This month marks World Environment Day 2019, a key event on the yearly calendar for anyone ecologically-inclined. (Which, for the record, should be all of us.) This year, the chosen theme is an important one—air pollution. According to the UN, “approximately 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution, with about 4 million of these deaths occurring in Asia-Pacific”. In fact, 92% of people worldwide don’t breathe clean air. The intention of drawing attention to this situation is, no doubt, to inspire governments, industries, and communities to commit to exploring renewable energy and green technologies that improve air quality around the world. But while it’s easy to think there’s nothing we can do as individuals to make a difference, that’s simply not true. In Australia, our air pollutants (which include gases, chemicals, and airborne particles) are mostly caused by vehicle emissions, industrial gases, and particulates (atmospheric aerosol particles that come from things like hairspray and dry shampoo). So, every time we get in the car to drive to work, switch on the heater or even apply deodorant, we’re making a choice that directly affects air pollution. We’ve pulled together a few easy guidelines you can follow to help reduce air pollution as soon as today. Because feeling empowered (and not overwhelmed) is the first step forward.
#1: Use Public Transport
A little obvious but still worthy of inclusion. Vehicle exhaust is a major source of air pollution in most densely populated areas, and we can all help by cutting down on the number of cars on the road. If you can choose to travel to work via bus, train, or bike, do so. Or, if your job allows for it, you might consider telecommuting. Choosing public transport over your car even one day a week will help to cut down on the exhaust chemicals in the air.
#2: If You Must, Carpool
If there’s no getting around your need to drive to wherever you’re going, think about ride sharing. Whether you’re traveling to a one-off event like a birthday, or just to work, asking other people who are going to the same place if they could use a lift (or give you one) can go some way towards reducing the number of vehicles on the road. This is an especially powerful move for places you go multiple times per week, like work or school dropoff.
#3: Conserve Energy
Saving maximum energy by making an effort to turn off things like the television, heater, and even the light switch when you leave a room helps to reduce air pollution by reducing emissions from coal-fired electricity plants. (Who knew?) When buying new or second-hand electrical appliances it’s also a good idea to check the energy rating label so you can choose something with as many stars as possible. (Because more stars = fewer emissions.)
#4: Save Up Your Dishes
For similar reasons to the above, try to only run your dishwasher (and washing machine for that matter) when full. Wasting a full cycle on a couple of glasses or a single item of clothing not only fritters away energy but water too. Even if it’s been a while since you last washed anything without the aid of a machine, it doesn’t take much effort or know how to clean a single plate by hand. As for your clothes? A quick wash in the shower can work a treat.
#5: Seal Household Cleaners
Common household cleaners and aerosol sprays (including deodorant) can contain pollutants called volatile organic compounds, which hang around in the air after the product has been used. To minimise V.O.Cs, seal containers to prevent evaporation. Also, consider making the switch to environmentally-friendly and non-aerosol products. Finally, never pour chemicals down the drain—they get washed into stormwater drains and end up in the air.
#6: Take Care at the Petrol Pump
This one may seem insignificant but spilling even a splash of gasoline when filling up your car (or petrol-powered equipment) can adversely affect air quality, so be careful. For bonus points ensure your car is well-maintained, and pay particular attention to changing out the oil and filters when recommended. Cars pump toxic vehicle exhaust into the atmosphere when they’re in tip-top condition, so when they’re not looked after? Things get worse.