The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us and the environment we inhabit. We have seen less pollution in water and air around the world as the masses are in quarantine. In places like Milan, Wuhan, and New York, we’ve seen decreases in nitrogen dioxide (a byproduct from burning fossil fuels) as high as 60%. Along with the restrictions put on fisheries and restaurants have allowed fish populations to rise. For the past few decades, we have seen the world’s fish stock hit record low levels as much as 90% compared to their pre-industrial population. Though this short breath won’t allow a full recovery, it’s better than nothing.
COVID-19 hasn’t only affected human life. A study found that without people populating forests wildlife would uncharacteristically be out wandering during the day. Another study in Florida found that with the beaches closed, turtles would lay more eggs. Researchers in Chile made a surprising discovery when they spotted a rare species of wildcat named “leopardus guigna” in urban areas.
Though it hasn’t been all upsides, with many people stuck inside, people have been buying more plastic products, ordering more things, and using more single-use plastics like bags and general packaging. Due to this, plastic pollution has become more abundant; increases in incineration and landfilling have been seen across the United States. The demand for both single-use and multiple-use plastics has seen a dramatic increase of 40% for packaging and other single use products and 17% for multiple-use plastics. Places like Wuhan have seen a higher increase in plastic production with up to 200 tons of medical waste alone in a single day.
Certain hospitals have seen upwards of 10 times the medical waste produced. “For instance, the King Abdullah University Hospital in Jordan produced tenfold higher medical waste (~650 kg per day, when considering an occupation of 95 COVID-19 patients)”. Along with producing more medical waste, hospitals and other public places have been using more disinfectants that contain chemicals like ammonium and bleach. This rise in disinfectant use can be harmful to the public, especially to health care workers; studies have found that the use of disinfectants can lead to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s not just adults; young children and fetuses exposed to these harmful chemicals could develop cancers and asthma.
To conclude, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the environment both positively and negatively. But it’s human behavior to blame for the negative; if we want to change our impact on the world, we all have to modify a bit of our behavior. Have that be we walk to the store rather than drive, we use paper bags instead of plastic, or maybe we get solar panels to power our homes. All of it makes an impact in the long term.
Fisheries, NOAA. “U.S. Fishing and Seafood Industries Saw Broad Declines Last Summer Due to COVID-19.” NOAA, 15 Jan. 2021, www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/us-fishing-and-seafood-industries-saw-broad-declines-last-summer-due-covid-19.
Gray, Ellen. “Model Shows Extent COVID-Related Pollution Levels Deviated from Norm.” NASA, NASA, 16 Nov. 2020, www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/nasa-model-reveals-how-much-covid-related-pollution-levels-deviated-from-the-norm.
Korten, Tristram. “With Boats Stuck in Harbor Because of COVID-19, Will Fish Bounce Back?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 8 Apr. 2020, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/fish-stop-covid-19-180974623/.
Patrício Silva, Ana L, et al. “Increased Plastic Pollution Due to COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges and Recommendations.” Chemical Engineering Journal (Lausanne, Switzerland : 1996), Elsevier B.V., 1 Feb. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7430241/.
Stokstad, Erik, et al. “The Pandemic Stilled Human Activity. What Did This ‘Anthropause’ Mean for Wildlife?” Science Mag, 18 Aug. 2020, www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/pandemic-stilled-human-activity-what-did-anthropause-mean-wildlife.
Tedesco, Marco. “Coronavirus Is Improving Water Quality – For Now, At Least.” State of the Planet, 5 June 2020, news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/06/08/coronavirus-improving-water-quality/.
Venter, Zander S., et al. “COVID-19 Lockdowns Cause Global Air Pollution Declines.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 11 Aug. 2020, www.pnas.org/content/117/32/18984.
Zambrano-Monserrate, Manuel A., et al. “Indirect Effects of COVID-19 on the Environment.” Science of The Total Environment, Elsevier, 20 Apr. 2020, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969720323305.