We’ve all seen the pictures of the Venice canals appearing clean, of animals reclaiming human spaces, and of discarded mask and glove rubbish littering streets, riverbanks, and beaches all over the world. There’s something to be said for COVID’s effect on our planet. As humans have retreated into our homes in order to control this virus, we’ve given the planet the opportunity to rebound after having been slowly destroyed by humans since the start of the industrial revolution. Scientists are even predicting that, with the right plans and actions, the oceans could fully rebound by 2050. Quarantine has given us a small taste of what the planet can do with humans completely removed from the equation. But imagine what could be possible if we turned the equation backwards, and moved our society towards a sustainable future?
Let’s be clear: human health and the eradication of the coronavirus is still the top priority. We recognize that this can’t be done without single-use products. However, as we look ahead to the future, it’s important to consider what we can do to keep the planet in mind. Many states and cities in the US have put off single-use plastics bans and regulations (or even lifted those currently in place) to, in theory, make things safer for citizens and consumers. However, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that the strain of the virus we call COVID (SARS-CoV-2) is actually more stable on plastic than on paper or cloth, and will actually persist longer on a plastic surface. So let’s not make assumptions that everything plastic is the safest option. And if we are going to choose alternatives to plastic, choosing those that benefit people and the planet are the best options.
It’s currently estimated that single-use plastic usage is up between 250%-300% from where it was this time of year in 2019. As people have been cooped up, ordering from Amazon and Uber Eats (both of which have seen surges in activity), we are using more plastic than ever, even if we aren’t leaving our homes. We need to make better choices about how to protect ourselves and the planet. The coronavirus has shown us that not only does nature have an incredible ability to recover and heal, but that we depend on nature for more than we realize–one of the largest overlooked areas being novel medical treatments. If we simply make ourselves aware of our everyday decisions and make small changes, we can each make an incredible impact on our planet.
The planet got a recovery jump-start with quarantine. It’s our job as society to take that and run with it. Flip the equation on its head and drive everything we do towards making more sustainable and plant-friendly choices. And when we do need single-use products, be sure to look for alternatives that provide the convenience of single-usage, while being safe for the planet. Humans obviously have the ability to change the world. The question is, once all of this is over and we’re fully into the post-COVID future, will we continue to the momentum of sustainability or reverse course towards an unhealthy planet?