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corona virus impact on the environment

In this article I would like to discuss about the corona virus impact on the environment.
Indeed, besides the health emergency, the pandemic has deeply affected our lives with negative effects also on the economy, first of all the travel industry.
But which is the impact of the corona virus on the environment?
Some people think the lockdown is good for the climate crisis, but how can we learn from this challenging moment to be more sustainable in the future?
I have asked all these questions to sustainability expert Teresa Agovino.

Teresa Agovino

An environment engineer and sustainable tourism advisor.

What is exactly your job?

“I am involved in cooperation projects, in particular supporting the local communities in the developing Countries, for example I have worked in Africa on a clean water project or in Perù to support local accommodations at Lake Titicaca to comply with energy efficiency processes.

I also work as sustainable tourism advisor for tour operators, accommodations and tourism boards who want to undertake a sustainable path aiming at receiving a certification granted by international boards.
In addition to this, I offer training programs to tourism businesses as well as university lectures.

On my Instagram account, I aim at raising awareness on the topics of plastic, climate change and eco sustainability, also in collaboration with NGOs and associations.”

I highly recommend you to follow her “green corners” on the IG stories, where in few minutes she gives very interesting insights on sustainability matters.

WHICH IS THE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE IMPACT OF THE CORONA VIRUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT?

We might think that the lockdown has happened at a propitious moment if considering that beginning of December 2019 the European Environment Agency had warned Europe that they would have failed to meet the 2030 goals unless some drastic and immediate measures were taken.
Indeed, a drop of 50% of the air pollutant concentrations has been registered during the last few months as a result of the lockdown.

Is it correct to think that the lockdown has lowered the pollution level?

In the short term the impact is certainly positive with a fall of nitrogen dioxide as well as PM2,5 and PM10. However, this reduction doesn’t reflect in a lower pollution level since the pollution index is based on longer periods and not on a daily or weekly basis, and relies on the weather conditions too.
When all business activities will go back to normal (especially in the industry sector), we might see some Countries (for example Trump has already announced so) suspending the restrictions on the emission quantities they are allowed by law, resulting in much higher pollutant concentrations in the air with a negative impact on pollution.

“For this reason it is not entirely correct to consider this historic moment as a progress as far as pollution is concerned, but rather a beneficial moment”.

The images of animals gaining back their space in the urban nature we have been shown (one of the most popular case is the Venice lagoon) are encouraging but they represent only a temporary reduction of pollution due to the ban to all sea traffic. What will it happen when the lockdown is over?

I believe that the lockdown has arisen a collective environment awareness.

So, I hope that governments will be more engaged in sustainable policies in accordance with the international agreements on the environment protection.

However, there are also some negative impact of the pandemia for example in the waste management due to the increasing single-use plastic to guarantee the hygiene protocols as well as toxic substances used for sanitation.

Which are the negative effects of the pandemia now and in the future?

The are some effects visible right now and some that we will only be able to evaluate with time because they depend on the governement management of the post-pandemic phases.

One evident negative effect of the pandemic is certainly the waste management.
Already during the lockdown period, some companies that usually provide recycled plastic to other companies currently out of work, have had to create dedicated storage spaces to keep the exceeding plastic produced.
Moreover, the companies in charge of the waste management are experiencing problems due to the huge quantities of special waste produced, such as masks and gloves.
In addition to this, for sanitary reasons, more and more single-use plastic packaging are being used, especially for take-away food but not only .

Concerning the disinfection of the streets that we have seen in some cities where bleach has been used, it is very likely to be inefficient as, according to the World Health Organization, the virus is airborne so the possibilities of contracting it in the street is unlikely.
On the contrary, spraying these toxic substances in public places might be harmful for the environment as well as the human beings.

These are only some of the negative effects that we can see right now but there could be more after the pandemic is over, I am particularly concerned about the risk of higher pollutant concentrations in the air in case some governments decide to suspend the restrictions on maximum emissions the industrial firms are allowed.
We cannot be sure of this at the moment, but it is highly possible.

WILL THE PANDEMIC BOOST SUSTAINABILITY?

“I’ve recently launched a green template on Instagram asking people which behaviors they intend to change or sustainable practices to adopt after the lockdown and the results show that an increasing number is willing to give their contribute.

“It certainly is a slow process but that needs to stem from awareness, so that’s a good start”.

The first commitment towards a more sustainable lifestyle seems to be the reduction of plastic, sometimes also going zero waste, buying products with no packaging or self-producing for example food and cosmetics.
Other good practice emerged from the poll is the use of green transports, in particular bicycles, and the most popular one is the reduction of food waste (according to FAO 1/3 of food produced is actually wasted!).

How can we reduce food waste?

“Adopting a weekly meal plan helps you to avoid compulsive shopping when you are at the supermarket”.

I must say that I had been thinking about planning my meals for quite a while, mainly to have a more varied and balanced diet, but I have always opted to choose on the spot according to my desire of the moment.
During the pandemic going to the supermarket has turned into a sort of a nightmare, with long queues to access, mask and gloves so, since Miles is in charge of food shopping, we have started to plan our meals on a weekly basis in order to reduce the stress of going to the supermarket often as we used to do before.
I confess at the beginning we have experienced some problems to stick to the plan, but slowly we got used to it and we have noticed a reduction also in the food waste, so we intend to keep this habit also after the pandemic will be over.

How does the reduction of food waste positively impact the environment?

“By reducing the food waste we also reduce the use of resources implied to produce food such as water, energy and forage for animals, all goods that need to be transported contributing to pollution.”

Have you noticed an increase in sustainable practices?

“During the lockdown I’ve noticed an increasing awareness about the environment and I hope that governments will take action!”

The impossibility to stop the global economy was often taken as an excuse by many governments to avoid taking action on the climate change matter. The lockdown has proved them wrong so I am hoping that, not only citizens will become more aware, but governments too.

The fact that consumers will take more informed and conscious choices can influence also the policy-makers because in the end as consumers we vote each time we buy something.

I think this is a good point to explain why we shall all make our own part with our daily choices. Despite the climate crisis issue may appear out of reach for us, our contribution is extremely precious.

What about you, which sustainable actions do you adopt?

 

Thanks Teresa for this insightful and inspiring contribution!

Simona

(Photocredits: preview pic by Bela Geletneky from Pixabay)

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