Environment Degradation During The Pandemic
While the covid-19 pandemic had some unprecedented effect on both economy and society, to the contrary it has helped repair some environmental damage. However, the pandemic had some negative consequences to the environment due to increasing amounts of domestic and medical waste that can be harmful and potentially transmit diseases to others.
Safety equipment use and haphazard disposal – Waste generation amid COVID-19, especially discarded PPEs and single-use plastics, has been an environmental and public health crisis around the world particularly in the countries with developing economies and those in transition. Generally, discarded healthcare waste and other forms of clinical waste are disposed of in a sanitary landfill or incinerated to recover energy. However, in many developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. the hospital waste generation rate ranges from 0.5 to 2.0 kg/bed/day which amounts to 0.33 million tons annually. Absence of proper waste management methods leads to dumping of waste in the open or in poorly managed landfills. Unsafe disposal of healthcare waste not only pollutes the environment but also leads to the spread of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid and respiratory complications. Every year, roughly 500,000 people in the United States are infected by blood-borne pathogens, possibly transmitted through infected needles and syringes.
Reduction of recycling – Due to the pandemic, quarantine policies established in many countries have led to an increase in the demand of online shopping and home delivery, which ultimately increase the amount of household wastes from shipped package materials. However, waste recycling is an effective way to prevent pollution, save energy, and conserve natural resources. But, due to the pandemic many countries postponed the waste recycling activities to reduce the transmission of viral infection. Overall, due to disruption of routine municipal waste management, waste recovery and recycling activities has resulted in increasing the landfilling and environmental pollutants worldwide. Despite the temporary shutdown of the recycling industry, many start-ups like Loliware, Bureo, Biocellection, Yardbird etc. were set up around the world which are working on reducing the rising pile of unrecyclable plastic and reusing it to create new commodities.
Rising tide of e-waste – When COVID-19 hit, remote working skyrocketed, and with it, so did the demand for tech. Due to social distancing and lockdown everyone turned to technology. Organizations rushed to deploy an abundance of new equipment to enable their employees to work from home. Schools sought after digital platforms and devices to facilitate distance learning. Families and friends turned to apps on their smart devices to stay connected to one another. Ironically, sourcing new technology became one of the top priorities to keep people safe, distanced and protected. However, this has created a tidal wave of e-waste. India generates about 3 million tonnes of e-waste annually and ranks third among e-waste producing countries, after China and the United States. Reports state that it might rise to 5 million tonnes by 2021. Electronic waste from equipment of all sizes includes dangerous chemicals like lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants. When gadgets and devices are disposed improperly, these hazardous materials have a high risk of polluting the air, contaminating soil, and leaching into water sources.
Ecosystem at risk – There is a misperception that nature is “getting a break” from humans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, many rural areas in the tropics are facing increased pressure from land grabbing, deforestation, illegal mining and wildlife poaching. People who have lost their employment in cities are returning to their rural homes, further increasing the pressure on natural resources while also increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to rural areas. India has 33.32 million persons who have migrated to urban areas for work or business and out of that around 5.8 million persons were already transported to their places until 5 June and incrementally spreading the virus to rural areas that were hitherto untouched. There are reports of increased deforestation in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Illegal miners and loggers are encroaching on indigenous territories, which could expose remote indigenous communities to the virus.