Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, we got a glimpse into the future of what the world could look like if we changed how we lived. Various travel restrictions resulted in fewer flights. Video conferencing allowed for less trips to the office, as well as a need for electronic documents rather than paper. Skies and waterways were visibly clearer, thanks to the reduced air pollution.
Unfortunately, that glimmer of hope and beauty was quickly crushed when face masks and other waste continued blowing through the streets and washing up on shores. In fact, waste in some cities has more than quadrupled during the pandemic, with billions of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) being improperly disposed of daily. It has been estimated that 129 billion masks and 65 billion gloves (containing plastic) are being used each month across the world. Sadly, many of those end up in the worlds’ oceans, leaching chemicals into the environment and in turn harming the ecosystem and our food supply.
We already live in a world where some countries have had to start hand-pollinating due to declining bee populations. If it takes a global health crisis for us to make extreme sacrifices in the name of protecting our communities’ health, what will it take for us to make the same sacrifices for the health of our planet?
This isn’t to say that we should continue living in isolation for the sake of the environment. The pandemic caused tremendous loss for so many people, and although there’s a silver lining for the planet, the argument that it has come at the cost of people’s livelihoods and, therefore, shouldn’t be celebrated is something plenty are considering. But, the real question is: Do we care enough about our health to think outside of the box and work toward being conscious consumers and mindful producers? This is where innovation can step in, so that we can strive for a new way of life with the environment and our health in mind.
Related: 10 Sustainability Trends for 2021
For the sake of public health, spa and wellness professionals scrambled to get their hands on disposable masks, plastic water bottles and disinfecting wipes. However, disposables are not the only answer when it comes to protecting the health of guests and staff. One reusable face covering with replaceable filters can take the place of dozens of disposable masks. It’s estimated that the spa industry in the U.S. alone would use approximately 189 million disposable masks per year, but the switch to reusable face coverings can drop that number down to about 4 million.
Encouraging guests to bring their own refillable water bottles is another simple way to reduce plastic waste while helping clients feel safe. In addition, extremely hot water and UV sterilization can effectively disinfect glassware and limit the need for bottled water altogether.
Finally, natural and effective disinfectants and washable towels, rather than single-use cloths, will work just fine with proper laundry sanitization protocols.
Our industry has such strict protocols for cleanliness anyway; in some cases, we just need to make our standards more visible to put guests at ease. With that in mind, clients might also appreciate seeing the use of electrostatic foggers, which are so efficient that they have the added benefit of saving businesses money on disinfectants.
Natasha Prybyla, co-owner of Sloco Health + Wellness in San Luis Obispo, California, discovered her passion for personal and planetary wellness during her massage therapy training more than a decade ago. Now, as the proud owner of a Certified B Corp, she aims to be part of a movement to make spas the ultimate resource when it comes to empowering community members to take control of their health. Prybyla serves on the Board for GSN Planet and hopes that her work on the Sustainability Task Force inspires spas to be more intentional about their business practices.