The COVID-19 pandemic has infected over 1.1 million people worldwide and has largely changed the functioning of society in 2020. Global lockdowns and widespread use of personal protective equipment including medical and non-medical face masks, gloves and sanitizers have been required to slow the spread of COVID-19, and also provided an unprecedented opportunity to study how wide-scale shifts of human activities affect the physical world. This seminar explores the positive and negative environmental impacts resulting from those preventative measures enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the reduction of vehicular and industrial activities throughout lockdown have resulted in decreased emissions of CO, NO2, PM2.5, PM10, SO2 and VOCs such as benzene, in cities around the world by 25-86%, while increased numbers and species of wildlife have been observed in recreational areas with less frequent human activity, and fewer amphibians have been killed while crossing roadways to reach breeding areas. Conversely, single-use plastics have been promoted as being more hygienic and their use has increased by consumers around the world, as have disposable PPE. As a result, solid waste has increased at levels which are overloading many municipal solid waste infrastructure and overflow waste is being improperly disposed of or released into the environment as litter where its makes its way into terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, with the potential to breakdown into microplastics or increase infection. The findings of this seminar demonstrate that while some behaviours resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting negative impacts on the environment, others provide hope that changes in human activity can impact the environment for the better.
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