Covid comes with a lot of costs: It has resulted in a major loss of life, including people we know – members of our extended family and friends. We have young alumni who struggled and struggle with long-term medical effects of this virus. There’s also the silent but extensive mental health cost, a widespread impact on emotional wellbeing even among those unaffected by the virus itself. And the economic toll has been massive, so many small businesses forced under, many jobs lost, whole industries decimated with lots of uncertainty when and how things will bounce back.
And in addition to all the above, Covid also has its costs when it comes to environmental waste. Now – serving a lot of people at Shabbos House was never super environmentally friendly, but we have been trying over the years to make strides in this, cutting waste in small ways here and there. Much of this has been significantly setback with the changes during Corona.
Here are a few of the major tangible ways in which Covid has setback Shabbos House in environmental-related matters:
THE WATER BOTTLES
We’ll start here because it’s probably the thing that students notice most. Thanks to the class gift of the Class of 2017 we installed a water filtration system on the main room washing sinks, and have been serving water in pitchers since then. Until Covid. Now, not only do we use bottled water but we have to use individual bottled water, which creates a lot of bottles! Yes, we’re recycling them but it is a lot more waste (and significantly more cost) than when we used filtered water from the sink.
THE FOOD PACKAGING
As we seek to match local and University health guidelines during Covid, all food we serve is individually wrapped and packaged. No more salad bowl per table with chip-salad dressing mixed in. Now we have to package the chips, the dressing and the salad in a plastic container – each individually per person! Same for each course, for every Challah roll, for each piece of dessert… And the same and more goes for the packages we prepare to-go, which need additional packaging to survive a jostling journey. All this adds lots of cost and effort, but also waste. It’s amazing how much plastic packaging goes into each meal.
All this packaging week in and week out, was the inspiration behind our family’s Purim 2021 out-of-the-box Purim costume!
OPEN WINDOWS AND HEATING
For almost all of the Fall 2020 semester we did all food outdoors. We had spaces on the deck and in the tent up until Sukkot and then on Sukkot we had the Sukkah, of course. After Sukkot, the weather turned too cold and upon advisement we moved meals indoors with open windows at all times students are here. We open each window in the big room 2-4 inches (much more when its warmer out) which sucks lots of warm air out and sends a cool breeze in. To compensate we’ve been pumping both heating systems to keep the room comfortable despite windows open during an Albany winter. Some weeks the weather dipped down into the single digits (lower with wind-chill). Yes, this is a waste of heat, and yes, it has significantly raised our utility bill, but it is an added safeguard to have good fresh-air ventilation and something we need to do during Corona.
EXTRA FOOD WASTE
The whole individual packaging model fixes the amount of food we put into a “serving” unlike serving food table style where everyone takes the amount desired. This does lead to more food waste, no question about that, but it is something we need to do and don’t have much choice about under the current Covid circumstances.