Simple ways to reduce your air pollution.
It's Clean Air Day today, June 17 2021. This day of awareness has been organized by the Global Action Plan to provide information and solutions to high levels of air pollution and it's harmful effects. It isn't just the way it effects our environment that is cause for concern, it damages our health and wellbeing, especially in children who unfortunately suffer the most effects from higher pollution levels.
How does air pollution effect our community?
Air pollution refers to particles, gases and chemicals that hang in the air and can cause harm. Usually they are unseen but if the concentration of them increases too much they become visible in the form of grey smog.
CO2, or carbon dioxide is the most well know of these as it contributes to the greenhouse warming effect. However, there are many other pollutants that are released into the air from industrial work, transportation and our homes, such as Nitrogen Dioxoide, Particulate Matter and Carbon Monoxide.
Air pollution contributes to 64,000 early deaths each year in the UK (1), as it increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The biggest contributor to air pollution is road traffic, which also has negative effects on our health and wellbeing by reducing mobility and creating background noise pollution.
It is possible for the UK to achieve a 60% reduction in air pollution (2) by just focusing on how we travel. Specifically, we need to reduce our reliance on personal car travel as here in the UK, there is one car to every 2 people.
10 simple ways to reduce your air pollution:
There are a number of simple and easy ways to reduce the amount of air pollution you create as an individual.
1. Leave the car at home and walk or cycle more.
It is also beneficial to your health to walk or cycle more than you use the car or public transport. Cycling to work might lower your risk of cancer by 45% and your risk of cardiovascular disease by 46%. Studies have also shown that cyclists are exposed to less air pollution than drivers as they're moving through traffic faster, in fact drivers are exposed to a surprising 9 times more pollution when they're sitting inside the car in traffic!
2. Use public transport or car sharing to commute.
If you can't cycle or walk, consider changing your commute to public transport or car-sharing with a colleague. Any reduction in the number of cars on the road has a positive impact on air pollutions levels. The average number of passengers in a car is only 1.5 at the moment. This means that most cars are carrying less than half of their capacity. A standard 30 seater bus with standing room can replace as many as 20 to 25 cars from the road.
3. Switch to a renewable energy supplier.
Studies at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) show that if the majority of energy production was from solar or wind power, we could cut the harmful effects of air pollution by 80%.
4. Green up your space.
Whether it's indoors or outdoors plants help to reduce pollutants in the air. Carbon dioxide is of course needed for photosynthesis and the resulting waste product from the plant is oxygen. However, there is more to it as plants (houseplants too) take in other harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde, helping to make the air cleaner and safer to breathe.
5. Support Clean Air legislation, such as School Streets and Clean Air Zones.
The School Streets Initiative hopes to stop motor vehicles from coming close to schools and encouraging more children and parents to walk or cycle instead. By improving the air pollution around school, children have a better learning environment. Studies show that reducing air pollution levels by 20% could help increase a child's active memory by 6%, the equivalent of an extra month of learning in the year. (3)
Clean Air Zones charge a fee to drivers whose vehicles don't meet the environmental standards of that area. They were brought in to discourage traffic and in particular private vehicles in and around London. They are slowly being rolled out around the UK, with Birmingham starting the scheme this month too.
6. Don't let you car sit idle.
An idling car can produce twice as many fumes as a car in motion. Turning off the engine and then restarting it a few minutes later not only creates less pollution than letting it idle, but it uses less fuel too. It is an offence to let your car idle unnecessarily when stationary and could lead to a fixed penalty fee.
7. Reduce how much you burn at home.
Although only 8% of the population use wood burning stoves for heating, they account for a disproportionately large amount of particular matter pollution, three times that of transportation. There are no plans to ban wood burners, but on 1 May a ban on selling wet wood did come into force. If you're burning at home or in the garden, the best thing to do is to avoid burning any wet substrate, leaves or trash and to add a filter to your chimney.
8. Reduce the amount of animal produce you use.
Animal agriculture accounts for as much as 50% of air pollution, in particular methane and ammonia emissions. You may want to try going fully vegetarian or vegan, but even cutting down with Meat-Free Mondays will help to decrease the air pollution you're responsible for.
9. Avoid strong chemical use.
Chemicals are a big contributor to air pollution, almost as much as traffic. Paint, soaps and cleaners can release toxic petroleum-based compounds that contribute to lung damage. Choosing to only use natural cleaning products, and opting for paint that is low in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) will help improve the air quality in your home and reduce pollution in the atmosphere.
10. If you're already doing everything you can, tell the others!
It's great that you're doing as much as you can, but remember that it also important to be an ambassador for the earth and encourage others to start reducing their pollution in all areas. There are free resources on the Global Action Plan website to help individuals, businesses or schools to spread the word, or run events about air pollution and ways to reduce it.
Did I miss anything off of this list? If you think of any other ways that we can all be reducing our air pollution, drop me a message!
There is also an interesting resource for finding out if it's going to be a high air pollution day at DEFRA UK-Air, which will give you an air pollution forecast as well as previously measured levels for the UK - a useful place to go to if you have respiratory problems that are worsened by heavy pollution days.