The Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Green Living — Green Lifestyle Changes

corona virus

Photo from Johns Hopkins Medical

As most people in the world, I am carefully following the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and have made a number of changes to my daily life to help slow the spread.  I am an engineer, not a health care professional, so am interested in the system effects and exploring impact on green lifestyles.

I’ve looked at a number of personal changes we’ve made to protect ourselves and community from the spread and noticed that several of them are in conflict with green living.

throwing away wet paper towels

For example, instead of air drying or using a powered hand dryer, I am using 2 disposable paper towels to thoroughly dry off my hands every time in the bathroom.  While this is consuming paper products and adding to the landfill, it is the most effective and sanitary way to dry my hands after the 20+ seconds of thoroughly washing with soap and water.  I then use the paper towel to open the door to exit before tossing in the trash.

I am ok doing this because if it helps keep just one person out of the hospital, then it was worth it.

Here are some additional things for which I am choosing the less green option in the name of stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Purchasing bottled water – We generally keep a case of bottled water in the basement for emergencies and convenience when a kid needs a fully disposable lunch for a field trip.  A case will last us a couple years. Now we have 3 cases just in case.
  • Using lots of hand sanitizer -Before the coronavirus, I would generally only use hand sanitizer if I was sick myself or if one of my family members was sick at home.  Now I use it every time I get into the car, when I enter buildings at work, when I’m shopping and just because I feel the need.  I’ve ordered a lot online about 2 weeks ago, but it is back ordered because everyone else is using it too.
  • Using disposable paper products at church – We’ve been very happy that our church was using ceramic coffee mugs and plates since before we joined over a decade ago.  Because of the coronavirus, the church has temporarily switched to all disposable paper products, but at least it is not styrofoam.

Even though each of these things by themselves is less sustainable, when we look at the bigger system, like engineers like to do, they are better for the planet because the amount of resources needed to treat just one person with a severe case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) are intense.  Patients spend 3-6 weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU) where they are hooked up to ventilators, require almost constant monitoring by nurses and doctors to keep them alive.  I got these figures from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Report on COVID-19.

Fortunately there are a number of green consequences of the worlds response to the coronavirus such as:

  • less commuting – I like many others I know are now working from home to help with social distancing, so I no longer drive 8 miles to and from work each day.
  • less air travel – people that can avoid air travel, or any travel, are avoiding it and the number of airlines canceling flights because they are empty is rising, and that was before the travel ban with Europe.
  • less shopping – with the exception of consumable goods like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, retail sales are down.  People have a legitimate fear of catching this virus from touching a surface, shopping carts or packages in stores.  There is even some fear of boxes coming from Amazon that could be contaminated as the coronavirus can survive for 3 days on cardboard.
  • factories in China shutdown – with most factories temporarily shutdown due to workers being sick and quarantine measures, nitrogen dioxide emission levels were visibly reduced according to the Washington Post.corona virus emissions comparison

In the end, I hope that we are taking sufficient actions to contain the spread of the coronavirus and that we are able to flatten out the curve sufficiently enough to keep our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

Stay safe out there and wash your hands!
Jon

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