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Reducing Air Pollution - How Can You Help?

Introduction

Energy is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and gas, which release pollutant gases, such as sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, into the atmosphere. Through international protocols, the introduction of emissions and air quality standards, and the use of emission control technology, nations are beginning to witness sometimes substantial reductions in air pollutant emissions from power generation and transport, and a consequent improvement in air quality. Nevertheless, it is only by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and energy consumption that a long term improvement in air quality can be maintained. For the individual, there are 3 main areas where action can be taken in this respect, energy use in the home, domestic waste production and private transport.

Energy Use in the Home

The individual has little influence on how his/her energy is produced, for example by coal or gas fired power stations, or alternatively by wind or solar power. However, the individual has control on how he or she uses that available energy. Through the implementation of simple measures the individual can effectively bring about a reduction in his/her energy consumption, thereby reducing the need for energy production and consequently reducing pollutant emissions. Using less energy also means savings on fuel bills.

Heating (space and water) accounts for approximately 25% of UK energy use. On average 55% of fuel bills are spent on space heating, but in an un-insulated house about half of this heat escapes through the walls! Water heating can account for up to 20% of the average fuel bill but we are often wasteful of this resource. Energy use in these two areas can be cut whilst still providing the heating that you require. Energy-saving light bulbs are now widely available in supermarkets and electrical stores. The initial cost of energy saving light bulbs are relatively high at about 2 - 10 each, but the lower running costs and longer lifetimes mean that the initial cost can be recouped within a couple of years. The energy use and efficiency of household appliances, such as fridges, freezers, cookers, washing machines and televisions depends on the age, model and manufacturer. In the UK 20% of electricity is used by domestic appliances. Under an EC Directive, retailers are required to label all new fridges and freezers with an eco-label.

Energy saving ideas

  • Draught proofing door and seals at an approximate cost of 45-60, annual fuel bill saving of 10 - 20.

  • Insulating your loft to a depth of 6 inches, at an approximate cost of 110 - 160, annual fuel bill saving of 60 - 70. 20% of your energy bill can be saved by effective loft insulation.

  • External wall insulation. Effective wall insulation can reduce heat loss by up to two thirds.

  • Fitting secondary glazing / double glazing windows, saving approximately 15 - 25 on the annual fuel bill.

  • Fitting a hot water jacket to the water tank, cost 5 - 10, annual saving of 10 - 15.

  • Fitting a programmer to the central heating system will ensure heating is only produced when needed.

  • Turning the central heating thermostat down by just 1C can save on average 10% on heating bills.

  • A shower uses only two-fifths of the hot water needed to run a bath.

  • A wash cycle run at 40C will cost one quarter of the amount of the hottest cycle on your washing machine.

  • Ensure the rubber door seals on fridges and freezers fit properly.

  • If your washing machine has a half load, and/or, an economy wash option use these when appropriate.

  • If space permits do not place the fridge / freezer next to the cooker.

Waste Production

At present, households in the UK annually produce 28.4 million tonnes of domestic rubbish; about 500 kilograms for every person in the country. Currently 90% of household waste collected by councils is dumped into landfill sites. Landfilled waste produces the second most important greenhouse gas: methane.

Paper recycling can reduce water use by about 60% and energy consumption by 40%. It is one of the easiest products to recycle with paperbanks in most towns throughout the UK. Paper recycling is the most popular of all waste product recycling, with over a third of all household paper going to the recycle banks.

Every 10% increase in the recycling of crushed glass reduces the energy consumption in glass making by 2%. In the UK glass recycling has increased in popularity over the past 15 years. The number of collection sites increased ten-fold between 1984 to 1998. There are now over 20,000 council collection sites in the UK, and up to 22% of household glass is being recycled.

An average family throws away over 100 kilograms of plastics and textiles each year. Currently, only 3% palstics are being recycled. When plastics are landfilled a potential source of energy is lost. Food and drink packaging, such as tins and cans, contribute about 8% to the average family's household waste. Collection points for these materials are widespread throughout the UK with aluminium can banks being the most popular. Recycling rate of cans is now 36%.

The potential to reduce the amount of raw materials and energy used in the manufacturing of packaging does exist. The individual can aid this process by adopting the reduce, re-use and recycle attitude wherever feasible. Recycling reduces the need to mine for raw materials, it saves energy and it reduces the amount of waste buried in landfill sites (reducing the potential for methane emissions).

Ideas for recycling

  • Make use of the paper and glass recycling sites in your area. Separate the coloured glass and deposit the glass at the collection point, but try and avoid making a special car journey.

  • Reuse glass bottles and tins wherever suitable.

  • Ask your local council where the nearest plastic collection point is and try and use these if possible.

  • If there is no suitable collection point try and buy products which have different packaging such as glass.

  • At the supermarket reuse plastic carrier bags, or use a basket instead.

Transport

Transport is the fastest growing energy-consumption sector in the UK and the number of cars on the road is projected to increase by 17% by 2010. It is therefore an area that requires great attention to reduce fuel consumption and hence pollution. Transport pollution is emitted at ground level from a mobile source, and is therefore a larger problem than other pollution sources..

Ideas to reduce pollutant emissions from private transport

  • As an alternative to driving the car, walk, cycle or use public transport where it is suitable and safe for you to do so, particularly for short trips where using the car is not really necessary and an alternative exists. Even when only a quarter full, a bus is more than twice as fuel-efficient as a family car.

  • If you and your friends drive to work consider the option of car sharing.

  • Adopting a calmer driving style will also result in a reduction of car emissions. A car travelling at 70mph can consume 30% more fuel than a car travelling at 50mph.

  • Ensuring your car is serviced regularly and maintaining the correct tyre pressure improves fuel efficiency.

Conclusion

Everyone contributes to national and global emissions of pollutant gases, but it is not only governments that can take action to reduce the environmental damage caused. For their policies to work effectively and for their targets to be achieved the actions of the individual are required. The cumulative energy reductions by individuals would reduce the need for energy consumption, conserve stocks of raw materials such as coal, oil and gas, and bring about a reduction in pollutant gas emissions.