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Coronavirus: Can We Still Live Sustainably?
By Martin Kuebler
The global coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily routine into disarray. Billions are housebound, social contact is off-limits and an invisible virus makes up look at the outside world with suspicion. No surprise, then, that sustainability and the climate movement aren't exactly a priority for many these days.
We don't have to abandon our green habits during the crisis, but some might have to be adapted for the foreseeable future as we continue to learn about COVID-19 and how this new disease spreads.
The following, while not official medical advice, is based on the latest information from health authorities in Germany, the United States, the European Union and the World Health Organization.
It should be considered along with the official recommendations that have stressed the importance of maintaining distance and staying home, if possible — and, of course, proper hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Are foods wrapped in plastic safer?
People tend to view packaged foods as being cleaner and safer to consume, and research firm BloombergNEF pointed out in a mid-March report that "concerns around food hygiene due to COVID-19 could increase plastic packaging intensity." After all, much of the materials used in hospitals are made of single-use plastic, so shouldn't we apply the same standards to our food?
"Plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe," said Ivy Schlegel, a research specialist for Greenpeace USA, in a recent report from the environmental group. Schlegel pointed out that a number of studies, including one published March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that "the virus will persist on plastic longer than almost any material examined [up to three days in laboratory conditions — editor's note], which could call into question the safety of the majority of plastic-packaged items in supermarkets.
"While stores are wiping down and disinfecting surfaces like door handles, shopping carts and checkout card terminals, it's highly unlikely that employees have time to clean every package of pasta or can of beans. Bottled water isn't necessary, either: the European Food Information Council has pointed out that although the "virus can remain active in water for a short period of time," tap water is filtered and disinfected before it reaches the home, "which would inactivate the COVID-19 virus."
That means we can still choose glass or cardboard packaging over plastic. Purchased products can also be left in a separate box in an out-of-the-way place for three days, to allow any traces of the virus to die off. Fresh produce that will be eaten raw can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush and plenty of water; according to Mike Kortsch at Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), that's enough to ensure it's safe to eat, even unpeeled.
Do reusable bags and containers spread the virus?
Amid the outbreak, many businesses have temporarily banned the use of reusable containers and other items — most notably Starbucks, where, until recently, customers with a reusable cup could enjoy a discounted coffee. Some grocery stores have also sidelined reusable cloth bags and containers, over fears these items could spread the virus to other customers and store employees. Some communities are even reversing existing plastic bag bans or postponing their start.
What are the eco-friendly options? Where cloth bags are still allowed, it's probably fine to keep using them. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, based on current research, that it "may be possible" to be infected with COVID-19 from a surface or object with the virus on it, but "this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."
That appears to be especially true for porous or fibrous surfaces, like cardboard or cloth. But to err on the side of caution, bags should be washed after every use and kept in a separate place at home once groceries have been unloaded.
If forced to choose between paper or plastic, try to go for bags made from recycled materials. Both kinds have their disadvantages — plastic is most often made from fossil fuels or biofuels, while the production of paper bags uses up lots of water and virgin wood — but at least the paper versions will biodegrade.
Should we avoid grocery stores? Is takeout food safe to eat?
With restaurants closed and so many people stuck at home, the takeout business is booming. It's still a reliable option — the European Food Safety Authority has said there is "currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission" of COVID-19. Heat from cooking kills off the virus, deliveries can be paid for in advance and dropped off at the door, and the risk from packaging is low.
But what about all those plastic containers and pizza boxes? They add up, even if they're made from recycled material. Another way to avoid the problem of packaging and plastic bags — and the anxiety that comes with shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak — is to stay away from grocery stores altogether.
In some areas, for example, local organic farmers and food cooperatives are still delivering.
Vegetarian meals will also reduce the number of trips to the supermarket to buy fresh meat, for those without a freezer, and are better for the climate. Vegetarian and vegan diets generally have a lower carbon footprint than those that favor meat.
Another way to reduce our reliance on the grocery store is to grow food at home. Certain vegetables and sprouts — herbs, radishes, lettuce and microgreens, for example — can be grown quickly and easily in a small garden or on a balcony or window ledge. Compost scraps from veggies like carrots and leeks, among others, can also be used to regrow sprouts.
Does laundry need to be treated differently and disinfected?
Keeping things clean is an important way to stop the spread of the virus; the CDC has recommended that we wash clothing "using the warmest appropriate water setting … and dry items completely." But the additional use of very hot water and electric dryers will increase energy consumption.
"In normal everyday life, people in private households can wash their laundry as usual," said Germany's BfR. And we don't have to resort to harsh, polluting chemicals, since all soaps and detergents can help eliminate the virus. BfR does, however, advise that we treat clothing and other textiles from sick people differently, washing these items "at a temperature of at least 60° Celsius [140 Fahrenheit] with a heavy-duty detergent" and not shaking them out.
We can continue to hang clothes to air dry on a sunny day. Though sunlight can be used to kill off pathogens, according to the WHO, it hasn't been proven effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But the virus will find it harder to survive on dry surfaces.
To cut back on laundry, consider keeping a set of clothes to wear outside the house for trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. Once back at home, they should be removed immediately and stored in a closed bag, to give the virus time to die off. And if using a public laundromat, remember to disinfect laundry baskets and washing machines.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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