CORRELATIONS BETWEEN COVID-19 AND ENVIRONMENT: EEA REPORT
In November, the European Environment Agency, part of the European Union, published an updated report on the impact of COVID-19 on the environment, focusing on the first lockdown of last spring.
The transport sector has suffered a significant decrease in income due to the lack of passengers during lockdown, and daily rides have definitely decreased.
The International Road Transport Union (IRU) estimates a decrease by 57% of passenger transport in Europe compared to 2019.
As far as air transport is concerned, instead, the decrease in Europe even reaches 65,2% in the opinion of IATA, the International Air Transport Association (according to data analysed until July and compared with the same period in 2019),.
Data show the transport sector’s economic loss on the one hand, but on the other hand they show a decrease in the emissions of greenhouse gases: indeed, in the opinion of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global demand for energy could decrease to 6% in 2020.
According to these figures, the European goals to reduce energy consumption and to improve energy efficiency could be easily reached by 2020, but they must be supported by targeted environmental policies with long-term projects.
One of the significantly positive effects of the first lockdown’s restrictions concerns the reduction in air pollution.
Even though the reduction in air pollution in many parts of the world is already returning to pre-lockdown levels, a remarkable improvement in air quality has been recorded in some cities – usually polluted and highly populated, such as Milan and Madrid.
EEA’s data show that the concentration of nitrogen dioxide, a highly polluting substance that spreads throughout the environment due to public transport’s dense traffic, has dropped drastically in many European cities last spring.
The decrease in NO2 can be better perceived in those cities that experienced a longer lockdown and were hit more harshly by the virus. According to the report, reductions were also visible in cities like Athens, but they are expected to return to pre-lockdown levels of NO2 much faster than in other European capitals.
Air pollution, moreover, is closely associated with the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which in turn facilitate the infection caused by COVID-19.
At the moment, scientists are doing research on the likely transmission of the virus via polluting substances such as fine particulate matter (PM), which damage both the environment’s and human beings’ health.
Together with the decrease in air pollution, a significant reduction of noise was monitored during lockdown, caused by the stop to the main occupational activities and to a less frequent use of transport.
This phenomenon was mainly registered in the most populous cities, where industrial activity is thriving and where daily traffic reaches particularly high levels.
According to the EEA report, it is important to bear in mind that a slight decrease in environmental noise for a short time does not implicate with certainty significant changes in annual evaluations, since usually longer periods of time must be considered for this type of data to define with certainty determining changes.
The European Environment Agency also analysed data concerning the substantial increase in plastic consumption during the sanitary emergency.
A significant increase in plastic consumption has been registered in the areas most affected by Covid because of sanitary reasons, linked to the norms to safeguard patients’ lives in hospitals and to prevent the spread of the virus among the population.
Most medical safety devices are indeed made out of plastic and they must be thrown away after they are used.
The increase in global plastic consumption is not confined to the health-care sector alone. For instance, restaurants and bars have not always chosen sustainable and recyclable material for their deliveries. Moreover, further plastic waste can be linked to an increase in online shopping with huge amounts of packaging to guarantee the integrity of the customers’ shopping.
These are only some examples that show how plastic consumption has increased significantly in a short time, causing serious damage because of plastic’s difficult disposal and recycling.
The growing demand for plastic has had, therefore, various consequences.
First of all, it has prevented the spread of the virus thus saving health-care workers’ and patients’ lives. But it also has intensified environmental pollution – and the policies regarding plastic disposal were already precarious before the first lockdown.
From an economic point of view, it must be remembered that the price of oil dropped drastically last spring. Producers of virgin plastic, who could obtain the raw product at a lower price – more affordable than producing recycled plastic – benefited from it.
To sum up, the European Environment Agency considered various aspects, which show a clear correlation between the environment and the pandemic, but these aspects also fully involve other sectors such as transport, economy, industry, and health care policies.
Notwithstanding the decrease in air pollution and environmental noise and the reduction in traffic and transport, the growing plastic consumption will have serious consequences on a global scale.
While respecting hygiene and safety norms, we must also pay more attention to our daily waste, trying at all costs to avoid excessive plastic consumption due to its complex disposal procedure.