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How the COVID-19 lockdown impacted pollution and the lessons we've learned

Posted at 3:02 PM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 18:28:47-04

(WXYZ) — In March of 2020, the world screeched to a halt. Planes were grounded, factories were shut down, and traffic jams became non-existent.

“Air pollution, water pollution dropped drastically across the globe,” Sean Hammond, policy director at Michigan Environmental Council, said.

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But that decline has been short-lived, because as the world and state of Michigan begins to open up, air pollution is beginning to rise.

“From our perspective, the hope is that we do allow more remote work because it will save transportation costs, particularly, transportation pollution,” Hammond said.

And in Detroit, wearing masks might have protected against more than just COVID.

“That stopped a lot of the asthma attacks because you were not susceptible to poor air quality because you were wearing a mask which filters it for you,” Detroit engagement director at the Michigan Environmental Council Sandra Turner-Handy said. “I noticed that as soon as we started taking off our masks, everyone started complaining of allergies acting up.”

Turner-Handy said she plans on keeping her mask on and hopes others will follow suit. If they don’t, she hopes they at least throw them in the garbage.

Over the course of the pandemic, PPE has been found everywhere across Metro-Detroit. On the grounds of park lots, streets, and storefronts, and newer ways of littering have been developed.

“We saw a notable uptick in plastic pollution, littering, and also cardboard production as we all kind of shifted to do online shopping,” Hammond said.

What does that mean for our landfills? Check out these numbers from nine municipalities in Oakland County:

“We have some really good lessons we can learn on how to reduce pollution, and some really hard lessons we are going to have to confront as we make some of these societal shifts post-pandemic,” Hammond said.

One of those good lessons comes from the more than 1,500 urban farms and community gardens in the city of Detroit.

“Those entities provided much of the fruit and veggies eaten during COVID-19,” Hammond said. “And we found ourselves eating a lot healthier because there was less trips to McDonald’s and all the fast food places. So we found ourselves cooking at home.”

More people bought food locally or started growing a backyard garden to avoid crowds and high prices. And as restrictions begin to lift, getting back to normal isn’t everyone's goal.

“You’ve got to use what we learned through the pandemic to stay safe. To continue to be safe,” Hammond said.

It's about using lessons from the struggle.

“I think it showed society that there’s another way we can address air pollution. We can actually do something by doing things simple and staying home one or two days a week. Telecommuting or using your bike instead of your car and getting outside more.”

Just a few other things that changed during the lock down: