When countries around the world first began to shut down as COVID-19 ravaged populations, there was a lot of anecdotal evidence that this was an excellent thing for the environment.
Various studies done in China and India all showed reduced air pollutants and better air quality due to the reduction in vehicles and heavy industry factory shut-downs. Obviously a great improvement for quality of life in those countries, however, these studies were done around April 2020, early in the pandemic.
Now other research is questioning whether the reductions in air pollutants and heavy industries outweighs the impact of other environmental issues due to the COVID-19 situation.
A National Geographic article published on 18 June, states that actually, things have been becoming worse for the environment due to COVID-19.
“The benefits many found heartening early on—from cleaner air to birdsong newly audible as cars and planes went quiet—were always likely to be temporary. And with lockdowns easing, they have already begun to dissipate. Now, some experts fear that the world risks a future with more traffic, more pollution, and climate change that worsens faster than ever. It’s too soon to know whether that gloomy scenario will play out, but concerning signs seem to be growing all around the world.”
The article continues with data that shows even though fewer people are travelling - whether by car or plane - we currently only have a 5% reduction in daily global carbon emissions compared to the same time last year.
The factories in India and China that closed are now back to operating and producing double the amount of products to make up for shortfalls earlier in the year. These same factories are also more able to escape environmental oversight due to reduced numbers of inspectors, and the ability to slap ‘to fight COVID-19’ onto products which in many cases are being used as loopholes to avoid existing government environmental restrictions.
Balancing the New Normal:
The impact on global economies has also seen governments “... acceding to companies’ pleas for cash, regulatory rollbacks, and other special favours”, states the National Geographic article, highlighting the United States in particular.
On top of these issues, a study published in the academic journal Science of The Total Environment found that the impact of actions specifically related to COVID-19 like increased waste was causing more environmental issues than the original reductions fixed.
The study states that: “The generation of organic and inorganic waste is indirectly accompanied by a wide range of environmental issues, such as soil erosion, deforestation, air, and water pollution.”
This is because we are now using more disposable products like face masks, plastic bags, single-use containers etc. for hygiene reasons. Online shopping for groceries and other essential items also increased the amount of organic and non-organic waste each household is producing.
Medical waste has also increased since there are so many more people going to the hospital. The study found that Wuhan hospitals produced more than 240 metric tonnes of medical waste per day during the outbreak, compared to less than 50 tonnes previously.
All this waste has to be dealt with and done in a fast and relatively economical manner which unfortunately has led to more stuff burned to get rid of it around the world. Plus, normal recycling systems have also been either stopped or severely reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions in some countries. In Italy, during the most severe part of the lockdown people diagnosed with COVID-19 were not allowed to separate their waste into communal recycling bins.
So, while it may have seemed that COVID-19 was at least doing something positive for the environment, it now appears that it could be making it worse. So what can we do?
The most important thing we can do right now is to be even more aware of what we are buying and using. Unless you are a front line worker, or have a compromised immune system, or are over 60 years old, you don’t need to be wearing a disposable surgical mask. Buy reusable fabric masks - several good quality products are triple-layered and can protect you perfectly well.
Remember when you are doing your grocery shopping to look for products that are made of recycled materials, ask your delivery people to use a cardboard box instead of a plastic bag; when you do your shopping take your own bag - if your local supermarket doesn’t allow this, pack your own shopping or go to a wet market for your vegetables and fruit.
Think of ways you can recycle materials at home. Reuse your food delivery containers for storing bits and pieces at home, or stick a few holes in the bottoms of them and plant some seeds for a home garden. You can even use paper bags and cardboard boxes for mulch around your plants to reduce water evaporation.
Of course, you need to take sensible precautions when you are travelling around the city, but now that most lockdowns are lifted you can return to public transport rather than driving a car. Or look for shopping and recycling options in your neighbourhood and walk there.
As long as we think a bit more about how we consume things, hopefully, we can help ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t have a significant impact on our environment.
Environmental Community Groups in Singapore
Several different groups in Singapore are working towards being more environmentally responsible; choose one that suits your interests.
Green Drinks (Singapore) connects community, businesses, government, academia and NGOs in the environmental space
The Nature Society (Singapore) or NSS is a non-government, non-profit organisation dedicated to the appreciation, conservation, study and enjoyment of the natural heritage in Singapore.
ONE Singapore spreads awareness about environmental issues and those living on the fringes of a marginalised society and also connects corporate and non-profit businesses with various relevant programmes.
Environmental Community Groups in Malaysia
There are a number of different groups in Malaysia that are working towards being more environmentally responsible; choose one that suits your interests.
A community-focused NGO that uses science to help change minds about the importance of environmentalism, EcoKnights also organise events in Malaysia like the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF), as well as manages initiatives like Project H20 which helps deliver safe drinking water to villagers on the island of Mantanani in Sabah. You can volunteer for activities via the group’s website and Facebook page.
Established in 1998, the Global Environment Centre (GEC) is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to supporting the protection of the environment as well as working for more sustainable ways to use natural resources. They are involved with programmes like river care protection, peatland conservation and stopping deforestation. You can apply to work with GEC on short, or long term projects by checking out what’s available on their website.
If you are interested in working to stop the global trade in wild animals and plants, Traffic is an organisation to look into joining. Traffic is a non-government organisation working to reduce the illegal and unsustainable trade on biodiversity and assist with wildlife conservation. You can get involved by heading to the group’s website.
Environmental Community Groups in The Philippines
There are a number of different groups in The Philippines that are working towards being more environmentally responsible; choose one that suits your interests.
Save Philippine Seas is a community-based non-profit organisation that is dedicated to educating people about the importance of protecting the seas around the country including shark conservation, and citizen-led programmes to empower communities to educate themselves about environmental issues. You can get more information about volunteer opportunities via their website.
The Haribon Foundation is dedicated to protecting and saving the various endangered birds of The Philippines by working to conserve the habitats the birds need, and to educate people on the importance of protecting birds. The group also works with various government groups to work on biodiversity projects. Head to the website for more information on how to join.
This non-profit organisation works with regional and small-town governments and community groups to ensure the provision of clean drinking water throughout The Philippines and also overseas. For information on how to help, email email@example.com or go to the website.