World Environment Day: Air Pollution and How You Can Beat it.

The 5th of June marks #WorldEnvironmentDay, join Worldwide Experience and the United Nations as we try #BeatAirPollution.

Did you know that nine out of ten people breathe polluted air?

Nobody is safe from this pollution, which comes from five main human sources. These sources spew out a range of substances including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and lead–all of which are harmful to human health.

1. Transport

The Union Cycliste Internationale (2019) states that global transport accounts for almost one-quarter of energy related carbon dioxide emissions and this proportion continues to rise. Air pollution emissions from transport have been linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths and almost half of all deaths by air pollution from transport is caused by diesel emissions and those living in close proximity to major traffic areas are up to 12 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

“Reducing vehicle emissions is an important intervention to improve air quality, especially in urban areas. Policies and standards that require the use of cleaner fuels and advanced vehicle emissions standards can reduce vehicle emissions by 90 percent or more” (Union Cycliste Internationale:2019).

2. Household

The main source of household air pollution according to InterPress Service (2019) is the burning of wood, fossil fuels and other biomass-based fuels indoors to cook, heat and light homes. Around 3.8 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution each year, the vast majority of them in the developing world.

3 billion people continue to use solid fuels and open fires for cooking, heating, and lighting. The adoption of cleaner, more modern stoves and fuels can reduce the risks of illness and save lives (InterPress Service: 2019) .

3. Industry

According to the UN Environment (2019), power generation is a leading source of air pollution in many countries with coal-burning power plants being a major contributor. Diesel generators continue to be a growing concern in off-grid areas and industrial processes in mining and chemical industries, also contribute to air pollution.

Currently, 82 countries out of 193 have incentivised investment in “renewable energy production, cleaner production, energy efficiency and pollution control”(UN Enivroment: 2019).

4. Agriculture

One of the major sources of air pollution from agriculture includes livestock, which produces ammonia and methane gases and rice paddies, which produces methane, and the burning of agricultural waste. Methane emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, which causes asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide – its impact is 34 times greater over a 100-year period. Around 24 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide come agriculture, forestry and other land-use.

There are many ways you can contribute to the reduction of air pollution from agriculture. You can move to a more plant-based diet and/or reduce food waste, while “farmers can reduce methane from livestock by optimizing feed digestibility and improving grazing and grassland management” (United Nations Enivronment: 2019).

5. Waste

According to the United Nations Environment:

Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and fine particulate matter like black carbon into the atmosphere. Globally, an estimated 40 percent of waste is openly burned. The problem is most severe in urbanizing regions and developing countries. Open burning of agricultural and municipal waste is practiced in 166 out of 193 countries.

Improving the collection, separation, and disposal of solid waste reduces the amount of waste that is burned or landfilled. Separating organic waste and turning it into compost or bioenergy improves soil fertility and provides an alternative energy source. Reducing the estimated one-third of all food that is lost or wasted can also improve air quality.

The United Nations along with Worldwide Experience challenge you to take up one of the following actions to #BeatAirPollution;

  • Use public transport or car sharing, cycle or walk
  • Switch to a hybrid or electric vehicle and request electric taxis
  • Turn off the car engine when stationary
  • Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy to help cut methane emissions
  • Compost organic food items and recycle non-organic trash
  • Switch to high-efficiency home heating systems and equipment
  • Save energy: turn off lights and electronics when not in use
  • Choose non-toxic paints and furnishings

Worldwide Experience helps offset your carbon footprint!

Travel footprints are often dominated by car use but just one long flight could cause air travel to be the largest part of your footprint. To give you an idea of the carbon footprint generated by our volunteers’ air travel, we have calculated that each volunteer would need to plant at least 6 trees to offset the carbon footprint generated from one trip. (This based on a return international flight between London and Johannesburg, South Africa).

Worldwide Experience pledges to plant a tree for every volunteer that travels with us every year.  You can also pledge to plant trees, or you are able to make a donation to our tree-planting charity partner, GreenPop, and  join the Treevolution!

Think you know how to reduce air pollution? Take the quiz below to see just how clued-up you are (check all boxes that you think are correct).


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By Bianca Eke, Conservation Experience Consultant for Worldwide Experience