Can you hear the earth breathing now?
I want to in no way minimize the tragedy and loss that has occurred because of the coronavirus pandemic. People are suffering and mourning loved ones all around the world and people are out of work and aren’t able to provide for their families – first and foremost my thoughts and prayers are with all of you.
In the news, almost every story is doom and gloom with the coronavirus pandemic flipping our world upside down. After almost three months of being in quarantine with my family in Los Angeles, watching both CNN and FOX every night (in an attempt to form a non-biased view of the current situation) I, like everyone, have been inundated with the overwhelming tragedy and loss.
But on the other side of this, there is an incredible story that is just beginning to be recognized and told – a silver lining that could change the future of the world and it affects every single one of us regardless of race, financial status, or location.
For the last three months, the environment has been in recovery mode. While businesses were closed and people were staying home the earth finally had a chance to start to regenerate itself after years and year of our relentless, reckless pollution and waste. As things begin to go back to “normal,” as businesses open again across the USA and people go back to work and back out into the world, all these environmental gains will be lost. But what if they don’t have to be?
For a moment let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario.
What if we don’t let things go back to the way they were? What if each fight to keep the ground the earth has won the last few months? What if we each take the more eco-friendly practices we have implemented during the current coronavirus outbreak and carry these forward? What if we all collectively choose to carry a new, healthier, more meaningful mentality on with us?
What if we finally choose to stand up and acknowledge with both our words and actions that we don’t agree with what society says we should value – that a society driven by the need to constantly grow, buy things we don’t need and can’t afford, throw things away, pollute the earth beyond repair, (and a society that treats people differently based on the color of their skin), is shallow, immoral and not sustainable. What if we all choose to take a stand and each change our values to embrace a simpler, happier, more sustainable, more fulfilling life for the long haul?
I want to share some uplifting stories and statistics with you about the positive environmental impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important that we understand what we’ve gained in such a short time and that there is hope for a healthier, better future. After I will share some of the ways I have implemented more sustainable practices at home during quarantine along with tips for living more sustainably that I have gathered from our We Are Travel Girls team (all of whom work remotely by the way).
I hope these positive stories and these sustainable living tips will be uplifting and inspiring and light a fire in you to do your part to live and travel more sustainably now and for the rest of your life. Together we can take this tragedy and use it as a force for positive change!
1) Tourist Spots Are Recovering Right Now
With non-essential travel on hold, tourist destinations around the world are experiencing a time of environmental recovery due to sharp decreases in visitors. Over tourism has long been an issue and popular tourist destinations have been suffering without reprieve year after year with no end in sight.
But due to the coronavirus outbreak, currently, places like the Venice canals in Italy, the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia are getting a much-needed break from tourists.
For example, the Venice canals are visibly more clear than they have been in years! And Thailand’s coral reefs are getting time to regenerate. The Thailand government indefinitely closed Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh island in 2018 to give the beach and coral reefs offshore time to regenerate after enduring extensive damage by tourists ever since the area became a hot spot from being featured in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach. With reduced tourism because of coronavirus, the islands will have more time to recover and become healthy again.
In cities across the United States, traffic on the roads and highways has plummeted due to people staying home because of the current coronavirus outbreak. According to this New York Times article pollution has dropped too. A satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows huge declines in pollution over major cities including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
Data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide, which are influenced hugely by car emissions, were considerably lower over Los Angeles in the first two weeks of March compared to the same period last year. LA is a car-dependent city and normally features some of the highest smog levels in the country.
Air pollution from vehicles has also drastically plummeted in the Seattle area, which was one of the first major cities in the country to have a coronavirus outbreak and request people to stay at home to combat the spread. The impact was almost immediate.
According to a report by INRIX, by March 8th, 2020, the number of trips into downtown Seattle during morning rush hour had declined nearly 40 percent. New York City is less dependent on car travel than other major cities, but vehicle traffic has still steeply declined there resulting in less traffic-related pollution. And the same story continues across all major US cities.
3) Air Quality In Major US Cities Has Improved Dramatically
Air quality in major US cities has improved not only because of less car pollution but also because of less pollution from, well, everything. Manufacturing and industry have slowed under lockdown and commuting and air travel have screeched to a halt. With all non-essential business and non-essential travel shut down the last few months and a majority of people staying home the US has seen a huge improvement in air quality.
I live in the Pacific Palisades, just north of Los Angeles, and I have personally witnessed the drastic improvement in air quality here. In April this CNN article reported that something dramatic and wonderful was happening in Los Angeles. Amidst stay at home orders to curb the spread of coronavirus the city of LA, which has notoriously bad air pollution, began to see some of the cleanest air of any major city in the world, according to IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company that monitors pollution levels in cities around the world.
In less than a month the air quality in LA improved by 20%! And air pollution dropped 30% in March 2020 in Northeast US compared with the same period last year, due to the coronavirus lockdown, according to new satellite data from NASA. Air quality (and views) also improved in Seattle as well as many other major cities across the United States!
4) While Humans Are In Lockdown Animals Are Coming Out Of Hiding
While humans are in lockdown, animals across the globe are coming out of hiding, roaming undisturbed across National Parks, countryside and cities. A pair of whales were filmed playing just off the Mediterranean coast of southern France, an unusual sight near the usually bustling port city of Marseilles. During lockdown in Japan, deer were photographed roaming the streets of Nora, eating potted plants off of patios, and wandering the halls of a subway station. In Cape Town, South Africa, penguins were filmed wandering the streets.
In March, a herd of mountain goats went viral online when they were recorded roaming through the streets of Llandudno, Wales. In May a pod of 60 dolphins was spotted on the Piako River in New Zealand. In Venice, large schools of fish are now being spotted in the city’s newly clear canals. In Oakland, California, wild turkeys made their way onto the campus of an elementary school, while classes were canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. These are just some of the many heartwarming stories of animals being able to peacefully roam free while humans are in lockdown.
1) Say Goodbye To Paper Towels & Paper Napkins
Did you ever think you’d live to see the day that you’d be jealous of how much toilet paper someone else has? I will never look at a roll of toilet paper the same way again. Ever.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, my family used paper towels and paper napkins on a daily basis. Once coronavirus hit the USA you could not buy toilet paper anywhere – everyone tried to stockpile it, my family included. So with no toilet paper available for purchase, we decided to save all our paper napkins and paper towels in case we needed to use them for TP, and we made the permanent switch to cloth napkins. I’m embarrassed to admit that prior to this I never thought much about how much paper waste we were creating.
While not all trash is created equal (paper is at least biodegradable), trash is still trash and at the end of the day, every piece of trash you throw away goes into our overflowing landfills. One very simple way you can live more sustainably is by using cloth napkins and cloth towels, washing them and reusing them, instead of buying paper napkins and paper towels. It is that easy. Just make the switch and you will significantly reduce the amount of waste your household creates.
2) Work From Home If You Can
Despite temporary, short-term air pollution drop in the U.S. and across the world, scientists warn that pollution levels will rebound once coronavirus restrictions are lifted. So what are we, as a society, and as individuals, going to do about it? One thing you can do is continue to work from home if you’re self-employed or if your employer allows it.
Facebook recently announced it will allow employees to continue to work from home permanently and hopefully many employers will follow suit. If everyone who can effectively work from home does, it will significantly reduce traffic, traffic-related pollution, waste, energy consumption, and overall pollution over major cities.
3) Practice Patience
We Are Travel Girls Co-Founder Becky van Dijk who is sheltering in place in Newport Beach after flying internationally from London to Los Angeles during coronavirus says that she will take from this experience a renewed sense of patience.
“Earlier this year I watched a stand up with Ronny Cheng and laughed so much at the section about our desire for needing things RIGHT NOW. In recent years we have become accustomed to not having to wait for anything, reliant on Amazon Prime so we never have to wait long for anything. Until Now. Now we have to wait – wait outside a supermarket to enter, wait days or weeks for deliveries, wait until we are told we can safely go outside again. All of this waiting may feel frustrating, but it shouldn’t be. It should be a time when we relish a slower, more thoughtful lifestyle and really think about whether we need the item at all if we have to wait two weeks to receive it!”
For some light relief, I recommend watching the whole stand up, or just this part about Amazon Prime!
4) Stop Buying Things You Don’t Need
Along the same lines as Becky’s point above – stop buying things you don’t need. Just stop. You don’t need those new shoes, that new purse, that many shirts, the newest and greatest iPhone. No one cares. You are the only one who cares if you have these things and why do you care? Because society says you aren’t “cool” if you don’t have the latest fashion trends or you don’t have the newest gadget or a nice car or those diamond earrings?
If this coronavirus outbreak has taught us anything it is that we can absolutely live without these things and we are even much happier in our daily lives without worrying about them. Sure once in a while, it is nice to indulge in a new outfit or that tech thing you really want but beyond that is is just wasteful and ridiculous and not sustainable for all of us to constantly buy so much stuff we don’t need, not to mention the packaging and shipping waste that is created from all our purchases.
I am so guilty of this. I don’t care about clothes or fancy stuff but I buy way too much stuff for my daughter and for our house on Amazon. It is really embarrassing. Before the current coronavirus outbreak, I would open the packages as they came in and recycle the Amazon boxes straight away. After the pandemic hit we started letting our deliveries sit on our porch for 24 hrs (cardboard) – 72 hours (plastic) to ensure we were not bringing the virus into our home.
Watching those deliveries build up on the porch made me cringe with embarrassment. Like many people across the USA, I buy way too much stuff and it has to stop. It’s not sustainable. So I made a commitment to myself and to the earth that I will now think long and hard about if I really need something before I buy it.
Just because you can afford to buy something doesn’t mean you should. We all have to think about the environmental impact which is far greater than the financial impact, although our wallets will thank us for curbing your buying habits too.
When you do order from Amazon you can request for them to reduce your packaging which will significantly help reduce waste – here’s a link to information for Amazon’s “frustration-free packaging” program. And in the future, when stores are all open again when possible choose to shop in-store and not online because it helps reduce shipping and packaging waste.
5) Use Non-Applicator Tampons Or Cups
Tampons – not an exciting topic but so important. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I thought I was being environmentally responsible by using cardboard applicator tampons. They are better than plastic applicator tampons, right? But I could have done better.
Then coronavirus hit the USA and people went crazy stockpiling TP and all essential products including tampons. I could not find the brand I always used, Tampax cardboard applicator tampons, to save my life. (We, humans, are creatures of habit and often times we will habitually stick with the same product even if there is a better option on the market). I looked online literally everywhere and then in desperation, I bought the only tampons I could find – o.b. non-applicator tampons. Their tag line is “Only what you need, nothing you don’t” and that is really the key here.
All tampons have a big environmental footprint – the average woman uses 11,000 – 16,000 tampons in her lifetime and these are being thrown into the garbage, filling up our landfills – but the plastic applicators don’t biodegrade. By simply switching to cardboard applicator tampons you can reduce a huge amount of non-biodegradable waste over the span of your life. And by switching to non-applicator tampons you can easily reduce significantly more waste.
And of course, the most eco-friendly option of all is using a menstrual cup, which is a reusable feminine hygiene product. If we switch to a reusable menstrual cup you will eliminate your tampon waste altogether!
I’m embarrassed it took the current coronavirus pandemic to make me realize how easy it is to switch to non-applicator tampons but I am grateful I was forced to come to this realization and make the switch permanently. This is one very simple thing us females can do to have a hugely positive impact on the earth!
6) Stop Using A Car For Short Journeys
One easy way you can all reduce our carbon footprint is to stop using a car for short journeys and walk or bike instead. We Are Travel Girls Ambassador Abi Prowse who is sheltering in place in Hertfordshire, just north of London, shares, “Whilst walking everywhere isn’t always possible, I’ve always been guilty of jumping straight into the car for a 2-minute journey, claiming that I was ‘in a rush’ or that I had somewhere to be.
Right now, time is something that everybody has a lot of! I’ve been using these past few months to train myself into slowing down and appreciating my surroundings – this is definitely much easier on foot.
Not only will walking keep you fit and better your mood, but it also gives you the chance to listen to some music or that podcast or audiobook you’ve been meaning to start. It’s also cheaper, healthier, and way better for the environment! So invest in a pair of comfy shoes and continue to admire the world on foot, even post-lockdown.”
7) Say No To Single-Use Plastics
During quarantine, it was probably easy to cut down on your use of single-use plastics – no more trips to Starbucks and to-go food while traveling. But how do we make this last after things go back to “normal”?
According to EarthDay.org, in 2016 world plastics production totaled around 335 million metric tons, and roughly half of annual plastic production is destined for a single-use product. Before Coronavirus hit humans buy 1,000,000+ plastic bottles per minute, and only about 23% of plastic bottles are recycled within the U.S. Plastic pollution is devastating our global eco-systems and single-use plastics have a hugely destructive, large-scale impact on our eco-systems and our entire earth.
Some ways you can avoid single-use plastics now and always are: use a reusable water bottle, say no to disposable straws and silverware by bringing reusable ones with you from home, carry reusable to-go containers with you in your car, and choose eco hotels and environmentally responsible destinations. I wrote a dedicated article on how to say no to single-use plastics at home and when traveling so please check that out for more detailed tips.
8) Quit Meat For Good
Did you know that cow farts and belches are one of the top contributors to global methane gas emissions? Livestock pushed about 119.1 million tons of methane into the air in 2011 alone. Carbon dioxide emissions are far greater in terms of volume, but because methane captures more of the sun’s energy, it’s actually a more potent greenhouse gas.
Because we were cooking at home in quarantine for the last two months, my family significantly cut down on our meat consumption. The amount of meat most households normally eat is not sustainable and the ridiculous part is we don’t need to eat meat. We can get the protein we need from plant sources and these plant sources are better for us and better for the environment. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist so I can not give health advice here. Please do your own research and you will discover the truth about plant-based diets.
A good place to start is watching the incredible documentary The Game Changers produced by David Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s available on Netflix and it is not only a highly entertaining documentary but it is very enlightening will help you realize in less than two hours that you can easily change your eating habits and be happier and healthier. You don’t have to cut meat out entirely but at least try to cut back – the planet, your body, and animals around the world will thank you.
9) Travel Domestically Instead Of Internationally
When travel resumes opt to travel more domestically over internationally to lessen your environmental impact. Travel is inherently not eco-friendly but if you can avoid flying that will significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Flying creates a huge amount of pollution and waste.
So if you have a choice between flying or driving try to drive if you can. Roads trips are the way to go in 2021 and beyond. And domestic travel is the way to go. In response to this need, we are launching Travel Girls Getaways across the USA in 2021 so be sure to submit your trip interest to join us on an upcoming long weekend getaway in the United States.
10) Grow Your Own Vegetables
One fun and rewarding way to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle is to grow your own vegetables. We Are Travel Girls Collaborations Manager, Hannah Watson, who is sheltering in place in London shares, “For the best part of 11 years I have predominantly always lived in apartments with no garden or outdoor space which has meant I’ve never grown my own veggies.
I always have house plants but since lockdown, I cleared a big windowsill in my room and set up planters which now contain beetroots, carrots, a chili plant, basil, radishes, and some edible flowers. It feels so good growing your own produce and when you don’t have access to nature, and it is a great way to connect with Mother Earth. It’s on a small scale, but now I know there’s no excuse and everyone can do it. This is something I will always prioritize going forwards.”
11) Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Recycle. Reduce. Reuse. We all learned this mantra in elementary school but in order of importance, it should actually be Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. I already touched on the importance of reducing what we buy and in turn reducing the waste we output. Instead of buying new stuff all the time try to reuse and repurpose the things you already have.
A milk carton can become a birdhouse, an old surfboard can be turned into art for your wall, a toy can be hidden away for a month and then brought out and it will be like new to a child. And please, please buy recycled toilet paper – it’s daily paper use you can’t really avoid and it’s just going on your butt anyway.
12) Demand Stronger Environmental Legislature
The coronavirus pandemic has damaged the economy and overwhelmed the health-care system. Researchers warn it could also threaten long-term climate change progress by compromising global investments in clean energy and weakening industry environmental goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
To counter this, it is up to all of us to push back and demand stronger environmental legislation that will protect our planet. Our country needs new, stronger policies that can help deal with its exponential growth and the harmful effects of waste and pollution generated by so many people.
Any President who steps into office and disregards the multitudes of warnings and data about this has either a terrible misunderstanding about how important these issues are or a complete disregard for future generations of the United States and the world. We must demand change!
13) Support Organizations Working To Reverse Environmental Damage
There are so many incredible organizations to support but one of my favorites is Healthy Seas, founded in 2013 to tackle the ghost net fishing phenomenon which is responsible for the needless death of marine mammals. Through cleanups with volunteer divers and by working with stakeholders of the fishing sector toward marine litter prevention, they collect waste nets and ensure they become a valuable resource.
My eco swimwear line, SummerLove Swimwear, is made from recycled fabric created from discarded fishing nets removed from the ocean by Healthy Seas.
While putting this article together, I spoke with Veronika Mikos, the director of Healthy Seas and she had this message to share, “The unprecedented global health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made one thing clear: Our health is much more closely connected to the health of planet Earth than most people realized until now. Acting today is no longer wishful thinking, but an absolute must-do to safeguard our future, health, and prosperity.”
Let’s make climate change, ocean pollution, and biodiversity loss, part of human history. Let’s build our new, sustainable future together. We are still planning many exciting projects for this year and feel energized because we know the environmental movement will come out of this situation stronger than ever.”
Carrying The Positives Forward
If we can send humans into space but we can’t find a way to live sustainably what does that say about us as a species? I thought I was living sustainably before this global crisis came along but it took something of this magnitude to show me that there is so much more I can do.
Each of us has the ability to make choices that change the course of our future on this planet. Let’s all take this tragedy and use it as a force for positive change. Who’s ready to make a difference for this generation and for all future generations on this planet?
After being stuck at home for three months I personally have never been more grateful and more ready to enjoy and protect this earth – our oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, deserts, valleys, meadows, plants, animals, fresh air. Please join me in carrying forward at least a couple of adaptions to your daily life that will allow you to live more sustainably.
Please share what you have been doing during quarantine, and will continue to do to live more sustainably going forward, in the comments below. Thank you for caring because we are all in this together!
We hope that this article has inspired you to live more sustainably now and after the current coronavirus outbreak. If you have any questions or responsible lifestyle tips, or responsible travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
Want to share your own travel tips by guest writing for We Are Travel Girls? Go to our Contribute page for guidelines and to submit your article.
Read More About Sustainability & Responsible Travel
- 10 Easy Ways To Avoid Single-Use Plastics
- 24 Ways To Easily Live & Travel More Sustainably
- 20 Of The World’s Best Luxury Eco Hotels
- 6 Tips For Traveling More Sustainably
- 5 Ways To Be A Responsible Traveler
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