World Environment Day #BeatAirPollution Air pollution, global warming and how composting your food scraps can help
Every year on June 5 the world celebrates World Environment Day. Started in 1974 by the United Nations to raise global awareness and encourage to people take action on our most urgent environmental issues, every year there is a host country and a theme. This year’s host is China and the theme is air pollution.
Compared to China, where the air quality index (AQI) of highly industrialised regions is persistently hazardous, some parts of Australia have the best air quality in the world. However, our exposure to air pollution varies with factors such as traffic and access to clean energy for household uses. Air pollution can also travel long distances, even crossing continents due to international weather patterns.
Air pollution is the world’s greatest environmental risk as it is a primary cause of global warming. Deposits of lead, mercury and black carbon have been found in glaciers in Peru, all coming from air pollution and all increasing the speed at which our ice caps are melting.
It is also one of the greatest global health risks causing lung disease, lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. According to the World Health Organisation, every year air pollution is responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide. The burning of coal, kerosene and biomass for energy, other industrial processes and motor vehicles give off carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons and lead. All of these are detrimental to our health, with PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter) the most likely to cause death and disease.
#BeatAirPollution has hopefully been trending all over your social media pages lately, along with selfies of people wearing masks for the UN’s Mask Challenge, symbolising the need for clean air world wide. This year, the UN encouraged us to pledge to do one of the following and to challenge others to do the same:
- Use public transport, car sharing, cycle or walk
- Switch to a hybrid or electric motor vehicles
- Turn off the car engine when stationary
- Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy to help cut methane emissions
- Switch to high-efficiency home heating systems and appliances
- Turn off lights and electronics when not in use
- Choose non-toxic paints and furnishings
- Compost organic food items and recycle non-organic trash.
The sectors responsible for air pollution are agriculture, households, industry, transport and waste. Yes, waste. Incinerating waste releases pollutants into the atmosphere and sending organic waste to landfill, such as food scraps, releases methane gas. This is because in landfill food scraps break down anaerobically (without oxygen), and the product of this is methane. Not only is methane an air pollutant, but in terms of global warming it is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. If food scraps in landfill was its own country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world!
Here’s what you can do to reduce the amount of food you send to landfill:
Start composting at home, become a worm farmer or invest in a bokashi bin
Separating organic waste and turning it into compost for your garden improves soil fertility by boosting popluations of microorganisms and worms. Compost bins, worm farms and bokashi bins are available in most hardware stores and garden centers. Composting is ideal for households with large garden areas, particularly if you grow your own veggies. There are plenty of online resources to get you started. Check out this video for Costa’s guide to composting or have a read through this guide from Urban Agriculture Australia. Worm farms are better suited to smaller households and bokashi bins are a great option units. Here is some info from Bunnings on how to use a bokashi bin.
Don’t have the time or space? Why not share your waste via the Share Waste App or take it to your local city farm?
We love this this app. It’s simple to use and creates a wonderful sense of community. All you need to do is sign up and search your local area for a host, then send them a message and arrange a drop off. The host is a member of your local community who will lovingly accept your organic waste. Click on the map icons to see what waste your host will accept. Some hosts have worm farms, some have chickens, some will take garden clippings, etc. Check out the Share Waste website to get started. You can also contact your local city farm or community garden to see if they accept food scraps. If your not sure if there is one nearby, find out here.
Dispose of your waste in your FOGO kerbside collection bin
Some councils in Australia have now combined food organics with green organics (FOGO) in their kerbside collections, where it is taken to a resource center and turned into compost. Here at home in the Canberra region, we have been without organic collection until very recently and this doesn’t include food scraps. However, the Conservation Council ACT Region is currently running a petition to encourage local councils to do just that. So for all our Canberra readers sign here.