‘Household Waste Management’ is the last in a short series of blogs setting out the lessons I have learned from the long Italian lockdown due to Covid-19. Italy went into lockdown on 9 March and it lasted for two months, one week and two days. This blog looks at how we dealt with the reduction in recycling facilities and other challenges caused by the impact of Covid-19. Other blogs in this series are:
Household Waste Management – Reduce, Reuse, Recyle
For a long time we have followed the golden mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ as part of our household waste management.
‘Reduce’ means to minimise the amount of waste we create. This means buying less and being more mindful when shopping about what we are purchasing and the packaging. It means donating to charity when items are still in good condition, rather than throw them away. It also means taking care of what we have to make it last longer.
Very little was open in Italy during the lockdown. The rules were strict with only essential shopping allowed. And essential shopping did not include decorating materials, clothes or dog toys! That was fine with us, we have a lifetime of items available to use, there is very little more we need.
Like many people, we used lockdown time to rearrange cupboard space and look at items we haven’t used for years. We now have a pile of things to go for charity when everything opens up properly again.
‘Reuse’ means looking at what might at first seem like rubbish and see whether it has a new use. It is an often overlooked part of household waste management. For example, I have a pen holder that was a mug but the handle broke off. Mugs take an awful long time to break down in landfill – ummm actually about 30 years! Reusing old jars, ice cream containers etc is the norm in our house.
Yoghurt pots get a new life as items used in my studio for acrylic pours (when the paint gets mixed in the old yoghurt pots and then poured on the canvas). Coffee grounds go out in the compost bin. Where we can, we use rechargeable batteries.
We got quite resourceful at times during the lockdown. Barnet Boy fashioned a sort of tripod for his smartphone out of old cardboard so he could take some time lapse photography of sunsets. I am in the process of converting an old bedside cabinet that was chewed by the dogs (thanks Spud) into a container for my succulents.
‘Recycle’ is the final resort if we can’t reuse something. But recycling centers were closed during the lockdown. Luckily, the weekly rubbish and alternative week plastics and paper/cardboard collections from the house still took place.
We had become so used to taking our recycling to the local center it was a shock to have to store it until they reopened – the amount of recycling material grew and grew. That alone made us look twice at what we were buying! We know some people who just put items out for normal rubbish collection that might otherwise have been given to charity as they didn’t want to store them during the lockdown.
Disposable Masks And Gloves Just Thrown On The Floor
At the start of lockdown, like everyone else we struggled to find masks. It was compulsory to wear them in the only places that were open (supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices). As we come out of lockdown now they still are compulsory when entering closed in spaces like shops.
Our local Comune (local authority) made some masks available. But most were single use masks. We had a box of single use masks that I bought in January after yet another trip home from the UK where I caught a virus on the plane. I had thought I would be using them up over many years on flights to visit my parents. And we were glad to have them when the lockdown happened. But then we felt so guilty about using something that was disposable. Disposable gloves are also compulsory in shops here in Italy.
Disposable Items Not Disposed Of Correctly
One day it was raining when I went to the supermarket. It was heartbreaking to see puddles with disposable masks and gloves floating in them. I also saw masks and gloves discarded at the side of the road, clearly thrown out of car windows, even on a country road.
Searching For Solutions
Having got over the initial shock of lockdown and the restrictions, we immediately began looking for solutions. I made a face mask out of an old pair of trousers (note: reuse). We found someone in Tuscany (about an hour from where we live) who was making double layer cotton masks which of course are reusable. The used mask is washed immediately on arrival at home and hung it out to dry in the sunshine. We ordered five of those and have not used a disposable mask since. I also have two artistic face masks wih my own designs that are reusable – just to change up the look for special occasions. For gloves, it took a while owing to shortages, but we eventually found a source of plastic gloves that could be recycled in the plastics collection.
Covid-19 And Household Waste Management
We can’t change the whole world but we can do what we can to try not to add to the problem. Initially, we had great hopes that one positive effect of Covid-19 (and there aren’t many) would be a reduction in pollution. We did see that initially with a decline in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as people stayed at home during lockdown. But that is gradually returning to normal.
The return to disposable item use, a necessity at the beginning, now needs to be looked at by everyone. For example, why keep wearing disposable masks when you can have ones that you can re-use? That will leave the surgical masks for the medical profession. If it is cost that holds you back, well we got five cotton face masks for €22 euros. The disposable ones cost 50c each here in Italy and although it is a small amount of money for each one the cost soon adds up. And the cost to the environment with the increased waste is even more.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!