Updated: Aug 28
By Derek Johnson
In late December 2019, the world recorded the first case of what would rise to be a global pandemic, in Wuhan China. It is common knowledge, the great impact the coronavirus (COVID 19) has on the world as a whole. According to WHO, at least a case has been recorded in over 213 countries. And as of 14th May 2020, the CNN reported a total of 4,364,172 cases and 297,491 cases globally.
With the production of vaccines still in experimental stages, most parts of the world, if not all, have resolved to large screening tests and implementation of strict social distancing and lockdown measures, in a bid to combat COVID 19.
Obviously, the priority in times like this centers around the health of the world. Therefore the impact the virus has on the environment has been given little thought. Hence the innovation for this article. This article focuses on the effect of COVID 19 on the environment.
In the midst of this crisis, it is a bit relieving to notice some positives to take one’s mind off the virus a little. My first phase of research shows signs of positive impacts on the environment. Because of the stay home and social distancing measures in most countries, the levels of greenhouse gases emissions is significantly low. And according to the Global Carbon Project, 2020, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could decrease to really really low levels.
For example, in Italy, the implementation of strict lockdown measures on the appearance of the pandemic in early 2020. Measures like this are bound to affect the normal and economic activities in the country. In this case, most industries and industrial facilities like power plants production came to a halt, transportation with vehicles was very limited. Resulting in a great reduction in Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon dioxide concentrations in the environment. (ESA, 2020a)
As you would expect, my second phase of research showed the negative effects of the coronavirus on the environment. Because of the risk of contracting the virus through used items, many companies have put a hold on all things recycling. Hence focusing on the production of disposables.
Also, there are restrictions on sustainable waste management in most countries. For example, in Italy, residents no longer sort their waste. With an increase in the amount of online ordering of food and other items, the production of domestic waste, organic and inorganic is bound to increase.
COVID 19: Positives and Negatives
1). Decreased concentrations of NO2 and PM 2.5
The importance of air quality on the health of humans cannot be overemphasized. WHO, in 2016, reported that 91% of the world’s population live in areas of very poor air quality. To make this worse, 8% of the world’s total death is attributed to air pollution, according to WHO. The implementation of total lockdown measures in most countries during this pandemic has had a great effect on air quality. For example, China recorded a 22.8 μg/m3 reduction in NO2 concentrations in Wuhan and 12.9 μg/m3 in China as a whole. Also, an 18.9 μg/m3 reduction in PM 2.5 concentration in 367 cities. (CAMS, 2020)
Additionally, satellite readings (Corpenicus) show a significant decrease in NO2 in other parts of the world, places like Italy, Spain, and France, the first European countries to implement lockdown procedures. All this reduction in the concentrations of these harmful gases in the environment, creates room for health and immune system improvement, in the midst of the pandemic. (Chen et al., 2020).
2). Reduction Of Environmental Noise Level
Basically, noise is an unwanted or unpleasant sound. Environmental noise is mostly generated by commercial and industrial activities, such as engine noise from vehicles in transit and industrial plants. Environmental noise can be very disturbing and can bring a high level of discomfort to its victims. It can also result in health problems for both humans and the environment.
The implementation of lockdown measures by most of the world’s governments has seen a decrease in noise pollution. People now stay indoors, resulting in the very limited use of transportation, private or public. Also, most commercial activities are on hold. Hence, no source of noise that can significantly affect the environment.
3). Increased Waste
Environmental or sustainability issues almost always generate waste. Example of such environmental issues include;
Because of the lockdown measures in most parts of the world, the eCommerce industry has seen an increase in activities. With most people opting for online shopping and home delivery for food and other items.
There is a popular belief that you eat more when you’re indoors. Consequently, households now generate a significantly higher amount of organic waste. Additionally, shipping companies ship ordered items in disposable packages, hence, increasing inorganic waste as well.
The most overwhelming waste production in this lockdown period is that of the medical industry. With the number of coronavirus cases overwhelming health centers in numerous countries, medical waste generation is on a new high. For example, Wuhan hospitals generated over 240 metric tons of waste per day during the lockdown period. Also, the USA has seen an increase in medical waste as well, albeit mainly from PPEs. (Calma, 2020).
So there you have it, COVID-19 comes with both positive and negative impacts on the environment. However, the positive impacts are more of a short term thing, seeing as things might return to normal after the pandemic. And sustainability issues need more than short term solutions. Therefore the negative impacts can last longer if necessary measures are not taken.
Calma, J., 2020. https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/26/21194647/the-covid-19-pandemic-is-generating-tons-of-medical-waste Accessed date: 5 April 2020.
CAMS, 2020. https://atmosphere.copernicus.eu/amid-coronavirus-outbreak-copernicusmonitors-reduction-particulate-matter-pm25-over-china, Accessed date: 5 April 2020.
Chen, K., Wang, M., Huang, C., Kinney, P.L., Paul, A.T., 2020. Air pollution reduction and mortality benefit during the COVID-19 outbreak in China. medRxiv https://doi.org/ 10.1101/2020.03.23.20039842.
ESA, 2020a. https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel5P/COVID-19_nitrogen_dioxide_over_China Accessed date: 4 April 2020.