Toxic Cities: How Every Citizen Can Be A Pollution Fighter
The challenge of environmental pollution can seem overwhelming, and not something that we, as individual citizens can ever hope to tackle at an individual level. But it isn’t just the authorities, the citizens of a city also can play an important role in working towards cleaner surroundings and reduce pollution. All it takes is awareness, a little determination and some simple steps to be advocates for implementing environment friendly measures in one’s own lives and homes, as well as in the community and neighborhood.
Of course, these are steps that the urban middle class will have the privilege of choice to adopt, the daily wager will have to walk or cycle to work out of compulsion, and the house without an LPG connection will contribute to air pollution by using a wood stove, because it cannot afford one or has no access to it. These are issues that need to be tackled at the broader level of economic policy and income disparity. Nonetheless, whatever one can do one must.
All it takes is awareness, a little determination and some simple steps to be advocates for implementing environment friendly measures in one’s own lives and homes, as well as in the community and neighborhood.
So here’s a compilation of what you can do, as an individual, as a family, as a community, to tackle pollution and make an impact, no matter how small.
- Conserve energy: Switch off appliances and lights when not needed. Make a conscious shift to energy efficient lights and appliances in your house. Opt for LED lighting, it will reduce your power consumption. Turn off lights in rooms which are unoccupied, you could use a motion sensor to do this efficiently if you wish. Set the temperature of your air conditioner to 22-24 degrees Celsius for optimal usage rather than at 18-19 degrees Celsius. You can also opt to install solar panels on your premises for additional electricity generation. It might not seem like much, but you could do your mite to reduce dependence on coal-based thermal power plants which contribute to environmental pollution. Surge protectors are a good idea to save energy. If the temperature outside isn’t unbearably hot opt for the fan instead of the AC. During winter, extra blankets might be a better idea instead of a heater when possible. A charger and rechargeable batteries can always help in sustainability. Check the products and appliances you buy for energy efficiency. Appliances in India have a BEE star energy rating that has a number of stars with an estimated power consumption of the appliance in a year that it is expected to consume. If possible, get an energy audit done in your home to check how efficiently your home uses energy and make the recommended changes to plug any gaps and leakages. Check every room for the appliances, gadgets, and lighting being used. Use a shorter wash time with your washing machine, use the dryer minimally. Cold water wash also conserves energy. Switch off gadgets when not being used. Plasma televisions consume five times the energy than refrigerators. Don’t keep chargers plugged in. Switch to battery operated clocks over electrical clocks. Switch off computers, printers, scanners, etc when not in use. Use cold water instead of hot, for both bathing and laundry.
If possible, get an energy audit done in your home to check how efficiently your home uses energy and make the recommended changes to plug any gaps and leakages.
- Reduce dependence on your car: Walk or cycle short distances rather than take the car out. Increasing the amount you walk or cycle every day can only improve your fitness levels, and you can combine these with your errands and grocery shopping in the immediate neighborhood. Do make sure to time these when levels of pollution aren’t peaking in the day. Our cities, sadly, aren’t very friendly towards pedestrians and cyclists, but hopefully, more people opting to cycle, there might be pressure on the authorities to seriously consider cycling lanes. Right now, all the roads are geared primarily to cater to the car driver given the number of cars increasing on the roads. Cities like Amsterdam which have a healthy cycling culture, have enough provisions in road planning for safe cycling lanes to encourage cycling amongst both adults and children. Opt for carpooling to office, to drop the kids to school. If office goers and school children look at carpooling as an option whenever possible, it does at the very basic get more cars off the road which can only help the levels of emission being released into the air. When you do take your car out, maximize all errands and chores that need to be done so you don’t need to make multiple trips. Use public transport where accessible, possible and convenient. If public transport is accessible and convenient, use it and encourage your family and acquaintances to use it too. In cities like Delhi, the introduction of the Metro services has greatly enhanced the convenience of travel. If you cannot carpool and must take your own vehicle out make sure your vehicle is serviced regularly so that it minimizes exhaust fumes. If you can switch to an electric vehicle. Opt for a CNG car over a petrol or diesel car, or better still an electric /hybrid car. While bigger cars are more prestigious, smaller cars are more fuel efficient. Don’t let your engine idle at traffic signals. Instead, switch it off and restart it later to save fuel and improve the efficiency of your engine.
If office goers and school children look at carpooling as an option whenever possible, it does at the very basic get more cars off the road which can only help the levels of emission being released into the air.
- If you are fond of gardening, you can be a conscious gardener too: Install a composting facility rather than burning up fallen leaves and trimmed branches. Choose non-toxic, organic fertilizers. Be aware of the pesticides you use, if possible use non-toxic alternatives or choose plants that are hardy and pest resistant. Know how much water your plants will consume. Plan your landscaping so that you choose plants that don’t need too much water to thrive. Don’t burn your waste. While we don’t have waste burning as a form of waste disposal, one of the major causes of the terrible AQI in the NCR region is due to stubble burning. Waste burning is a primary cause of the release of carcinogens and pollutants in the air. Often residential areas burn waste, as well as landfills. Avoid burning your yard waste; instead, dispose of these according to municipal guidelines. If you have space you could also look at composting as a viable, eco-friendly alternative. Wet, organic waste can always be efficiently composted and used in gardens and pots as very good organic fertilizer. There are many online websites and organizations that have instructions on composting and mulching your waste to make organic fertilizers.
- Be careful of how you consume water: Turn the tap off while brushing or shaving, use a mug. Fix all leaking pipes and taps, and install a low flow shower head to reduce the amount of water used during a shower. Use environment-friendly detergents and shampoos, etc. Use water-based or solvent free paints. If you’re using materials that have a lot of chemicals and smell strongly, consider using them outside and/or not using them at all. There are natural options for cleaning you can explore, like vinegar, lime juice and bicarbonate of soda which can be used instead of chemical products in most cases.
- Increase the level of greenery in your home and surroundings: If you have space and a garden in your area of residence, look at planting more trees. Planting more trees leads to cleaner air, more shade and thus lowers the temperature of the surroundings. They also prevent dust from settling in the surroundings and reduce particulate pollution. A simple thing like planting hedges along the roads can reduce pollution by a substantial amount. If you don’t have enough ground space, you could always explore vertical gardens, green facades and green walls as an option. Living green walls are growing increasingly popular and proving easy to maintain and install these days. Apart from the therapeutic visual effect of green walls, they all maintain air quality, reduce heat levels and provide an extra layer of insulation.
Wet, organic waste can always be efficiently composted and used in gardens and pots as very good organic fertilizer. There are many online websites and organizations that have instructions on composting and mulching your waste to make organic fertilizers.
- Be a conscious consumer: Choose products that are organic over the non-organic alternative. Always carry a spare bag with you in case you need to carry any goods, instead of getting a plastic bag from the store. Ensure the products you buy come with minimal packaging. Choose cleaners that are less toxic or green. Choose to recycle or upcycle stuff you already own rather than purchase mindlessly and be a conscientious, minimal consumer. Recycle and reuse as much as possible and buy recycled products as far as possible, or products that can be recycled and have the recyclable logo.
- Eco-friendly Workplaces: At work, you could ask your employer for a couple of days of work from home options to reduce the pollution caused by your commute. The wonders of modern technology with the internet and online conferencing allows you to work remotely with no inconvenience. Chintan.org has come out with a manual for office goers with simple steps you can take to conserve through small changes in the office. For instance, they advocate unlined paper envelopes, metallic clips, cardboard files or going digital instead of plastic files and reusing becoming the norm, as well as refillable pens instead of single-use pens. They recommend switching to tea powder rather than tea bags as tea bags are not fully biodegradable, using a French press instead of a coffee machine and encouraging people to bring their own steel water bottles instead of plastic disposable bottles. They eschew the use of disposable cutlery, crockery, and plates, and encourage the use of regular plates and cutlery, creating a cutlery and crockery bank in the office. They recommend doing away with plastic dustbins and replacing them with steel, and plastic straws with steel or paper straws. Instead of single-use sachets of condiments, the manual recommends bottles of the same to be kept in the pantry. Another suggestion in the manual is to set up a composting unit, which could then provide fertilizer to the office plants. For office celebrations, they suggest paper decorations and doing away with the floral bouquets and decorations. Other tips you could incorporate are using double-sided setting while printing, turn off all electronics and equipment at the end of the day, turning off the lights when a room is not being used at work, reducing lighting and looking at options to bring in natural light, and setting up a green team at office to look into conservation options at the workplace.
- Be a conscious traveler: Travel light. Travel by road or train as much as possible and cut down on the flights, and your carbon footprint. In the hotel, don’t leave all the lights on when not needed, don’t put the towels out to be washed every day. Avoid plastic bottles. If you are out in nature, be aware of the waste you are generating and look for appropriate means to dispose of them. We’ve all seen the horrific visuals of plastic litter in our erstwhile pristine glaciers and on Mount Everest. Use biodegradable soaps and shampoos.
- Finally, be an advocate for change and get involved, join initiatives that are trying to make a difference in your city and neighborhood. Reach out to your local representatives with your clean air issues. Talk to people around you about how they can contribute to making the air and the environment cleaner. Spread the word, educate, inform and walk the talk.
Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV.