Environmental issues during COVID-19:
Whilst the world may seem to have ground to a stop, our impact on the planet has only carried on. Our transport sector has slowed down (no pun intended) yet our use of plastic masks and single-use products have escalated. It seems we’ve replaced one problem but encouraged another in its place. Despite the ongoing social and environmental issues from COVID-19, there are ways the public can help reduce their impacts on the planet while supporting the community around them during this difficult time in history.
Without a doubt, single-use plastic masks have been a major concern during the pandemic. In 2020 alone, 1.6 billion plastic masks entered the oceans mostly from hospitals and the public. ‘More masks than jellyfish‘ some websites claim. During 2020 and 2021, scientists have reported many incidences of animals like penguins ingesting entire plastic masks whilst fox’s and hedgehogs have been caught tangled in discarded plastic waste. In the United Kingdom, over one-third of beaches have discovered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) litter. Researchers around the world have said COVID-19 would cause an “environmental disaster” with others stating that by 2050, ocean plastic waste would outnumber the amount of marine life.
Wearing a reusable mask when going to the shops, school etc is a simple and effective way to lower your environmental impact during COVID-19. According to the Australian government, reusable masks are effective at reducing the ability to transmit viruses onto others within the public. Over a billion single-use masks have found their way into the oceans in a single year, taking the lives of animals and contributing to a seemingly never-ending issue. The transition to a reusable mask is incredibly simple and beneficial to all walks of life.
Whether it’s food, clothing, sport or beauty, shopping local is an easy way to lower emissions from transportation. Food milage typically generates 10 times more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than all of road transport, with 8% of the United Kingdom’s (UK) annual emissions from importing and exporting food produce.
With more time up our sleeves, people can go and purchase fresh, local produce from markets and/or clothing from local retailers. Granted these places may not be accessible during lockdowns. Shopping local also avoids the digital market crammed by millions of orders bound to take months for delivery. Furthermore, local small businesses are often more flexible with customer desires providing more options for those who want customisable options, unlike large companies where what you see is what you get.
Today, the world is full of products ‘made in China’, so why not try and find something closer to home? Better for the local economy, yourself and the planet.
Carbon neutral internet:
With working from home and with fewer things to do, far more time is being spent online. During COVID-19, there was an 11% increase in broadband connections in Australia along with a spike in older internet users from 76% prior to the pandemic to 98%. In Bangalore, India internet use has increased by 100% whilst in the United States, online educational apps rose by 1,087% in 14 days during March 2020.
Internet normally contributes to around 3.7% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, almost double the airline industries yearly environmental footprint. Between the already existing damage, COVID-19 and increasing internet usage, this is a sector bound to cause greater and greater damage each year. An hour-long videoconference when working from home, emits around 157 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2), enough to power a car for 2 kilometres (1.2 miles)!
So, it’s fairly obvious why switching to a carbon neutral internet provider is an appropriate and effective way of lowering your yearly environmental footprint, especially during lockdowns and even as working from home becomes a more favoured option for the workforce.
In the United States, working from home arrangements have increased from 20% to 51% since the first large COVID-19 outbreak with more people around the globe beginning to rethink their work hours and commutes to better suit their families.
With additional ‘free time’, establishing vegetable/fruit gardens can be a fun activity while helping build a thriving food factory in your back and/or frontyard.
Food gardening reduces food milage from conventional farm – truck – shop to simply running across the back garden to collect whatever’s needed. In addition, water usage is far better used in vegetable gardens unlike industrial farming and far lower pesticide usage is required along with the benefit of zero packaging. Exceptional…especially when considering 8% of the United Kingdom’s annual emissions come from food milage with industrial agriculture also consuming 70% of the world’s yearly watersupply and the 1.2 billion plastic bags used in supermarkets for fruit and vegetables.
Reusable coffee cups/recycling:
Gloablly, 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used anually. During the pandemic, many companies such as Starbucks have banned the use of reusable coffee cups for the safety of their baristas and customers. Yet, hundreds of scientists such as epidemiologists, biologists, chemists and virologists claim the use of reusable cups does not pose a greater threat. According to the University of Melbourne, a reusable coffee cup reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 92% compared to the disposable option.
Using a reusable coffee cup is a simple way to lower your environmental footprint with ‘keep cups‘ found in many shops/stores. However, if you chose to use disposable cups, ensure that the content is recycled. Please note; disposable coffee cups cannot be placed in the kurbside recycling bin due to the plastic lining and instead must be dropped off at a specialised recycling centre like 7-Elven which collects the cups and sends them to a partnership company for recycling.
Due to staff shortages causing longer shipping times and less food supply, eating seasonal produce seems like a cost effective way of placing food on the table while supporting local farmers, reducing emissions and improving health.
Eating seasonal produce encourages consumers to purchase what’s currently being grown and harvested in your country, therefore, lowering food milage. In many countries across the world, seasonal eating is limited and forces large supermarkets to import foreign fruit and vegetables. This not only damages the environment but local farmers who are growing seasonal produce.
Besides the local farmers and the environment, health experts claim seasonal food contain far higher amounts of nutrients, antioxidants and phytonutrients as compared to imported fruit, vegetables and grains that often lose significant amounts of nutrients after long distance travel. Furthermore, seasonal produce requires consumers to transition to other fruits, vegetables etc as the year progresses, creating a far more varied diet. According to researchers, varied meals can help resist diseases like type 2 diabetes, asthma, depression, metabolic syndrome etc, ultimately increasing life expectancy.
It’s fairly clear why seasonal produce is a better choice…for the planet, local farmers, personal health and wallets.
This blog has recommended six ways individuals and families can become more sustainable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite my suggestions, there are many more ways to further reduce your impact, from reducing waste to making products from home like face masks. All of the above are quite simple but can make a huge and positive impact. According to experts, the COVID-19 pandemic could have environmental effects that last generations. The statistics are frightening yet the opportunity to change lies right in front of us. What are we waiting for?