Zerowaste Struggles amid the COVID-19 Crisis

It was late January of 2020 when I first became alarmed by the COVID-19 disease. I’ve read countless alarming news from China. Thousands of people were infected by the nCoV daily. Even more unfortunate news detail the increasing number of deaths from the virus in only a span of weeks. It scared me a lot. I live in Japan, and it has been evident that a large number of Chinese nationals have fled to Japan to escape the then COVID-19 outbreak in their country. That in itself, has already scared me to the bone. I knew I needed to be careful, that I needed protect myself. But at first, I was strong to not consider any changes in my lifestyle.

As many of my friends know, I am currently on a journey to live a Sustainable Lifestyle. I started doing the Zerowaste Lifestyle last April 2018, then I adopted the Sustainable Lifestyle in the middle of 2019. Throughout my journey, I’ve been challenged a lot. I’ve experienced difficulties starting the ZW Lifestyle when I was still living in the Philippines, but I overcame it by being creative with my ways. When I started living here in Japan, the dependency of the Japanese community with product packaging has forced me to tolerate few unsustainable alternatives in my daily needs. Nonetheless, I persevered to maintain a low impact as much as possible. Even the Influenza seasons here in Japan have never shaken me to abandon my sustainable lifestyle practices. However, the horror of these recent months sinked in to me day by day. The mere epidemic has now become a pandemic. I saw how it spread from just China to now 199 countries globally. I saw the COVID-19 positive cases rise from just merely hundreds to now over 600,000 confirmed cases world wide. I saw deaths rise from barely a handful digits to now over 30,000 fatalities. I saw country by country locking their cities, struggling to control the infectious disease. Now, even my small hometown in the Philippines is in Community Quarantine. The horror of the recent months made me compromise the values and the promises that I swore I would never break. In the aim to prioritize my health and safety, I compromised sustainability.

I started using disposables again.

I can still remember when I started using disposable Face Masks again after years. It was the 27th of January, and for the first time, I picked one from the company-sponsored Face Masks available in the office. This hard decision came from an experience I had the day before that. January 26th, I visited one of my favorite Ramen Stores; Ichiran Ramen. As I entered the store, I was met by a huge number of Chinese Nationals waiting for their turn to eat. I went inside casually. I inserted myself in the small spaces between the Chinese Nationals standing in front of the Ramen vending machine. Yes, the thought that these people might have the nCoV came to my mind, but I was carefree. It was as if the thought of the COVID-19 outbreak was far far away in China. After having my dinner, I went home like it was nothing. I never had any negative thought about that simple encounter at the Ramen store until I’ve read the latest news that day. A man from Aichi prefecture was the 4th COVID-19 case in Japan. There and then, reality kicked in. I suddenly realized the risk I have put myself in by dining at a ramen store full of people who came from a high risk zone, and I was completely carefree and unprotected. It suddenly seemed very real to me. It was in that time that I realized that this virus really is coming for us all. That it can also happen in my community, and that it is not only happening in another country far away. There, in that time, I knew I had to make a choice. Do I protect myself and compromise my values or do I just choose to always bet on my luck and continue doing the normal? Now, you would know what I chose to do.

Of course, the thought of finding sustainable alternatives came to my mind. What if I use washable cloth Face Masks instead of the disposable ones? What if I just keep using my own handkerchief to still avoid using table napkins? What if I just continue using wet rags to disinfect my workstation in the office instead of using sanitary wet wipes? What if I continue ignoring alcohol disinfectants and just continue depending entirely with plain water and soap? Many thoughts stormed my mind. Yes, of course, I knew that there are still so many things I can do. But then, a small voice in my mind kept reminding me; “Are you willing to risk?” It took me days to think things through, but little by little I submitted to what I thought was the best option for me. I started using 1 disposable surgical mask daily. Then, I started using sanitary wet wipes to regularly disinfect my phone, my office workstation, and all those things that I often use. I have also started using paper table napkins instead of using my bare hands when I eat hand-picked foods like I always did. These might be small things for others, but these are not small things for me. This meant comprimising my values, and it didn’t settle well with me. I thought that was all I needed to compromise, but I was wrong. As the COVID-19 crisis worsened, drastic changes in the lifestyle of people all around the world needed to be done.

I started to stock up foods with packaging.

All those who are doing the Zerowaste or the Sustainable Lifestyle avoid packaging as much as possible. Packaging, no matter how it’s done, will always be unsustainable because majority of them are single-use. I have successfully lowered my dependency with packaging even after coming to Japan. I found stores that do not package their vegetables and fruits. I found stores that allow me to buy bulk so that I can cut down with packaging. For 2 years in this journey, I’ve successfully avoided packaged foods like canned goods, instant noodles, and the likes. During this crisis, I thought I can continue this kind of routine. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I’ve seen stores starting to close down to avoid the spread of COVID-19. As cities started locking down, people started panic-buying. Grocery store shelves ran out empty. All basic necessities are gone. Not just that, while cities are quarantined, people are no longer allowed to go out unless necessary. I am thankful that this is not happening to my city yet. The closest news we have here in Japan is Tokyo’s plan for lockdown. Somehow, as the 3rd biggest city in the country, my home, Nagoya City, with 98 cases as of March 17, has a big possibility of implementing a lockdown as well. As my friends in Tokyo started panicking because of the empty grocery stores in their cities, I decided that I can’t allow myself to be dragged in that kind of situation. I started to stock up food for myself just in case Nagoya City decides to implement a lockdown. Unfortunately, the most fit foods for this kind of crisis are foods that I have been trying to avoid since I started my journey to a Sustainable Lifestyle; Emergency foods. I’ve been reluctant as I picked them up one by one and placed them in my shopping basket. I never thought there will come a time when I’ll need to succumbed to this kind of idea. I started buying canned goods again. I started buying instant noodles. Despite all the packaging, I bought things that will help me survive a month or so in a lockdown. It was a hard decision, but I knew it’s the right thing to do.

Prioritize you, because that’s okay.

I am writing this long article to tell all eco heroes out there that you should not feel guilty when you think of yourself first. Self-care is always valid. I know that you promised to never compromise your values. I know you took a solemn oath to keep your sustainable ways. I am proud and in awe of your perserverance and determination. Somehow, I hope you realize and acknowledge the importance of taking care of yourself. I hope you allow yourself to prioritize you in dire situations, because that’s valid. The world will understand, so I hope you would understand as well. Do not be too hard on yourself. Take care of your health, stay home, and make sure you survive the COVID-19 crisis. Remember, we still have a planet to save.

Thank you,

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