Thompson Rivers University

Environment and COVID-19: The good, bad and correctable

December 14, 2020

Reduce gas emissions and air pollution by cycling to commute.

Wear a mask, wash your hands, physical distance, maintain a tight social bubble… we all know what we can do to protect ourselves from COVID-19. But, do we know how to protect the environment from COVID?  

There are some positive, although not scientifically verified, environmental impacts that have come about due to this pandemic. For example, air quality may be slightly improved in some areas due to decreased travel. In fact, you are likely already contributing to this positive outcome by staying at home to work or learn virtually. 

But chances are, you may also be unintentionally contributing to the COVID-19 environmental fallout. Think single-use masks and gloves, and the haphazard use and disposal of disinfectants. While some of this is unavoidable, TRU’s Zero Waste and Environmental Programs Coordinator James Gordon shares some small changes you can make to counterbalance some of the unfortunate, but necessary environmental offenses that come with COVID-19.

  1. Deal with your waste responsibly
    When you buy something—like disposable face masks or gloves—you are now responsible for it and its packaging. And when you no longer want it, learn how to dispose of it in the best way possible (use zero waste stations properly). 

  2. Reduce and reuse
    The simplest way to avoid dealing with waste is not having any in the first place. Buy reusable face masks and wash them appropriately or buy a large container of hand sanitizer and refill smaller, transportable containers for on-the-go use.

  3. Avoid waste
    Try to reduce the amount of waste items in your life. If you don’t plan to use ketchup on your fries or if you have cutlery at home, ask the restaurant not to include those items in your take-out order. 

    Also remember, waste does not just come in solid form through packaging. The four main things we waste include water, electronics and lights, food and household items like clothing, furniture and appliances. The solutions are to use only what you need, turn things off and unplug when not in use, eat what you buy, freeze leftovers, compost whenever possible and donate used items.

  4. Get outside
    Protect the environment by enjoying it. Rather than surfing the web or binge-watching Netflix to unwind, shut off your electronics, unplug and go for a hike. Reduce gas emissions and air pollution by walking or cycling when you are commuting. Getting outside in the sun for some fresh air and exercise will not only protect the earth but also nourish your mental wellness.

  5. Attend a sustainability class or conference
    TRU offers many courses focusing on sustainability, including TRU’s one-credit Leadership in Environmental Sustainability Certificate, which is available to every student. You can also find an online sustainability conferences or a free webinar.

  6. Find out how much you know about sustainability
    TRU is launching an in-house sustainability literacy assessment in early 2021. By taking part in the assessment you will not only find out just what you know about sustainability but also help enlighten TRU’s sustainability office. “Seeking the beliefs and opinions of TRU students, staff and faculty on sustainability issues will help the TRU sustainability office identify areas of improvement and areas we should focus on,” Gordon says.

“Overall, the key is to think of a simple plan to make one thing better for the environment,” Gordon says. “Make the plan ambitious but achievable and then, when you finish it, celebrate. Then start a new plan and just never stop.”

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