Reducing emissions and mountains of medical debris: the environmental impact of the COVID-19 epidemic

Pandemics in general are not just a serious public health problem - they cause

catastrophic socio-economic and political crises in countries where infection occurred.

Now the virus has spread to more than 200countries - the epidemic has affected the world's strongest economies, including the USA, Germany, China, Italy, South Korea, India, Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands, Japan, Belgium, Russia and Germany.

With the advent of coronavirus in these countries, economic activity slowed significantly due to the introduction of quarantine, and the accompanying anthropogenic impact on the environment decreased.

Until 2020, an increase in greenhousegases, which occurred from the beginning of the industrialization era, led to an increase in average global temperatures on Earth, causing effects such as melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Human activities in various forms caused environmental degradation and launched the process of the sixth mass extinction.

Sixth mass extinction

In 2011, paleontologist Anthony Barnoski and hiscolleagues at the University of California at Berkeley published an article in which they talked about the sixth mass extinction lasting 500 years, a process that resulted in three-quarters of the species disappearing over the geological period. Scientists compared the average rate of extinction of species from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century and compared with the average rate of this process in other periods of history.

The cause of extinction was human activity -people destroy the habitat of animals and plants, which leads to a reduction in biodiversity. Probably, this process has a greater effect on plants. Unlike animals, they cannot move when their habitat is destroyed.

Before the start of the epidemic, researcherswarned that lower economic activity would help reduce global warming, as well as air and marine pollution. This will allow the environment to recover slowly.

How a pandemic has helped ecology

The obvious positive consequence of the epidemicair quality improved - due to quarantine, fewer cars became on the streets of the city, and only enterprises that produce vital products and services continued to work.

This led to the fact that at the beginning of 2020 inChina's carbon dioxide emissions fell by a quarter compared to the same period last year. The use of coal at the six largest power plants in the country over the same period decreased by 40%.

Combined Emissions from Industrialprocesses, production and construction account for 18.4% of global anthropogenic emissions. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 led to an overall emission reduction of 1.3%, in 2020 - this figure will be about 0.3%.

According to the Ministry of Ecology and the EnvironmentOn Wednesday, the number of days with "good quality air" in 337 cities in China increased by 11.4% compared with the same period last year. In Europe, satellite imagery shows that emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a harmful substance to humans, over Northern Italy have fallen to almost zero. A similar situation is observed in Spain and the UK.

Carbon dioxide reduction occursby reducing the number of cars on the streets, accounting for about 23% of total CO2 emissions. In addition, quarantine facilitated the transition of millions of people to remote work, which helped to reduce the number of trips by private cars and public transport.

Carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphereas a result of the flight of the aircraft, up to 11% of emissions. Given that in February-May 2020, air transportation will be reduced by 15–45%, the growth of aviation emissions will slow down significantly.

The negative impact of the epidemic on the environment

Despite a temporary reduction in globalcarbon emissions, the International Energy Agency has warned that economic shocks caused by the outbreak of coronavirus could hamper or delay companies' green energy investments.

In addition, the largest climate eventyears, the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference, scheduled for November, may be delayed indefinitely due to the epidemic. This will lead to the fact that humanity’s struggle with anthropogenic climate changes will slow down significantly.

As a result of an unprecedented widethe use of disposable masks and gloves will cause serious environmental pollution with a large amount of plastic and other synthetic materials that are resistant to liquids and decompose very slowly.

At the same time, it is not recommended to wear medical masks for more than one day, and wet wipes made of similar material can not be used more than once.

This led to the fact that in the city of Wuhan in China,which was the epicenter of the epidemic in the country, about 200 tons of medical waste was formed in one day - several times more than before the epidemic and four times more than in a day the only waste recycling enterprise in the city can burn.

A study by Ocean Asia, an environmental non-governmental organization, on Soko Island in Hong Kong showed that a large number of discarded masks were washed on a 100-meter beach.

Consequences of contamination by such medicalwaste has far-reaching consequences. When they are thrown into the natural habitat on land, animals mistakenly eat them under the guise of food. This can lead to serious health problems, even death.

What will happen next?

The UN notes that visible positiveimpacts, whether improving air quality or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are temporary in nature because they are caused by economic downturn and human suffering.

Therefore a few months or years afterepidemic emissions are likely to return to a trend of rapid growth. The fact is that this is not the first time that the epidemic has left its mark on the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Throughout history, the spread of disease has been associated with lower emissions - even long before the industrial era. And each time after its completion, emissions increased.

Scientists have discovered that epidemics such asThe "black death" in Europe in the fourteenth century, and epidemics of diseases such as smallpox, were brought to southern America with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century. They left an insignificant trace in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. A study of petrified trees growing at that time showed that after the epidemics ended, emissions quickly recovered. With a high degree of probability this can be said about the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.