Air pollution is a growing environmental and health issue in many countries across the world. In 2012 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that seven million people died as a result of air pollution exposure and it is almost certain that this figure has continued to rise.
In developed countries it is estimated that traffic pollution is related to 1/5 of deaths and worldwide to 1/20. This has led to some drastic measures in some countries to try and reduce levels, including:
- In Mexico City all cars have to remain idle for one day a week and one Sunday a month until the end of June 2016.
- Both Milan and Rome put restrictions on car use as a result of rising smog levels in 2015.
- Earlier this year in Delhi, cars were banned on alternate days according to whether they had an odd or even licence plate.
In the UK, the campaign group Healthy Air reports that air pollution is linked to around 29,000 premature deaths each year and is responsible for reducing life expectancy by up to eleven years. Much of the air pollution in the UK is attributed to road traffic, particularly from diesel fumes. These fumes contain Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) which is associated with respiratory conditions and is extremely harmful to health. A link has also been found between the use of fertiliser and increased pollution levels, as the ammonia in the fertiliser reacts with traffic fumes to form soot particles.
In fact air pollution levels in the UK are so bad that in 2011 the environmental law NGO ClientEarth took the government to court over their failure to achieve safe levels. The case finished in 2015 with the Supreme Court backing ClientEarth and ordering the government to deliver more effective plans to reduce levels of air pollution.
In London, where many streets exceeded the annual target for pollution levels in January, there are plans to introduce a new Ultra Low Emissions Zone in the coming years. This builds upon the existing Low Emissions Zone by:
- Setting new exhaust emissions standards and a daily non-compliance charge for vehicles from September 2020.
- Ensuring all taxis and private hire vehicles will have zero emissions by 2018.
- Ensuring all double deck buses will have hybrid engines and all single deck buses will have zero emissions by 2020.
These standards will operate in the same area as the current Congestion Charging Zone. Clean Air Zones are also planned for Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. These zones will not affect private vehicles but will instead discourage old or diesel powered buses, coaches and lorries from entering parts of the city.
Campaigners say that there is still not enough being done, as targets are still not being met and there is little focus on agricultural or industrial pollutants. There are even reports from Mexico City and Delhi that since the introduction of the restrictions, the production of fake licence plates has dramatically increased!
Clearly a lot of work is needed to reduce air pollution levels, especially as our understanding of the associated health impacts is still growing. Daily air pollution levels and forecasts are available at http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/ and there are several apps for phones, such as Plume (https://plumelabs.com/) for real time data.
Healthy Air: http://www.healthyair.org.uk/the-problem/
Food waste is becoming a growing issue in the UK. The charity WRAP estimates that 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year. While only 1% is estimated to come from supermarkets, there has been lots of media focus on supermarket waste in recent months.
In January Asda started selling ‘Wonky Vegetable’ boxes in order to help reduce the amount of waste they produced. The boxes include seasonal vegetables that are misshapen or are a different size than average, and cost just £3.50. So far this seems very successful with many of the 128 stores taking part reporting selling out of the boxes very quickly.
Following on from this, Tesco has also recently announced that they will start selling “Perfectly Imperfect” vegetables in 200 stores. Tesco has also announced that they are extending their partnership with Fareshare, a food distribution charity, who work with community groups and charities to provide meals to vulnerable people, including the homeless, elderly and children.
While these schemes look positive in terms of reducing waste, there have been some criticisms over the high standards fruit and vegetables are held to in the first place. It is also worth remembering that a high proportion of food waste is created from households (for more tips on reducing your own food waste check out this previous blog post).
The term ‘circular economy’ has become popular in recent years in discussions about recycling and waste reduction, but what does it actually mean? The charity WRAP defines a circular economy as a system “where we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use and regenerate products at the end of the resources life”. In more simple terms this means using items for as long as possible and recycling or reusing them, rather than just throwing them away.
One easy way to contribute to a circular economy is to donate and buy clothes from charity shops. This keeps clothes out of landfill, where approximately 350,000 tonnes are sent every year, as well as helping charitable causes.
Recycling everyday items also help to contribute to a circular economy, especially in the case of tin cans. Recycling aluminium can happen time and time again without any loss of quality. As a bonus, creating a can from recycled materials only uses 5% of the energy needed to create one from scratch.
There are many other ways to help develop a circular economy, from simple ways like using scrap paper, to the more entrepreneurial like using coffee grounds to heat your home (more details here http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/14/the-innovators-how-your-coffee-can-light-up-your-barbecue-and-boiler).
Please leave a comment or Tweet us @ACEnvironment with more ideas about contributing to a circular economy.
The UK government is aiming to have all schools classed as ‘sustainable schools’ by 2020, meaning that through lessons and day-to-day school life pupils are engaged with the environment and sustainability. Individual schools are responsible for the ways in which they achieve this, but help from local councils or other organisations is sometimes available.
Several London councils, including Croydon, Richmond and Sutton, are encouraging schools to join the Eco-Schools programme, which is an international award programme that helps schools embed sustainability into many aspects of school life. They provide resources and advice on how a school can become more sustainable and recognise improvements through a series of awards. Many councils also offer free recycling collection, helping schools to increase their recycling rates and engage pupils with recycling.
Beyond the economic and environmental benefits of becoming more sustainable, studies conducted by Ofsted have even shown a link between schools promoting sustainability and pupils getting better marks and becoming more engaged across many lessons.
The UK government has written a list of tips to make schools more sustainable, which is available here: