We’re all adjusting to life in lockdown. Whether we’re working from home or not working at all, caring for children or looking after the sick or vulnerable, COVID-19 is affecting everything: the way we live, work and socialise, and it’s having an impact on the environment, too.
How is COVID-19 Affecting our Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint is the ‘amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity’.
Your carbon footprint is affected by things like the number of flights you take or by the amount of printer toner you use; It’s how much waste you send to landfills and how much energy you use to heat and power your home.
COVID-19 is having a noticeable effect on people’s carbon footprint. We know this because we’re already seeing the effects of the Coronavirus on global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Lockdowns and travel bans, business shutdowns, social distancing measures, and instructions too ‘stay at home’, meaning that carbon dioxide emissions are expected to fall to levels not seen since World War Two.
- Greenhouse gas emissions in Europe are expected to drop by 24.4% for 2020.
- Tim Johnson of the Aviation Environment Federation told iNews that UK aircraft carbon emissions could be down by up to 80,000 tonnes a day due to travel restrictions.
COVID-19 is reducing global greenhouse emissions in remarkable ways, but what about individual carbon footprints?
How Your Carbon Footprint Could be Growing Because of COVID-19
Remote Working Isn’t Always Better for the Environment
Many of us are working from home during the pandemic. We’re told that it’s better for the planet and whilst it can be, the reality is a little more complicated.
Research by the Carbon Trust found that ‘if home workers turn their heating on for an extra four hours a day, it would increase their annual emissions by 180kg’. Equally, if a commute involves a train journey for more than 16-minutes, working from home could actually increase your carbon footprint.
Working from home cuts out the daily commute. If it keeps a car on the driveway, then it’s good news for the remote-worker and for the environment. But someone who commutes either on public transport or by walking to work could find it harder to offset increased at-home energy usage during the lockdown.
Working from one centralised location where colleagues collectively benefit from heating and electricity could be better for the environment than individuals working remotely.
That’s not to say that remote working can’t be made more energy-efficient or that it’s not a worthwhile way of reducing a person’s carbon footprint but don’t assume it’s always better for the environment.
Bulk buying and Food Waste During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Supermarkets saw a huge surge in sales throughout March. Customers spent a lot of money both stocking up and stockpiling food items. Market data provider Kantar reported that supermarket sales were up by 20% with UK shoppers spending an additional £2 billion on food and drink between 24th February and 21st March.
We don’t know yet how much of that will end up going to waste but we do know that food waste significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and that 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK each year despite around 250,000 tonnes of it still being edible.
More food purchased means more food sent to landfills.
When we throw food away, we’re not only throwing the physical product out but everything that went into producing it: fertilizer, water, heat, refrigeration, storage, transport, etc.
If you’ve been carried away in the buying panic, then the food you’ll end up binning – now or later – will increase your carbon footprint no matter how fastidious you are with recycling its packaging.
Surprisingly, fresh food going to landfill is a big problem, too. There’s no oxygen in big bags buried beneath piles of rubbish and so when fruit and vegetables degrade, they produce methane: a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Help keep your carbon footprint low during this pandemic by shopping sensibly and planning meals so that you’re not throwing food away.
Sustainability on the Backburner During the Pandemic
Plastic is the big enemy of sustainability, but it’s something of a necessary evil right now. Plastic is the hand sanitiser bottles we’re using to wash our hands with, it’s in the hand soap we’re killing the virus with, it’s in the anti-bacterial wipes we’re disinfecting surfaces with and it’s carrying our huge grocery orders to the car or to our front doors.
You’ve got a better chance of finding a bag of hen’s teeth buried at the end of a rainbow than buying hand sanitiser right now. Manufacturers can’t produce enough to keep up with demand but whilst the liquid itself has the potential to save countless lives, the plastic bottle it comes in will be devastating to the environment.
INEOS is building 3 new factories in Europe to manufacture up to 1 million bottles of hand sanitizer each month. Vital work, absolutely, but it’s an example of how one global catastrophe can feed into the next.
91% of plastic isn’t recycled. 91% of all bottles of hand sanitiser, therefore, won’t be recycled and will end up, either, in landfill or in rivers and then in the oceans.
What’s 91% of 1 million bottles a month?
Plastic bag use is also increasing. UK Stores offering home delivery on groceries has dropped the 5p carrier bag charge to reduce virus transmission risks and to speed up delivery times. Whilst understandable, it does mean more plastic going to landfill. Supermarkets aren’t accepting single-use bags back for recycling until the pandemic is over.
Concern from both stores and in-store shoppers about the use of reusable bags has also meant an upsurge in the use of single-plastic bags with people worried that re-usable bags could transmit the virus.
People are using more plastic carrier bags than they’ll ever hope to re-use in the future. Many will go to landfill.
It’s tough balancing our environmental concerns with managing our health in a pandemic but be aware that our carbon footprints do have consequences that’ll last far longer than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keep yourselves and your family safe, and keep your carbon footprint as small as you can.