The Impact of COVID-19 on the Environment

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The impact of COVID-19 can be felt in all facets of our world. COVID-19 has changed our entire planet in a span of months, however, not all of these changes have been negative. When countries started to lockdown businesses and restrict travel, our planet saw a major decrease in pollution entering our air and oceanand almost immediately our environment started to heal.

“Worldwide spread of COVID-19 in a quite short time has brought a dramatic decrease in industrial activities, road traffic and tourism. Restricted human interaction with nature during this crisis time has appeared as a blessing for nature and environment. Reports from all over the world are indicating that after the outbreak of COVID-19, environmental conditions including air quality and water quality in rivers are improving and wildlife is blooming.” (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health)

Water Quality is Improving

Beaches, lakes, and rivers have experienced a dramatic increase in water visibility and marine life. The absence of industrial activities and a dramatic decrease in the number of visitors has allowed our ocean and other open waters to recover from decades of overuse and pollution. Fish populations are increasing, and once murky waters are now clear.

“The lack of tourists, as a result of the social distancing measures due to the new Coronavirus pandemic, has caused a notable change in the appearance of many beaches in the world. For example, beaches like those of Acapulco (Mexico), Barcelona (Spain), or Salinas (Ecuador) now look cleaner and with crystal clear waters.” (Science Direct)

Air Quality is Improving

With restricted travel, quarantine orders and factory shutdowns, air pollution and environmental noise has decreased to unprecedented levels. Factories, transport, vehicles and aviation have all ground to a halt—carbon emissions have decreased and the quality of air has seen an improvement.

“Air quality is essential for people’s health; however, 91% of the world population lives in places where poor air quality exceeds the permissible limits (WHO, 2016). The consequences of air quality degradation are manifested in a significant percentage of global mortality each year (Zhang et al., 2017). In this regard, the 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) report indicates that air pollution contributes to almost 8% of total deaths in the world; the most affected countries being those found in Africa, Asia and part of Europe (WHO, 2016).” (Science Direct)

In China alone, all of these air quality improvements generated human health benefits that have outnumbered confirmed SARS-CoV2 deaths thus far (Chen et al., 2020).

Negative Environmental Impacts of COVID-19

Improper PPE disposal, fatbergs and increase waste are ongoing environmental concerns during the pandemic.

While our air, water and noise levels are improving, plastic pollution and disposable waste are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disposable face masks and plastic gloves are littering cities. While PPE measures can protect you from COVID-19, it is imperative that they are disposed of properly.

Stay-at-home orders mean that people are staying home and buying more items online, such as household items and groceries, which means an increase in packaging materials being disposed of. This waste is not always disposed of properly and instead makes its way into landfills. Cities have also put recycling programs on hold during the pandemic due to concerns about spreading COVID-19 in the recycling facilities.

Fatbergs are also growing in cities around the world due to the toilet paper shortage experienced early-on in the COVID-19 pandemic and people cooking at home more. Households have been flushing items, such as wet wipes, that do not break down in sewers, but instead congeal with cooking oil and grease to cause sewer pipe blockages that are as hard as concrete. These fatbergs lead to sewer overflows into the environment. While the impact of COVID-19 has been positive for air and water quality, we still have a way to go on our own disposal behaviors.

The environment can heal, if we help it.

COVID-19 has brought a fearful devastating scourge for human beings, but it has emerged as a blessing for natural environment providing it a ‘recovery time’. We have seen that the environmental degradation caused by humans is not totally irreversible. In a period of just 1–2 months, ‘recovery of nature’ is being witnessed by everyone. This is a signal for us to understand and react. Government and Policy makers should take necessary steps so that this healing process does not become a temporary thing. (Science Direct)

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