by Deion Clifton
Reduce, reuse, recycle: the “three Rs” of waste management that we’ve all been taught are essential for the safety of our environment. These three Rs provide a plan of action that allows us to combat pollution by cutting back on the harmful materials that affect the ecosystem.
Pollution occurs when our natural environment cannot eliminate an element without damaging itself.2 The list of pollutants (toxic materials) is extensive but narrows down to three major types:
The World Health Organization defines air pollution as the “contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.”3 Air pollutants can be visible or invisible and natural or artificial. Natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions or wildfires project gases into the atmosphere, causing discoloration of the sky for days, weeks, or even months. Most causes of air pollution are not natural, however. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are today’s most significant pollutants.4
Poor air quality often results in poor health outcomes. Those most vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution are children, older adults, asthmatics, and those with weakened immune systems. Some respiratory impacts of air pollution include asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases. Additionally, potential cardiovascular effects include hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attack,
Like air pollution, water doesn’t always have to be opaque to be deemed polluted; clear water can be just as contaminated as murky waters.
Water pollutants can come from a point or dispersed source. Point sources are pipes or channels used to dispel waste. In contrast, dispersed sources are areas where contaminants can enter bodies of water in a broader manner, like farms producing agricultural runoff. Dispersed sources are more challenging to maintain than point sources and remain a significant factor in the increasing global water
Contamination reaches almost every water source we contact, including our lakes, rivers, reservoirs, groundwater, seas, and oceans. There are six types of water pollution: chemical, groundwater, microbiological, nutrient, oxygen depletion, and surface water.6 All these pollutants occur for different reasons, whether by human intervention or natural means, but they all cause harm to our ecosystems.
Land pollution occurs when land surfaces are contaminated with harmful materials, usually resulting from human actions. Some of the same things that pollute water also pollute the land. Most land pollution is due to the negligent behaviors of man, whether directly or indirectly.
Some of the most common causes of land pollution come from solid waste, agricultural chemicals, industry/energy/manufacturing/construction waste, mining, oil spills, ashes, natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.), and deforestation.7
Fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides are all chemicals used to produce crops. But just because the crops treated with these compounds are safe for consumption does not mean the compounds are safe for our environment. These chemicals infiltrate the soil and can sit there for years, causing the land to become polluted.7
With all the industry, transportation, and agriculture we rely on so heavily, it would be far-fetched to say that we can ultimately end pollution. However, we can decrease the pollutants we expose our environment to daily. It may seem like the little things we do will never make an impact. But environmental restoration takes time, so we must be committed to the change we want to see. Everybody has a role to play in cleaning up the ecosystem. Doing your part may not do much for our fight against pollution, but it’s better than doing nothing. So, using the three Rs of waste management, I’ve compiled 12 easy ways to live a more earth-conscious lifestyle.
1. Flip the Switch
Ensure the lights are off when you aren’t occupying a space in your house. You can even go as far as ensuring that no electricity flows through the room. Surge protectors are easy ways to control the electricity flowing through your space. The less energy you use, the fewer fossil fuels are needed to produce that energy.
2. Cool Things Down a Bit
Using cold water can help you save energy and money. The World Wildlife Fund, Inc. says it “can save up to 80 percent of the energy required to wash clothes.” Taking cold showers also produces mental health benefits, keeps money in your pocket, and reduces your carbon footprint.
3. Cut Down on Paper
Phones, tablets, and computers have made it easier than ever to leave paper in the past. Save paper (and trees) by switching to e-billing. Those hard-copy bills produce almost two million tons of CO2.
4. Go Together – Leave the Car at Home
We’re all going to the same place anyway! Why not catch a ride with a friend? Carpooling is an efficient way to keep your gas tank filled and your money in your pocket. Take advantage of public transportation or get some exercise by biking, scootering, or simply walking if you’re not traveling long distances, and even collect some sunlight while you’re at it.
5. Carry Your Own Shopping Bags
You probably already live in an area where reusable shopping bags are required, but if you don’t, take one with you when grocery shopping. If you do find yourself needing to grab a plastic bag, don’t just dispose of it when you get home; it can be repurposed as a small trash bag, a buffer for storing breakables, protection from frost for outdoor plants – the list goes on.
6. Pack Your Lunch
By packing your lunch in a reusable container, you’re reducing any packaging waste and saving money.
7. Stop Buying Packs of Water
Grab a reusable water bottle. Cleaning and reusing your water bottle helps to reduce plastic use and eventual plastic waste (the most harmful to our environment). The same thing applies to coffee cups and even straws.
8. Make the Swap
Swapping other disposable items, like razors, to-go food containers, cups, plates, and paper towels for reusable alternatives will help reduce the waste we make daily.
9. Save A Tree
Reduce your use of paper. Only print when necessary and use the scraps for notetaking. Remember to use the front and back of your sheets of paper as well.
10. Holy Clothes!
Find a hole in your sock, shirt, underwear, or pants? They’ll make for great washable, reusable rags! Whether you use them to wipe down your counters, dry your car, or scrub your shoes, old clothing helps to ensure you never have to purchase another rag from the store again. Old towels, sheets, and blankets can also be used for the same purpose or cut into strips, knotted (or braided), and POW! A brand-new toy for
11. Donate, Donate, Donate!
Some people are looking for the same items we’re trying to rid our homes of. Suppose you find yourself trying to declutter unused school supplies (such as notebooks, paper, pens, etc.) or old clothes. In that case, stores, schools, and community event operators will happily accept them (or even go as far as to pay you for them). For school items, consider donating to Back-to-School Bookbag Drives and schools. For articles of clothing, consider Goodwill, Salvation Army, Plato’s Closet, American Red Cross, local shelters, and more – just be
sure to wash these items
12. Start A Compost Bin
Put your food and vegetable scraps, yard trim, and coffee grounds back into the soil. Natural decomposition of biodegradable materials creates nutrient-rich soil or mulch that is great for gardening and the overall health of your lawn.