TACKLING WORLD POLLUTION: HOW A SINGLE PERSON ​COULD BRING ABOUT CHANGE

Barbora Komoňová

HOW BIG IS THIS PROBLEM? DO WE REALIZE IT?

Humanity is losing the battle for clean air and water. Indeed, more than a billion people live in communities that do not meet World Health Organization air quality standards.[1]It should be noted that pollution is spreading worldwide and it kills plants, crops, forests, aquatic ecosystems… But not only these are harmed by human negligence. Do humans realize to what extent they are hurting themselves? 


Without a doubt they do: we hear about this every day. There are many articles in newspapers, on social media (e. g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) with terrifying headlines and pictures. But I would argue that the intent of the people promoting ecology and a zero-waste lifestyle is not to scare the public. Clearly, there really is a huge problem that not everyone is aware of. Or worse, people know how serious the situation is, but they just do not care. 

The evidence shows that vulnerable people are most at risk. Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London have found that children who walk to school and play in the playground with other children are regularly exposed to higher levels of pollution. This exposure has effects which are more serious for the children than for their parents/adults. The study was made in the UK, but it could be applied worldwide.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, 17 million babies around the world are breathing toxic air, mostly in urban areas. 6.5 million premature deaths in 2016 were linked to air pollution, with 94 percent of the dead from low and middle-income countries.[2]Is the reality scary enough?

HOW ARE BIG CITIES TACKLING POLLUTION?

To look on the bright side, many individuals and organizations are trying to make people understand the facts and are helping to promote sustainable living. Many big cities are taking action against the destruction of the world by humans. Firstly, for instance, in the Netherlands, the Parliament is trying to pass a bill banning the sale of all petrol and diesel cars from 2025. They are planning to allow electric and hydrogen vehicles only. As the Netherlands is quite famous for its bikes, most cities have their own cyclo infrastructure. 

Similarly, Helsinki is trying to reduce drastically the number of cars in its streets. Plus, it is supporting public transport with huge funds. The Finnish government is also planning to impose higher parking fees, which should deter people from entering the city in their vehicles. 

Bearing in mind that of the 20 most polluted cities in the world 18 are in India, India is playing its role in tackling world pollution just as many other countries are.[3]The capital Delhi has banned all new large diesel cars and SUVs with engines of more than 2,000 cc. The city is now working on a better infrastructure for public transport. According to Greenpeace, the world’s most polluted city is Gurgaon, a suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi.[4]The air quality in this city is ranked as very low, while noise, light pollution and water pollution are classified as very high.[5]

INDIVIDUALS HELPING?

I still remember the first line of a report I saw on television: “Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the ocean and we have a solution.” These words held my attention instantly. The report was about a giant ocean clean-up which was about to be tested in the Pacific Ocean.[6]Its mission was to help reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located between Hawaii and California.[7]The idea of the Clean Up came from a paper by a 16-year-old boy called Boyan Slat, in 2013.[8]Furthermore, many observational surveys for protected species and marine life in general have already been conducted. The Clean Up is bringing its first results. If one boy can make such a change, we might wonder how visible and considerable would be the results if more individuals started to do (or maybe stopped doing?) at least some little things?

BUT SHOULD WE CHANGE IN OUR EVERYDAY LIVES TO HELP THE WORLD TO BE “HEALTHY”?

To be honest, I used to be careless of the environment as well. Every day I bought drinks in plastic bottles. I never took my own bag to a shop, nor did I sort waste. My attitude changed when I went to university and started to live with friends who were more eco-friendly than I was. To give an illustration, my two roommates were always washing yogurt pots and tuna cans, and when they dried, they sorted them. I have to admit I found this behaviour crazy at first. But then I started doing it, too. 

One day I found an application on AppStore which is called “Czech Zero Waste”. I downloaded it and it got my sympathy instantly. I learned that “Czech Zero Waste” is a blog dedicated to life without waste, led by two likable young ladies. These ladies made the App[9]to support a zero-waste lifestyle in the Czech Republic. This app provides its users with everyday tasks one has to complete to get to the next round. Sometimes it is quite challenging, but it motivates the user to go on and get to the last level, which is the 40thday. The tasks are connected to reducing waste, e. g. “Take one thing from your bin and destroy it.”Then the user has to go and record a video or take a picture to finish the task. For someone who likes games and playing, this has to be quite a rewarding way of combining the pleasant with the useful. 

6 SIMPLE WAYS TO HELP THE ENVIRONMENT

  1. Use reusable bags – As I mentioned above, I used to go shopping without my own bag; every time I took or bought new plastic ones. This approach is very wrong![10]I still remember the time when there were free plastic bags in every larger chain store and everyone could take as many as he or she wanted. Thrown-out plastic bags can suffocate animals, who may mistake them for food. It also takes a while for the bags to decompose. If you still have plastic bags at home, do not throw them away and reuse them as many times as possible.
  • Use reusable beverage containers 
  • Use reusable bottles for your drinks –You can always refill your bottle with water at school. Nowadays you can choose your bottle – colourful, black, small, big, as you wishOr you can test your creativity and decorate it yourself.
  • Save water and electricity
  • Use public transport – Try to avoid going by taxi or your own car, if you have one. Going to the bus stop, changing trams and catching trains can be a great workout for you as well!
  • Sort Waste[11]– Start with small steps. You could start by sorting paper, then add more and more materials. It sure needs some knowledge to be able to sort correctly. But it is definitely worth it!

[1]Worldwatch Institute Publishers. “Air Pollution Now Threatening Health Worldwide”, www.worldwatch.org/air-pollution-now-threatening-health-worldwide. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019

[2]UN Environment. “Young and old, air pollution affects the most vulnerable”, www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/blogpost/young-and-old-air-pollution-affects-most-vulnerable. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.

[3]Green Peace International. “Latest air pollution data ranks world’s cities worst to best,” www.greenpeace.org/international/press-release/21193/latest-air-pollution-data-ranks-worlds-cities-worst-to-best/. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019

[5]Numbeo. “Pollution in Gurgaon, India”, www.numbeo.com/pollution/in/Gurgaon. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019

[6]https://www.lidovky.cz/relax/veda/do-ticheho-oceanu-vyplul-system-na-sber-plastoveho-odpadu.A180909_114610_ln_veda_krku

[7]https://www.theoceancleanup.com/

[8]https://www.theoceancleanup.com/milestones/how-it-all-began/

[9]https://vyzva.czechzerowaste.cz/

[10]http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx

 California was the first state to officialy enact the so-called Plastic and Paper Bags Legislation in 2014.

[11]https://believe.earth/en/13-tips-on-sorting-waste/