plastic container

What to do about increased waste during Covid19

Dear Sam,

I’m typically a bring-my-own bag and container type of shopper. While I support COVID-19 safety measures, I am frustrated by my under-sink cabinet bursting with paper bags and plastic produce bags. And while I love supporting my favorite local restaurants, it means that I now have a kitchen drawer overflowing with black plastic takeout containers that I don’t have the heart to throw away. Do you have any recommendations for how to reduce waste during “rona-times,” as my kids call it, and for what to do with the bags and containers I’ve already accumulated?




Dear Anne,

Great question and I hear your frustration with the difficulty in avoiding single-use waste right now. 

Restrictions and safety measures for COVID-19 were a big adjustment. All of a sudden, many of us were learning, working, and dining at home exclusively. This meant that all of a sudden we were also seeing all of our waste–our recycling, organics, and trash–because it was all happening at home versus spread across the multiple locations we typically work, learn, and eat at. Here are a few recommendations for how to reduce, reuse, and lastly recycle, some of the items you mentioned as well as my thoughts on other impactful actions to consider in addition to waste reduction.

Grocery Bags and Other Single-Use Bags

  • Reduce by refusing, first. If the store is not allowing reusable bags right now, ask them to put your groceries and other items back in the cart instead of in a bag, then wheel your cart out to your car and put your items in a bag or box in your trunk. If you’re only buying a few items, skip the bag and just carry them out loose.
  • Put veggies and fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, avocados, bananas, and lemons loose in your cart since you are going to give them a good wash when you get home anyway.
  1. REUSE
  • Reuse paper bags for organics recycling.
  • Ask local food shelves if they need paper or plastic bags for sorting donations.
  • Before throwing away that single-use bag that held your bread, cereal, or frozen fruit, use it to pick up and throw away dog poop (or if you don’t have a dog, ask a neighbor dog owner if they’d like your bags). 
  • Reuse paper or plastic grocery bags as trash bags in your bathroom or kitchen.
  • Reuse paper or plastic grocery bags for collecting clothes and household items to donate.


  • Buy food packaged in recyclable containers such as metal cans, glass jars, and paper bags or boxes vs. plastic bags and packaging.

To-Go Containers


  • Ask the restaurant to skip the condiments, silverware, and napkins.
  • Ask the restaurant if they can combine like items into one container vs. multiple.


  • Instead of just recycling containers after one use, wash and save plastic to-go containers for storing food, or for organizing items such as craft supplies, nails and screws, etc.
  • Love to bake and cook for others? Reuse clean to-go containers to deliver food to friends and families.
  • Save containers for sending leftovers home after holiday meals and celebrations.


  • Order from restaurants that are using truly recyclable, compostable, and reusable containers–no black plastic, no #6 plastics, and no paper containers that can’t be recycled or composted. If your favorite restaurant doesn’t use recyclable/compostable materials, share your feedback and ask them to change their materials.

While reducing our material waste is important, we also need to give ourselves some grace right now. The availability and selection of food and household items at stores are improving and catching up, but there are many other impactful behavior changes we can focus on, too. Here are some to consider:

  • Learn how to properly store food and how to reduce food waste
  • Transition to an earth-friendly lawn and yard.
  • Repair and/or buy used and refurbished items before buying new. 
  • Shop locally vs. buying online and shipping from a big retailer. 
  • If you’re able to, try walking or biking to do your errands and get around town.
  • Invest in clean energy by subscribing to Windsource through Xcel Energy or installing solar panels on your home. I discuss it here.
  • Properly insulate your walls and attic to reduce the carbon footprint of heating and cooling your home (and take advantage of the Tangletown Energy Rebate program to save you money while you’re at it!) 
  • Install a smart thermostat. 
  • And, most importantly, learn about, support, and vote for policies that protect our natural resources, promote environmental justice, and reduce our collective carbon footprint.

Thank you for your commitment to reducing waste and living sustainably.


Sustainability Sam