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How the environment has changed since the pandemic began

Posted at 6:38 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 19:38:19-04

MILWAUKEE — A lot has changed in our world since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. We all know those obvious changes, but on Earth Day, we take a look at some of the environmental changes over the past year that are and aren't so visible.


According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, fossil fuel emissions have gone down.

"Preliminary DNR snapshot data analysis from the Milwaukee College Ave air monitoring site showed 14% lower NO2 concentrations for the period following Gov. Evers Safer at Home order (enacted March 25, 2020) compared to a similar 2019 timeframe," the DNR said in a response to questions for this story.

NO2 is nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted from cars, industrial areas and power plants.

However, the DNR said to be wary about any initial reports. None of the findings can be conclusive until the pandemic is over.

"Scientists caution any rush to conclusion about the impact the shutdown may have on annual emissions, as well as on monitored concentrations – because it is complicated and needs to be better understood," according to the DNR.

Although, it seems likely that the stay-at-home order, which led to fewer people traveling, would have reduced overall emissions into the air, but there are no conclusive results yet.

Megan Severson, the state director for the organization Wisconsin Environment, echoed these statements from the DNR.

“Fewer people are commuting to work or maybe traveling to other states for work, [and] traffic projections are down in Wisconsin," said Severson.


While emissions have gone up, residential trash accumulation has increased.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the Milwaukee Riverkeeper said more trash has ended up in Milwaukee County parks because more people are spending time outside.

Today, it is common to see masks and other personal protective equipment littered in parks, along sidewalks or anywhere else. Those can also end up in the lake, which is a major issue too.

Similarly, since people are stuck at home, "We know that residential waste is up, given that we are spending more time at home or less time out and about at the community," Megan Severson, the state director for the organization Wisconsin Environment, said.


There is no exhaustive data on the effect the pandemic has had on our environment since the pandemic isn't over yet. Plus, there likely won't be a hard date when the pandemic ends, which makes analyzing that data a little more difficult.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't actions you can take to help protect mother nature.

As people begin to get vaccinated and rush out the door to travel, people need to critically analyze their modes of transportation.

“We should be thinking about the ways to reduce the number of cars on the road anyway," Severson said.

While fewer cars on the road have meant fewer pollutants, Serverson said a similar thought process needs to continue in post-pandemic life.

In terms of trash, consider buying reusable masks that you can wash instead of throw away. Plus it goes without saying, don't litter. As a famous owl once said, 'give a hoot don't pollute.'

You don't need to make drastic changes to your life. Sometimes the simplest actions can go the longest away, like shopping with reusable bags and simply picking up trash when you see it.

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