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The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns, As Shown by Satellites

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NO2 Emissions China Italy

The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns

There’s a high chance you’re reading this while practicing social distancing, or while your corner of the world is under some type of advised or enforced lockdown.

While these are necessary measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, such economic interruption is unprecedented in many ways—resulting in some surprising side effects.

The Evidence is in NO₂ Emissions

Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions, a major air pollutant, are closely linked to factory output and vehicles operating on the road.

As both industry and transport come to a halt during this pandemic, NO₂ emissions can be a good indicator of global economic activity—and the changes are visible from space.

These images from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), as well as satellite footage from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), show a drastic decline in NO₂ emissions over recent months, particularly across Italy and China.

NO₂ Emissions Across Italy

In Italy, the number of active COVID-19 cases has surpassed China (including the death toll). Amid emergency actions to lock down the entire nation, everything from schools and shops, to restaurants and even some churches, are closed.

Italy is also an industrial hub, with the sector accounting for nearly 24% of GDP. With many Italians urged to work from home if possible, visible economic activity has dropped considerably.

This 10-day moving average animation (from January 1st—March 11th, 2020) of nitrogen dioxide emissions across Europe clearly demonstrates how the drop in Italy’s economic activity has impacted the environment.


Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

That’s not all: a drop in boat traffic also means that Venice’s canals are clear for the time being, as small fish have begun inhabiting the waterways again. Experts are cautious to note that this does not necessarily mean the water quality is better.

NO₂ Emissions Across China

The emissions changes above China are possibly even more obvious to the eye. China is the world’s most important manufacturing hub and a significant contributor to greenhouse gases globally. But in the month following Lunar New Year (a week-long festival in early February), satellite imagery painted a different picture.

no2 emissions wuhan china
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

NO₂ emissions around the Hubei province, the original epicenter of the virus, steeply dropped as factories were forced to shutter their doors for the time being.

What’s more, there were measurable effects in the decline of other emission types from the drop in coal use during the same time, compared to years prior.

China Coal Use FInal

Back to the Status Quo?

In recent weeks, China has been able to flatten the curve of its total COVID-19 cases. As a result, the government is beginning to ease its restrictions—and it’s clear that social and economic activities are starting to pick back up in March.


Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

With the regular chain of events beginning to resume, it remains to be seen whether NO₂ emissions will rebound right back to their pre-pandemic levels.

This bounce-back effect—which can sometimes reverse any overall drop in emissions—is [called] “revenge pollution”. And in China, it has precedent.

Li Shuo, Senior climate policy advisor, Greenpeace East Asia

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Ranked: Top 20 Countries by Plastic Waste per Capita

Visualizing plastic waste per capita reveals a surprising list of countries that you may not have expected.

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Ranked: Top 20 Countries by Plastic Waste per Capita

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Single-use plastic waste is perhaps one of the biggest environmental issues of our time. Every year, millions of tons of plastic end up in oceans and landfills, harming wildlife and ecosystems.

To make matters worse, plastics take hundreds of years to decompose, leading to long-term environmental and health hazards as they break down into microplastics that contaminate water and food sources.

In this graphic, we visualized the top 20 countries that generated the most single-use plastic waste per capita in 2019, measured in kilograms per person. Figures come from research published in May 2021, which we sourced from Statista.

Data and Key Takeaways

The data we used to create this graphic is listed in the table below.

RankCountryKg per personPounds per person
1🇸🇬 Singapore76168
2🇦🇺 Australia59130
3🇴🇲 Oman56123
4🇳🇱 Netherlands55121
5🇧🇪 Belgium55121
6🇮🇱 Israel55121
7🇭🇰 Hong Kong55121
8🇨🇭 Switzerland53117
9🇺🇸 U.S.53117
10🇦🇪 UAE52115
11🇨🇱 Chile51112
12🇰🇷 S. Korea4497
13🇬🇧 UK4497
14🇰🇼 Kuwait4088
15🇳🇿 New Zealand3986
16🇮🇪 Ireland3986
17🇫🇮 Finland3884
18🇯🇵 Japan3782
19🇫🇷 France3679
20🇸🇮 Slovenia3577

Countries from all around the world are present in this ranking, highlighting how plastic waste isn’t concentrated in any one region.

It’s also interesting to note how most of the countries in this top 20 ranking are wealthier, more developed nations. These nations have higher levels of consumption, with greater access to packaged goods, take-out services, and disposable products, all of which rely on single-use plastics.

Where’s China and India?

Note that we’ve visualized plastic waste per capita, which is different from the total amount of waste produced by a country. It is for this reason that major polluters, such as China and India, are not present in this ranking.

It’s also worth noting that this focuses on the demand side of plastics, rather than where plastic products were initially created or produced.

If you’re interested to see more visuals on plastic waste, check out Which Countries Pollute the Most Ocean Plastic Waste?.

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