During your school years, it’s likely at least one of your teachers taught you the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. All three are important to the creation of a sustainable human lifestyle.
As Earth’s population has become more urban and consumption increases, however, one of the Rs sometimes gets forgotten — the reduction of pollution at the source is even more important than recycling and reusing existing pollutants. Innovative pollution prevention is vital to a successful environmental effort.
The Power of Pollution Prevention (P2)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines pollution prevention as “any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source.” In fact, the EPA’s top priority, ranking over re-use and recycling in desirability:
That explains the order of the three Rs. But inverted pyramids and pneumonic devices aside, preventing pollution at the source is the best way to ensure a sustainable future. After all, pollution reduction is the only one of the three Rs that doesn’t assume the production of pollutants as a prerequisite.
Due to existing regulations, many businesses focus on re-using and recycling whenever possible, which is definitely important. But if you’re interested in preventing pollution directly, scientists and innovators around the world have got you covered.
Here are a few ways average citizens and business owners can reduce pollution now and in the future.
Preventing Pollution on Land
Re-use and recycling of waste tends to work toward resolving terrestrial pollution problems, such as the overfilling of landfills and the littering of natural environments. However, it is also possible to prevent land pollution before it enters the environment.
Here are three ways innovative citizens and scientists work to keep waste out of the environment.
1) By Using Biodegradable Plastics
If you’ve walked around practically anywhere, you’ve probably seen litter floating around on sidewalks or roadsides. Of the garbage we produce, plastics are the most insidious.
The types of plastics we typically encounter are not easily broken down in the environment, and some can’t be recycled, leading to an overwhelming accumulation of plastics in landfills. If nothing changes, one study estimates, landfills will house 12 billion metric tons of plastics by 2050.
Biodegradable plastics offer one solution to this problem. These plastics can be naturally broken down in the environment, more like garden or food waste. Some scientists use food waste to create biodegradable plastic which could be used to package food and household products in the future.
If you want to reduce land pollution by buying biodegradable plastics, check that it’s actually biodegradable. Some supposedly biodegradable plastics still take significant amounts of time to decompose. Aim for plastics you can compost normally.
2) By Converting Waste Products Into Fuel
Like most plastics, Styrofoam, or polystyrene, isn’t biodegradable, and it isn’t recyclable either. This means that those packing peanuts and disposable coffee cups end up in landfills. However, one group of middle school students aimed to change that.
In 2016, students from a school in Folsom, California built a contraption capable of digesting Styrofoam and converting it into energy and biodegradable plastic. Their invention, called the “Polystyrenator,” uses bacteria to turn Styrofoam trash into treasure.
Inventions like the Polystyrenator could help future humans deal with existing pollutants and buy current humans time to transition away from the use of non-biodegradable products while keeping new waste out of landfills.
3) By Limiting Product Consumption
Not all of us can invent microbial pollution-eating machines. And that’s fine. But what all of us can do is reduce the amount of disposable, non-biodegradable products we purchase.
The Zero Waste movement has gained momentum in recent years, though you don’t have to be extreme to make a difference. Limit buying to the essentials and choose quality over quantity. Reducing the demand for disposable products can lead to reduced production and pollution.
Preventing Water Pollution
People and other living beings rely heavily on water to live — so, it is essential that we keep our water sources clean. Here are a few ways people keep pollution out of their water.
1) By Planting Trees in Urban Areas
In areas with little vegetation and high volumes of chemical pollutants, planting trees can keep water clean. Trees and other vegetation can prevent rainwater from carrying harmful pollutants such as oil, fertilizers and pesticides to water sources.
Plus, sturdy plants suck up rainwater and absorb nutrients during the process. This means healthier trees, healthier waterways and healthier people.
2) By Using Natural Drain-Clearing Alternatives
Nothing you dump down the drain disappears. To keep waterways clean, think about what you dump before you dump it. Avoid draining oils and chemicals down the sink and collect cooking fat to dispose with solid waste.
In the case of a clogged drain, many people turn to store-bought drain-clearing products containing harmful chemicals, but a natural alternative works just as well.
Preventing Air Pollution
Air pollution is a big problem around the world, especially in industrialized nations. Due to air pollution’s health hazards, it’s in everyone’s best interests to prevent it.
Here are a few ways people work to prevent air pollution.
1) By Embracing Sustainable Energy
Air pollution is a public health menace in China, killing approximately 1.1 million people every year. To tackle this problem the Chinese government invests heavily in renewable wind and solar energy.
Though China has a long way to go, embracing renewable energy sources keeps dangerous pollutants out of the air and helps reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Renewable energy sources will be important players in a sustainable future.
2) By Turning Air Pollution Into Stuff
Some people keep air pollution out of peoples’ lungs by capturing emissions and turning them into tangible objects before they escape into the air. Chinese and Dutch innovators have turned pollution into bricks and jewelry, and one man from India has a plan to turn car emissions into printer ink.
Though these solutions don’t reduce the number of fossil fuels burned, they do alter what we do with emissions, allowing people to reduce emissions while we work toward a completely clean-energy future.
A Clean Future?
As a species, we are nowhere near ending pollution. However, innovators around the world are coming up with cool ways to get us closer to that vision. Average people, too, can contribute to pollution prevention in their lives and communities.
Preventing land, water and air pollution, in addition to recycling and re-use efforts is the best way to ensure a clean and healthy future for our planet and ourselves.