Cynthia Albers

Cynthia Albers

My plans to travel internationally unraveled early; the column I’d prepared to write on zero-waste airport navigation will have to wait.

We’ve been plunged into a time of concern and confusion, but for most of us that comes in the form of things we had hoped to do this year but now cannot. Despite a loss of income and some freedoms, I feel the weight of my own privilege.

As I basked in soft sunshine yesterday, I compared our current stay-at-home order with the dramatic 2019 fire evacuation. It is a blessing to be outdoors, to breathe fresh air and move about in a familiar neighborhood. No smoke filled skies this season. I take solitary walks and wave at my neighbors who are doing the same. We are in isolation, together.

One strong request (from the earth): Let’s be wary of any COVID-19 overreaction that result in renewed wastefulness. This is a good time to reflect on our consumerism and basic health habits. This is an age of opportunity.

Current Events and Zero Waste Living

In reviewing my zero-waste shopping habits, pre-lockdown, I found nothing that required change in this new era. Waste-reduction is generally a clean and tidy process from start to finish. Nevertheless, the stores we patronize will dictate a few necessary changes of their own.

Three weeks ago, Starbucks famously suspended its bring-your-own mug program over corona virus fears, despite the fact that currency exchanged at the register is more likely to carry an alarming collection of germs than the coffee mug you washed with hot soapy water prior to reuse.

Unwrapped Foods

I was not surprised to hear that markets closed their salad bars. It’s good to remember that the glass shield above the food tubs is referred to as a “sneeze guard.”

Bulk foods are not in the same category; they are not handled more (and possibly less) than many of the packaged goods. However, expecting some vendor indecision on bulk foods, I stocked up on favorite bulk staples that have a longer shelf-life. It is admissible to hoard rice and beans.

Beyond washing our hands

Wash your produce. If you are eyeing unwrapped produce with greater suspicion these days, rinse and dry those pomes and drupes prior to storage. Leafy greens and berries can be soaked in a bowl of cold water and double-rinsed extra well before serving. This is nothing new. If you still buy your produce in plastic packaging, you’ll still need to rinse the contents thoroughly before serving. Plastic store packaging prolongs freshness but it is not necessarily germ-free.

Exercise common sense, and strengthen your friendship with a neighbor and their victory garden.  

Rethinking habits

I remember getting my hand slapped by European produce-stand vendors as I reached out to select a piece of fruit, forgetting that the vendor was the only one allowed to touch the goods. It was similar to the rebuke one faces when attempting to pump their own gasoline in Oregon. I appreciate choosing my own produce because I get what I want, in size and quality, but frankly, I didn’t receive anything less from the above-mentioned vendors.

Maybe it’s time to surrender our need to handle everything ourselves?

The opportunities presented to us in this new age include fresh incentives to renew our coffee and tea home-brewing skills, to plant some seeds and to rediscover the advantages (and flavors) of constructing our deli salads and sandwiches from scratch, in the warmth of our own kitchen.

Be well.

Cynthia Albers is a member of the Sebastopol Zero Waste Subcommittee. She can be reached at

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