A Climate Change with Matt Matern Climate Podcast


The Importance of Pollution Prevention and Ways You Can Make a Big Impact

pollution prevention

Do you remember that 90s cartoon, Captain Planet? If not, it was about five kids from across the globe trying to spread information about pollution prevention. 

The show wasn’t perfect. One issue was that the true hero was an all-powerful being who could reduce pollution by transforming into a tornado. He would then suck oil out of the ocean. No, we are not kidding. 

The unintentional takeaway was that humans can’t combat environmental pollution themselves. Captain Planet also tended towards high-handedness.

The show sometimes forgot that survival over conservationism was a severe concern for many people. Still, Captain Planet had an earnest message about climate change, how to stop pollution, and other serious topics. 

But we imagine you’d like a straightforward, less confusing way to learn about pollution prevention. Environmental discussions should be direct. The Captain Planet staff suffered limitations due to the children’s show format. 

Below is an extensive guide about what environmental pollution and pollution prevention are. We’ll discuss the various methods to reduce pollution so you can help the planet. Keep reading to learn more. 

What Is Environmental Pollution?

Environmental pollution is what its name suggests. This is when harmful substances – pollutants – enter the environment.

Pollutants have many sources; for example, volcanic ash, smog, salt spray, and radon are naturally occurring pollutants. Pollutants like trash, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide come from human activities. 

Types of Environmental Pollution

So pollution falls under two classifications: natural and man-made. But there are many ways these substances find their way into their surroundings. This is where we discuss types of environmental pollution. 

“But didn’t we explain pollution types earlier?” you may ask. Natural and man-made are source classifications. These are the origin points for where pollution comes from – the planet or people. 

Types of pollution explain how these materials enter their surroundings. Now that we’ve distinguished sources and types, here are the different pollution classifications:

  • Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution
  • Soil Pollution
  • Sound Pollution
  • Light Pollution
  • Thermal Pollution
  • Radioactive Pollution

Air Pollution

Air pollution is when dangerous impurities – like chemicals, gasses, biological molecules, and toxic particulates – discharge into Earth’s atmosphere. Coal factories are one such contributor to air pollution. 

Burning fossil fuels and mining operations are other culprits responsible for planetary air contamination. Different air pollutants have different effects, but here is what you can generally expect:

  • Increased risk for cancer
  • Increased risk for respiratory and cardiovascular complications
  • Increased risk of skin diseases
  • Ozone depletion
  • Acid rain
  • Global warming
  • Increased risk to wildlife

What makes air pollution so insidious is its reach is all-encompassing. The atmosphere is why life exists on Earth. When it suffers, so does everything on the planet. 

Water Pollution

Water pollution happens when toxins and other harmful substances enter lakes, rivers, seas, and oceans. Water contamination often occurs thanks to human activities. 

Eutrophication is a natural variation of water pollution. This happens when the body of water is oversaturated with nutrients and encourages the overgrowth of simple plant life. 

Simple plants, like plankton and algae, consume too much oxygen from the water. This depletion of oxygen in the water, leading to lower than normal levels, is known as hypoxia, and it makes waters unable to support fish or other more complex plant life.

Other forms of water pollution include: 

  • Human and animal wastes
  • Dumping solid wastes into water
  • Dumping untreated industrial sewage into water
  • Agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers

Water pollution is hazardous to people and animals because these particulates and toxic substances bioaccumulate. Bioaccumulation is when chemicals in a living organism accumulate faster than they’re excreted. 

We’ll discuss how water pollutants harm the environment later. For now, know that the effects are detrimental and widespread. 

Soil Pollution

Soil pollution, or soil deterioration, is damage done to the land by man-made chemicals and other substances. Xenobiotic materials degrade and alter the soil in various negative ways. 

Xenobiotic refers to non-native chemicals or particulates that enter ecological systems. These toxins act as hostile, secretive invaders with how they’re absorbed into plant life via the soil. 

Soil deterioration is less “flashy” than other types of pollution, but its effects are noticeable. Common causes of soil pollution include: 

  • Industrial accidents
  • Oil spills
  • Mining activities
  • Acid rain
  • Improper waste disposal
  • Aggressive farming and agrochemicals (like fertilizers or pesticides)

Sound Pollution

Sound, or noise pollution, is excessive noise that disrupts the natural surroundings. It’s usually man-made, but natural disasters can create immense sounds. 

For example, the loudest sound recorded in history is the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883. The sound is estimated to have reached 310 dB.

Krakatoa was so loud that the human ear couldn’t register the full depth of the sound. That 310 dB measurement was for the airwaves that circled the Earth. The loudest we can hear without harm is around 85 dB. 

Here are some common culprits of sound pollution: 

  • Construction noises
  • Traffic sounds
  • Industry noises (like mills and heavy machinery)
  • Household noises (like vacuums and blenders)
  • Social event sounds (like fireworks, large crowds, and loudspeakers)

The effects of noise pollution on people include:

  • Tinnitus
  • Hearing loss
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Communication issues
  • Hypertension 

Other Forms of Pollution

Here is a rundown of pollution types you may not know much about. For example, light pollution is excessive or improper use of artificial outside lighting.

It wreaks havoc on the circadian rhythm and inhibits celestial observation. Thermal pollution is when a natural water body’s temperature rapidly changes due to outside processes. 

Thermal pollution has natural and man-made causes. Volcanos, underwater vents, wildfires, power plants, and industrial processes increase water temperatures.

Rapid temperature changes may cause disease or death in native aquatic populations. Radioactive pollution is the most harmful and disastrous of pollution types.

Radioactive pollution is a physical hazard to living organisms (or the environment) due to ionizing radiation. This invisible destruction comes from radioactive elements like radium or plutonium. 

Ionizing radiation removes electrons from the atoms and molecules of things it passes through. Radioactive pollution is the most dangerous because these materials take enormous periods to stabilize into something safer.

If you found plutonium 240 in 2024, it would take 6,537 years to become half as radioactive. This partial weakening is a half-life. Half-life is how long it takes for an unstable element to lose 50% of its radioactivity. 

What Is Pollution Prevention?

Pollution prevention, or P2 and source prevention, is when you reduce or remove pollution before waste management. The idea is that instead of managing the issue, you eliminate (or mitigate) the pollution problem.

If we make less refuse and harmful substances, we can lower the negative effects on people, wildlife, and the environment. Pollution prevention is also cheaper than building waste management facilities. 

Why Pollution Prevention Matters

Pollution prevention matters because pollution affects everything on Earth. We can manage what we put in the environment, but dangerous materials that are already there can still cause great harm. 

Telling you that pollution is dangerous might not be as helpful as sharing specific examples. Below are three instances of how dangerous unchecked pollution can be. 

Climate Change and Global Warming

Our first example is the ongoing threat of climate change. Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. 

It was warmer during the age of dinosaurs, so we know temperatures have naturally fluctuated during the planet’s history. Volcanic eruptions or changes in the sun’s activity can also cause a changing climate. 

However, humans are affecting the climate faster than ever. Burning coal, gas, and oil releases greenhouse gasses into the air. These gasses cover the Earth and trap the sun’s heat. 

This planetary temperature increase is known as global warming. Specifically, carbon dioxide and other pollutants enter the air and absorb heat and solar radiation.

The planet is expected to reach a temperature of about 3°C (5.4°F) above preindustrial levels by the century’s end if greenhouse gasses don’t decrease. This may sound minor, but a steady increase in temperature may cause sea levels to rise. Coastal areas could see a reduction in landmass, dislocating millions.

People use “climate change” and “global warming” interchangeably, but there is a difference. The former is a natural process. The latter is a human invention, although global warming does cause climate change. 

How Pollution Affects Water

April 25, 2014, is the day that the water supply dilemma in Flint, Michigan, began. This was when the city changed its water supply source from Lake Huron to the Flint River

The river corroded the supply pipes due to its unusually high level of chloride ions. Treatment at the water plant also left the water with a too-low pH.

The pH should be at least 10 to maintain the protective layer on the supply pipes. Water from the plant had a pH of 7 to 8, which was too acidic to sustain the pipe’s protective barrier. Lead leached into the drinking water once the protective layer became sufficiently damaged.

The Flint River became so toxic in the first place due to years of unofficial waste disposal. Raw sewage and industrial runoff all found their way into the water. The layers of mismanagement led to years of health complications for the citizens of Flint.

Soil Erosion: What Is It?

Soil erosion occurs when land becomes loosened and moved from its original spot. One famous example of soil erosion was the 1930s Dust Bowl. 

The Dust Bowl is an example of good intentions gone wrong. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave settlers farming land, but many farmers weren’t well versed in the skill. 

They removed millions of acres of grassland and replaced it with domesticated crops. Over time, the soil grew weak and nutrient-poor. It had little stability and an underwhelming ability to grow anything. 

Removing the native grass meant nothing held the soil down. Overfarming ensured the land lost its ability to support crops. Swaths of topsoil got swept up in winds across farmlands and towns. 

Soil erosion is technically a variation of water pollution. Loose topsoil settles in waterways, clogging them, and reducing the population of fish and other species.

The problem is compounded if the soil contains pesticides and other pollutants. Eroded land also has issues holding onto water, which can worsen flooding. 

The Benefits of Pollution Prevention

Pollution prevention helps conserve natural resources so toxic substances won’t damage the air, water, and soil. Source prevention also helps conversation efforts. 

Source prevention involves lessening how much raw materials industries use to create goods and services. Using fewer resources means there is less energy wasted trying to process them.

Preventing waste production and trash accumulation increased landfill longevity. Landfill space is limited, and these designated dumping grounds contaminate groundwater and emit methane gas.

We can get more mileage out of the existing landfills by reducing how much hazardous materials and garbage we create.

Chemicals and particulates expose people to various health conditions. Children, pregnant women, and older adults are the most vulnerable.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions won’t reverse existing lung damage. But it can prevent others from suffering from cancer and respiratory complications.  

Pollution Prevention: How You Can Help

We’ve discussed what environmental pollution is and how it spreads. You now know what pollution prevention is and why it’s worth doing. But how do you actively prevent pollution? 

Some would say, “Don’t drive your car.” However, that might not be tenable for certain people. Many rely on cars and public transit to get to work.

Approximately 10% of Americans lived far enough away from their jobs that they drove an hour to and from work in 2019. That’s around 300,000 people from about 3 million people in the country.

Better advice would be to avoid idling your car when you’re not driving. Idling vehicles launch soot and other chemicals into the air. Of course, some people can avoid cars to reach their jobs.

Living near your job, for example, may make pollution-free transportation possible. Close enough commuters can bike or walk to work instead. Here are other tips to help you prevent pollution:

Use Recycled Water Car Wash Systems

Car washes use a lot of water to do their jobs. Many of these places dispose of it after use. You can avoid this wastefulness by using a car wash that filters and recycles or safely disposes of the wastewater. 

Don’t Litter

Rain, wind, and flowing water can deposit litter miles from where it began. Many animals either ingest trash or get tangled in it. The garbage blocks their airways or inhibits their movement. 

Tightly wrapped string or six-pack holders can cut into an animal’s flesh. Their open wounds create easy openings for infections. 

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk is divisive among people, but it does reduce packaging. The trick is to know what to purchase. Cleaning supplies are a perfect example of the right kind of bulk buy. 

Larger containers of laundry or dish detergent use less plastic and paper packaging. They also last longer, so you aren’t making repeat trips to the store whenever you run out. 

Personal care products like toilet tissue and toothbrushes are practical bulk purchases. They come in a single package and you can store them until needed. 

Use Natural Fiber Items

Natural fibers are more environmentally friendly than synthetics. They’re biodegradable, so they’ll break down within weeks of introduction to landfills. Synthetics like polyester can take centuries to degrade. 

Natural fiber goods don’t need as much water for processing and use fewer chemicals. The effort required to make them is less energy-intensive. These items create fewer greenhouse gasses as a result.

Buy Organic Cleaners

The average chemical cleaner on the market contains harmful substances like bleach and ammonia. Both emit VOCs or volatile chemical compounds, which can injure and harm. 

Bleach is a good disinfectant, but it either worsens asthma or causes it in people who have never had this chronic illness. 

Bleach is a skin and eye irritant and may even increase cancer risk if breathed in over long periods. It releases carcinogens in water and depletes the ozone.

Ammonia can damage the lungs, eyes, skin, throat, and mouth. Ammonia pollution weakens plants against frost, drought, and disease. It also directly toxifies leaves. Organic cleaners limit exposure and environmental damage.

Make Your Cleaning Products

Making natural cleaners is an alternative if you don’t want to buy them. Using less toxic materials reduces personal and environmental exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, borax, and baking soda are a few natural substitutes for harsh chemicals. Lemon and vinegar is a popular cleaning solution. 

Don’t Leave Defrosting Salt on the Ground

Salt works in a pinch to defrost sidewalks, steps, and driveways during those cold, snowy months. But it can find its way into local waterways and increase salinity. 

Too much salt can corrode pipes and become unsafe to drink. Throw salt on the ground if you must, but sweep up and reuse the excess.

Don’t Leave Pet Waste on the Ground

Letting your dog do number two without picking it up is rude and terrible for the environment. Dog poop can get swept into water bodies.

This is problematic because dog feces carry diseases that can contaminate water. Dog poop can also make water unattractive by encouraging algae growth.

Preexisting algae consume phosphorus and nitrogen inside the feces and multiply. The excess nutrients from canine poop comes from their dog food. This makes it less safe for water bodies than wild animal scat. 

Stop Using Pesticides on Your Lawn

Pesticides are toxic. They contain skin and eye irritants and carcinogens. The water runoff from your garden carries these substances to water ecosystems where they harm the wildlife.

The second problem with pesticides is that they’re non-specific. These chemicals don’t only work on the bugs you want to kill, but everything.

Bees and butterflies are vital to the pollination process. Unfortunately, they often suffer the effects of pesticides. 

Pesticides can harm your pets, and timing when to spray is complex. For example, you must spray in late winter or early spring to combat aphids. Missing your window can mean you’re killing off pollinators instead. 

You can opt for natural pest deterrents like garlic, vinegar, or diatomaceous earth.

Safely Dispose of Your Old Medication

Flushing old pills down the toilet introduces potentially harmful materials into drinking water and nearby aquatic habitats. The contaminants can endanger people, fish, and other animals. 

Ask your pharmacist if you’re unsure of how to dispose of your medicine. The local recycling coordinator should have an idea of where to dispose of pills. 

Conserve Electricity

Lights, appliances, and other electrical equipment waste electricity when on and not in use. Switch them off so they’re not using energy needlessly. Caulk cracks in windows and between walls so air and heat don’t escape. 

Sealing your home keeps your HVAC system from overworking and helps save power and money. Wash clothes with cold water. The detergent does most of the heavy lifting, so you usually won’t need hot water for laundry.

Extend Your Products’ Lifespan

Don’t throw away items and electronics that are still in good condition. If something is broken and repairs aren’t too troublesome, then take the time to fix it. 

One way to gauge if something is worth fixing is the”50% rule.” Fix the item if repairs are 50% or less than replacement. Get a new one if repairs cost more than a replacement.

The 50% rule isn’t perfect. Some items are hard, if not impossible to replace. How good the replacement object is also matters. Repairing the original might be worth the effort if it’s better. 

Buying refurbished or second-hand helps recycle old materials and can save money. Don’t let “used” labels fool you. Various used goods are either, “restored as new” or lightly used.  

Want to Know How to Reduce Pollution?

No real person can summon an all-powerful man tornado to clean a slick of oil. But cleaning up after your dog is an accessible method of pollution prevention.

Putting your candy wrapper in the nearest trash bin is a simple way to reduce pollution. The magic of how to stop pollution is caring to make small changes. 

Matt Matern’s “A Climate Change” podcast is a voice for the environment. If you find this article interesting, consider giving the podcast a listen. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and iHeart Radio. 


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