We've all heard the wonderful positives that human lockdown is having on our Mother Earth: air pollution has drastically decreased, particularly in major cities, and nature is revived in areas where humans previously dominated. In London, I step outside of my flat and feel like I'm breathing countryside air for the first time ever.
But, I do feel like there are downsides from a sustainability perspective which we aren't speaking about - at times, rightly so because they aren't a priority compared to the immediate and urgent fight against Covid-19. Let's look at the use of PPE in healthcare at the moment. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, 132 million masks, 145 million aprons, 1.2 million gowns, and 470 million pairs of gloves are needed - and that's just the UK. In Lincolnshire, an area with relatively lower Covid-19 infection rates, a staggering 39,500 surgical masks are used per day, plus 11,495 gloves, 1,501 gowns and 4,201 highly-protective FFP3 respirator masks, as well as aprons and eye protectors. That sums to a staggering 72,000 items a day in for one trust, alone. When we hear that 400,000 gowns are due to arrive from Turkey, it seems as though it will save the day... only to realise that these disposable items could only last a few days.
Putting the healthcare profession aside for a moment, let's look at ourselves personally. Hand sanitiser sales are off the charts, which equals plastic bottles galore. Mini plastic bottles in fact - even worse! Whilst plastic had been falling out of favour, now we are hearing that manufacturers can't keep up with supply for producing plastic bottles.
Then there are the businesses, many of which had sustainability has a top priority for 2020 having made good progress in their packaging and supply chain in 2019. Just as their sustainability strategy is taking force and they can see how to implement changes for the better, along comes coronavirus and throws all previous priorities out of the window. It's fair enough - businesses are in survival mode now, looking at keeping their employees and customers safe, and surviving 2020 rather than thriving in it.
We think, and hope, that sustainability will move back up the scale of importance once the spread of Covid-19 has been controlled. However, the increased awareness of cleanliness and hygiene will remain in everyone's minds for the foreseeable future which will inevitably hinder the growth of sustainability initiatives around the world. Plastic bottles of hand sanitiser as a handbag essential, and fruit wrapped in plastic, may be here to stay.