How does COVID-19 affect the life cycle environmental impacts of US household energy and food consumption?
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The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced travel but led to an increase in household food and energy consumption. Previous studies have explored the changes in household consumption of food and energy during the pandemic; however, the economy-wide environmental implications of these changes have not been investigated. This study addresses the knowledge gap by estimating the life cycle environmental impacts of U.S. households during the pandemic using a hybrid life cycle assessment. The results revealed that the reduction in travel outweighed the increase in household energy consumption, leading to a nationwide decrease in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (-255 Mton CO2 eq), energy use (-4.46 EJ), smog formation (-9.17 Mton O-3 eq), minerals and metal use (-16.1 Mton), commercial wastes (-8.31 Mton), and acidification (-226 kton SO2 eq). However, U.S. households had more life cycle freshwater withdrawals (+8.6 Gton) and slightly higher eutrophication (+0.2%), ozone depletion (+0.7%), and freshwater ecotoxicity (+2.1%) caused by increased household energy and food consumption. This study also demonstrated the environmental trade-offs between decreased food services and increased food consumption at home, resulting in diverse trends for food-related life cycle environmental impacts.