The good news is that whether you live in the country, the city, or the suburbs, there are simple steps you can take in your everyday life to help improve air quality and reduce air pollution.
The sobering reality is that we need to start doing this now: An April 2022 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that “Almost the entire global population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits, and threatens their health.”
So, what is air pollution? Air pollution is the term given to the small particles, chemicals and gases that are released into the air. These air pollutants can have a harmful impact on the environment and our health if they are breathed in.
The Government of Canada cites that natural sources of air pollution include forest fires, volcanoes and emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation while human contributions to air pollution include activities that rely on carbon-based fuels. These activities include cars and transportation, and electric utilities. Other causes of air pollution include industrial processes like oil and gas production and products like paint and solvents.
As a big contributor to climate change, air pollution is damaging our planet. It’s important we all do our part in helping to improve the air we breathe. Pick a few of these ideas and let’s get started on making some small changes that lead to big impact.
In your home
Use less energy in your home. Generating electricity and other sources of energy creates air pollution — power plants burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. By reducing energy use, you can help improve air quality, curb greenhouse gas emissions, encourage energy independence and save money!
Choose efficient appliances and heating systems.
Get an energy audit and follow the advice. Inquire about alternative energy solutions like solar and wind.
Unplug the electrical gadgets you are not using, choose to let your hair air dry (over blow-drying), install low flow showerheads, use a surge protector for multiple appliances and turn it off when products are not in use. It all adds up.
Check your home for radon. Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that seeps into your house from the soil. Check with your local municipality to get a test kit.
Recycle paper, plastic, metals and organic materials. When you recycle, you are reducing the air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, which contribute to the largest amount of energy generated. Aluminum can be recycled using less than 5 percent of the energy used to make the original product. Recycling one aluminum beverage can save enough energy to run a computer for three hours or a TV for two hours.
Add houseplants. Many favourite and easy-to-grow plants remove harmful pollutants from the air and produce the oxygen we depend on.
When redecorating, use environmentally safe paints with no VOCs. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, which are odours emitted from chemicals. Many can be found in everyday products like paints.
Use environmentally friendly cleaning products whenever possible, better yet, make your own natural cleaning spray.
Support leaders who push for responsible action on climate change.
Embrace second-hand furniture to avoid off-gassing that comes from new chairs, couches and fixtures. It’s good for the environment, more cost-effective and provides peace of mind. What’s not to love?
Buy your food locally to cut down on the fossil fuels burned in trucking or flying food in from across the country.
Buy flowers locally for the same reason. Or, make a sustainable arrangement from local materials that you won’t throw away.
Outside in your yard and garage
Use a push mower when you can and choose sweeping over leaf blowing. Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment rather than gasoline-powered. Old two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often have no pollution control devices. They can pollute the air even more than cars, though engines sold since 2011 are cleaner. Better yet, chose a push mower when you can and choose sweeping over leaf blowing.
Plant and care for trees. Trees filter pollutants and absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also release oxygen into the atmosphere and help cool our homes. One large tree, like a maple or an oak, can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.
Mulch or compost leaves and yard waste. Composting prevents organic waste from releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in landfills
Think twice before you buy it: Many cleaners, paints and garden products emit smog-forming chemicals.
Don’t burn your garbage. Burning household waste is dangerous to your health and our environment as it produces soot. If you’re still using a burning drum, wood stove, or fire-pit for your trash, it’s time for a change.
When you travel
The first step is to ask yourself if you need to travel. Do you need to take that car, bus or plane trip? Fuel exhaust — generally anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gas, or natural gas — causes soot and smog, the two most prevalent types of air pollution.
Reduce car trips. Combine errands when possible and make it a walking, biking, transit or carpooling trip. Meet virtually when you can.
When shopping for a vehicle, pick a car that gets better kilometres per litre of gas, or choose an electric car.
Keep your car in good repair. Fix exhaust and oxygen sensor problems immediately.
Check tire pressure monthly. Fuel economy is reduced by 0.2 percent for every 1 pound per square inch (psi) your car is underinflated. Under-inflated tires cause drivers to use more gas because the car becomes difficult to accelerate.
When filling your car with gasoline, be careful not to spill fuel and always tighten the gas cap securely.
Turn off your engine. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions that contribute to smog and climate change than stopping and restarting your engine does.
Now that you know what to look for, every day you can integrate a few of these tips into your eco-friendly strategy. Getting started to reduce your family’s footprint on the environment, working towards sustainable practices and reducing costs takes one step at a time. Let’s get started now.
Jennifer Reynolds, our previous Editor-in-Chief, is a long-time authority in gardening, do-it-yourself projects, urban sustainability, parenting, placemaking and community matters. Her features and columns have been published in Canadian Living, Canadian Family, Gardening Life, House & Home, Globe & Mail, National Post, Toronto Star & more. Plus, her designs and expertise have been featured on dozens of HGTV, W Network and CTV shows.