus: Staying indoors, washing our hands, and social distancing has become the new normal. So what of zero waste? Where does that leave the zero waste movement, and does it even matter anymore? I’m here to tell you it does. 

Just because we are experiencing hard times doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the big picture. We shouldn’t lose sight of our values during this time – and that includes caring for the earth. Thinking about sustainability is even more important now because it connects us to the world at a time we’re told to quarantine ourselves. We’re told now more than ever to purchase single-use hand sanitizers, face masks, gloves, and other products. Unfortunately, these items will likely end up in landfills, or worse – the environment. Already, face masks are polluting the shores of Hong Kong. Also, people fear reusable items like never before – some businesses flat out refusing reusable mugs, containers and produce bags. While I understand we want to stay healthy, and prevent the spread of the virus, we should still make a conscious effort to think about how our decisions effect the Earth too. So, with this in mind, here’s how to stay zero waste during the coronavirus outbreak.
This post contains some affiliate links. This means if you choose to purchase one of these items I will make a very small commission at no extra charge to you. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Disclaimer: I am in no way a medical professional or expert regarding the coronavirus – I am simply sharing tips based on my own experience and what I have been doing that has worked for me. 

How to Stay Zero Waste
During the Coronavirus Outbreak

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

Why should we care about zero waste right now?

Sustainability probably isn’t on the forefront of anyone’s mind right now. While I get that, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still care or talk about it.

As I mentioned earlier, thinking about sustainability helps us connect to the world in a time we’re told to bunker down and stay inside.
It helps us appreciate things and maybe view the world a little differently, a little more preciously. And, as scary and disheartening as all of this is – there is some good news too.

For example, there have been several reports of clearer waters in Venice where fish are now visible. Air pollution has dropped significantly in Italy due to the fact that fewer fossil fuels are being burned from people staying indoors. Even New York, Los Angels, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta have reported significant drops in air pollution.

I’m well aware these positive changes come at a cost – so they’re bittersweet, at most. However, they can’t be ignored.
It would be fantastic if, after the emergency is over, we could remember the beauty we’ve seen reappear in the world and do our best to preserve it.
There’s of course negative news as well – lots of people are buying tons of single-use items right now, specifically gloves and masks. And guess what? Those items are popping up as litter all over the place right now.
I’ve seen several gloves and masks on the ground myself – but it’s by no means an isolated incident. Several other people have spotted single use masks and gloves popping up on the ground.
This sucks for multiple reasons: These gloves and masks are not biodegradable or good for the environment – they’re made with petroleum. They’re also a health hazard because you can’t exactly pick these items up without worrying you’ll catch something.
That’s why it’s so important to think about sustainability right now. And zero waste does figure into all of that. By remaining zero waste during this time, we’re acting on our commitment to bettering the planet as a whole.

How can I stay zero waste during the coronavirus outbreak?

Thankfully, there are several ways to make an impact during this time. All hope is far from lost.
How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

● Make the most of your food by reducing food waste

In this hard time, the food we eat should be cherished. With so many people struggling to put meals on the table due to job loss, we need to make our food last us.

One way we can do this is by cooking with leftovers. For example, if you have some leftover rice and vegetables – combine them the next day for lunch. Or, if there’s some leftover chicken, use it to make some chicken soup.
You can also get creative and make vegetable stock out of food scraps, turn mushy berries into jam, use almond pulp to make hummus, and make your own pickles.
In my ebook, How to Reduce Food Waste, I detail even more ways food can be multipurposed, so be sure to check it out. Due to the coronavirus, I’m giving you guys 10% off with my discount code SAVETHEFOOD. Just be sure to enter it at checkout!
If you have food waste, you should definitely compost it. In NYC, food scrap drop off locations are suspended unfortunately – but organic curbside pickup is still regularly scheduled.
If you still want to compost, but don’t have access to drop off locations anymore, fear not. Ask around and see if any of your friends have compost bins. I’ve actually been dropping off my compost at my friend’s house – she has a compost bin that gets collected by the department of sanitation, so it works out perfectly.
You can also try to find someone who will take your food scraps on Share Waste. If you have scraps, you can see nearby composts in your area. If you have compost, you can start accepting scraps. It’s a win-win!
Don’t forget to grab a copy of my ebook How to Reduce Food Waste for even more ideas! Use the code SAVETHEFOOD for 10% off at checkout.
How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

 Don’t panic buy toilet paper

People are buying toilet paper like no tomorrow. It’s literally causing companies to sell out of toilet paper by the boat loads. Store shelves are rendered empty thanks to panic buying.

While this has resulted in lots of funny memes, it’s honestly no joking matter. When you get down to it, it’s pretty sad.

Think about this: Toilet paper is disposable. It ends up as a waste product pretty quickly. Not to mention, most of it is not made sustainably. In fact, 27,000 trees are cut down everyday to make toilet paper, and they can’t even be recycled.
To add insult to injury, most toilet paper comes wrapped in plastic! All that waste is terrible for the environment. I think it’s safe to say we can do better.

Toilet paper

Unfortunately, a lot of toilet paper (even the sustainable brands) are sold out right now. Due to the coronavirus, there has been high demand for their supplies – and they weren’t exactly expecting it.

I think it’s definitely important to support plastic-free and tree-free toilet paper brands – but to bare in mind they’re not stocked at the moment.

Here’s a list of eco-friendly toilet paper options:

  • Pure Planet – Plastic-free, bamboo and sugarcane toilet paper that comes in a cardboard box. 36 rolls per box. 100% tree free.
  • Reel – Made from 100% recycled bamboo that gets delivered to your door, plastic-free. Comes in a cardboard box with 24 rolls of toilet paper.
  • Seventh Generation – Toilet paper made from recycled paper, wrapped in paper, not plastic.
  • Bim Bam Boo – 100% bamboo toilet paper, each roll is wrapped individually in compostable tissue paper. Comes in a recycled cardboard box, 24 rolls per box.
  • Forestar – Bamboo toilet paper that’s unbleached and has a natural bamboo pulp color. Cute fruit-inspired wrappers. Box of 12 rolls.


Aside from toilet paper, you should also pre-order a TUSHY bidet at this time. Bidets will help you reduce the amount of toilet paper you need in the first place.

Since the Coronavirus panic set in, people have been buying TUSHY bidets like crazy, so there’s a bit of a shortage right now. That said, you can still pre-order one!

Bidets are also super hygenic. Think about it – if you got poop anywhere else on your body, would you just wipe it away with toilet paper? Nope – you’d wash it away. Why aren’t we doing that with our butts?

If you really can’t wait for TUSHY bidets to come in stock, here are a few other bidet brands worth considering:

  • LUXE bidet: This high quality bidet is designed to fit any toilet and is especially great for women. It has a feminine wash nozzle which is aimed a bit lower for front wash and the spray is a little softer than regular wash – perfect for when you’re menstruating.
  • Oriti: Easy to use, easy to install. Has a feature for front wash which is especially useful to menstruating women. Economical price.
  • Dalmo: Has a 3 water spray mode – bidet wash, feminine wash and self cleaning. Easy to use and attach. Also has a water pressure control knob and a brass T-connector instead of a plastic one. Fits any toilet.
  • Boss bidet: Comes with a 1 year warranty, two nozzle cleaning modes (front [for women]and back [men and women]), and a self cleaning nozzle. Buy 2, get 5% off. Buy 3, get 10% off.
  • Bio Bidet: Simple design with one comfortable grip dial that’s easily adjustable. Two spray styles – front and back, which are ideal for both men and women. Easy to install, built to last.
  • WElinks: Hot and cold water bidet option, dual nozzle, feminine wash, water pressure adjustment, and 1 year warranty.
How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

 Invest in reusable masks and gloves

During this time, you’ll likely see a ton of people walking around with face masks and gloves on. Most of them are single use too.

As I mentioned earlier, lots of face masks and gloves are being littered right now. I saw a few of them myself while simply taking a walk.

It’s bad enough these items are single use only – they should be disposed of properly too.

Face masks have already started to wash up on the shores of Hong Kong in addition to other ocean polluters. Is this the legacy we want to leave behind?

Face masks

Totally Taylored, a sustainable small business, is selling reusable cloth face masks. You can wash them! Plus with every purchase, one will be donated to healthcare workers. Such a great cause.

I love Totally Taylored because she uses fabric scraps (that would otherwise go to landfill) to make her products. Your order will also come plastic-free. Talk about zero waste!

Better yet, you can use my coupon code GREENIFYME10 to receive 10% off your purchase.

Note: These are not a replacement for traditional masks, but can be used in conjunction or alone with the best hopes of preventing the spread of the virus. This face mask is made with a pocket to add in a filter to help with an additional protective layer. If you can get your hands on a better mask (like a N95) – please do. If you can’t, this is better than absolutely nothing. 


Did you know most gloves (especially disposable ones) are made with plastic? They’re not exactly biodegradable.

Skip out on the single-use gloves and purchase some reusable gloves instead!

I love the brand If You Care – they made gloves from fair trade rubber, so they’re all natural and biodegradable. You’ll receive two pairs of gloves in a cardboard box – both the gloves and box are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.

I ordered the medium sized gloves, but you can choose from small to large. They fit me quite nicely – I love the fact they’re so comfortable. The inside of the gloves have been dusted lightly with cotton for comfort.

You can reuse the gloves over and over again, making them a worthy investment. I love how versatile they are too – you can use them to clean the dishes, stove and bathroom, or for gardening.

In today’s day and age, you can also use them whenever you step out of the house to go somewhere. They’ll protect you.

However, make sure to wash them after use! Just lather them with some soap and warm water and then leave them to dry. They’ll be good to reuse after that. Check them out here.

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

● Wash and sanitize your hands properly

By now, you’re probably sick of washing your hands. If they’re dry, might I suggest making some DIY lotion? In all seriousness though – it is quite important.

Washing your hands helps get rid of any germs or bacteria from items you’ve touched. Sanitizing them help too, though not as efficiently as hand washing.

If you head out, make sure not to touch your face and wash your hands whenever you get the chance. Especially after touching something or someone.

Hand washing

Nothing beats hand washing. Simple as that.

Personally, I reuse a plastic foam soap dispenser that used to house Bath and Body Works hand wash. Now it’s full of water and castille soap.

I can’t say this enough – castille soap is amazing and one of the most versatile products I’ve ever come across. I use it to clean so many things – from produce bags, to face cloths, to dishes, to my hands.

I get the biggest container of castille soap I can find (I don’t have access to it in bulk) and mix it with water. It lasts forever, and the bigger the container, the easier it is to recycle.

To make DIY hand soap, just fill your container of choice with approximately 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of castile soap. You can adjust this – these measurements don’t have to followed precisely. I usually just eyeball it.

Make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds too. To save water, you can wet your hands, turn off the water, lather your hands for 20 seconds, then turn on the water again to rinse. The water doesn’t need to running the entire duration!

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer cannot beat hand washing – this is a fact.

However, if you must use hand sanitizer, I recommend making your own. Just make sure it’s a DIY that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. My zero waste hand sanitizer recipe does!

Making your own sanitizer will cut back on plastic waste. You can just refill an empty hand sanitizer bottle with your homemade version, or repurpose small shampoo bottles designed for travel. Doing this will ensure you don’t continuously purchase tiny plastic bottles that have a low probability of actually getting recycled.

There are also a lot of hand sanitizers on the market that contain questionable ingredients like fragrance and artificial dyes. We don’t need any of that now do we?

Just remember this is no substitute for actual hand washing – it’s simply designed to hold you over until you can wash your hands. Perfect for when you’re out and about and can’t get to a sink. Check out my recipe for DIY hand sanitizer here.

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

● Clean and organize the zero waste way

During this time, we’re told to constantly clean things – especially after we come home from being outside.

It makes sense. Plus, if you’re sitting home for long durations of time, it can be nice to clean things just because.

I recently cleaned my desk which had been an absolute mess for months. It felt great to finally tackle it and get it spotless.


During this time, it’s recommended to clean surfaces frequently. On the daily, you should wipe down countertops, sinks and tabletops. And make your bed!

Here’s what cleaning you should do on a weekly basis:

  • Kitchen: Wipe appliances, clean the stovetop, sweep and mop floor.
  • Bathroom: Wash towels and bathmat, scrub down the bathtub, sink and mirrors.
  • Bedroom: Change the bedding, vacuum or sweep, put away clothes, wash clothes.

Cleaning DIYs + supplies:

Cleaning with my orange peel vinegar cleaner is a good option. It’s an all-purpose cleaner designed for any surface – you can use it in the kitchen, dining room, bathroom, etc.

I know during this time we’re all very worried about killing germs and bacteria. Thankfully, orange peel vinegar does kill bacteria and viruses due to its acidity. If you’re still worried, see my note below.

Note: There is no solid evidence that states vinegar will outright kill the coronavirus, despite it being effective on other germs. It is a good option if you have nothing else available. However, to air on the safer side, use soap and water over vinegar when possible. Then, use a disinfectant spray on the surface if possible – here’s my DIY homemade disinfecting spray.

Wiping down surfaces with a little castile soap, water and a cloth sponge work wonders too. I love cloth sponges because they’re compostable at the end of their life but can be washed and reused for a long time. They’re made from cellulose and cotton. Check them out here.

I recently cleaned off my desk using a cloth sponge and after each swipe, I snatched up a bunch of dust. The beauty of the cloth sponge? I just wet it and washed it all away, then squeezed it dry.

If you’re looking to do some deep cleaning, I recommend trying out my toilet cleaner and my sink + tub scrub. Those work some serious magic.

I tend to use cloth sponges to dampen a surface, then a dry rag to wipe away the wetness. If you do this, or something similar, make sure to hand wash your rags and cloth sponges after using them.

As far as laundry goes, here’s my zero waste laundry routine and what I recommend. Make sure to wash your clothes  – especially after going outside.


Now’s a great time to declutter! Decluttering and cleaning tend to go hand in hand, so it’s something to think about.

After all, in order to clean surfaces, the surface needs to be visible, right?

Unfortunately during this time, you can’t exactly donate items to thrift shops. More than likely, thrift shops will be closed (all non-essential businesses are in NYC right now).

However, you can at least set items aside to be donated once all of this is over. If you’re not comfortable waiting that long, you can always try selling it online! Trying Craigslist or Facebook marketplace could work. I’m not sure if that’s been impacted by the virus, but it’s worth a shot.

That said, don’t be afraid to throw certain things out. I know that may seem kind of counterproductive, as I’m advising you to stay zero waste during this crisis.

However, I’m fully aware there are some items we hold onto as zero wasters because we hope to keep them out of the landfill as long as possible.

Items that are hard to recycle, or we don’t know how to recycle; items we believe we can fix but never get around to fixing; items simply destined for landfill one way or the other.

I know it hurts to let these items go, but you have to. It’s good for your mental health, and for the sake of your home. Remember: There is no such thing as being fully zero waste. We can get very close, but the truth is, our economy is a linear one. And every living creature creates waste of some sort.

Now, this doesn’t mean I want you throwing out perfectly good items. Try to find items homes first! See if your friends or family want items you don’t first. Then, if not, seek to donate or sell. But obviously things like clothing tags and junk mail must go.

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

● Invest in reusable period products

For all my menstruating humans out there, now is a great time to switch to reusable period products. There’s a huge demand for single use items like tampons and pads right now. So much so, you might have a hard time finding those items.

That’s the last thing I’d want for you. Not to mention those products are incredibly wasteful to begin with. It’s not exactly fair menstruating people generate more waste simply because we get periods.

Save some money and time by investing in reusable period products like period underwear or menstrual cups.

I personally love the brand She Thinx – they sell amazing period underwear that works like magic. Their panties are ridiculously comfortable and so stylish too. I legit forget I have my period sometimes while wearing these.

I recommend the Hiphugger (super heavy days) and the organic cotton brief (heavy to medium days).  I have two hiphuggers and one cotton brief – I definitely advise you stock up and get even more though. I use these in combination with cloth pads!

As far as menstrual cups go, I’ve heard a ton of good things about the Diva Cup, the Lena Cup and the Pixie Cup. Those seem to be the best cups on the market. While I’ve never tried one myself, I’d certainly pick from one of those brands, given the chance.

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

● Shop for food without the waste

During this time, please only stock up on what you need.

You don’t have to hoard food – there’s plenty to go around. There’s more than enough food for everyone. Just take what you need and leave some for others.

To continue shopping sustainably during this time, I recommend visiting your local farmers market. All the farmers markets in NYC have been dubbed essential – they are providing food after all.

Supporting local farmers is so essential, especially right now. Small businesses have really been hurt by this pandemic, so it’s great to support the little guys whenever possible.

Also, you’re doing the earth a favor! Shopping for locally grown food is great because it takes less time to get to you – which results in less travel emissions. Totally beats buying food that was grown overseas!

If you live in NYC too, I advise looking at GrowNYC to find a market near you. On Staten Island, there are two – one at St. George, and one at the Staten Island Mall. I love going to both!

You can bring your own reusable produce bags and tote bags with you to the market too. Just make sure to wash them after each use.

If you must shop at the grocery store during this time, you can still use your reusable produce bags and tote bags. But again, make sure they’re clean before doing so.

I understand not everyone will be able to shop in bulk during this time for dry goods. So, you should shop as if you have no bulk food options. This means opting for items packaged in paper, cardboard, glass and aluminum.

If you must get something packaged in plastic, get the biggest container you can afford. Smaller plastics are harder to recycle.

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus OutbreakHow to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus OutbreakHow to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak

Conclusion: Do what you can and stay healthy

I know this is a difficult time, and not everything is within our control. I understand there are certain exceptions you’ll have to make during this time.

Don’t beat yourself up over necessary medical waste. If you must go get tested for coronavirus, don’t worry about the waste that will produce.

Medical waste is a necessary part of keeping you alive and well.

The same goes for any kind of medication you might need during this time – if it comes in plastic, don’t even stress it. If it’s going to keep you healthy, it’s worth it. After all, how can you care for the planet if you can’t care for yourself?

Also, remember there is no such thing as “zero waste”. As counteractive as that sounds, the truth is everyone produces waste – be it directly or indirectly.

The goal of the zero waste movement, in truth, is to reduce the amount of waste you create as much as possible. With this in mind, we should look to reduce waste where we can and not be made to feel guilty about the waste out of our control.

Stay alert, stay healthy, and stay zero waste (as much as humanely possible). Together, we’ll get through this!

How to Stay Zero Waste During The Coronavirus Outbreak
What are some ways you’re staying zero waste during this coronavirus outbreak?

For more DIY ideas to do while self quarantining, consider baking some chocolate chip cookies or whipping up some zero waste lip balm.

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.

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