Covid-19 and environment

Covid-19 and environment

E. Canuto, Former faculty, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy

April 2020


The waste issue to be discussed looks negligible in front of the huge waste of masks, gloves and medical protection suits caused by Covid-9 epidemy, to be treated as unsorted waste (rifiuti indifferenziati). Their mass in Italy is reported in [1] to be larger than 0.3\times 10^9 \textup{kg}, which is about 2.5% of the unsorted Italian waste per year. Though negligible, the case looks a paradigm of the complete unpreparedness of environment management, notwithstanding thepersistent buzz about green and digital society.

Since at least two months I am looking through Internet for one of the Covid-19 gadgets: the front infrared thermometer, but power-supplied by rechargeable batteries. Endless effort: no result. Only one gadget of this kind at a price of about 50 Euros is reported by e-commerce sites, but it is still unavailable. Of course you may object: buy one with disposable (monouso) batteries, but the environment impact?

This is the key issue: our life is full of battery powered gadgets, but most of them are powered by disposable batteries.  Let us restrict to small (portable) batteries: about 500 millions are consumed in Italy per year [2], and likely about 95% of them is disposable [3]. If they are not recycled, they are disposed of at landfills, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. To be recycled, batteries should be disposed of in appropriate containers which are easily accessible by citizens. For instance, no dedicated battery containers exist in Torino and citizens should bring their exhausted batteries (more than ten batteries per year in the average)  to one of seven collection centers (centri di raccolta) mainly located in the city outskirts. It is not difficult to expect that the great part of disposable batteries are just added to the unsorted waste, in the best case.











[1] M. Gabanelli and S. Ravizza, Con il Covid 300000 tonnellate in più.  A Milano la ‘ndrangheta è già al ‘lavoro’,….

[2] A. Varotto, Pile usate e batterie esauste: rifiuti pericolosi da smaltire correttamente,…
[3]  BATTCO- The Battery Company, Uniross 2007 – Rechargeable batteries are better for the environment, July 18, 2012.

[4] AMIAT, Gruppo Iren, Rifiuti urbani pericolosi, 18 Gennaio 2018.