Zero-waste covid management

Generating almost no waste while home quarantining with covid-19, and staying absolutely safe

As a family we have been executing various eco-friendly practices for the last decade, the main one being producing as little waste as possible by using the techniques of reduce, reuse and recycle. Our lifestyle choices will be explained in more detail in other write ups.

So when my husband and I came down with covid in the first week of September 2020, there was no doubt in our minds that we would find ways to continue to generate as little waste as possible. A large part of this happened because of the passion my parents, especially my mother – Dr. Meenakshi Bharath (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzqG1U9ekNc) – has for zero waste management. I was staying with my parents and grandparents for a few days when I got to know that both my husband and father-in-law were not well, so on the morning of 3rd of September I went across to my in-laws house to help out. When my husband and father-in-law tested positive for covid on 4th of September, our actions were two-fold: (1) what treatment do we get for my f-i-l and husband and (2) how do I keep myself safe from also getting infected. I’ve written about the treatment received in detail in the previous write-up.

So let’s look at what steps we took to help prevent me from getting covid too (though they were futile in the end).

  • When I came home on the 3rd morning, my husband insisted I wear my mask all the time at home, as he was having flu-like symptoms and we didn’t know the cause.
  • My husband quarantined himself in a room on the first floor, my father-in-law stayed in his room on the first floor, while I stayed in our rooms on the 2nd floor. I had minimal contact with my f-i-l, who at that point only had diarrhoea and tiredness.
  • Since the pandemic started, we have all been wearing cloth masks only. However, as an additional precaution, my parents got me a few N95 masks (to wear over my cloth mask as double protection) and a pair of reusable rubber gloves.
  • I kept a table outside the closed room door where my husband was staying and kept whatever he needed on it. Once I was back in my room, I would then call him at which point he would come out, collect the stuff, and immediately go back in his room, closing the door.
  • I used the rubber gloves to pick up the water bottles and used utensils for washing, which I proceeded to wash in hot water. I would then keep these utensils on one side and use it only for my husband’s needs. Upon finishing this task, I always washed the gloves with soap and hot water.
  • I went up and down the various levels of the house only when necessary, wore a mask everytime I left my room and washed my hands as soon as I was back in the room. While I kept a sanitizer near the room door, I prefer to wash hands whenever possible.
  • I also started gargling with plain luke warm water, started steam inhalation (maximum of 10 minutes per day) and drank warm fluids.

Despite all the precautions, by the evening of 5th September, I started showing symptoms and that’s when I understood how easily communicable this virus actually is. It was a few days later that I realised that I hadn’t changed the bedsheets on our bed that my husband had used just before his symptoms flared up (when he would have been infected with the virus). So that is one possible source from where I also caught the infection.

While my father-in-law was hospitalised, my husband and I managed at home. However due to extreme fatigue, we were unable to cook for ourselves. So our personal freshmenu and swiggy services came into action immediately. Every single day of the 2 week quarantine, my mother, with the help of our cook, sent excellent, nutritious food and juice (we were both too weak to even squeeze the mausambis sent to make juice for ourselves) and my father would drive across the city to deliver it to us, piping hot. The menu was tailormade for us – depending on what our symptoms were on that day and therefore what specific food we could eat. Nearly 3 to 4 litres of juices were sent across on the 5 days that I had diarrhoea.

Rainbow colours of food and juice that was sent for us

Other than masks, gloves and visors; food utensils are the next waste producer as most people believe that disposable is the way to deal with this pandemic. Not only are huge amounts of garbage created by the use of these single use disposables, but more worryingly, the people who work with the garbage we produce are exposed to enormous risks of being infected whenever a single use disposable is thrown out of a house where one is infected with covid. As averse to using disposables and creating more waste as we are, my mother found a way to deliver to food to us every day using glass and steel utensils.

To ensure that we did not come in contact with my parents, my father / mother would give us a call everyday when he / she was close to the house. We would be ready near the door, where they would leave all the packed food (taking the basket that they brought everything, back with him). Once they was outside the gate, we would open the house door (wearing masks, of course) and bring in everything. It also gave us the opportunity to wave out to my father / mother – after all, every parent would like to see their child and assess the recovery by seeing them in person.

Bringing food across was the safe part. Our worry with covid is that we may pass on the infection when utensils used by a person with covid is handed over to someone without covid (no matter what research indicates, this is a worry that is firmly lodged in all our minds). To counteract this, we did the following –

  • We washed all the utensils sent using hot water and soapnut powder
  • Once in 2-3 days, we would send all the utensils back.
  • At this point, my mother / father would wear reusable rubber gloves, pick up the utensils from our house in a basket and transfer it back to their house in the trunk of the car.
  • Once home, they took the utensils directly to the terrace and left it all there for the next 48 hours. Between the rain and sunshine, they got naturally disinfected.
  • Post this period, the vessels would be washed again with hot water and soap and then were ready to be put into use again.
Vessels and bottles collected from us over a 2-3 day period, ready to be picked up by my parents

I should mention here that my parents are in their 60’s and my grandparents are in their 80’s and 90’s, so every precaution was being taken to ensure that the infection was not spread to them.

When bringing in eco-friendly practices into your life, the first step is segregation. The most basic form of segregation of our waste is into dry and wet.

We had very little wet waste (vegetable and fruit peels, food waste, etc) but composted everything that we produced in this period. For the first ten days of my showing symptoms of covid-19 I was unable to compost – just did not have the energy. So all I did was put all the wet waste into our compost bin, which is kept on the terrace. Of course this was a little stinky by the time I felt able enough to deal with it. But a little TLC, some cocopeat and mixing and it settled down in a day or two.

With my compost that took care of itself while I took care of myself

The dry waste (paper, plastic, etc) has been collected in our dustbins and we sent it of to the dry waste collection centre once I crossed day 14. The main waste that we produced was needles from the injections that we took which is medical waste and will be sent to the appropriate medical disposal unit which takes care of hazardous waste.

And this is how we have managed to produce only about 1kg each of dry waste and medical waste through the two weeks of quarantine after we were infected with covid-19. Easy peasy right? I hope that those of you reading this also think about the methods we used to create as little waste as possible and execute these ideas, if and when necessary. Let us each do our bit in lessening the load of garbage that we are adding onto our earth during this pandemic.

In summary –

  • Most importantly – Do Not Panic
  • Wear a mask throughout the time at home(especially if there is one infected family member and one not infected).
  • Cloth masks are much more comfortable and as safe as disposable masks, especially if they are double layered.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water as compared to using sanitizers. Keep a sanitizer with you when you are travelling and use it only when you do not have access to water and soap.
  • Keep windows open to allow for as much ventilation as possible.
  • Maintain social distancing at all times.
  • Gargle with luke warm water (2-3 times a day) – make sure the water is not hot else your throat will get scorched.
  • Drink luke warm liquids only – do not make it hot!!!
  • Do not use plastic bags to transport your goodies. Use cloth or knitted bags instead
  • Use steel and glass utensils instead of single use disposable containers
  • Segregate waste
  • Learn to compost wet waste at home

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s