The environmental impact of COVID-19 protocols has gone unnoticed during the pandemic


Sydney Bigelow

Keep your bags to yourself — Trader Joe’s grocery store in West Hartford, Connecticut has encouraged customers to hold on to their reusable bags until they are at the register. Companies must find ways to limit the waste they produce while also protecting customers’ health.

Staff Editorial

In such unpredictable and challenging times, normal routines and expectations of the world have been completely disregarded. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many unexpected obstacles as a result of health and safety regulations, such as economic and educational impacts from social distancing. However, the environmental impact caused by efforts to limit the spread of the virus is one aspect of the pandemic that is not addressed as frequently as it should be. 

In attempts to limit contact in order to avoid the spread of the virus, companies, schools, and individuals have been encouraged to use single-use, disposable materials whenever possible. Instead of handing out silverware and cups that are used by multiple people each day, restaurants have opted to provide plastic when serving customers. This is one of the leading factors as to why there has been a 30% increase of ocean pollution from plastic since the pandemic began, according to Environmentalist Dave Ford.

Most people living in the pandemic can agree that it is not ideal to eat with the same fork that has been used by many others, and has only been cleaned with dish soap, not guaranteed to prevent the spread of the virus, therefore disposable products are necessary. One alternative to using non-reusable materials that end up in landfills is for companies and individuals to consider replacing plastic with paper as often as possible, and to use eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic when needed. 

Individuals should consider using reusable products in their own homes as often as possible. If they have not already reduced the amount of paper plates or paper towels in their house, now is a great time to make that change. These efforts may seem small or unimportant, but it can make a big impact as companies and restaurants continue to increase their use of disposable products. 

A lesser known COVID-19 procedure is to ditch the reusable bags that were being promoted just months ago. In 2019, the state of Connecticut passed a bag tax, charging $0.10 per plastic bag in order to limit the amount of plastic bags in landfills. However, during the pandemic this bag tax was revoked because stores did not want customers using bags that have been placed on many surfaces in different locations, potentially containing the virus. Discouraging reusable bags when shopping may prevent the spread of the virus, but is a big step back when considering the environment. 

Recently, certain stores have decided to once again encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags. These stores ask customers to not take out the bags until they arrive at the checkout aisle, limiting the amount of surfaces that the bags could touch, and ultimately preventing the amount of contact between the bags and the store. Another good step for stores to take is to provide paper bags instead of plastic bags as often as possible because paper is easier to recycle and has a lower impact on the environment. 

 Face masks, plastic shields, and rubber gloves are essential for every person battling this invisible enemy. The personal protection equipment (PPE) is crucial for public safety, but has a harsh impact on the environment, contributing to pollution from plastic waste. Ford estimated that 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves are used globally each month. 

One easy step to be cautious about the environment while protecting yourself is to invest in a reusable cloth mask that is medical grade. Not only will this mask help the ocean, it will help your wallet because you will not have to replace it as frequently as a paper mask. Wearing a mask is crucial to keeping yourself and others safe, and there are ways to do so while limiting the amount of waste you produce. 

Most cleaning supplies are not eco-friendly and are packaged in plastic and other non-compostable materials. People are using record amounts of bottles of hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, which is understandable and reasonable during a health crisis. It is difficult to find products that kill bacteria without producing waste, but companies and scientists who have the money and resources to develop these things could decrease the amount of waste that  comes from toxic chemicals in cleaning supplies, along its packaging. 

Paper towels are a main contributor of waste caused by cleaning supplies. In schools and offices, people sharing desks must sanitize the area with a cleaning solution and wipe it down with a paper towel before and after sharing the space. If a student has five classes a day and uses one paper towel at the beginning and end of each class, that student alone is using ten paper towels in one day. With every student using a similar amount and doing it everyday, one school is throwing out countless amounts of paper towels that can not all be fully recycled. 

Before grabbing a second or third paper towel to clean their desks, students should consider how something as small as cleaning their desk can have such a big effect on the environment and try their best to create as little waste as possible. It is important to raise awareness to this problem caused by this pandemic, because if each student limits their use of excess paper towels, it could prevent thousands of towels from being wasted. 

Unfortunately, there is no solution to this problem at the current state the world is at with the pandemic. With scientists focusing on vaccines and limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the impact on the environment has gone unnoticed, seeing as the health and safety of people is everyone’s number one priority. What people can do is promote alternatives when possible and raise awareness to the problem so people are aware of the waste they may be contributing to, and try their best to do their part in helping the environment during such a difficult time.