Matilda Barry

Our Youth Ambassador Matilda Barry takes a look at what impact the Coronavirus has had on the environment.

Coronavirus has sent shock waves through the world’s economy and affected lives all across the globe. As well as affecting people’s lives, corona virus has also had a profound effect on the environment. Scientists first noticed a drop in carbon emissions (co2) in china, specifically Wuhan where the virus was first noticed. Within months as countries and government began to implement lockdown restrictions a trend was noticed in the fall of greenhouse gases globally with Britain reporting a 29% decrease in emissions.

Even though the media widely reported a fall in greenhouse emissions in the months of April and May the media has failed to report on the energy surge and the increase in pollution due to medical waste and household plastic not being recycled properly. This sharp increase in waste products has led to rising pollution and an increase in toxic chemicals being found in landfill sites and marine ecosystems.

How has coronavirus impacted waste levels?

Medical waste:

The demand for PPE (personal protective equipment) has led to increased production of plastic and increased plastic pollution levels. In China alone single use face mask production soared to a 116 million per day in February, it is estimated that this is 12 times the usual production level. Scientists are fearful as it is estimated that after lockdown there will be 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves used monthly across the globe. In Wuhan almost 247 tonnes of medical waste was produced at the peak of the pandemic almost six times the daily average. It is also estimated that the USA could generate an entire years worth of medical waste in around 2 months resulting in an environmental crisis globally as this waste can not be disposed of properly.

Online shopping waste:

Waste has also increased due to an influx of online shopping as coronavirus restrictions prevented us from going to our local high street.  Due to this there has been a surge in online shopping as every aspect of our life has moved online, even grocery shopping. It is estimated that the UK and Europe have seen a 129% increase on online shopping rates week-on-week. With the aspect of next day delivery resulting in more milage, impacting the atmosphere and increasing carbon emission levels unnecessarily. Products are often wrapped with unnecessary amounts of packaging in order to protect them while in transportation. It is estimated that there is about 40% of packaging is plastic and generates about 2.4 million tonnes per year of packaging waste. It is only used once and is then discarded, generating unnecessary amounts of plastic waste.

On the other hand, the amount of waste produced by the increase in shipping and packaging can be balanced out by the reduction in office waste due to the closing office buildings. I asked 14 people if coronavirus has impacted their shopping habits. 100% said that they had shopped more online due to coronavirus. I then went onto ask whether they recycle their parcel packaging and 66% answered yes and 34% answered no. With these findings I then asked if they knew how to recycle parcel packaging and 56% answered yes and 44% answered no.

How has coronavirus impacted energy usage:

Electricity usage has soared globally due to the pandemic. Schools, workplaces, universities and colleges have moved onto online learning platforms and online workspaces. But in services and industry energy usage has dropped due to a nation-wide lockdown. For most buildings that were closed during the lockdown saw between a 35-50% reduction in usage. Scientists have estimated that this will result in a 10-12% reduction in annual carbon emissions. Following the imposition of lockdown, the total electricity demand fell by 13% week beginning 19th March and the week beginning g April 6th electricity usage fell by 24%.

Scientists discovered that there was a morning peak for electricity demand as people used kettles, toasters and showers. Morning electricity usage was compared to a “normal” Sunday morning or a national holiday, such as a bank holiday. Scientists stated that the demand is less visible as people start their working day.

My findings:

In one of my classes at my sixth form I presented a presentation on how coronavirus has impacted the environment and won an award for how interesting the topic was. After the presentation I carried out a survey to see if the presentation had been effective in educating and raising awareness.

The first question I asked was did the presentation influence you to make any changes. the response to this question was positive. All of my sample said they had been influenced or felt encouraged to make changes, but some said they had made changes but unwilling to keep them up.

The second question I asked was whether people knew about the issues that were discussed. All of the people I asked said no and that they did know the problems could have long lasting effects.

The third and final question I asked was whether people were willing to make changes in order to reduce their waste. 60% said they would and 40% said they would make changes but reluctantly.

If you have any questions or ideas about how to make a positive impact as Youth Ambassador, or you want to join us in our Clean Water Wave mission, please get in touch!