Earth is feeling a variety of side effects, positive and negative, from the social distancing measures in societies across the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


Studies have shown air quality is improving as a result of fewer cars on the road and fewer factories in operation, but other factors of the virus, such as more use of single-use items, are harming the planet at the same time.


Earth has not had a decrease in global emissions since 2015, but scientists predict carbon dioxide emission levels could decrease by 5% or more by the end of 2020, according to a study by the Global Carbon Project.


While that may be a positive for the planet, it’s coming at a cost hundreds of thousands of infected people and millions of people without jobs.


Jennifer Walling, executive director for the Illinois Environmental Council, emphasized this is "not the model of what you want to see in terms of reducing environmental emissions."


Moreover, less pollution is unlikely to have a long-term positive impact if life goes back to the way it was. Dr. Anne-Marie Hanson, an environmental studies professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said after the stay-at-home orders, society needs to think of different ways to continue the current trend.


"Yes, it’s going to have a significant impact, but we can’t expect people will just stay home and that will be our solution moving forward," Hanson said.


She said scientists have been advocating for over a decade that global CO2 levels need to drop by about 8% and society needs to sustain that decrease in order to prevent the projected 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature increase by 2050.


Central Illinois is experiencing a reduction of carbon emissions, though the exact measurements on the difference it is making are not yet clear.


Springfield’s City Water, Light & Power stopped burning coal, which produces large carbon emissions, on Feb. 21 and went back online Thursday.


Amber Sabin, a spokeswoman for CWLP, said the unit went offline "to take advantage of extremely low power prices from the grid," because of a significantly lower demand.


Currently, Dallman units 31, 32 and 33 are still not operating. Units 31 and 32 were "not needed prior to Feb. 21," while Dallman 33 was already down for repairs.


Hanson and Walling also pointed out the coronavirus is exposing how big of an impact humans have on the environment and on each other.


"This is bringing up more than ever that we are all connected and that actions we’re taking can easily impact another person," Walling said.


Hanson said it’s easy to see how the majority of people not driving can make the air quality better around the world, but there are also other small changes in systems that are making a large impact, such as the waste system.


She said the waste system has always had issues, but change in the waste patterns due to the coronavirus has resulted in more litter on the coasts.


"We often don’t think about the waste stream because we don’t have to," Hanson said. "We just put it in a bin and we don’t look at it again."


Many retailers have banned reusable shopping bags and people are recommended to throw away items, such as plastic bags, after one use to prevent the spread of the virus.


"Now many things that used to be recycled are not being recycled because of fears of virus propagation in recycling centers," Hanson said.


There also has been a shift in what is being littered. As personal protective equipment use has significantly increased, so has its waste.


Hanson said groups on coast lines who had been working on marine debris prevention have also been staying at home, but when people do go out, they’re "actually finding, more than bottles and cigarette butts and things, they’re finding masks and gloves and bags, things that they weren’t finding," she said.


Throughout the pandemic, people have relied on certain products more heavily than usual such as disinfectants and disposable items. Those also are being found in the waste stream, or stuck in it.


"People are using a lot more wet wipes and people think you can flush wet wipes. You can’t flush wet wipes. They clog your pipes, they clog the pipes of the overall sewer system and there have been sharp increases of wet wipes causing a problem, for example," Walling said.


The coronavirus may have caused more negative than positive effects on the environment, but Hanson and Walling said it has at least shined more light on science and the long-term issues facing Earth, and that it may cause society to rethink the way it will operate in the future.


Contact Kade Heather: kheather@sj-r.com, twitter.com/kade_heather.