Written by: Anamarija Kolimbatović (DKU student)
In December 2019, the first news appeared about a new virus that is ravaging China. By March 2020, there was a complete lockdown of the whole world. Although it seems as if the world is keeping up with all the changes, life in 2019 and 2023 is very different. Masks, social distancing, disinfection and isolation during COVID marked our everyday life. No, how did the pandemic affect the environment? On the nature around us, on the sea, on the air, on the habits of the people who live in that area? How did planet Earth react to the pandemic?
Impacts of the pandemic on the environment
It is important to emphasize that the pandemic had both positive and negative effects on nature. There are various scientific articles that study and explain the link between the pandemic that caused the stay-at-home trend and the consequences of that trend on air quality, the climate crisis, pollution of the sea and nature, etc.
During the pandemic, there was a reduction in greenhouse gas pollution and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, air purification in cities, a reduction in water pollution and a reduction in noise pollution. In 2020, due to work restrictions and the closure of catering facilities, cultural activities and fewer tourist overnight stays), the amount of municipal waste in Croatia fell to the level of 2014.
The smaller number of tourists led to less pressure on the environment, and various destinations got the opportunity for at least partial ecological restoration. When man does not directly affect nature, the flora and fauna of an area get the opportunity to grow and develop, exclusively according to the laws of nature and natural processes; which in this case, man could not prevent. Such a process represents an opportunity for humanity to upgrade and seize the moment of ecological renewal that nature has offered.
Due to these circumstances, we have been given a unique opportunity to create societies that live in harmony with nature. However, did you take advantage of that opportunity?
COVID-19 and waste management
The other side of the pandemic, the negative one that is still present today, is the accumulation of specific types of waste that were created as a result of attempts to fight the pandemic. Discarded masks, gloves, disinfectants were piled up on the already huge dunes of other waste, further intensifying the burning problem of waste management. With the closure of shopping centers, most people stayed in nature, parks, protected areas, etc. Unfortunately, due to the low level of awareness of some citizens, there was additional pollution in certain locations, as evidenced by the calls of aware individuals to the Sunce’s Green Phone.
In 2021, due to the release of epidemiological measures and increased activity of the service sector, the amount of municipal waste increased to the level of 2018 (1,766,560 t). The annual amount of municipal waste per inhabitant in 2021 was 454 kg, which is the highest since 1995.
Waste disposal and management should become a priority for all nations, cities, states, society as a whole and man as an individual. Actively solving this problem is the way to coexistence with nature. Ignoring this problem is the way in the opposite direction.
How do post-pandemic habits affect our lives?
That is why now is the time for each individual to actively influence waste management – from the city in which he lives to his household. At the same time, it is necessary to start and act on the key cause of waste accumulation – excessive consumption. Focus on the implementation of the first priority in waste management “reduce waste generation”.
During the pandemic, there is a pronounced and exponential growth in the use of single-use plastic. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is the complete abandonment of plastic as a single-use resource. Plastic pollution destroys the sea, forests, air and our health.
The most important change that occurred during the pandemic was the increased awareness of citizens. Spending time in nature has become an important part of the week for a large number of people, the habit of properly disposing of waste and not polluting nature has been awakened. Choosing and using accessories and various necessities made of natural materials instead of plastic, use of glass, reduced consumption of goods; all this represents the beginning of habits that improve our life, but also nature. Choosing organic food, local food that is produced in our environment and the nature that we see every day, affects the economy, but also society and nature.
COVID-19 and climate change – what does it mean for people?
Increasingly pronounced climate changes are our reality – extreme rains, extreme droughts that affect agriculture, a reduction in the ability to grow food that leads to hunger, poverty and general deprivation… Changes in temperature affect the natural processes of plants and animals, which leads to changes in entire ecosystems. The increase in gas emissions increases the earth’s temperature; chemical processes of waste decomposition release products and heat. All of this can affect the migration of certain animals that, by their presence in the new ecosystem, affect it. The fact is that the consequences of climate change are much more pronounced than is visible. Just a small increase in temperature changes the whole mosaic of the world, each puzzle changes its shape, state and texture.
Although some facts seem unreal to us and we refuse to accept them, it does not mean that they do not exist. The world is at a turning point that starts with each person individually. And we can all be part of the change that is needed and underway. It is an opportunity to look at existing facts as they are and use that knowledge to create lifestyle habits that are personal and seem small, but actually affect the whole world.
How can I help the world around me today?
How to help the world around us is a question we should ask every day and, consequently, do at least one thing in response to that question. COVID-19 has had the effect of raising the level of awareness of the connection with nature and our impact on it. Part of the people became aware that changes in the environment imply changes in people, in societies, in the way of life. The pandemic has left and caused many problems; in people, in nature. It shook the perception of health and what we do every day to preserve it, but it also opened an opportunity for learning and development. But are enough people aware of this?
We only have a question of perspective – will we take the given opportunities and provide ourselves with a better life or will we watch the consequences helplessly?
Be a part of positive changes. Support sustainable practices and educate others about the importance of preserving our planet. There are a number of ways in which an individual can contribute to environmental protection, with waste reduction being one of the first steps in the waste management hierarchy. Visit our Live Green page to learn more about sustainable practices. Now is the time to act.