The environmental impact

19 January 2021
3 min read

Rebecca Waters discusses how the pandemic has affected the world.

It is perhaps no surprise that the ongoing pandemic has caused a variety of significant consequences, especially in regard to healthcare. However, while the wider focus has been on the nature of the virus itself, its spread and containment, there are also unforeseen consequences that should be considered.

The impact the pandemic has had on the environment, in particular, is one that needs to be highlighted, especially as dental practices can do their bit to help moving forwards.

During the first national lockdown in 2020, it seemed that there were many beneficial environmental changes occurring. Indeed, between reports of the canals in Venice running crystal clear and videos of animals returning to previously urban spaces, it seemed that the lack of human activity was giving the planet a chance to rest and recharge.

In many ways this was true. Flights were grounded and people stopped using cars and other modes of transport as frequently, environmental pollution (air pollution, noise pollution and so on) fell as much as 30 per cent in places, and oil prices fell drastically across the globe due to a halt in manufacturing and industry.

Another interesting positive observed during the pandemic so far is that certain beaches around the world are much cleaner. Due to the restrictions on tourism and people being confined to their homes during the harshest periods of lockdown, these fragile coastal environments were able to rejuvenate, resulting in less litter and clearer waters.

Unfortunately, many of these positives were only temporary, and other environmental consequences from the pandemic are not such silver linings.

Pollution, plastics and more
The lack of industry and human activity during the pandemic turned out to be a two-edged sword. Although some natural landscapes have had a chance to recuperate, waste management has suffered and the levels of waste the majority of us produce has increased. Indeed, due to virus control measures, some recycling programmes were put on pause, meaning that all waste was taken to landfill. Household waste levels also increased as people ordered things to be delivered to their homes, increasing inorganic and organic waste levels due to packaging and more food being ordered. Of course, medical waste also saw a huge increase during this time, with badly hit areas recording huge increases in waste. For example, Wuhan in China went from producing less than 50 tonnes of medical waste per day to an astounding 240 tonnes.

Single-use face masks and the disposal of these items is also fast becoming a significant problem. Indeed, it’s estimated that the UK is currently sending 1.6bn face masks to landfill each month. The lingering impact of these levels of waste is starting to show its face, and a recent article outlined how these items ending up in our oceans could soon be becoming a huge problem.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and there are ways that the dental industry can help to offset the environmental issues surrounding Coronavirus.

How can dentists make a difference?
In light of new regulations, it’s understandably difficult to know how to make a positive difference during this time. There is no option to use less PPE or to bend guidelines, but there is a chance to look at your existing waste disposal methods and ensure that they are as eco-friendly as possible. This means carefully following the Department of Health’s colour coded guide to best practice waste disposal, as well as seeing if there are green choices you can make for certain products.

It’s also a good idea to see if you can help the environment in other ways – reducing the amount of energy you use in practice or investing in smart meters that help track the energy you use, so that you can make alterations accordingly.

Understanding the importance of a green approach during these times, Initial Medical has recently introduced a number of eco-friendly changes to its services. These include the option for electronic hazardous waste consignment notes to reduce paper waste, as well as introducing new pharmaceutical waste containers that are manufactured from 100 per cent recycled plastic, helping to reduce the need for virgin plastic to be made.

Something to consider
Although the top priority during this time is ensuring the safety of staff and patients alike, it doesn’t mean that wider implications of the pandemic should go unaddressed. By thinking about your green credentials and investing in products and services that help you operate in a greener way, you can do your part in helping to reduce the environmental impact of the pandemic.

References available on request.