Effects of COVID-19 on the environment

How did the world go upside down?

The sudden outbreak of the pandemic that hit the world severely in the first quarter of 2020 brought everyone’s life to a standstill. Perhaps, for the very first time, the modern world has witnessed a sudden halt in all types of people’s activities, industries, transport etc.

With the advent of the pandemic, much has been talked about its environmental effects on the air, water and land. 

Primarily, with the industrial revolution, the anthropogenic activities have been responsible for polluting atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere.

Since, the industries, people’s activities had been shut down for a month or more during the lockdown in many parts of the world. Consequentially, the world had witnessed a drift in the aforementioned spheres of the environment.

COVID-19 outbreak became an eye opener, as if humans had been awaken from a deep slumber in order to experience a myriad of effects caging and halting of activities of Homo sapiens led to. During the lockdown, it appeared as though, the world had hit the pause button.

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

The gamut of consequences that this exceptional lockdown has had on the climate and natural resources of the world are worthy of discussion and have led to a glaring realization.

1.Effects on Air: With cars taken off roads, restricted travel movements of flights, rails, buses and industries and construction activities taking a halt, led to the revival of the ambient air quality throughout the world.

Observations in a recently published paper on COVID -19 lockdown effects on air quality by Nitogen dioxide in the cities of Barcelona and Madrid(Spain) highlighted a drastic drop in gas and particle pollution over major 10 cities: (Delhi, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Mumbai, New York, Rome, Sao Paulo, Seoul and Wuhan). The satellite data released by NASA and ESA analyzed the impact of COVID -19 partial lockdown on air quality which indicated that the pandemic had resulted in a significant dip in Nitrogen dioxide and improved the air quality in a short term.

Research revealed that Delhi (the most polluted city as per WHO guidelines) had witnessed a substantial diminution of the pollutants. In china carbon emissions fell by around 25 per cent over a 4 week period as per the analysis carried out for the climate website Carbon Brief.

2.Effects on Water Bodies: Due to the shutdown of most industries, the waters of Ganga, Yamuna and other water bodies started to appear cleaner. Although, water quality still had not improved at a convincing rate, however visible flocking of birds and frolicking of fish showed encouraging signs in the country. In some places, ergots, herons and kingfishers happened to be sighted. Social distancing measures have kept beaches around the world to get cleaned.

The research paper ‘Lockdown phase: A boon for the River Ganga water quality along the city of Kolkata featured considerable increase in the levels of Dissolved Oxygen (DO) responsible for supporting aquatic biodiversity.

Likewise, water quality appeared to have improved in Venice (Italy) due to the lack of usual array of transport and tourist boats, motorboat taxis which clogged the canals and caused traffic. A pod of killer whales were spotted near Vancouver’s North Shore first time in decades.

3.Effects on Land: The pandemic had clearly benefitted our plant life, natural resources, bird and animal life. Although, there have been a series of fake stories about animal being spotted in cities during the lockdown, but there have been instances of creatures across the world moving with great audacity, perhaps confused at the lack of ongoing activities.

In India, a leopard sauntered into the city of Chandigarh. The lockdown period extended the stay of various migratory birds due to reduced human disturbances in birds’ sanctuaries.

Likewise in Barcelona, Spain, boars had been spotted in the city’s main areas which normally are a spot for hustling spot. In Chile’s capita, Santiago, a wild puma was captured after found wandering in the deserted areas of the city.

Pandemic and Waste

Presently, the amount of unrecyclable wastes have mounted up. Halt in agricultural and fishery exports, plummeted the amount of organic waste levels during the lockdown. Due to the stay-at-home policies, takeaways with single used packaging has risen.

Some countries have suspended recycling programs concerning the risk of spreading virus to recycling centers. Medical waste majorly comprising PPE kits, gloves and masks and other infectious wastes have increased manifolds.

Pandemic has posed major challenges to the solid waste and hazardous biomedical waste management.

According to the recent paper, COVID -19 Pandemic Repercussions on the Use and Management of Plastics. 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally is resulting in widespread environmental contamination. 


Reductions in pollution levels proved that the lot of polluted air was ‘anthropomorphic’ i.e man made.

Dipping pollution levels is for sure a ‘wake-up call’ for the governments of the world. This ongoing pandemic has also made us realize that the jobs that could be done from our living room, had no need to travel miles to go to office.

Sustainable outcomes could be achieved mindfully by using technology and low emission alternatives. Around the world, it has been proven how quickly the nature around us has responded to the lockdown in our absence and has reclaimed space in human habitat. Few steps that could be focused upon in regard to waste have been discussed below:

Waste Segregation: Swati Singh Sambyal (Waste Management Expert, UN-Habitat), suggests that we need to be more aware about the segregation of waste at the source, which is absolutely the need of the hour. Fines or penalties could be enforced to make rules more stringent.

Better Alternatives: At this stage, where waste is piling up at a tremendous rate, better greener products should be used. The more the demand, the more sustainable products will start flooding the market.

Monitoring the system: Various NGOs, Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives should come together for the effective functioning of waste management system in the country. Monitoring and verification mechanisms have to be ensured.

Health of Workers: The health of these sanitation workers cannot put at risk hence the flow of waste ought to be managed and controlled properly.

Proper disposal of waste: The virus can survive on surface for days, hence citizens have to be aware about proper disposal of household waste (taking into account that some infected people are in home quarantine). Dry waste could be stored within the premises for an appropriate period of time thereby allowing virus to die and later disposed. Wherever possible, organic waste should be composted in house.

Plastic Footprint: The plastic waste consumption is on the rise during the pandemic. Online shopping has plummeted during the course of time, extra precautionary measures are taken which results in excess packaging of products. PPE kits, gloves and other hazardous and medical wastes have increased multifold.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Moreover, in the developing countries, plastic often ends up unmanageably in the open which eventually reaches rivers and oceans.

Experts say, “All these biohazardous wastes and PPEs are disposable and made up of plastic, at the moment not much could be done in this regard but this insurmountable plastic will show up in our food chains in the decades to come. Hence, measures ought to be taken to reduce our day today plastic footprints.”

It is a sad state of affairs that it took us pandemic to realize the clearer picture, but with recent COVID-19 setbacks, we must do everything to incline ourselves towards a sustainable lifestyle and reduce our wastes and emissions.

At this juncture, when heaps of waste has to dealt with and managed, as responsible inhabitants of the planet it is the need of the hour to reduce our carbon footprints and get inclined towards living sustainably.


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Shabeena Zaidi

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