For World Environment Day, zero waste chef and author of ‘More Plants, Less Waste’ Max La Manna discusses some of the causes of air pollution and actions we can all take to help improve the quality of the air we breathe.
Today is World Environment Day, which this year is warning of the dangers of air pollution in a global call to action to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.
Air pollution is an issue that has been on my mind for quite some time. According to the World Health Organisation, 9 out of 10 people breathe polluted air. But it can feel like a complex issue that is mostly out of our hands as individuals. So how can we help to combat this problem?
We all contribute to air pollution in one form or another, and we can also all do our part to make the air we breathe a little less toxic. Knowing how this pollution is caused and what our own contribution to pollution is will help us to take active steps towards improving the quality of air around us.
The quality of the air we breathe is dependent on many variables, from the way we cook at home to the heating of our homes during the winter months and how we travel. Each day is an opportunity to re-think and adopt new changes to improve the quality of air for all.
Here are a few areas to focus on that will give you a closer look to the impact of air pollution.
95% of Londoners live in places with illegal levels of air pollution and more than 90% of children globally breathe toxic air everyday. This can have an alarming impact on our health, with the World Environment Day website stating that: “The global transport sector accounts for almost one-quarter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and this proportion is rising.”
Shockingly, “Air pollution emissions from transport have been linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths. Almost half of all deaths by air pollution from transport are caused by diesel emissions, while those living closest to major traffic arteries are up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.”
These are frightening statistics, so what can be done? Perhaps surprisingly, you are more exposed to air pollution in a car as it collects the toxic air by the surrounding cars. By taking a quieter walking or cycling route to work or school, you can cut your exposure to polluted air by 50%.
“Reducing vehicle emissions is an important intervention to improve air quality, especially in urban areas. Policies and standards that require the use of cleaner fuels and advanced vehicle emissions standards can reduce vehicle emissions by 90% or more,” say World Environment Day organisers.
We live in a world where if you’re fortunate and have the ability to, you can travel the globe and visit the most far away places, but rethinking how we travel can play a major part in reducing air pollution. Perhaps consider a staycation for your holiday, walk or ride a bike to work or school, or take public transportation to ease your impact on the environment.
According to the World Environment Day website, “The major sources of air pollution from agriculture include livestock, which produces methane and ammonia, rice paddies, which produce methane, and the burning of agricultural waste.
“Methane emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, which causes asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide – its impact is 34 times greater over a 100-year period. Around 24% of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide come from agriculture, forestry and other land-use.”
So how can we reduce air pollution from agriculture? Advice from the UN includes moving to a plant-based diet and reducing food waste at home, “while farmers can reduce methane from livestock by optimizing feed digestibility and improving grazing and grassland management.”
If you don’t want to fully embrace plant-based living, you can still have an impact by switching to eating more plants – adopting one or two plant-based days can make a huge difference. If you’re not sure where to start, get plant-based recipe inspiration here.
What we eat or don’t eat every day has an impact on our planet and those around us. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 30% of food produced for global consumption is wasted every year, contributing 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of its impact on global warming.
“Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and fine particulate matter like black carbon into the atmosphere. Globally, an estimated 40% of waste is openly burned,” says World Environment Day.
“Improving the collection, separation, and disposal of solid waste reduces the amount of waste that is burned or landfilled. Separating organic waste and turning it into compost or bioenergy improves soil fertility and provides an alternative energy source. Reducing the estimated one-third of all food that is lost or wasted can also improve air quality.”
At home there are lots of steps you can take to minimising your organic food waste, read my tips here and my recent article on how to compost at home and why it is important.
Here are some active steps you can take right now to improve the quality of air:
- Use public transport or car share whenever possible
- Cycle or walk where you need to go
- Switch to a hybrid or electric vehicle and request electric taxis
- Turn off the car engine when stationary and encourage others to do so too if you see them idling
- Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy to help cut methane emissions – eat more plants
- Compost organic food items and recycle non-organic trash to reduce waste sitting in landfill
- Take fewer flights and offset your CO2 emissions when you do fly
- Switch to high-efficiency home heating systems and equipment
- Save energy by turning off lights and electronics when not in use
- Choose non-toxic paints and furnishings for your home
- Did you know London’s 8 million trees help to filter harmful gases from the atmosphere? Spend more time outdoors in nature amongst the trees to breathe cleaner air
- If you can, plant more trees yourself or donate to an organization that does this already
- Fill your home with house plants – see our top 10 plants for cleaner air.
For more ideas on how to help the environment, see our 12 Ways to Love Our Planet.
Try Max’s 7 Day No Food Waste Challenge and read our guide to the complex world of recycling.