The coronavirus is a pandemic, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the focus of its effects is on people.
Where else should the focus be? Perhaps where it seemingly never has been but should have been even before the virus hit: the environment.
Since the virus took hold of society, there has been a mass influx of necessity for personal protective equipment. The medical field uses this on a daily basis to protect from potential chemical spills, prevent spread of bacteria and germs and minimize infection.
Hospitals have always needed personal protective equipment, and the public has always had access to some less medically intense personal protective equipment to protect themselves (especially those who may be immuno-compromised).
Because of COVID-19, the amount of personal protective equipment used has skyrocketed. There’s even a shortage of it, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released an article on how to optimize personal protective equipment supply.
With the uptake in use of personal protective equipment also comes an uptake in personal protective equipment-related litter. Gloves and masks seemingly cover the grounds around hospitals, clinics, grocery stores and other businesses labeled essential.
News organizations have been reporting stories of good samaritans picking up gloves, masks, wasting their own gloves and masks to go out and do so.
Some have argued that the coronavirus has been more helpful for the environment than it has been harmful, using examples like the disappearance of smog in cities like London and Paris or the return of species to places in India and the canals in Italy.
The swans people were so excited to see never actually left the canals, often making appearances in the waters of Italy. The dolphins supposedly seen in Venice were actually filmed at a port in Sardinia, miles and miles away in the Mediterranean Sea.
What is true about the Italian canals is that their water has cleared up quite a bit since the quarantine began. This is because tourism and business travel has ceased and so boats that once went through the canal every minute now haven’t been in the canal for weeks.
The mayor of Venice isn’t too quick to believe this is because the water’s quality is increasing as pollution drops.
“The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom,” a spokesman for the mayor told CNN. “It’s because there is less [of the] boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water’s surface.”
Another debunking of a hopeful theory, but there is hope nonetheless.
COVID-19 has also led to an inhibition regarding recycling. As the quarantine progresses, more and more public service companies have had to alter their recycling pick-up routines and processes. Pick-up services in China have stopped taking certain recyclables, and the United Kingdom’s Environmental Agency has made major alterations to the way they take up goods. Now, residents are asked to double-bag their recyclables and wait at least 72 hours before they put those bags out for pick-up. These changes are only two of the many changes the Environmental Agency made.
It’s interesting to think about the way businesses may alter their packaging following this virus. Will their methods become more sustainable? And how is consumerism going to be affected? With stores limiting the amount of people allowed in and the amount of items permitted to buy, will we see a decrease in the amount of goods bought as consumers realize they don’t need as many groceries as they think? These are both things that could impact our environment in the long run.
Regardless, COVID-19 is affecting our environment in ways that we could not have imagined pre-virus. Whether society notices in the ways it should is yet to be determined.