How To Avoid ‘Revenge Pollution’ While Reviving the Economy

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As the economy reopens and we venture out into the world we once knew, it is tempting to try to make up for lost time — that time we could have spent traveling, shopping, and restaurant and bar hopping. Perhaps you have already made a list of things you wish you had or places you want to go.

The term “revenge pollution” refers to the increased emissions that result from accelerated economic activities after a recession, such as the one resulting from COVID-19. As the economy re-opens, try to be mindful of activities that may contribute to revenge pollution. With oil at historically low prices, many will be tempted to go for a long drive — if they can still afford it — but with a little effort you can prevent polluting more as the lockdown lifts.

Cut Out Plastics

One area of focus should be the use of plastic. The plastics industry pollutes our environment in the places it is made, plastic recycling has reached a critical point, and plastic waste covers our planet. The low cost of oil makes virgin plastic cheaper, which reduces the financial benefits of plastic recycling.

When reusable products are not applicable, compostable foodservice ware can reduce our use of petroleum-based single-use plastics. Bioplastics are made from renewable plant-based materials. Conventional plastics, on the other hand, are made of non-renewable petroleum and natural gas. Comparing compostable bioplastic made from corn to the petroleum-based plastic PET, the manufacturing of the bioplastic produces half of the carbon dioxide as traditional plastic.

Let Composting Happen

Composting provides a natural solution to help prevent climate change.

When organic matter enters a landfill, the anaerobic environment creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Recent efforts from NASA to identify where methane was being emitted found that some landfills were “super-emitters.” If you have space and time, you can create a home composting system.

An even better option is to have access to a commercial composting service. If you don’t have access to a service that can process yard waste, food scraps, and compostable products, let your local elected officials know that this is a priority for you.

Maybe Don’t Visit

Another way we could all reduce our environmental impact is by traveling less. Popular destinations have suffered so much from the negative impacts of tourism that overtourism is now a word in the Cambridge English Dictionary to describe the problem. In addition to the impact of crowds of tourists on the destination, a single transatlantic flight is estimated to cause 32 square feet of Arctic ice to melt.

Globally, air travel has decreased by 40 percent since COVID-19 has entered our lives. This means that the 344 million metric tons of carbon emitted from air travel have been eliminated.

But these climate-beneficial gains will be lost if we return to our pre-pandemic behavior.

What can you do? Re-think future major trips. Instead of visiting an exotic place, you could watch a documentary about it. Or visit your loved ones more often via video chat instead of air travel. After all, sometimes the point of travel is not where people are physically going, but what state of mind you are trying to achieve.

Ditch the Car

Car travel has decreased with stay-at-home orders in many states. Vehicular traffic miles decreased by 70 percent in the last two weeks of March in the United States, according to Streetlight data analyzed by US PIRG. This is the result of working from home and fewer essential trips in general.

A typical automobile emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year; even a few weeks without driving can make a difference. Perhaps after the stay-at-home orders lighten, we can continue to decrease our vehicular miles traveled by teleworking and trip-chaining our errands to optimize each mile.

Consider working with your employer to see if you can work more from home or on a flex schedule that reduces your gas use because of stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

Curb Your Consumerism

The consumer goods we consume have a carbon footprint. Each step of producing these goods — from resource extraction to manufacturing, shipping, and disposal — takes a toll on the environment. However, amid the pandemic in March 2020, American shopping decreased by 8.7 percent on consumer goods; people are curtailing discretionary consumer spending.

If you have to shop, ordering delivery from a local store is the best way to reduce carbon emissions by at least half per item compared to shopping with online-only retailers. Perhaps we can learn to curtail spending by sharing more and doing without the next “necessary” object.

Climate Change Is a Crisis

Above all, the best idea we can adopt from this pandemic is to listen to scientific experts. Although we can pretend to be medical professionals (and public health officials, virologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, etc.), what we can take away from the pandemic is that we should trust the experts who have been working diligently to protect our best interests.

It is the consensus of scientists that human-made climate change is a threat. Now is the time to listen to climate change scientists, 11,000 of them would like us to take climate change seriously.

About the Author

Lauren K. Olson is the zero waste manager at World Centric. She holds a master’s degree in community sustainability specializing in decision-making about waste, and a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental economics— both degrees from Michigan State University.

Feature image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

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