How to Effectively Implement a Green COVID-19 Recovery
By M. Hasty, RN BSN
It’s been a wild ride of a year. You’ve seen lots of memes about 2020. Everyone seems to agree that we’re ready for this year to end. But there’s an unfortunate truth that the memes won’t tell you:
The environmental consequences of COVID-19 won’t disappear on January 1st, 2021.
In fact, we’ve only begun to see the long-term effects of this virus. The beginning of quarantine marked a drop in emissions. We’ve since rebounded from there.
The disposable masks we throw into the trash will be washing up on foreign shores for years to come.
Medical waste from our hospitals will end up in our rivers, our soil, and the air.
We’re hopeful vaccines will help bring life back to normal. But those too will bring the baggage of production, transportation, and distribution. I’m sure you’ve been following this in the news. And all these things on top of the environmental problems that began decades before the virus. Yikes!
I know I’m painting a doomsday scenario. What I’m trying to do is show you that the near future, the post-COVID-19 future, is full of opportunities.
The opportunity to see this moment as a cultural reset. We have the chance to look up from our phones and see that we are heading towards a future no one wants. These decisions we make today will affect us, and the generations after us, for decades to come.
COVID has been monumental. It’s the kind of event that divides time into “before COVID” and “after COVID”. We need to try to make our after better than before, and we have a lot of ways to make that happen.
As we enter 2021, take into consideration steps you can take that support a green recovery. Make your New Year’s resolution to make the environment a priority.
What Does a “Green” Recovery Look Like?
It depends on who you ask. In October, the Paris Climate Council met to talk about 6 “Climate-Positive Actions”. The council encouraged countries to stop bailouts for polluting companies. It encouraged countries to end support for fossil fuels. To invest in green businesses. They also asked governments to work together so that no one gets left behind. To consider climate risks in all decisions. UN Secretary-General Antonin Guterres highlighted the need to cut back on carbon. He also asked for a shift towards efficiency and renewable energy.
Across the pond, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a big statement. He pledged billions of pounds towards green recovery. This will include upgrades to public buildings and homes, increasing energy efficiency.
Investments will also go towards technology that pulls warming emissions from the air. France has promised billions for green energy initiatives. Germany has also joined in. They are putting money towards electrical vehicles. This coincides with taking support away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, the United States has no stated green recovery plan. Only a small part of the pandemic stimulus is being put towards climate issues. This is a missed opportunity.
Individual cities can implement green recovery strategies. Some have made plans to do so.
Many cities give tax breaks to residents who install solar panels for their homes. Seattle will turn 20 miles of streets into pedestrian zones. New Orleans has similar plans for parts of the French Quarter. Los Angeles will be converting streets into walkable areas. They are also improving their public transit system.
Industries and companies can and should make efforts towards a Green Recovery. Many have taken losses during the COVID crisis. They have an opportunity now to re-examine their effects on our climate and oceans.
The cruise ship industry is suffering due to COVID. These companies will hopefully either enact climate-positive changes or fall out of fashion. Would you like to read more about how the cruise ship industry is hurting our earth? Check out COVID-19 is Dismantling the Cruise Ship Industry.
The Paris Agreement and COVID-19 Recovery
Under the Paris Agreement, each country chooses to give some amount of money. This is a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
We tend to associate the Paris Agreement with climate protection. However, countries can and should use their NDC’s towards COVID-19 economic recovery. Investing in clean technology can help us lose dependence on fossil fuels. It can do this while creating jobs and livelihoods.
Carbon Pricing is a tax on emissions. It can motivate industries to use renewable energy. All the while creating newer and cleaner means of production. In the long term, an investment in our climate is an investment in ourselves.
Healing Our Oceans After COVID-19
Is that a Jellyfish or a face mask? Let’s talk about medical waste resulting from COVID-19.
The most obvious waste product resulting from COVID-19 is face masks. Those, along with other single-use PPE, are a big concern for our waterways.
According to a WHO estimate, the world needs 89 million face per month to protect people from the virus. At the beginning of 2020 there were shortages of these masks. So, manufacturers ramped up production to meet demand.
Disposable face masks consist of 3 layers with a plastic microfiber filter in the center. Once used, these masks often end up in our streets, where they wash to waterways and other natural places. I bet you’ve seen them!
The center filters of disposable masks are a new and harmful source of microplastics. The other layers end up fragmenting into more micro-trash. They get ingested by aquatic animals, and can even end up in our food.
Before many in the US were even aware of COVID-19, masks were already washing up on remote shores. OceanAsia performed a plastic survey of the Soko Islands in February of 2020. There, they found thousands of surgical masks that had washed ashore. Results that showed up after only 6 weeks of widespread use.
Any plan for a Green Recovery must include strategies to clean and restore our oceans. We at Ocean Blue Project help people like you organize beach clean-up groups. These groups pick up trash from our beaches and oceans. But what would be even better is preventing trash from getting there in the first place.
This is obviously not the time to ban single-use face masks, but we do have other options. By buying reusable masks, we can curb our own consumption. We can prevent single-use masks from ending up where they shouldn’t. All we have to do is dispose of them properly. Read more about PPE in our oceans on our blog. Check out How COVID-19 PPE is the New Pollution.
Protecting our Oceans
Governments have overlooked the ocean during plans for COVID recovery. Analysis has shown that for every $1 invested into a sustainable ocean economy, there is a yield of $5. Decision-makers need to understand the importance of our ocean. It has an important role in our recovery and economy.
The High-Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy commissioned a new report. They outlined ways to promote economic recovery while helping our oceans. They point out 5 Investment Priority Opportunities for a Blue Stimulus:
1. Invest in Sewerage and Wastewater Infrastructure for Coastal Communities
2. Invest in Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Restoration and Protection
3. Invest in Sustainable Community-Led Non-fed Mariculture
4. Incentivize Sustainable Ocean-based Renewable Energy
5. Incentivize the Transition to Zero-Emission Marine Transport
All of these strategies create jobs in the short and long term. These strategies:
● Improve water and air quality
● Increase the health of ecosystems
● Reduce water-based diseases
● Create opportunities for tourism
We have so many opportunities to make improvements right now. Improvements that will benefit both people and our oceans!
What Can You Do to Help With COVID-19 Green Recovery?
The good news is there are so many ways you can help create a better post-COVID future! By learning to be mindful about your daily decisions, you can change your behaviors to do better.
On the micro-level, buy reusable face masks. Yes, it’s a little inconvenient to wash them. But so is having to search for a new planet to live on because we destroyed this one!
If you are a healthcare professional, learn how to properly dispose of your single-use PPE. Spread the word by hanging posters about proper disposal practices in your workplace! Some of your coworkers may be wondering about this issue as well.
Don’t forget about other plastics, like drinking straws, cups, and grocery bags. Remember that you have a choice between single-use plastics and reusable alternatives. Know that your decisions affect our planet and our future. Read What I Learned From One Week of Documenting My Plastic Waste for more ideas.
While a lot of us are working from home, we can re-examine the ways we get around and how we can do better. The next time you need to get somewhere, think about whether you could bike, take the bus, or walk. Be sure to involve your kids in the evaluation process. That way they will be more apt to cooperate.
For many Americans who travel long distances every day, alternatives warrant consideration. It might be more reasonable to look into hybrid vehicles. Carpooling can also be a more environmentally friendly post-COVID option. Lots of people have eliminated their need for a personal vehicle. They are choosing to use ride-share alternatives like Lyft and Uber. This choice helps their budgets and the environment! It also supports drivers who need the work.
When shopping for the holidays, do some research on your favorite brands. See who is making environmentally-conscious manufacturing decisions. It might surprise you to know that some companies claiming to be Green are making less-than-Green decisions. This “Greenwashing”, is a marketing ploy to make it look like they are doing more. If you are looking for environmentally conscious gift ideas, check out our Ocean Shop. We have some great t-shirts and reusable water bottles available.
Making Ocean Blue Project your Amazon Smile recipient is also a great way to make a difference. The concept is simple. You spend what you already are on Amazon. Then Amazon donates a part of the proceeds to Ocean Blue Project. Follow these simple instructions to make that happen today.
You can even stay socially distanced while getting outside with your family. How exciting is that! Contact us about organizing your own beach cleanup. We’ll help you know what to do. We’ll also help you obtain any necessary permits.
Beautify your local beach and clean our One World Ocean, all while getting outside. If you are not near a beach, you can still keep our oceans clean. Pick up trash in your backyard, local stream, or body of water. Learn more about our Community Cleanup Campaigns on our website.
Stay up-to-date on news about our One World Ocean by subscribing to the Ocean Blue Project Blog. Learn about hundreds of environmental topics while supporting our oceans and our world. The more informed you are, the more green you will be. You’ll be glad you did!
Author Bio: Marie Hasty is a COVID ICU Nurse, writer, painter, and planet advocate.