An unexpected Green change
When the pandemic started 6 months months ago, humanity took a break from life as we knew it.
A lot of people noticed the change in the air: it was crispier than usual, clearer, fresher. The pause of business meetings, public events, concerts, sporting events, car trips and airplane flights has led to a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, the key factor in global warming.
Worldwide, some experts argue that we could see a 5.5% reduction in emissions in 2020, when compared with 2019. Some even suggest that COVID-19 could prompt the most significant decrease in emissions caused by humanity since the Second World War. Global shutdown measures gave the planet a short respite from the effects of human activity.
Pictured here, you can see (left) the skyline of Murcia, in Spain a couple of days before the global lockdown. On the right, you can see a picture of the same emplacement forty days into the lockdown (April, 23, 2020). These images speak for themselves and demonstrate the positive impact of the slowdown in human activity on the environment.
The down side : an excess of single-use plastics
But unfortunately, the pandemic does not only have positive repercussions on environmental pollution. Indeed, the promotion of mask-wearing as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 has led to a massive increase in the production of disposable masks: the UN trade body, UNCTAD, estimates that worldwide sales will total some 166 billion dollars, compared to 800 million dollars last year.
Covid-19 has led to a substantial increase in plastic waste all over the world and one of the main reasons is the crash of oil prices. Plastics are made of petroleum and since it has become cheaper to produce, a lot of companies are currently prioritizing this material more than recycled materials for economic reasons. Additionally, various cities across the globe have reduced their recycling activities due to the pandemic to limit the spread of the virus. Studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive up to 72 hours on plastic, which has concerned a large proportion of workers in the waste management industry.
The UN Environment Programme has warned that, if the substantial increase in medical waste, much of it made from single-use plastics, is not managed soundly, uncontrolled dumping could result.
The study, “Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution”, forecasts that, if no action is taken, the amount of plastics dumped in our oceans could triple by 2040, going from 11 to 29 million tonnes per year.
The pandemic has already caused a decline in the anti-plastic movement: reusable bags have been banned in several supermarkets, over-packaged products no longer seem to be a problem and disposable products are being promoted. Are the many years of educating the public about plastic pollution wasted? Will we have to start the battle from the beginning?