We tend to think of pollution as an industrial problem, visualizing images we see in the press of smokestacks billowing into the sky, buried metal drums with hazard symbols, or pipes discharging toxic chemicals into a river. But there are sources of pollution much closer to home.
Luckily, these sources are relatively easy for us to address. There are several areas we can target inside our houses and our own communities that can make a meaningful reduction in air, soil and water pollution, and improve quality of living.
Starting with our own property, we can focus on these four key areas.
✅ The Lawn
The typical American lawn can be an astounding source of pollution - but it doesn't have to be this way. While an excessively large, conventionally maintained lawn can be toxic and a major drain on resources, by changing the way we care for it, it can become a beneficial part of the landscape.
1. Shrink the lawn. How much lawn do you really need? How much lawn do you really use? By making sure that our grass areas are an appropriate size, we reduce the environmental impact of our landscape and save time and labor.
2. Go organic. Hire an accredited lawn care company, or do it yourself, but make sure to eliminate the use of pesticides on your lawn. You can also allow your lawn to go au natural, only applying compost for fertility and over seeding in fall while implementing good cultural practices like mowing high, leaving clippings, etc.
✅ Landscape & Garden Equipment
According to the California Air Resources Board, "the small gasoline engines found in lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and other power equipment pollute at a higher rate than other equipment and vehicles." They recommend a major shift to zero-emission equipment.
A simple way to cut down on this significant source of pollution is to swap out gas equipment for electric or hand powered equivalents.
1. Use rakes & brooms. These tried and true low-tech options are efficient, affordable and help us get exercise. For small lawns, a reel mower is a quiet, zero-emissions way to manage your lawn.
2. Go electric. For big jobs, the new generation of electric equipment has you covered. Not only do they not create emissions like gas engines, but they are quiet too, contributing to both better air quality and peace and quiet. Lawnmowers, string trimmers, hedge trimmers and even chainsaws are available in electric. They offer the power you need to get the job done, without the noise and fumes.
✅ Trees, Shrubs & Flower Beds
What we plant in our landscapes matters just as much how we care for them. Exotic plants popularized by the horticultural industry may look pretty but they require extra water and fertilizer, encourage pests, and don't support birds or pollinators.
By using organic practices and native plants in our landscapes we can contribute to healthier soil, cleaner water and air as well as support biodiversity.
1. Plant native. While just as aesthetically pleasing as any exotic, native plants provide vital food and habitat for insects, birds and other wildlife. Native plantings have distinct advantages when it comes to water conservation, carbon sequestration, pest resistance and ecological value for declining wildlife.
2. Work with nature. By mimicking natural ecosystems in our gardens, we increase the level of beneficial insects creating a balance - thereby reducing pest pressure overall. Using organic practices improves the health of the soil creating healthier plants that resist disease and pests.
✅ Household Emissions
What we use in our homes can affect both indoor and outdoor air quality in a big way. Many people are sensitive to synthetic and even natural fragrances. Triggers include perfume, cleaning chemicals and scented laundry products. Laundry exhaust ports on our homes can blast fragrance from detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets into the neighborhood air.
1. Use fragrance free laundry products. It's simple to switch to unscented laundry detergent and alternatives to dryer sheets like wool balls. And nothing smells better than laundry hung outside to dry in sunshine and fresh air.
2. Get a green cleaning product makeover. Unscented, eco friendly cleaning products are becoming more popular and easy to purchase. Some guides exist to help you choose safe products from EWG and Made Safe.
3. Skip the fragrance dispenser. Synthetic fragrances can trigger headaches, asthma and other health problems even in people who are not sensitive. These commercially available "air fresheners" contain untested proprietary ingredients that can harm our health. These fragrances even migrate outside the home into outdoor air, affecting our neighbors.
How many of these things are you already doing? Share with others so they can begin taking simple actions to make their community healthier today!