CoronaVirus’ impacts on the environment

Avery Hamlin, Editor

Since the rise of COVID-19, the majority of the world news has been swamped with new research over the pandemic and its international impacts. One serious, yet not very well-known research topic is the impact this pandemic has had on the environment. Are what we are doing to keep ourselves safe, keeping the environment safe?

“I believe this issue needs to be in the forefront of all of our minds, with or without the pandemic. We are pulling materials from our environment faster than they can be replaced,” Memorial AP (Advanced Placement) Environmental teacher Andrea Sampley said. “At the same time we are making, and using, materials that cannot be broken down and absorbed by our environment. Every one of us has decisions to make every day about the products we choose to purchase. Are they necessary? Are there options that are friendlier to our environment?” 

When the world slowly opened back up again, certain precautions were set. Restaurants now use disposables for their menus, silverware, cups, and plates resulting in a mass amount of throwaway and wasted plastic. Schools and other public spaces are using a wasteful amount of disposable paper towels to disinfectant highly touched surfaces. These precautions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID, but are these choices going to dramatically increase the amount of plastic in our oceans and landfills? 

Most choices for a more sustainable option are at a halt, aside from the use of fabric or paper masks. That personal choice could potentially make a difference in the disposable uprising. The use of paper masks not only increases our landfills, but puts our marine animals at risk. The elastic ear pieces on the masks have become a dangerous part of the ocean. Animals, like turtles and birds, are being found helpless with the elastic tied around their body.

On the upside, this pandemic has done great things for the amount of human traffic on beaches. Since all traveling has been cut off or reduced, the beaches have had time to rejuvenate and appear much cleaner. Another example is Venice, Italy’s canals that have drastically changed for the better. Without the usual tourist traffic on the waters, sediment has stayed at the bottom making for a much clearer canal. Unfortunately, there seems to be no actual improvement in the water quality itself despite looking much cleaner. But with the reduction of boat exhaust, the air quality around the area has a chance of improving. Private and public transportation have also slowed down resulting in a smaller ecological footprint. 

Another study has found an interesting link to the sanitation of public spaces and the death of urban animals. Countries have been spraying copious amounts of disinfectant on every publicly touched surface before new research over the spread of COVID-19 was released. Biologists have found that certain ingredients including chlorine and bleach are extremely toxic to the environment and lives of urban species. Recent studies have shown that the spread of this disease is through the transfer of air from an infected person to another. Many specialists have already advised to stop the use of spray disinfectants outdoors. 

These social changes, although made for the safety of the public, have made drastic impacts to not only the way we function as a society, but to the world around us. The effects, whether they are positive or negative, may still have a longer lasting effect on our world than the sickness itself. Natural tourist attractions are being given the time they have always needed to self clean and refresh, but what will happen when the world unpauses? The positive effects, sadly, may not be the effects that last for another few generations. Instead, the negative outcomes seem more likely to last even after COVID has dissipated. 

“Don’t buy/eat junk food! It’s not good for you, it has one-time-use packaging, and it uses resources that are hard on our environment. When you have a choice, buy products with less packaging, less processing, and are locally sourced. Eat less meat. The average American consumes significantly more protein than they need, and you can receive plenty of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from a variety of vegetables which are less demanding on our environment,” Sampley advises. “The “little things” add up – straws, plastic bags, extra packaging, shrink wrap, plastic shells and inserts – especially when hundreds of millions of people are using them. It’s great that we have reduced our air pollution but will that continue when things go back to “normal”?”

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