Environmental Impact of COVID-19

The Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the deadliest disease to affect human beings across the world in recent history. The global outbreak of this ailment has had a significant impact on every aspect of our lives. As governments worldwide struggle to control the spread of the virus, various health and safety restrictions have been placed on us including the wearing of surgical masks and gloves, social distancing, staying home and utilising sanitizers among others. Interestingly, these changes in our habits and practices have had a considerable impact on our physical environment. Research has shown that the environment has undergone numerous alterations on a global scale since the beginning of the pandemic. While the pandemic has largely been portrayed as having a positive impact on the environment, with air pollution diminishing and water quality improving in some regions, there is another side to the story that has gone largely unnoticed in popular rhetoric. Many areas globally are facing a growing environmental crisis in the wake of COVID-19. Deforestation rates are changing in certain regions, while some areas are witnessing an alarming increase in the generation of biomedical waste and a haphazard disposal of safety equipment.

(Image Credits- University of Colorado Boulder)

To understand how the world is changing under the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and engineers have been using remote sensing data, comparing current remote sensing data to pre-pandemic statistics. Their studies have revealed that large tracts of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest were eliminated between June-September, 2020, since the start of the pandemic. Similar instances of rapid deforestation are also occurring in other tropical countries such as Indonesia and Congo. The primary reason behind this is that as governments in these countries imposed lockdowns, many conservation and research projects were forced to stop their activities. Additionally, in nations such as Brazil and Indonesia, environmental laws were significantly relaxed allowing for a rampant increase in unchecked logging, mining, land invasions, and forest clearing.

Another negative impact of the pandemic has been the rapid increase and improper disposal of biomedical waste and safety equipment. For instance, it is estimated that the quantity of waste generated by Ahmedabad increased from 550-600 kg/day to around 1000 kg/day during the first phase of lockdown. Additionally, the safety instruments used by people such as masks, gloves and PPE kits are usually made of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, polypropylene and tyvek. Improper disposal of such equipment has had a significantly detrimental impact on various aspects of the environment. For instance, it is estimated that as many as 1.6 billion masks have entered the oceans in 2020. These materials usually take an average of 500 years before completely breaking down into microplastics, which by themselves are more or less eternal. Improper disposal of such biomedical and safety equipment poses a severe threat to not just the environment, but also increases the risk of disease transmission among human beings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly all aspects of human life. As we learn to adapt and safely deal with this disease however, it is imperative that we be mindful of the environmental consequences of our actions. Though the impact of the pandemic on the environment is severe, a united and proposed time-oriented effort can strengthen environmental sustainability and save the earth from the effects of this global phenomena.



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