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Zero-Waste Lifestyles Continue Despite The Pandemic. Start Today!

By Melanie Bernier for Boston Compass (#123)

May 14, 2020

Hello my trashy babies! Inspired by the Bureau of Linguistical Reality, I’ve penned three new words to describe pandemic realness:

emergatory, noun. Origin: “emergency” and “purgatory.” In crisis, but all forward action is suspended in a purgatory-like state. “Seeing fossil fuels sicken my community, yet having no political recourse to fight it, I can only watch as the problem worsens. I feel stuck in a state of emergatory.”

raw jaw, verb. Origin: “raw dog.” The act of venturing into public without a face mask during a pandemic. “The CDC recommends wearing a face mask in public, but Donald decided to raw jaw it.”

street slaw noun. Garbage on the street mixed with vegetation, water, dirt, and dog piss, becoming a formless and depressing heap of wet pollution. “Trash collection fell behind when the pandemic hit. Damp mounds of street slaw line the sidewalks of my neighborhood.”

I’m not gonna lie: my low-waste priorities have been challenged by quarantine. The bulk bins and farmer’s markets have closed, making zero-waste food shopping nearly impossible. I’m making some garbage, but staying positive. Here are some strategies for squaring environmental sensitivities with our collective pandemic duties.

Charlie Baker’s reusable bag ban. The plastics industry is using the pandemic to cast reusable bags as supervillains, describing them as “virus laden.” But according to the NYT, there’s no independent data to support their claims.

Plastic lobbyists often cite one study to argue that reusable bags are “carriers of harmful pathogens.” The study “found that reusable plastic bags can contain bacteria, and that users don’t wash reusable bags very often. The study was funded, however, by the American Chemistry Council, which represents major plastics and chemicals manufacturers. The study recommends that shoppers simply wash their reusable bags, not replace them (NYT).”

The plastics industry will continue to mislead the public regarding the supposed “health benefits” of plastic bags long after quarantine ends—it’s important to resist the narrative. In the meantime, my local grocery store allows me to sidestep the ban by placing my groceries, unbagged, into the cart after checkout. I take the cart outside and fill my backpack there. This is seen as a safe alternative.

Toilet unpaper. Toilet paper is the only product designed to pass through the sewage infrastructure. I learned this sexy fact while touring a wastewater treatment facility in Lowell. Flush any other item, and you run the risk of triggering a shit geyser. Still, it’s understandable that people would resort to wiping their butts with cotton balls during a TP shortage.

To conserve TP, consider cutting an old shirt into small squares. Use them to dab yourself after pissing. Throw used wipes into a container, kept near the toilet. Clean in the laundry.

Are you squeamish about wipes mingling with clothes in the laundry? Fact: your underwear already has a little piss on it. Quit clutching your pearls! There are zero health concerns associated with having some piss in the mix - ask any baby, they practically drink the stuff.

Wishcycling. Your low-waste groove has been disrupted by the pandemic, and you feel guilty. Avoid wishcycling as a coping strategy. Sneaking garbage into the recycling in an attempt to avoid difficult emotions is no bueno. It leads to wasted resources and contamination (that’s when a bale of recycling is treated as waste because a few pieces of garbage snuck in). Reuse what you can and most importantly, cut yourself some slack.

Melanie Bernier is a multimedia artist/musician/writer once based Cambridge and now killing it in Pennsylvania.

Check out all the art and columns of May's Boston Compass at


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