At the beginning of this pandemic, the positive impact on the environment, resulting from global lockdowns, was widely celebrated. Beyond visible changes, like the clear canals in Venice, a 5% drop in global greenhouse gas emissions was measured, and air quality improved remarkably. On average, the European level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was reduced by 37%. Consequentially, statistics showed that in many countries, high numbers of deaths due to air pollution were avoided. These extreme effects resulted from extreme measures, such as lockdowns and complete downturns of economic activities.
While these positive impacts were frequently viewed as silver lining throughout the lockdown, time is clearly showing the negative consequences of Covid-19 measures on the environment, like the increase in plastic waste:
Many municipalities reduced recycling activities and staff
Increase in take-away food (which is packaged in plastic)
Global increase of disposable face masks ($166 billion in global sales in 2020)
Especially face masks, which are mandatory to wear in many countries, display a big problem. Statistics show that the disposable, medical mask is used most frequently. However, many feel that not enough guidance is provided on how to properly recycle the masks once used. As a matter of fact, many masks are thrown away carelessly and consequently polluting oceans, beaches, and fields and thus threatening wildlife.
Increase in waste, and especially plastic, is a major problem of today's population. The increase in plastic, resulting from the measures taken against the pandemic, offsets prior efforts to reduce plastic.
Disposable masks contain long-lasting plastic materials that potentially persist for up to hundreds of years. Thus, incorrect disposal of these masks represents a problem affecting future generations.
Studies show that under particular conditions, the virus can remain up to seven days on a mask. Hence, masks that are not properly disposed of represent a threat for waste-pickers, children or other people getting in direct contact with the used masks.