The COVID-19 global pandemic has not only just changed the world, it has caused frustration, pain, and loss to everyone. It has also resulted in several impacts to the environment and climate. The global reduction in daily human activity has helped the environment in some aspects but also caused some damage. As the UK lockdown is slowly easing (hurray!), we are starting to see glimpses of anticipation that we might soon be back to our pre-lockdown life. But while we are looking forward to enjoying the things we used to before lockdown, let’s not get too excited and jump back to all of our old habits. Let’s have a look at what impact the pandemic and lockdown have caused.
There has been a significant reduction in air pollution and traffic pollution due to the traffic-free roads and plane-free skies which have intensely improved the global air quality. During the first nine weeks of the UK lockdown, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has decreased by an average of 31% compared to pre-lockdown. Popular London roads such as Marylebone Road and Oxford Street have seen a decrease in the daily average NO2, dropping to 48% and 47% respectively. This is very impressive, as in 2016, Oxford Street was known as the “Most polluted road in the world”!
According to the Global Carbon Project, CO2 emissions during lockdown have dropped by 17% by early April, 2020 and slowly rose back up by 4%-7% globally, depending on the restriction in different parts of the world. As many international borders were closed and people were instructed to stay at home, this impactfully reduced transport and changed consumption patterns. This is brilliant news as this is the lowest we have seen since World War II.
Global water quality has also improved, specifically in Venice, Italy, where the decrease in boat traffic and air pollution in the waterways helped the water in the canals to clear up, leading to greater water flow.
It’s brilliant to see a great amount of reduction in pollution, however, researchers have stated this is only a temporary reduction and it’s only a matter of time till all the numbers go up again, which is concerning.
With the 2-meter social distancing measure on public transport, London tubes could only support 50,000 passengers every 15 minutes, instead of the usual 352,000 passengers. Likewise, with trains, only half of the usual passengers could get on each train, and with buses, a capacity of 15 passengers as opposed to the normal 85 passengers.
The UK government has invested in a £2 billion plan to boost cycling and walking schemes to encourage more people to walk and cycle during and after the pandemic. More people have been seen on bikes, resulting in a huge spike in bike sales in early lockdown. There are a lot more defined cycling lanes on the roads, physical barriers to differentiate the lanes to provide people who switch from public transport to bicycles with more space, enabling them to feel more confident when cycling on the roads.
The funding for the scheme has been put into a different alternative for transportation too. It aims to help prevent the increase in car journeys after lockdown, to reduce the frustration of slower boarding on public transport and, most importantly, it hopes to continually improve London’s air quality. This is also a great opportunity for those who soon need to travel back to work to avoid social distanced means of travel and also adapt to a greener and healthier lifestyle!
As a consequence of the significant demand for the disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE), disposable face masks and gloves for the general public and health care workers, there has been a large increase in worldwide plastic waste and pollution. PPE can’t be recycled as it is considered to be “medical waste”, and so is thrown in either landfill or an incinerator which burns the waste and releases toxic smokes. Disposable masks and gloves are made from a variety of plastic that may take up to 450 years to fully break down in the ocean. This sure does sound shocking, yet to limit the spread of the virus we must all wear masks. So instead of using single-use masks, you can look into purchasing reusable masks as an alternative.
Lockdown restrictions have limited eating-in in restaurants, pubs and bars, leading to a high volume of plastic packaged take-away meals and take-away plastic-cup drinks. There has also been a huge increase in plastic and cardboard packaging used for home-delivered groceries and online shopping.
Nevertheless, the reduction of the general public and tourism visiting beaches and parks has actually helped in reducing waste consumption. But with the restriction being lifted, and summer fast-approaching, it will be no surprise that a large amount of litter will be seen again.
4. Working remotely
The sudden shift from working in person to working entirely remotely was not an easy change for everyone. This has led to the extensive use of telecommunications, adapting to remote working policies, the use of digital software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It certainly took everyone a while to get used to it, and many have experienced issues with internet connections, talking while on mute, accidentally farting in meetings and many other funny encounters in one way or another. Working remotely is probably one the most sustained and successful impacts during the pandemic lockdown with a long-lasting reduction of 15% in all transportation of CO2 emissions. Working virtually will most likely be continued with some companies, or some may adapt to a rotation working scheme such as in the office for 2 days and work from home for 3 days.
5. Wildlife and deforestation
As people are restricted to stay at home, wildlife animals are spotted more frequently. A lot of animals tend to fear presenting themselves to humans and tend to avoid appearing in locations that are seriously polluted.
Due to the pandemic, endangered sea turtles were spotted laying eggs at the Odisha Beach, which they once avoided due to the high level of tourism, forcing sea turtles to leave in search of a safer environment. In Venice, Italy, as a result of clearer water flow in the canals, dolphins were spotted for the first time in 60 years! Furthermore, in the United States, there has been a decrease in fatal accidents with animals such as deer, elk, moose and bears.
The deforestation at the Amazon rainforest has quickened throughout the pandemic. The illegal deforestation was captured by the satellite data from Brazil, which shows deforestation in the Amazon rose more than 50% in just the first three months of 2020 compared to pre-lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have had some great impacts on the environment; however, most figures are predicted to be bouncing back up as soon as we are back to “normal”. They may even worsen as people are desperate to do everything they could not do until recently. Before you go back to your usual lifestyle, think of what you have done differently during lockdown and what you may continue to do after the lockdown to protect our environment.