We hope you enjoy this guest blog by Phillip's son Charlie. He hits the nail on the head as far as ensuring we extend the changes we are making to other aspects of our life such as social distancing to our approach to the environment.
COVID- 19 visible effects on the environment
With the COVID-19 crisis in full swing, nations around the globe have implemented measures to combat the deadly virus. From stay at home orders to significant economic investments, governments globally are doing what they can do nullify the exponentiality of COVID-19 infections. Through these preventative measures we have seen entire populations stay at home whilst schools, workplaces, traffic and travel have reduced by 60% to 95%. The shutting down of entire communities around the world has meant that we have seen substantial economic and social repercussions. Consumption has significantly dropped causing grim implications for employment and production. This, however, has had an alternative effect on the visible state of the environment.
Due to the decrease in commercial activities, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have drastically improved. As a result of this, major cities have reported that air visibility and quality have been enhanced, largely due to the reduction of commercial emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and related ozone (O3) formation, as well as particulate matter (PM). Major cities around the world have recorded staggering numbers in relation to the beneficial environmental impact of COVID-19. Pollution in New York has reduced by nearly 50%, whilst emissions in China fell by 25% at the start of the year. This is a common narrative for major cities across Europe and here in Australia.
Furthermore, the demand for both coal and oil has plummeted, due largely to the decline in demand for transport and the deceleration of manufacturing. There are even reports of wildlife flourishing whilst millions of humans are locked inside. However, whilst these short term effects on the environment are wonderful at face value, we must be careful about manipulating these benefits or claiming them as environmental wins.
The question must be raised; will COVID-19 have a lasting impact on the state of the environment?
Ultimately, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep economic and commercial activities at a minimum, we can expect emissions to remain relatively low. However, it would be short-sighted to believe that what we are seeing is sustainable. It is more than likely that once this pandemic passes and economic activity increases, so too will the emissions we are currently suppressing.
Whilst it may appear that the earth is healing during the COVID-19 lockdown, the impact on waste remains a significant concern. From the outside, it may seem that the COVID-19 pandemic has been overly positive for our environmental situation. However, its consequences on waste have been detrimental as volumes of food and packaging excess have increased substantially. These waste challenges are emerging as Australian households are producing on average 10% more waste during the COVID-19 crisis, with the majority being sent to landfill sites around the country.
Aside from the significant economic strains that are associated with landfill, the usage of these sites around the country raises a number of environmental issues. The mixture of materials that are deposited into landfill from food waste to plastics can contain toxic substances that leach into our soil and waterways, resulting in environmental hazards for many years to come.
More specifically, when organic material such as food scraps and green waste is deposited into landfill, it is generally deprived of oxygen as it decays. This eventually releases methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide). The implications that this process has on global warming and climate change are devastating.
Some industries that typically process food waste in a sustainable fashion such as restaurants, sporting clubs and shopping centres are no longer producing, leaving it to households that do not have the means to segregate and process waste effectively.
On average, Australian households throw away 2.5 million tonnes of food waste per year; a number that is only increasing since COVID-19. As millions of Australians are staying home in this time of crisis, more and more households are producing significantly higher volumes of food scraps and green waste. The overwhelming volumes of food waste being dumped into our landfills throughout the crisis, naturally mean an increase in methane production, having significant impacts on our environment for generations to come.
It is vital to understand that the COVID-19 lockdown has yielded a number of visible, short term positives for the environment, but this is by no means an environmental win. It is important to remember that the effects of the lockdown can be easily reversed once economic activity picks back up, whilst the issue of organic waste has only become more prominent.