Efforts to Reduce Single-Use Plastics are Put on Hold During the COVID-19 Pandemic


(Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | May 18, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused states to suspend bans on plastic bags, and some grocery stores are no longer allowing customers to shop using reusable bags due to public health concerns.

States like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Hawaii, New York, Vermont and Oregon have all moved to ban the use of plastic bags in recent years to reduce plastic waste, but they are being forced to reconsider these bans as COVID-19 has made shopping with reusable bags unsafe. Because the virus can live on surfaces, contaminated reusable bags could become a health risk to store employees and other shoppers who come in contact with them or the surfaces they are placed on, according to an npr article.

Many stores that have not provided customers with lightweight plastic bags for years have had to begin stocking them again. Stores in California are also no longer charging 10 cents per bag as was required by law before the pandemic started, according to an article in The Mercury News.

Much of the personal protective equipment, like gloves, masks and other face and body coverings, required during the pandemic also has plastic components. As more businesses are allowed to reopen, the use of PPE by the public going out for the first time is likely to increase. Many businesses are now requiring customers to wear a face mask before entering, and many of the plastic face coverings used by the public are being discarded improperly.

Public health is a top priority during a pandemic, and these changes were necessary to maintain safe environments for shoppers and store employees. However, the increase in plastic bag use and improperly discarded PPE may take a toll on the environment. According to an article published by Environmental Health News, plastics are toxic to marine animals that ingest them, plastic in landfills can leach harmful chemicals into the groundwater, and plastics floating in the ocean can even serve as transportation for invasive species that disrupt habitats. Plastic production is also responsible for a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel use.

Lawmakers are hopeful that these rollbacks on regulations regarding single-use plastics will be temporary, but they are unable to establish a timeline due to the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last.

Satellite Imagery Reveals Drops in Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations Due to COVID-19 Lockdowns


Maxwell Bernstein | May 15, 2020

The European Space Agency (ESA) released satellite imagery that shows a reduction of Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations in Europe, China and India because of lockdown measures that are intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Copernicus Sentinal-5P satellite shows Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations fall by 45-50% in major cities across Europe, China and India. 

Nitrogen Dioxide comes from the burning of fuel in vehicles and powerplants, creating smog and acid rain, which irritates airways in the human respiratory system according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  

A close up of a map

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Image by ESA

A drop in Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations, which are represented by red, can be observed between March-April of 2019 and the lockdown that took place in March-April of 2020. 

Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China

Image by NASA

A reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations was also observed over China and Hong Kong showing a similar trend to Europe. 

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations over India

Image by ESA

Major cities in India such as Mumbai and Delhi saw Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations reduce by 40-50%.

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Compliance Reporting During COVID-19 Pandemic


(Image via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | April 16th, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an order on March 26 announcing the suspension of the enforcement of environmental compliance reporting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before this change, businesses were required to report and limit all air emissions and water discharges, meet requirement for hazardous waste management and maintain standards for safe drinking water. Businesses that failed to meet these EPA-issued standards could face fines.

The recent order states that factories, power plants, and other facilities are encouraged to keep records of any instances of non-compliance with EPA instituted regulations. However, they will not face any fines for violations as long as the EPA agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than intentional disregard for the law, is the cause.

In its order, the EPA did not designate an end date for the suspension or address the potential ramifications this decision could have for public health and safety. Allowing industry to police itself could cause air and water pollution to go unchecked and put the safety of drinking water at risk, according to the Iowa Environmental Council.

Compromising access to clean water could make it more difficult for the U.S. healthcare system to provide the sanitary conditions necessary for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic according to the IEC. The Washington Post also reported that the wording of the EPA’s order is broad enough that companies could get away with practices that put public health at risk well into the future.