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Waste, greenhouse gases and traffic: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Ireland's environment

Information and statistics on this impact were included in the EPA’s new report on the state of Ireland’s environment.

pandemic impacts A first look at the environmental impacts of the pandemic in Ireland. Source: Environmental Protection Agency

A DECREASE IN greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in household waste are two indicators of the environmental impacts of the pandemic in Ireland, a new report has outlined. 

A major report published today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a comprehensive look at the current state of the environment in Ireland.

Comparing data on a number of different environmental areas between March and May 2019 and the same period in 2020, the EPA examined the impact of the pandemic on areas like air pollution and waste. 

Petrol consumption halved during this period, and diesel consumption reduced by 35%, the report said. 

Preliminary figures show that Ireland’s overall greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 8-10% during this period. Electricity GHG emissions went down by 7% and natural gas GHG emissions reduced by 6%. 

Traffic volumes also went down by more than two-thirds, while international arrivals and departures reduced by 99% in April and 98% in May. 

In terms of waste, domestic household waste went up by more than one-fifth while commercial waste reduced by half. 

Construction waste reduced by just under two-thirds, meanwhile domestic brown bin use went up by one-third. 

The natural world  

In terms of nature, the report said more people spent time outside between March and May this year compared to the same period in 2019. 

93% of people were walking more, the report said, and there was a 70% increase in people engaging with local wildlife. 

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Speaking at a briefing about the report, Micheal Lehane, the director of the EPA’s office of environmental assessment said: “[Green and blue spaces] allow people to get out in nature and away from everyday stresses, to the benefit of health and wellbeing and they need to be clean and protected.

An investment in the environment is also an investment in our health.

Some figures on the environmental impacts of the pandemic on issues like traffic levels have been released previously over the past few months. 

Data from Dublin City Council, for example, showed a significant drop in traffic volume in and out of Dublin city between 12 March, the day school closures were announced, and 12 April. 

Jonathan Derham from the EPA said one positive from the pandemic is a “far greater acknowledgement” of the value of science in informing national policy.  

“I think we in the environmental world recognise that there’s an opportunity here for us. We [the EPA] are kind of the NPHET of the environment, really,” Derham said. 

The other thing that is kind of interesting in the pandemic is that we can see when the government really wants to join itself up to take on grand societal challenges – it can actually do it.

“And we’re kind of asking for that across the environment too as well. We want to see environment in all policies and all elements of government, joining up to deliver on action,” he added. 

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