Environmental impacts of COVID-19 shutdown

Amena Matcheswala, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe since January 2020 has disheveled nearly every factor of our interactive society, but in addition to the changes faced by people, the global response to the virus has harbored unprecedented change to the environment. Preventative actions such as isolation and stay at home orders have both helped and hurt our environment as people shift their way of life and the resources they use. 

AP Environmental Science teacher Kimberly Clay said, “There is also concern that the pandemic has pushed efforts to decrease global warming to the back burner of our consciousness.  Some are concerned that when the pandemic passes funds to combat global warming won’t be there.  We need to make certain that global awareness and concerns for the environment do not disappear.” With the right measures, the positive impacts of the shutdown may last well beyond quarantine. 

Satellite monitoring from NASA has shown that the pollution levels in China, specifically around the city of Wuhan, have dropped 10-30% from the typical level during that time of year. These plummeting levels accompanied the beginning of the government sanctioned quarantine of Wuhan. 

China is not the only country with benefits to pollution levels. As a result of the reduction of transportation, less fossil fuels are being burned and less carbon is being emitted all over the world, revealing mountain tops that couldn’t be seen before and bringing species back to homes they once avoided because of the proximity to humans, such as the reemerging Himalayas now visible from Northern India and local animals like mountain goats roaming the deserted streets of Wales.

However, there have been negatives, too. Trash collection has maintained its status as an essential service, but this does not apply to recycling. Many recycling facilities have been temporarily shut down or switched to entirely mechanical functioning. 

Clay also pointed out that “currently grocery stores require customers to bag their own groceries if they bring reusable shopping bags, which has resulted in an increase in the use of plastic bags.  We can make certain that we are responsibly recycling plastic bags to decrease plastic pollution. This, coupled with the increased plastic consumption as disposable plastics make a comeback to prevent the spread of germs, could mean a spike in plastic being thrown out and eventually finding its way into oceans.”

Despite the setbacks,it is entirely possible to keep the benefits and cut back on the harm caused to the environment from COVID-19. Instead of being thrown out, recyclables can be washed and kept at home until recycling starts back up for those who don’t currently have curbside recycling as an available option. 

To maintain the more animal friendly ecosystem that has been thriving recently, Clay said, “During this time people could re-evaluate their choices of transportation and consider how they could decrease their driving and use of fossil fuels;  options could be mass transit, carpooling or biking.  For native species we could consider protecting more open space in the future and create wildlife corridors (they’re super cool) to reduce the occurrence of negative interactions with wildlife, such as car collisions with them.” 

These silver linings are a great way to find motivation for a good cause to fight for while we get through the pandemic.