This image shows the difference in nitrogen dioxide in Wuhan from Jan. 1 to Feb. 25. (NASA)

Pandemic could bring benefits to B.C.’s environment

Emissions over Wuhan decrease significantly after quarantine says NASA

While disinfectant wipes fly off store shelves, and reusable cups are turned away at coffee shops to slow down the spread of COVID-19, what could this mean for stopping single-use plastic?

Melissa Donich, CEO and founder of Drop the Plastic, says the pandemic could actually have a positive effect on the environment.

Drop the Plastic is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to finding immediate solutions to the plastic pollution problem.

Donich says that yes, people are going to be using more single-use plastic — especially in the medical and health industry — but the fact that flights are being cancelled and people are being told to stay home and reduce their travel is actually helping air quality and reducing our carbon footprint.

“Just because our behaviours might shift temporarily right now doesn’t mean we’re going to change that mentality and become a disposable industry, but right now everything is on hold,” says Donich.

On Monday, WestJet suspended commercial international and trans-border flights for 30 days. The suspension came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the only airports in the country accepting international flights will be Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport and Calgary International Airport.

This week NASA released images from pollution monitoring satellites stationed over China. The country has shut down transportation going in and out of Wuhan, along with local businesses — one of the first quarantines in response to the pandemic. The images show that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide — “a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities” — have decreased significantly. According to NASA scientists, the reduction was first noticeable near Wuhan, but eventually was reflected across the country.

READ ALSO: Canada-U.S. border closing to non-essential travel

Donich believes a similar effect is taking place in Canada.

“So yes, the disposable plastic world is not looking good in sort of the medical health care industry, but in terms of our carbon footprint and our environmental impact — people are slowing down significantly … they’re closing borders and stopping flights,” she said.

According to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, “any potential minor environmental impacts from the necessary public health measures regarding COVID-19 will be temporary.”

When things get back to normal, Donich says she doesn’t think the pandemic will change the progress that’s already been made in stopping single-use plastic.

“[This] is obviously going to have an impact, but in the long run we have to take safety first and we’re stopping planes and other C02 emissions, so our environmental impact is actually much better,” she said.

— With files from Katya Slepian

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