Environmental effects of Covid-19

How bad is the damage so far?

The global disruption caused by Covid-19 has tremendously affected our lifestyle and well-being. However, one popular notion of the Covid-19 pandemic that caught our attention was that ‘the lockdown was good for the environment’. Many believed it to be an opportunity for nature to recover while we stay indoors and brought hope for a better Mother Earth.

According to a study ‘Temporary reduction in daily global carbon dioxide (


) emissions during the Covid-19 forced confinement, 2019’, the daily global


emission has decreased by negative 17 percent by early of April 2020.

From a sizable improvement in air quality to reduced water pollution and most of all, birds chirping that was more audible than vehicles and industrial noises, it was truly a grasping moment despite the downside of the global tragedy.

Reality, on the other hand, may not cooperate with such expectations. Even though the air has been cleaner from the lockdowns, there may be a more polluted future brewing and have already begun to dissipate right under our nose.

Hints of a more polluted environment

The two years and counting of being confined at home has brought us mixed feelings. Be as it may, with the government’s plan to open the country’s borders and eliminate many restrictions that once were enforced during the lockdowns, may be a surging issue now when it comes to preserving our environment.

How do the lifestyle changes that we’ve made during the pandemic affect our environment negatively?

#1 Single-use plastic
One of the key negative outcomes of Covid-19 comes into light from the drastically increasing amount of single-use plastic.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has been a surge in the number of discarded single-use face masks and gloves littered around the streets, parking lots, dumpsites, beaches, gutters, and shopping carts.

There are many types of single-use plastics. From takeaway packages to the use of plastic gloves at clothing outlets, jewellery shops and grocery stores are becoming common now. You might be wondering if wearing gloves to the store is a necessary precaution we should be taking to put an end to Covid-19. As much as being caution is important, especially when it comes to keeping yourself as well as those around you safe from Covid-19, it does not replace the role of handwashing or sanitising.

#2 When food waste becomes a pollutant

A norm that brought joy before the pandemic hit us was eating at restaurants and sharing meals with your loved ones. Today, these actions may not be as welcoming because sharing utensils and drinking from the same straw is a possible cause of Covid-19 infection.

Now that many are opting out from sharing their meals, it may contribute to food wastage. If this continues, the food may end up in landfills and rot. In which rotten food will eventually emit a harmful gas known as methane (a greenhouse gas) that is even more potent than carbon dioxide.

#3 Air pollution from transportation
Ever since the new normal, people have been dismissing the idea of using public transport now more than ever as it is harder to practise physical distance and thus making it easier to contract the virus.

With the intention to stay safe and healthy, private vehicles are probably the preferred option during the Covid-19 crisis. However, with many vehicles on the road, it contributes to an increase in carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, thus resulting in air pollution.

#4 Medical waste

A range of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) played crucial roles in providing protection to us during the pandemic. However, the extra medical waste from the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has put a tremendous strain on healthcare waste management systems around the world that threatens human and environmental health.

Some of the PPE that are common to us include:

  • Gloves.
  • Face masks.
  • Hand sanitisers.
  • Protective medical suits.
  • Medical test kits.

One may wonder how these items create pollution? Well, not disposing of them in a proper manner and littering in public places is the number one reason for the upcoming pollution. The negative impact from this includes:

  • An increase in medical gowns, face shields, safety glasses, protective aprons, sanitiser containers, plastic shoes and gloves in our environment and ocean that threatens wildlife and marine creatures. 
  • Heavy metals, toxic dyes and plastic fibres that generate from discarded masks could also be releasing chemical pollutants and nano-plastics into the environment. 
  • According to the World Economic Forum, some of the coronavirus waste including face masks, gloves and hand sanitiser bottles are already being found at the bottom of the ocean and washed up on beaches around the globe. 
  • The increasing usage of such items has become a new form of pollution as PPE floods our ocean and ends up in landfill, thus polluting our Mother Earth.

What can be done to help the environment heal from this damage?
There isn’t an opportunity for us to turn back time and undo everything that has happened
to our environment. However, time is still there and let’s not waste it anymore than we already have.

Now that Malaysia will be transitioning to an endemic phase, we are blessed with the ability to leave home with less restrictions from the government. However, one of the mandatory precautions we are required to follow is to wear a face mask when we’re in public places.

So, what can we do to prevent more environmental damage? Well, here’s what we should do:

Stop single-use plastic. This includes takeaway packages and plastic bags. Instead, use eco-friendly products and have them readily with you when you travel.

If needed, bring your own gloves when going to shopping centres or even to the grocery store. This way you may avoid using the plastic gloves that are provided to you.

Government, private sectors and the public need to take action in ensuring a green recovery that needs to act now to ensure a green recovery that encourages sustainability.

Sources: WHO, World Economic Forum, WebMD