Written by: Donjanelle Robinson
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
Even in 2021, this 19th-century quote still proves relevant as it perfectly captures the impact of the pandemic on the environment thus far. The pandemic has quickly crept into seemingly every aspect of life. From tourism, media, entertainment, and even to the very comfort of home, its mark is inescapable but it cannot be understated that the pandemic has had an equally immeasurable hold on the environment.
We have experienced where due to the effects of the novel coronavirus it may seem as if the earth is working triple time to heal both itself and to provide consistent rejuvenation to us who occupy the space—humans.
While it is good to highlight the fact that the pandemic has been a blessing, it has also been a curse to us. Affecting us in more than one way and dramatically adjusting our way of life.
It has been a source of change but also a source of opportunity, nevertheless with widespread travel restrictions in effect, air and water pollution has seen a reduction as there have been far significantly fewer opportunities for carbon emissions to be released from planes, cars, motorboats, and cruises.
Furthermore, with fewer people about, due to curfews and lockdowns, there have been fewer opportunities for beaches and streets to be affected by litter, noise pollution, coastal erosion, and damage to coral reefs from tourists, concerts, and so on.
What are some of these implications?
Overall, the pandemic has caused huge global socio-economic disruption, which has indeed directly or indirectly affected the environment for better such as the aforementioned improvement of air and water quality, reduction of noise, and restoration of ecology but also for the worse such as decreases in the number of items being recycled and increases in biomedical waste generation.
Biomedical waste or hospital waste refers to any form of waste that develops during the treatment, diagnosis, or prevention of diseases. It thus includes any potentially infectious substances including discarded needles, goggles, masks, scalpels, and gloves. Biomedical waste puts the planet at risk on unprecedented levels due to the current scope of the pandemic since if improperly managed it can easily contribute to the further development of outbreaks particularly cancer, cholera, and typhoid by contaminating groundwater sources and releasing radioactive particles into the air.
In an address to its parliament last month, India’s Ministry of Environment reported that nearly 146 tonnes of Covid-19 related biomedical waste were being produced daily in the country. To put this into perspective, at the time of writing this post, India, one of only two countries with a population of over a billion people, has reported 14.1 million cases and is showing no signs of slowing down.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt huge blows to almost every major industry, it has given a huge boost to the plastic pandemic. Plastics take at least 500 years to disintegrate, spending that time increasing land pollution by taking up space in landfills. Amid the world’s worst financial recession since the Great Depression, plastic is king. Plastic is widely used for the production of medical equipment such as masks, gloves, syringes, and catheters specifically designed for one-time use to reduce the risk of spreading diseases by not only removing the need for sterilizing and reusing devices but also preventing the possibility of recycling.
What are some steps to mitigating these effects and promoting environmental sustainability?
As the new normal continues, many have increasingly turned to technology as a way to adapt to ensure they can still work, keep in touch and stay entertained with unfortunate implications for the environment. Whatever positive effects that could possibly be reaped from the aforementioned effects of the pandemic are also being increasingly undermined with the heavy amounts of energy now being constantly used at home and the economic recession provoked by the pandemic leading to less available funds for green energy projects. There is also the palpable notion that once the pandemic is over we will just go back to the old normal and all that it implies.
What we should work towards is developing a regenerative culture to build a society that prides itself on continually restoring, reviving, and revitalizing energy sources and in doing so does not shortchange environmental preservation for meeting daily needs and vice versa. For example, when traveling for a vacation, we can practice ecotourism where we respect the environment’s desire to survive and our desire to thrive by simply not littering beaches and not treating the sea which many see as a home as a restroom instead.
However, for this to be achieved, we must first work towards adjusting to the new normal by minimizing its effects on the environment. To curb the impact of biomedical and plastic waste, proper waste management must be a priority starting with actions as simple as ensuring our trash ends up in a garbage pin when tossing it or dropping off soda bottles at a recycling center.
Following social distancing and sanitization protocols does not only benefit your health but by extension the environment. The World Health Organization (WHO) assigns this definition to health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
Every time we go outside we ought to not only remember these words but also remember that the Earth and health care are one. Like anything and anyone, they have their limits.
Treating the pandemic for a serious issue helps to take us one step closer to saving the environment.
There is no planet B.
The seemingly mundane like going to a beach, spending hours and hours watching a TV show, or walking down a street is very real and insane to the environment.
The underlying point is that the pandemic has been a blessing and a curse on the environment in that only through taking control from us has it highlighted how much control we have over the environment itself. As the saying goes, all progress is change but not all change is progress, and if this does not send a chill down your spine, who knows what will.
The pandemic has taught us well and it is a lesson we should not forget.