A Look at the Environmental Impact of COVID-19

Written by: Chandrea Baster

Disposable masks and gloves, sanitizing wipes, and plastic-wrapped paper towels and products are all items that are meant to keep us safe today. Amidst this global pandemic, these are the items that are considered essential to staying safe and minimizing the spread of the virus to keep those around you healthy. Although these are necessary products today, it would be erroneous to turn a blind eye to the massive negative impact that these products are having on the environment. We are living in an increasingly globalized world, and it is becoming clear that we must take the time to educate ourselves on the detrimental impact that these products are having on our planet. Certainly, it is imperative that we all wear masks and sanitize properly. It is our obligation, however, to recognize and analyze the environmental impact that the increased usage of non-environmentally friendly products will have on the environment, and do our best to try to lessen the impact. We must ensure that we are disposing of these products correctly, and do all we can to utilize environmentally-friendly alternatives (if possible) to lessen the harmful impact that these products are having on our planet. 

At the height of quarantine, when essentially the entire world remained inside of their homes, the environment showed us that it was pleased with the lack of traffic, decreased emissions and significant decrease in air pollution that occurred due to our (or lack thereof) human actions. The world was finally able to see the skyline in China and the canals cleared in Italy. For the first time in four decades, Los Angeles reported its best air quality. It is clear that when humans significantly lessened their usage of vehicles and their environmental footprint, the environment reacted positively. 

As places around the world slowly begin to open up again (certainly with precautions), it is our job as humans to be cognizant of what this “new normal” of mask-wearing and increased sanitization means for the planet. Single-use items such as paper towels and Clorox wipes are terrible for the planet, as they remain in our environment for long periods of time before they break down. However, there is a simple fix: paper towels and disinfectant wipes can be replaced with reusable washable cloths. Many products are offered with greener alternatives today. Additionally, due to the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in medical waste and plastic usage. To decrease plastic consumption, alternatives exist that are made of a biodegradable material, which does not take 1,000 years to degrade like plastic. 

We can, and must, take steps to minimize the environmental impact that COVID-19 will undoubtedly have on our world. Looking for green, eco-friendly alternatives and implementing simple changes to our daily routines (such as increasing our usage of tupperware and cutting off the white pieces that go around our ears on disposable masks!) will help our planet. These are challenging times, and these products are essential to combatting COVID-19, but we must also be aware that they are going to leave a lasting, negative impact on our environment. These items must be properly disposed of to help animals and the environment who, like us, are suffering. If we all consciously implement small adjustments into our daily routines, we can combat COVID-19 and help the environment flourish.