The coronavirus pandemic is not only presenting an immediate health hazard to Americans. It’s also resulting in food waste, medical waste, and non-sustainable practices being followed in the United States and beyond.
The Environmental Impact of Panic-Buying
Panic-buying is having an effect on both your grocery shopping experience and on the environment. Consumers are bypassing responsible purchases and buying in large quantities for fear of running out of supplies entirely. But if they buy more food than they can eat before it spoils, perishable items like produce and bread end up in the trash. The typical American produces more than four pounds of trash daily, but this amount could become higher amid fears of COVID-19.
The frenzied purchasing also has an effect on carbon emissions. Trucks transport approximately 71.5% of this country’s freight by weight. Because of the unprecedented demand caused by panic-buying, deliveries to grocery stores have increased. This results in more harmful exhaust from trucks and further encourages wasteful purchasing.
Some municipalities are taking action to control these consequences. For example, the city of Arcata in California is urging residents to educate themselves about reducing food waste through proper food storage. City officials point out that due to panic-buying, proper food storage is essential to keep food from spoiling and to save money.
Officials in the United Kingdom are also concerned about food as well as garden waste. Natural World Products, an organics recycling company in Northern Ireland, is bracing for an enormous increase in household waste due to panic-buying. The company makes compost out of organic household waste. Families staying at home are expected to produce significantly more food scraps and to generate more garden waste from activities such as mowing lawns. Waste services have been reduced in many parts of Northern Ireland because of worker shortages.
The Problem Of Medical Waste
In the United States, the increase in trash production containing infectious elements such as bodily fluids is worrying hospital administrators. Medical personnel and patients are using an unprecedented number of supplies such as masks and other personal protective equipment, all of which must be discarded after use. It’s crucial that this medical waste is safely handled. Stericycle, a company that handles medical waste, is already seeing an increase in disposable medical equipment in the United States. Food that has come into contact with patients suffering from COVID-19 must also be handled with caution.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical waste resulting from COVID-19 can be handled like other medical waste. Different locations and states have different regulations regarding the handling of this waste. In general, medical waste is burned, disinfected using chemicals, or steam sterilized before it’s sent to a landfill.
But waste from hospitals isn’t the only concern. Many patients are managing symptoms of COVID-19 from home, which means they are producing contaminated trash. Additionally, people who are infected with the coronavirus but have no symptoms might not be aware that the garbage they’re discarding could be contaminated. A study showed that the virus can live as long as a day on cardboard surfaces and more than a day on plastic and metal surfaces. All of this puts sanitation workers at risk.
Fortunately, if people secure their trash in bags rather than discarding it loose — and if sanitation workers use personal protective equipment like gloves — they are probably unlikely to be infected. These workers should also observe social distancing measures, staying six feet away from other people at all times to further reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19.
Anyone working with medical waste is advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) to use protective garments and equipment, such as masks, aprons, gowns with long sleeves, aprons, boots, thick gloves, and face shields or goggles. A March 19 report from WHO stated that there were no known instances of unprotected medical waste workers being infected by the virus, which indicates that protective gear is working so far. But as the virus spreads, the amount of waste will rise; communities may become overwhelmed, especially if protective gear for sanitation workers is in short supply.
Sustainability During The Pandemic
We don’t need to forget about eco-friendly practices during this crisis. People are buying massive quantities of disposable items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, latex gloves, and face masks, all of which will impact the environment as they are discarded.
You can save yourself a long wait at the grocery store and benefit the environment by ordering plastic-free toilet paper on the Internet. You can subscribe to receive these products regularly. You can also purchase a bidet, which can be attached to a toilet or used as a hand-held device. If your local stores are out of hand sanitizer, numerous online videos will show you how to make your own. If you can’t find cleaners, you can make an eco-friendly version with vinegar, orange peels, and water.
While you should consult your doctor about serious symptoms, you can boost your immune system and treat cold and flu symptoms using tea, cough syrup made at home with natural ingredients, or a Neti pot. But if you do need to seek medical attention, you can’t avoid the medical waste that will result from coronavirus testing and treatment.
Another practice that can’t be avoided during the COVID-19 crisis is the use of plastic grocery bags. Polyethylene or polythene (PE) is the plastic used most frequently. Every year, about 80 million tons of this plastic are produced worldwide. While we must use plastics for many items, such as medical equipment, single-use plastics are viewed as bad for the environment. But while many consumers have replaced plastic grocery bags with reusable cloth bags, some experts are calling on Americans to stop using cloth bags because they may contain bacteria.
Many people are simply not thinking about the environmental impact when they buy more food and disposable items than they actually need. But it’s not necessary to let food spoil and end up throwing it out, and some products can be made at home. We don’t have to forget about eco-friendly practices while we approach the challenges of this crisis.