SmartWaste - Unintended Consequences - COVID-19

Unintended Consequences: Of oil and a virus

For all the bad that the coronavirus has and is doing it is also doing some good. COVID-19 has brought our lifestyle choices into sharp relief. And given us the time to think about them. Are these random events or the result of unintended consequences?

There are odd glimpses of our world from a variety of sources. Reports from China, India  and SA show that smog levels are low because there is no industry or cars. There are online videos of wild animals in suburban areas. According to some stories rats are changing their food source because there is less food in rubbish bins.

The evidence is anecdotal but it comes from a variety of sources in different geographies. We can dismiss it as random events but maybe it is the theory of unintended consequences in practice. So what has that to do with waste?

Do the unintended consequences of COVID-19 include recycling and waste?

The discovery of oil as an energy source gave impetus to the industrial revolution and resulted in our modern world. Oil also gave us plastic. Man set out to use oil as a reliable and efficient form of energy. An unintended consequence of the use of oil has been atmospheric pollution, pollution of the seas and now the earth.

The evidence of the shutdown is that without atmospheric pollution the air is cleaner. Without shopping and more plastic packaging the earth is healthier and wild animals can return. Are we able to reverse the damage done by the use of fossil fuels and find a more effective and healthier source of energy?

Finding an alternate source of energy to oil is a monumental task but we are making steady, albeit slow, progress. Alternative energy is already part of the energy mix in modern societies and electric cars will be mainstream within a few years. We may still find a way to build safe nuclear reactors.

Can we reverse the damage already done, or has it already started thanks to COVID-19?

Cleaning up the damage caused by the use of fossil fuels will be harder. For starters we will have to undo the damage to the oceans and land. Which in itself will probably take 100 years. Then we will need to adopt a change of mindset. If we all waste less, recycle and follow the principles of the circular economy how will the world look?

Small changes can have big outcomes. The first change should be to reduce the amount we consume – do more with less. Then, wherever possible, we should reuse what we can: clothing, packaging, cellphones and motor vehicle engines. Lastly, we can recycle whatever remains. At the moment we are largely stuck in recycling – which is better than doing nothing. There is however more we can do.

History may show that COVID-19 was the point at which mankind stopped long enough to look around and say there has to be a better way. The evidence is that there is a better way and all we need to do is realize it. And act on it.

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