What implications does the pandemic have for our environment?

By Shifa Shaikh

Staff Writer

Source: Save the Children International

The pandemic has prompted numerous difficulties for our livelihoods and loved ones, along with eliciting a variety of implications for our environment. As whole countries have shut down, our planet has been given a fleeting moment to recuperate. 

However, COVID-19 has also given rise to a unique set of environmental concerns that contribute to long-lasting problems, such as pollution and waste disposal. The question is, how can society maintain the positive changes COVID-19 has introduced to our climate while simultaneously combatting the harmful effects in a sustainable, long-term fashion?

Over the course of the global lockdown, there has been a significant reduction in both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). As people remained cooped up in the shelter of their homes, major industries, transportation services, and companies shut down, which brought a sudden drop in GHGs. A lower demand for energy during quarantine also minimized the demand for global coal consumption and the burning of fossil fuels.  

The flow of passengers on airplanes began trickling down in response to flight cancellations and travel restrictions, which helped to cut down on carbon emissions. As reported by Heliyon, an open-access journal, when China reduced “…almost 50–90% capacity of departing and 70% of domestic flights due to the pandemic” their emissions were ultimately “…deducted by nearly 17% of national CO2 emissions.”

Many bodies of water across our planet have also been given a chance to bounce back after suffering from pollution accumulating over the years. Major industries are known to contribute heavily to water pollution with the wastes they produce. However, during the lockdown period, these industries slowed down, which helped to minimize the water pollution load. It’s even reported that during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Grand Canal of Italy turned clear, and several aquatic animals reappeared to its calm waters.

However, with the pandemic, there’s been a rise in other problematic challenges to the health of our planet. Take, for example, the increase of medical waste that can release toxic pathogens and pollutants. Waste generated from hospitals includes needles, syringes, bandages, masks, gloves, used tissues, and discarded medicines.

Referring to the Heliyon study once more, it was found that “Wuhan in China produced more than 240 metric tons of medical wastes every day during the time of the outbreak.”

The haphazard disposal of COVID-19 safety equipment is another pressing concern. Due to a lack of education on how to manage their waste, people dump their personal protective equipment (PPEs), such as facial masks, in open, public spaces where they are free to travel to waterways and further pollute the environment. Face masks and other plastic-based protective equipment are also thought to be a potential contributor to harmful microplastic fibers found in the environment.

As people have started stepping out of their doors once again, it is of incredible importance that our planet is given a chance to continue healing from decades of environmental damage.

Ms. Niland, a math teacher and Green Team sponsor here at Hammond, said that, “The pandemic has made me more aware of the power that we’re not using and the importance of conserving it, since that helps with bills.”

Observations like these are key to make in order for society to fully appreciate our planet and its resources that are so shamelessly depleted and taken advantage of. 

Hammond’s own Green Team has been coming together to brainstorm ways to get the Hammond community involved in preserving the environment as well.

Ms. Niland has suggested a bold idea, stating that, “The Green Team could lobby for the Board of Education to institute a Telework Day where students aren’t going to school and teachers work from home, starting with one day a year and growing from there, so that we can cut down on transportation.”

Taking small steps to expand on ideas like these is another way Hammond can involve the student community, and even the county, in reshaping our environment after the pandemic.

The world has shut down already. Now, let’s keep it from shutting down for good.