Susette has a Master's degree in Sustainable Development. She leads her local Green Council and writes for The Sustainable Business Review.
A Two-Pronged Approach: Stop Polluting and Clean Up
According to Phyllis Diller, "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing."
In other words, it doesn't make sense to put all of our resources into cleaning up water pollution, if the polluters are going to keep polluting. We already know what the problems are and who's contributing to them. Governments at all levels have passed regulations preventing pollution, and some of them have done some good. Many industrial polluters are making changes themselves too, but not all. Some are just moving overseas.
Governments are spending taxpayer money to clean up after some of these polluters, but in order for long-term change to occur, there needs to be a change in the attitudes and behavior of polluters, of whom there are many. Taxpayers and government workers in any country shouldn't have to keep cleaning up after them in order for us to live in a clean, attractive, and healthy world without contaminated water, and we certainly don't want to be contributing to the pollution ourselves.
Prevention: Societal Attitude Change
The best way to prevent water pollution or pollution of any kind is to decide that pollution is an undesirable practice that no one should be doing. Although we have no control over the behavior of others, we do have control over our own and there is much that we can do, starting with asking ourselves some questions.
What kind of world do we want to live in? What can we do to create it, wherever we are? Who will we create it with? Acknowledging our own personal power is both scary and liberating, but once we do it, all kinds of ideas for good, preventive action can spring forth.
Water Pollution Considerations
Water is a cleanser that cleans the air, the earth's surface, and the soil. Any contamination of those three mediums ends up in the water as water pollution. Water takes toxins from the air when it rains, cleans excess salts from the soil when sinking through the ground, and carries trash in its streams to the sea.
Do we want polluted water? What can we do to make sure it stays clean? Who do we know who is willing to take action with us? One of the biggest changes our world's societies are going through right now is related to self-empowerment. And self-empowerment is what we need to make the changes we want.
Here are some pollution-related considerations:
- It's time for industries and people to accept the cost of cleaning up after themselves in a responsible way. We're passing off too much of it to Mother Earth.
- Most pollution comes from discarded wastes (of all kinds). What can people and companies do to clean up their leftovers, other than dumping them into the public domain?
- If a company can't figure out what to do with the product waste, then it shouldn't make the product. They go hand in hand. (Yes, this includes nuclear waste.)
- Individuals can accept responsibility too. Don't buy what you don't really want—find alternatives. If you buy and then change your mind, return the product to its source (including medications).
- Companies that do clean up their acts should be acknowledged, at least at first, as a good example for others. Companies that change their practices so they recycle everything in-house and produce no waste at all, should especially be acknowledged.
Changes will come quickly as the discovery and commendation of successful practices spread. This is already happening with the conservation of water and energy, where more and more buildings are becoming LEED-certified every day. There's no reason it could not also work with the prevention of pollution, with more and more polluters cleaning up their wastes without coercion.
Cyclical View of Production
Nature works in complete cycles. Every new thing created goes through a process of birth, use, death, breakdown, and reuse as components that aid future births (new products). If our society were to embody this principle, we would have very little pollution. We would have individuals, companies, government bodies, and nonprofits taking such actions as:
- Finding a way to recycle or compost green wastes—a rich source of nutrients.
- Making replacement parts and upgrades, instead of a whole new product (e.g., computers—people should be able to reuse computer housing by purchasing and installing a new motherboard themselves).
- Offering rebates for returning used products of all kinds (like Staples does with ink cartridges).
- Remaking used goods into different goods.
- Looking for ways to resell or reuse all leftovers, including product scraps and chemicals.
- Instead of using hundreds of acres to grow only one crop, plant in layers (permaculture) using companion plants, thus eliminating the need for chemicals that pollute the earth, its waters, and the bodies of those who eat treated food.
Preventing Pollution with New Products
Mostly due to public demand, inventors and manufacturers have been creating new products that prevent pollution and/or contamination of our waters. Manufacturers like Cereplast have developed biodegradable resins that can be used to make products formerly made out of plastic. The manufacturers that buy resins from Cereplast are making picnic ware that is fully biodegradable—that can be thrown into a landfill or compost pile and will break down within a year.
Here are a few other examples:
- Wikipedia | Wet Cleaning
"Wet Cleaning" is an alternative solution to dry cleaning that uses water and bio-degradable soaps instead of toxic solvents.
- Pollution Prevention | Secondary Containment Products
Secondary containment products, cabinets, and more help to ensure compliance to clean water regulations.
- Manufacturer | Greener Products | US EPA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website for manufacturers gives tips on how to make products more eco-friendly.
Preventing Pollution With Personal Lifestyle Changes
In order to give us the strength and authenticity to go after those who would pollute uncaringly—like some of the mining and oil companies—we need to start with our own lives first. Here are some ideas, many of which you may already have heard about and may even be taking action on:
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Throw trash away in a nearby bin or hold it until you have access to one. Find out from local governments how to dispose of paint, varnish, and other chemicals safely. Most local governments have lists of resources on their websites. Use online used goods services like eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and Freecycle to dispose of discards, not the local streamside. Hold garage sales, swap with neighbors and friends, and donate to charities. Take part in annual trash cleanups and look for items that can be rehabilitated. Buy as little made from plastic as possible. These actions will prevent littering, reduce the waste in landfills that pollute groundwater, and reduce the amount of plastics floating in the ocean.
- Refuse to buy meat that comes from concentrated feeding operations. This meat, out of necessity, is laced with medications and hormones toxic to human bodies (cancers grow from many of these). The animals are fed a mono diet that produces meat without much nutritional value—i.e., it will stuff you but not feed you. Get your meat from local, clean sources, or don't eat meat at all. Wastes from these animal feed operations end up in the water supply, decreasing oxygen available for fish, spreading disease, and contaminating drinking water. The methane they produce contributes more to heating the atmosphere than the combination of all vehicle exhaust worldwide.
- Reduce the need for long-distance driving. This includes working as close to home as possible, if not at home, and commuting or taking public transportation wherever possible. It includes keeping whatever vehicles you own well-maintained. It also includes buying food grown locally and shopping in locally supplied stores, if available, to reduce the need for food and goods to be shipped to you long distance. And it includes using alternative methods of transportation, like bicycling or walking. At least one-third of the excess nitrogen in oceans comes from vehicle exhaust in the air that oceans absorb. The nitrogen contributes to algae blooms, which then die and sink to the bottom, in turn, are eaten by microbes. The microbes use up all the oxygen in the depths, creating dead zones that kill food normally eaten by crabs and shrimp. There go our crab and shrimp harvests, not to mention all the other fish that eat them.
- Buy organic vegetables, rather than conventionally grown or canned. Most of the vegetables sold in chain grocery stores, both fresh and canned, are grown in giant agri-business farms. These crops are grown one at a time en masse on worn-out soils, acres and acres of them, year after year, requiring fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to stay alive. Organic foods, by definition (and labeling), are grown on soils kept healthy without such chemicals and are not genetically modified. Agrichemicals are some of the most common polluters of our water supplies, including inorganic nitrogen.
- Get healthy. Eating organic meat and vegetables is a great step toward becoming healthy. Finding a form of exercise that you can enjoy and stick with is another. Reducing stress, sleeping better at night, drinking lots of clean water, and using herbs to help with health will all make you feel good. Treat yourself and others with respect and acceptance. Keep yourself positive and interested in your life. Learn how your body works. Discarded pharmaceuticals have not only become a source of pollution themselves but many of them are created using petroleum products, which is a major source of pollution worldwide.
By making the changes above, you are using your buying power to effect change in industry, agriculture, and society at large. The more you can spread the word to others to adopt similar practices, the stronger your impact will be. The government and business world will eventually see the results, but if you could show and tell as you go, especially when dealing with persistent polluters, your impact could be even stronger.
Use Buying Power to Prevent Pollution
As individuals, we have an incredible amount of aggregate power. After all, the manufacturers, distributors, and advertisers of goods are catering to our desires when they make and promote products they think we'll want to use. If we don't like the product or company, we can buy elsewhere and they know it. Therefore, when we see a company polluting badly and not doing anything to clean it up, we can boycott that company, refusing to buy any of its products and badmouthing it, if necessary, in public forums (like the Internet and local media).
Prior to that, it's always a good idea to let the company know we want a behavior change. Here are some ideas for doing that:
- Write a letter describing what you've noticed and the behavior you want to be changed. Tell them you don't want excuses, you want changes. Have friends, coworkers, and people you volunteer with sign the letter. Mail it to the company president, the VP of Manufacturing, and the VP of Marketing. You can often find their names on the company website.
- Watch for results. If nothing happens or you don't like what does happen, write a follow-up letter and copy your local media. Copy the company's local media too.
- If there's still no remedial action, go online to one of the sites that lets you form a petition. Petitions aren't just for governments, they can also go to private industry. Formulate a petition, have your friends sign it to get it started, and see what happens. If possible, put together a YouTube video that directs people to the petition.
- Then boycott. Use YouTube and related tools to encourage people to join your boycott.
- Of course, if you don't want to do all that, you can just find another company to work for or buy your products and tell your friends why. But that takes a long time for the company to figure out why people have stopped buying from them.
* Special note: if you work for a company that pollutes and you've drawn their attention to it already from the inside, only to be ignored (or threatened) you have three main choices: Close your eyes to it, find another job, or become a key strategist for outside protesters. As a participant, you can let your team know who to contact, how they're impacting the company behind the public eye, and what strategies might be most effective.
Exposing the Worst Polluters
Here is some information on some really bad polluters. These need to be hit in the pocketbook via decreased sales and public alerts. Word needs to spread around the Internet as well, so decreased sales in your country don't translate into increased sales elsewhere. Take a quiet look at your investments, as well, and make changes where you can.
Good luck and thanks for joining the Pollution Prevention Team!
Stormwater Pollution Prevention | USGS
This six-minute video is produced by the US Geological Service. It shows many practices that individuals can adopt to prevent water pollution, and is very good at explaining the concept.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.