4 Ways to Counteract the Pandemic's Environmental Impact


The COVID-19 crisis has been particularly challenging for some aspects of the environmental movement. Out of medical necessity, the use of plastic gloves and disposable masks has soared. For a number of months, reusable shopping bags weren’t permitted (and in many places still aren’t), and many people have turned to ordering food online to decrease infection risk.

But that came at a price: a ton of extra packaging. And with every building now equipped with a plastic bottle of hand sanitizer for infection control, using refillable dispensers or containers is rarely considered. 

These are just a few of the new burdens the pandemic has foisted onto the environment. There are many more. There’s been a severe decrease in the use of public transit, and bulk food stores and take-out joints no longer allow patrons to bring reusable containers. 

But there are still ways to remain environmentally responsible in both the yoga world and the everyday world, while continuing to do what we need to to keep ourselves and others safe. Here are some I recommend.

1. Use Reusable Masks Whenever Possible

Masks are one reusable that we are still able to use, and we should avail ourselves of that opportunity as much as possible. As in-person yoga classes, workshops, and trainings resume in some locations, studios and teachers will need to consider the logistics of where and when participants are asked to wear masks. My studio requires participants in indoor classes to wear masks in the building, removing them for practice only. 

In the effort to facilitate these health measures with the least environmental impact, I invested in a collection of reusable masks that I wear and wash regularly. The yoga studio where I teach even pivoted to making and selling masks along with yoga gear and props. This enables customers to grab a mask if they accidentally left theirs at home and still want to shop at the yoga boutique or participate in a socially distanced class. It’s a kind of business diversification to help keep the studio afloat (with the added bonus of infection control and environmental sustainability). 

For school (which my children attend in person here in Ontario, Canada), my kids each have a set of eight masks—one for each day of the week plus one extra packed in case the one they wear to school gets dirty. I am now treating masks like underwear: Yes, you need to wear clean ones every day. No sharing. And just like undies, have fun with the patterns and styles. This is my plan for school, but it’s applicable for work, teaching yoga, and participating in classes as well. 

Disposable masks are sometimes necessary, like when you forget a reusable one. But we need to be vigilant about disposing of them properly in the trash—not on sidewalks, trails, parks, or parking lots. I’m glad that the medical experts no longer recommend disposable gloves for the public, as I began seeing them littered everywhere in my neighborhood, along with masks, in both urban and natural settings. Washing hands is still the best way to prevent germs from being transferred from object to person.

2. Choose Sustainable Transit When You Can

Many people are forgoing public transit in favor of a car. I understand the infection-control concern, but more people driving is not going to be good news for the environment (this is essentially the opposite of the early stages of the pandemic, when reduced driving was a respite for the environment and air quality). Let’s continue to see how else we can travel. Walking, running, cycling, or rollerblading to a destination may not always be possible, but they can be wonderful ways to get about—with the added benefit of some cardiovascular exercise. 

My yoga studio began offering socially distanced yoga classes at a conservation area on a large dock at the lake. The lake area was so popular that parking lots were filling up and participants were late to class due to the line at the gatehouse. So we encouraged yoga participants to make their way to class by an active means of transport—such as penny boarding, biking, or parking farther away and walking in. One student duo impressed us by even making their way across the lake to class via stand-up paddleboard! 

There’s no better time than now to rethink how we make our way to school, yoga, work, or safe social events. 

3. Consider Safe Ways to Use Reusable Containers

Just when an increasing number of people were getting used to bringing reusable cups and containers for pre- and post-yoga tea, coffee, smoothies, nibbles, and everything else, many provisioners stopped allowing their use. Rather than always succumbing to the throwaway option, it’s time to continue making a difference by bringing our own food and drink from home in our own containers. If the get-together is more of a social outing, can you frequent an establishment that offers safe dining—on a patio, perhaps—and actual reusable dishes? Or take the initiative to suggest a picnic with the personal food you bring from home? Consider the benefit of knowing exactly where those edible items have been, and who made them. 

I fervently hope we don’t slide back into the habit of regularly using plastic food and drink containers just once and then throwing them away. The environmental impact is too great. Bring your own, bring from home when fueling your body for yoga.

4. Look for Ways to “Green” Your Screens

It goes without saying that we have all been online far more than usual. Teaching and participating in online classes, searching for yoga, pandemic, and school information and stats—it’s become an ongoing daily habit for many. And there are the seemingly endless conference calls for meetings, video chats with friends and family, and even virtual game nights and holiday celebrations. Am I alone in seeing my electricity bill skyrocket (not to mention my internet costs)? 

All that increased usage can have a serious environmental impact, depending on how your power is supplied. Now might be a really great time to find a power company strongly invested in renewable energy. Or maybe add your own solar panels or wind power to your home if those are options for you. Consider computing during off-peak hours and taking a break from screens from time to time in favor of that off-grid classic—reading a paper book. When you do need a browser to do a search, consider using Ecosia. They plant trees when you use their browser, so you can research, find your favorite yoga online, and even plan for post-coronavirus experiences while doing some green good.

It can be hard to stay eco-committed when faced with a new, difficult normal. We may be oh so very tired and burned out and feel that we can’t (or don’t want to) take the slightly less convenient but environmentally sustainable path. But eco-warriors are soldiering on, inspiring us to consider our green options and reminding us that “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” 

In the discombobulation of our lives, it’s all too easy to forget the core principles of yogic mindfulness and compassion, and of continuing to consider the impact our actions have on the natural world. Hopefully the simple tips I’ve offered will remind you that it’s not an inconvenience to try to tread lightly on this planet, preserving it for generations to come. After all, that’s part of our yogic practice.  

About the Teacher

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Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt first discovered yoga as a child in the 70s, watching her mother flip through a yoga book... Read more