We’ve all noticed, and felt firsthand, the slowdown of life during the pandemic. It’s felt like a dreary, miserable time for most of us, while others have taken the opportunity to spend their days outside or catching up on work. Either way, there is no-doubt a shift in the movement of life outside of our homes. However, human life is not the only thing being impacted. There are many ways in which the pandemic is being felt in our natural world, across land, air, and sea. Here are a few of those ways and what exactly their causes are.
There’s Less Air Pollution
With orders to stay at home in effect in countries across the globe due to the virus, there’s been a steep decrease in travel and economic activity. Although this places many negative impacts on those in travel businesses from airlines to uber drivers, there’s something positive in it for our planet. With less traffic comes less pollutants. With a lack of air travel, which has taken a major hit, is also most likely to cause a decline in greenhouse gases. This improvement in air quality was apparent in Madrid, Spain, where the average level of nitrogen dioxide was 75% lower in mid-March than it had been only the previous week according to Adrian Fernández, the head of Greenpeace’s Mobility campaign in Spain. In New York City, carbon monoxide had been reduced by almost 50% compared to March of last year, mainly from the lack of cars. Unfortunately, this drop in carbon emissions will likely only last as long as the virus does. Activity will ramp up (and potentially even more than it had been) once the pandemic subsides.
Increase in Plastic Waste
While some environmental elements are improving, others are taking a hit. The extreme demand for disposable medical products such as single-use gloves, surgical masks and IV bags in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has created a flood of waste. In fact, according to The Wallstreet Journal, medical waste facilities in 29 cities were at or near full capacity as of March 30th. Masks utilized by healthcare workers are taken off, sterilized, and then go right into the landfill. Now, with the public using and disposing of these masks as well, it has only grown worse.
The rise in single-use bags and packaging have also shown to contribute to this problem. Reusable packaging and reusable bags have been recognized as easy carriers of the virus, making plastic more common in grocery stores and retail businesses. Before the pandemic, an increasing amount of states and individual cities had been banning single-use plastic bags in order to reduce waste and advocate for the environment. Now, just as shoppers began adjusting to carrying their own reusable bags, the virus is forcing many to leave them at home. With the amount of plastic being used to accommodate this issue, waste has grown steadily alongside it.
Less Noise Pollution
One benefit of social distancing is the newfound quiet in urban settings and the ocean. With less people making noise outside and much less commercial shipping, drilling, and cruises, noise levels are reduced for those organisms that must use sound for their health and wellbeing. For instance, noise pollution affects bird communication since they must compete with city noise. Not only does this problem occur for animals on land, but also in our oceans. Whales and dolphins are only two of the most popular sound-sensitive ocean organisms that will benefit from this lack of interruption. With the virus stopping many forms of sea-travel, however, reduced noise levels are being seen, which leads directly to higher reproductive success, less migration, and ultimately lower mortality rates of our wildlife.
Most environmental impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, such as the decline in carbon emissions and increase in medical waste, will be temporary. However, perhaps the environmental results of the virus can help the fight for our planet for years to come. The loss of life from COVID-19 will be devastating. There is nothing to celebrate about such a frightening and horrible tragedy. However, it is perhaps a small victory to learn from what’s happened and apply it to fight climate change and support our environment in the future.