Taking Action to Sustain Sustainability

Eco-friendly tips for a not-so-eco-friendly pandemic

Remember the days pre-pandemic, when optimism was high and the fight for Mother Earth seemed a juggernaut of a challenge that was willingly accepted by many? And then, almost rapidly, our world was changed. The fight for our planet’s health and survival became subsidiary to the health and survival of its inhabitants. Green initiatives didn’t lose their importance, they just became blurred with the new reality that we’re currently still in the process of navigating. With this paradigm shift, grocery stores wouldn’t allow you to bring your own bags, one-use containers crept back into everyday routines, and, although it was slightly painful, we threw away gloves, wipes, and disposable masks on a regular basis. Sure, the Los Angeles skies seemed clearer and air quality potentially and temporarily improved, but what were we doing in our everyday lives that was still maintaining the fervent discipline to sustainability that we once had?

As many of us try to figure out new routines, a somewhat re-education of daily practices is required to incorporate into our lifestyle. If you have good intentions for the planet and for the betterment of the health and wellness of others, guidance, support, and ultimately empathy is required. For this, we turned to Lauren Bergloff, advocate of all things green and Sustainability Leader at Terranea Resort, and checked in on any tips we can soak up like a (reusable and compostable) sponge.

Sustainability has always been a so-called work in progress for many. With the current pandemic, it has become more difficult for even the most enthusiastic of sustainability advocates, for example, with single use plastics and disposable items such as masks, gloves, and wipes utilized more frequently. As someone who is very involved in green initiatives, how have you felt during this change?

I feel like the green movement as a whole came so far with banning quite a few single-use items, like straws and bags, but now they have returned in full force. But this is what the fight for sustainability looks like. If you don’t succeed, try and try again. This is an opportunity for all of us to think outside of the box and brainstorm how to stay safe and well as continue our journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

Is there such a thing as “green guilt”? Those that want to be sustainable, but also have declined in their practice due to the current situation.

I have never heard of “green guilt,” but if it’s what I think it is, I thrive off of it! I think of it as an analogy, much like how you feel when you eat meat in front of a vegetarian. I have a lot of friends and coworkers that apologize to me when they have a single-use water bottle in their hand, or if they are using a Ziploc plastic bag. You can absolutely use that sudden feeling of guilt and change your habits, one step at a time. I don’t think anyone should feel guilty, I think that everyone should foster that “guilt” and change a little bit at a time. A little goes a long way. We don’t want one person doing everything, we want everyone doing at least one thing.

What are some of the common mistakes and misconceptions that you’ve seen? And what are the solutions, if any?

I have seen a huge increase of litter in my local community since the pandemic started. Countless single-use masks and gloves on the floor, rather than in a nearby trashcan. However overall, there is just such a substantial amount of waste in general.

These troubling issues can be easily eliminated through a few simple steps. Maintaining proper hygiene and overall cleanliness, for starters, including thoroughly washing your hands on a regular basis. Also, you can substitute a disposable mask with the purchase of a reusable cloth or textile mask that can simply be washed after use, rather than tossed away. When picking up objects, do so using only one hand, with a glove on, when possible. This actually will assist with proper sanitation techniques, and helps to avoid spreading germs from your gloves to other objects. Lastly, I am a big fan of using a trash grabber and picking up litter in your area. I highly recommend purchasing one, especially if you’re weary of touching anything directly.

Can you describe one recent experience where you had a crisis of conscience or difficulty?

Definitely. The first time I shopped at my local grocery store during quarantine, they were not allowing the use of your own reusable bags. I knew it was not the store associate’s fault, so I brainstormed with him and asked if he could put the groceries back in the cart, rather than in their offered bags, and then I would bag my groceries outside. When in these kinds of situations, instead of getting upset and frustrated, I suggest stepping back and thinking outside of the box. Some grocery stores are also now allowing customers to reuse boxes to put their groceries in. Currently, the store has a specific tent outside where you can bag your own groceries, which I have found to be very helpful.

On the other hand, can you describe one recent experience of something positive that has given you a sense of hope?

I have been sharing pictures of my friends and family picking up litter using trash grabbers on my Instagram, which has in turn sparked my followers to purchase their own trash grabbers and send me photos of their huge bags of litter they picked up. It makes me so happy that other people enjoy picking up litter as much as I do!

What are some tips that travelers, guests and the local community can use while at Terranea Resort? Is there anything that can enhance their experience and safety, while also being sustainable?

Absolutely! Always bring your own reusable water bottle and cutlery. You can make a huge difference by asking for no plastic cutlery when you order takeout. Make sure you throw your waste in the proper receptacles so that you do not create litter or send more to the landfill than you have to. When I travel, I personally like to bring my own shampoo and conditioner, instead of using the typically offered single-use little plastic containers.

What is the biggest challenge we face as we continue to navigate sustainability in the current uncertain times? Did this problem or challenge exist pre-pandemic?

I believe that our biggest challenge is still in the waste category. Whether it be food waste, recyclables, or landfill waste. The percentage has bumped up from 30% to 40% of food is wasted in the United States from growth to distribution. Plastics continue to be produced, however China is no longer accepting our recyclables, so that is a huge issue. One of the best ways to face these challenges is source reduction. Simply put, think before you purchase! Do you really need it, or do you just want it? And more specifically, is there a more sustainable alternative?

Are there any helpful items or resources you’ve recently discovered that are worth sharing?

One excellent sustainable initiative I stumbled upon is a group called “Buy Nothing” on Facebook. Many cities and towns have their own version of these “Buy Nothing” groups that you can join. I use this group to post photos of items I no longer need and members of the online community can comment if they want them. It is also very helpful when searching for a particular item yourself. Other great resources include downloading ThredUp, Let Go, and Offer Up apps on your phone. Additionally, feel free to check out my highlights on my Instagram. I cover a variety of topics, including how to compost at home, easy alternatives to plastic, how to stay safe and sustainable during COVID-19, how to explore the poppy fields without a trace, how to recycle, how to celebrate holidays sustainably, and more!

Moving forward, what are your hopes for the future? Do you have any personal sustainability goals?

My passion is protecting nature and the environment. I want to spread my love of the natural world to the next generation on our planet. I believe, if you love something, you will want to protect it. My goal is to reach as many people on this planet as possible and have each of those individuals change one habit they have to be more sustainable. I want to educate as much as possible so that everyone has the tools and the resources they need to be successful. I personally have set the goal not to buy any plastic bags whatsoever. It has been about five years since I have purchased a plastic bag! I use Stasher bags to replace Ziploc bags, and I reuse take-out bags for my trash. I am also looking forward to Coastal Cleanup Month – stay tuned for more information!

Written by Caitlyn Piercy