Displaying items by tag: covid19
Kamikatsu, Japan, famously declared its goal was to go waste-free by 2020. It didn’t quite get there.
One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.
Despite recent scientific evidence that reusables don’t transmit the virus, the plastic industry has lobbied hard for a return to all things disposable plastic. Inevitably, a lot of that plastic will continue to flow into our environment.
While COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into the hard-earned progress we’d been making in reducing waste, eliminating plastic pollution entirely was always going to be challenging — with or without a pandemic. The jarring rise of single-use plastics is an expedited version of a familiar trend. Plastic production has been steadily increasing for quite some time.
As a zero-waste advocate, I’ve seen how the tsunami of plastic continuously being produced and flooding our planet has made achieving zero-waste goals incredibly difficult. The sheer amount makes it hard to safely and efficiently dispose of plastic, no matter how hard we try.
But as I examine the problem, and search for solutions, I keep coming back to one noteworthy example.
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The lack of regional and local vehicle traffic during the pandemic greatly reduced measurable pollution in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This is your Hellbender weekend read, and the first in an occasional Hellbender Press series about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the natural world
Great Smoky Mountains National Park shut down for six weeks in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recorded emissions reductions during that period in part illustrate the role motor vehicles play in the park's vexing air-quality issues. The full cascade of effects from the pollution reductions are still being studied.
Hellbender Press interviewed park air quality specialist Jim Renfro about the marked reduction of carbon dioxide and other pollutants documented during the park closure during the pandemic, and the special scientific opportunities it presents. He responded to the following questions via email.
Hellbender Press: You cited “several hundred tons" in pollutant reductions during an interview with WBIR of Knoxville (in 2020). What types of air pollutants does this figure include?
Answer: Carbon dioxide (CO2) would be most of the tons reduced from the lack of motor vehicles in the park during the park shutdown because of the pandemic. Carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter are other emissions that were lower, but to a much lesser extent.
HP: During what time frame?
A: It was based on when the primary park roads were closed, for about a six-week period from March 24 through May 9 (2020)
HP: Was this based on data collected at the Look Rock air-quality monitoring station or monitoring sites throughout the park?
A: No, it was estimated reductions in air emissions (tons) from using the park's emissions inventory for criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gases coupled with the reduction in park visitation data for the period of the park shutdown.
HP: Was this a result of reduced auto travel in the park?
HP: A lot of emissions, of course, come from outside of the park. Was the improvement in air quality also a function of reduced pollutants coming from outside the park?
A: The documented reduction was with emissions, not air quality. Air quality analysis is still under way to look at changes in air pollutants.
HP: What do you think the primary reasons for the air quality improvements were?
A: If there were reductions in air pollutants (and that is still being analyzed by EPA and NPS Air Resources Division), it was due primarily to the reduction in motor vehicle emissions in and near the park (and regionally).
HP: Did you purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic’s effect on air quality, or was this an “accidental” discovery?
A: We did not purposefully set out to quantify the pandemic's effect on air quality. Monitoring efforts continued during the pandemic and provided a unique and unexpected opportunity to characterize the differences in air emissions (from park closures and limited motor vehicle emissions) and air pollutants (which will take longer to look at laboratory analysis after quality assured analysis).
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ScienceDirect: Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion
New report estimates 8.7 million premature deaths anually from fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
Fossil fuels are the major source of invisible airborne particles that cause disease and mortality.