Fewer cars and less waste for World Environment Day

Fewer cars and less waste for World Environment Day

May 30, 2019

Fewer cars and less waste for World Environment Day

Celebrated on June 5, this year the anniversary aims to draw attention to air pollution, which is caused by various habits that can also be changed by all of us as individuals

Nine out of ten people worldwide breathe polluted air, a risk factor that causes 7 million premature deaths every year. These are the figures published by the United Nations Environment Programme on the occasion of World Environment Day, which has been celebrated on June 5 every year since 1972.

Air pollution is largely caused by man’s activities, except for a small percentage that is of natural origin (i.e. volcanic eruptions, dust storms and other phenomena). For this reason, the theme of the 2019 edition of World Environment Day is precisely the fight against air pollution: however, there are different types of air pollution. By being aware of its characteristics and specific features, as well as how it affects the environment and our health, we are able to understand what measures we can take to help improve air quality. We can all do our part, and celebrating World Environment Day can be an opportunity to bring about virtuous behaviour.

Domestic pollution

The main source of domestic pollution is fossil fuel combustion, which is essential for cooking, heating and for lighting in our homes. Each year, approximately 3.8 million premature deaths (most of which concern developing countries) are caused by domestic pollution. How can we reduce it? First of all, by saving energy every day with a few small tricks: for example, we can simply turn off the light when we leave a room and make sure not to leave the TV and computer on standby (with the red light on). In addition, we can replace old light bulbs with energy-saving ones and, if possible, we can install solar panels. Above all, we should reduce the use of air conditioning and heating, trying not to exceed 21 °C. If we are renovating our house, we should consider replacing existing windows with double-glazed windows, to ensure maximum insulation and heat retention, and to minimize waste. Another useful piece of advice is, when deciding which new household appliance to purchase, to check the label that indicates the energy efficiency class, so as to have save on electricity bills in the long term as well.

The role of industry

Power plants, industrial processes and the use of solvents in the chemical and mining industries are just a few examples of how industry as a whole contributes to air pollution. According to the United Nations, today 82 out of 193 countries have incentives to promote investment in renewable energy production and air pollution control. In this case, the involvement of individuals is naturally limited in relation to other contexts: collectively speaking, instead, political decision-makers have the task of encouraging virtuous behaviour while ensuring compliance with the relevant regulations.

What are we to do?

The transport sector accounts for almost a quarter of CO2 emissions and, as a result, has a major impact on air pollution. It is estimated that this sector is responsible for 400,000 premature deaths, half of which are due to diesel emissions. Living close to a busy area exposes people to a high risk, therefore reducing vehicle emissions is a key step towards improving the quality of air and life for everyone. We can all play a part by trying to use our car less and by using public transport, bicycles or carsharing and carpooling services and, of course, walking whenever possible. Although having our own car is a must, we should prefer an electric or hybrid car. Moreover, to help reduce emissions, it is best to switch the engine off when the car is stopped, which is what some recent car models do automatically, switching the engine off when we stop at a traffic light. 

The role of agriculture

There are two main sources of agricultural air pollution: livestock, which produces ammonia and methane (its environmental impact is 34 times greater in a period of 100 years than the impact of CO2) and the combustion of agricultural waste. There are many ways to reduce air pollution from this source. One of them is actually our diet: in fact, to help reduce emissions, it is simply sufficient to reduce food waste and switch to a diet that is low on dairy products and meat. Breeders can also reduce the methane produced by livestock, optimizing feed digestibility and improving pasture management. 

Waste management

The United Nations estimates that 40% of waste is burned in the open air, thus releasing harmful gases into the environment, especially in developing areas, even though waste incineration is a common practise in 166 out of 193 countries. In order to reduce air pollution, we must try to reduce waste by improving separate waste collection and waste disposal, as well as trying to transform as much waste as possible into reusable compost.

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