You might have noticed that since the coronavirus outbreak started, we haven’t heard much about the environment, sustainability or waste. As if they have suddenly disappeared. On one hand, it’s quite logical, since human lives are slightly more important than plastic. On the other hand, climate change isn’t going anywhere, just because there's coronavirus now.
I decided to write this article because of two reasons: Firstly, I believe that we shouldn’t forget the environment even in times like these. (Btw some people think that the coronavirus pandemics is actually nature’s reaction to our destruction and depletion.) Secondly, I think that many of us would like to read something else than COVID-19 news from time to time.
So, the question is: What does coronavirus have to do with sustainability?
Apparently, there are both negative and positive impacts of the virus on our environment.
Let’s start with the negative. Based on my little research there are two main reasons why the COVID-19 pandemics will affect our environment badly.
The first one lies in the fact that governments and international organizations currently don’t have time to deal with green energy, electromobility or waste management, because there are simply more important things on their agendas now - such as how to slow the pandemics down or how to supply necessary equipment to medical facilities. Once this phase is over, the main question will be how to reduce the economical impact caused by this situation. Therefore, the efforts to tackle climate change could be postponed by years according to some. However, we shouldn't lose the energy that we have gained before to deal with environmental problems, because they aren’t going nowhere with the virus, as British nature scientist Chris Packham says. Emission and waste were, are and always will be here.
The second argument is a bigger amount of certain types of waste. On one side, we are talking about contaminated face masks, respirators and other medical trash. On the other, the number of disposable cups, lunchboxes and packaging is on the rise due to the necessary hygienic measures. Some chains have stopped offering coffee into returnable cups and went back to the “good old single-use (unrecyclable)" cups to avoid contamination. Most bakery products are now sold in plastic packaging. Bulk shops are strongly recommended not to accept customers’ own containers and put the packaging-free products in new, unused containers instead (meaning disposable paper or plastic bags). Some restaurants offer deliveries and take-away orders - guess in what kind of containers. All this will result in a huge pile of waste. Nevertheless, hygiene should be a priority in such a situation and this is simply the result. I guess it would be quite selfish and reckless to insist on putting the food into your own lunchbox in the restaurant now.Let’s not forget about our #minimumwaste habits though, as the pandemics won’t surely last forever.
Moving on to the positive stuff now.
The biggest "corona-benefit” for our planet is for sure much less frequented air and road transport, which translates into lower CO2 emissions. People don't travel, basically all events have been canceled and nobody is going anywhere, which means a huge relief for our air. Less transport (especially flying) means also lower demand for crude oil and lower emissions created by the oil drilling industry. Most people work from home and they don’t move anywhere except for the rides to the supermarket, which leads to a better air quality, notably in cities.
The overall production is also much smaller now, because of a lower demand and disruptions in supply chains. Lower production also means reduced emissions and depletion of resources.
I will add one more positive argument to end with. From my personal point of view, it’s quite nice to see people shopping less, as all the stores and shopping malls have closed. They could, of course, buy things online, but I don’t consider online shopping so tempting as brick and mortar stores where you can actually see, smell and touch the goods (and therefore buy them much more easily). Moreover, people tend to save money these days instead of spending them. And what does lower consumption translates to? Lower production! Lower production means lower emissions, resource depletion and eventually, lower amounts of waste. After all, if you read our last article about “how can we actually behave sustainably?”, lower consumption is apparently the only way.
“There’s always something good in every bad situation.” I believe that this is more valid than ever now. Maybe we will get used to get by with much less. Get used to shop less. Travel less. Fly less. Buy less clothes. Maybe we will change our habits, which won’t be beneficial only to our planet, but to ourselves, too. Because material things haven’t brought real happiness to anyone yet. :-)
Stay safe and healthy!
Author: Tereza Dohnalová