Over the last few weeks, we have seen more transparent waters, bluer skies in China, and hidden mountains like the Himalayas. Yes, the environment is healing. But what are the negative effects of Coronavirus on the environment?
Numbers and Effects
We currently have 5,6 M confirmed cases globally, and over 32,000 cases in Singapore. The Coronavirus pandemic has hit the world in unprecedented ways. Countries all over the world are instituting harsh measures to combat the virus, including shutting down national borders or cities. Businesses and schools have shut down. People are working from home, and students are forced to take online classes.
In Singapore, the lockdown extension to early June and the restrictive phase 1 that will follow shows we are in for a longer ride of precautions like working from home and factories, not resuming productions anytime soon. The good news is that the level of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions from vehicles, airlines, and factories will keep dwindling. The air we breathe will, of course, keep improving.
But not all glitter on the environmental spectrum.
How can it go wrong?
Well, it is excellent to know that the air we are breathing is improving. However, as raised by beeco there are some negative effects of Coronavirus on the environment.
Here is what can go wrong during this lockdown:
A surge in medical waste
An increase in Coronavirus cases translates to a rise in the usage of personal protective equipment (PPE). These items, like gloves, masks, and IV bags, are disposable and not reusable.
According to Channel News Asia, there is a 60% increase in the amount of medical waste. Do not forget that masks have polypropylene material, which is plastic-based. It also comes from non-sustainable resources and is poisonous when released into water sources.
While it is too early to predict the damage to the environment from increased medical waste, it is clear that we are about to witness an increase in this waste. Medical waste recycling and treatment centres will get overwhelmed. Who knows what their tipping point will be? But we all know it is not going to be pretty.
Drop in the use of reusable packaging
One of the arguments doing rounds around the globe is that reusable packaging poses a higher risk of carrying the virus. Due to this, more people prefer the use of disposable packaging, which is mostly plastic. Now more than ever, we are also highly dependent on online shopping. Amazon, for example, has hired more workers to help meet the rising demand. In Singapore, there is a 37% increase in online shopping.
It does not matter that there is no evidence showing that food packaging results in the transmission of the virus. Case in point, Italy has reported a 111% increase in demand for packaged mandarins in the last week of March compared to the same period in 2019. But the fact that the virus can live on surfaces is enough to warrant disposal of any packaging after use. Recent studies show that Coronavirus can survive on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours. Who is to tell the used plastic bag I bring for my packaging is not already contaminated?
An increase in the use of plastic packaging translates to a reduction in the little progress we have made in banning the usage of plastic bags use in Singapore. All this plastic is bound to end up in our drainage systems or water bodies.
Impact on the waste management industry
Now more than ever, there is an acute demand for waste management due to increased usage of medical PPE and plastic packaging. The waste management industry is overwhelmed. The social distancing and flattening the curve concerns could lead to the suspension of waste management services. We are not there yet, but an increase in the Coronavirus cases might lead to this.
An increase in food waste
Thanks to the restrictions in the export market and a decline in cargo transportation services, there is an increase in unshippable fishery and agricultural commodities. Most countries that produce these commodities have large volumes that their local markets cannot accommodate.
Panic buying, too, has led to food wastage as people realize that the foods they bought for lockdown might not last that long. Others are resulting in home baking. But not all of us are bakers. Imagine the waste from all the burnt or over-salted bread!
Thus, there is a surge in organic waste. The hit on waste management services means that this organic waste will decay on its own, thus releasing methane. An increase in organic waste only translates to the release of more methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
What can you do?
Not all hope is lost. If each one of us practices zero-waste, we might reduce these negative effects. For example, rather than ordering plastic-packed veggies, why not take up home gardening in your garden or on your balcony? You will not only be reducing the usage of plastic but also practising social distancing and eating fresh veggies.
You also need to keep following the measures put forth by the government and the WHO. The sooner we can flatten the curve, the easier it will get for us to recover in an eco-friendly way. Hopefully, this pandemic has taught us the need to live sustainably.