25 Tiny Everyday Changes You Can Make to Cut Back on Air Pollution
The air you breathe may be hazardous to your health. Try these simple ways to combat the air-pollution crisis and help turn things around.
Climate change has led to an uptick in air pollution around the world. As the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) reports, the two are closely related. Air pollutants from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, for example, exacerbate climate change, and climate change heats up the planet and exacerbates poor air quality. It’s no joke. Air pollution adversely affects our health (think: respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and lowered fertility in men) and leads to premature deaths—4 million a year from exposure to outdoor emissions alone. Instead of waiting around for global governments to make a change and require significant emissions cuts from polluting industries, here’s how you can take matters into your own hands.
Change your mode of transportation
Yes, you have to get to work, but you don’t necessarily need to drive your car there every day. Is it possible for you to take public transportation or ride with a colleague? The nonprofit What’s Your Impact reports that by carpooling twice a week, you can keep 1,600 pounds of greenhouse gases (GHGs) out of the air per year. And subways and metros produce about 76 percent fewer GHG emissions than single-passenger cars, according to the Federal Transit Administration. If you decide to walk or bike to work, this is the exact speed you should go to breathe in less air pollution.
Look for the Energy Star label when shopping
The Energy Star label conforms to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “significantly” reduce GHG emissions in various appliances for sale in the United States. When it’s time to replace your fridge, television, air conditioner, washer/dryer, light bulbs, or any of the numerous electronic gizmos around your home or office, the EPA recommends looking for this label and its accompanying rating.
Avoid products with VOCs
The glass and surface cleaners, dish soaps, paints, and glues you use to keep your house clean might be harmful to the environment—and your health. In fact, scientists believe that some of these products contribute to levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in the air and are comparable to those from vehicle exhaust pipes. The research maintains that such products “now contribute fully one-half of emitted VOCs in 33 industrialized cities,” and as a result, “efforts to mitigate ozone formation and toxic chemical burdens need to be adjusted.” Instead, choose greener, less potentially toxic products. For example, you can find low- or no-VOC primers and paints, cleaning products, and even shower curtains, to name a few. Be aware of these household items that are literally poisoning your air.
Keep your car in tip-top shape
According to the EPA, keeping your vehicle well-maintained can cut down on emissions. Make sure your car and boat engines get frequent tune-ups and keep tires properly inflated. “When tires are not inflated to the pounds per square inch (PSI) rating recommended by manufacturers, they are less ’round’ and require more energy to begin moving and to maintain speed,” reports ThoughtCo. And this, of course, contributes to air pollution.
Don’t turn on your car until you’re ready to go
One big way to get your vehicle to emit fewer GHGs? Stop idling, says the EPA. Idling cars and trucks cause unnecessary pollution and engine wear—which, in itself, also produces emissions. Idling school buses are even worse since they use diesel fuel and expose kids to noxious fumes. Don’t miss these 9 scary things air pollution does to your body.
Be a better driver
Yes, you read that right. It’s one of the smallest, sanest things that you can do to stop emitting so much fuel when you drive. How do you go about this, exactly? Don’t slam on the brakes and gun the gas pedal advises the EPA. Instead, try to maintain an even, steady speed. Your fellow drivers will also thank you for being a less erratic presence on the road.
Leave your car at home in bad weather
Is the weather awful, or is the air quality predicted to be worse than usual? Consider not driving at all. Every drive you take—no matter how gingerly you brake or how fuel efficiently you accelerate—contributes to GHG emissions. And in snowy climates, your snow tires actually lead to an increase in fuel consumption, according to a study published in the journal Progress in Energy and Combustion Science in 2016. Wondering how bad the air quality is where you live? These are the most (and least) polluted cities in the world.
Maximize your car’s potential
As it turns out, even driving on warm summer days can be worse for air pollution than you might think. That same study discovered that roof racks increase drag and, therefore, energy inefficiency. An easy fix: Pack all your gear inside your car for road trips. And air conditioning is also a big emitter, resulting in pollution increases of 5 to 10 percent. Instead, leave the windows open, or keep the ambient air in the car to less-than-glacial temperatures.
Go green in the garden
Your garden and lawn are two other prime spots for GHG emissions. As with your vehicles, the EPA recommends keeping the engines of your mowers and trimmers well-maintained. Better yet, cut down on the number of gas-powered tools you use, or eliminate them altogether. Try manual mowers, for example, or look for that Energy Star label on any new equipment you purchase.