Imagine a world where every drop of water is clean and safe to drink – it starts with you. As the global population soars, the urgency to tackle water pollution intensifies. While you might think that individual actions will not make a difference, the truth is that small, everyday changes can create a ripple effect of monumental impact. This article is your guide to understanding the causes and consequences of water pollution, and more importantly, it offers six simple yet powerful ways you can contribute to cleaner water right from your own home. Read on to discover how you can be a vital part of the solution to reduce water pollution.
What causes water pollution?
The main culprits of water pollution are plastics, industrial waste, pesticides, bacteria, and fertilizers. However, a wide variety of other industries and products also play a role. Human activity contributes to almost all pollution in aquatic environments. Small pollutants, such as chemicals and microplastics, are washed into groundwater by rain or surface runoff. Waste products like disposable plastic bags can be broken down into tiny pollutants that can then enter water supplies. The breaking down of plastic into smaller pieces is one of the greatest environmental concerns of the world today, and many scientists are attempting to discover the effects of this pollution on the human body.
What effects does water pollution have?
Polluted water is not only difficult to treat, but it also affects the environment in these significant ways:
- Disrupts the food chain
- Limits biodiversity
- Increases cost and energy use of water treatment
- Diminishes the water supply
- Causes disease
- Leads to high death rates in children
Aquatic ecosystems, like oceans, lakes, and rivers, need pure water to thrive. When pollutants infect this water, they introduce new contaminants and contribute to the growth of algae and phytoplankton. The fish and other aquatic wildlife in these ecosystems cannot survive, and the food chain is disrupted. When water quality decreases, treatment becomes more expensive. Consequently, all applications that use water become more expensive. Because all industries use water to some extent, the economic implications of water pollution are massive.
Some of the most harmful effects of water pollution are its impact on the human body. In locations where sufficient water treatment is not available, polluted water causes symptoms such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. According to the CDC, around nine percent of all deaths in children under the age of five in the world are due to poor water quality. If every human had access to clean water, diseases in the world would drop by more than ten percent. Clearly, clean water is vital to maintaining the health of humans, wildlife, and plant life.
Learn more: The most eco-friendly types of water filters
How to reduce water pollution
Water pollution can be reduced by simple everyday changes at home. Many of these changes not only help the environment, but they can contribute to everyday health as well.
1. Don’t drain certain products down your sink or toilet.
When cleaning chemicals, medicines, or oils reach a water supply, they can be difficult to remove. Because of this, you should avoid flushing or draining any household cleaning chemicals, medications, or products that contain grease or oil. Instead, these products should be placed in a sealed, leak-free container and discarded in the trash. If you are unsure about any products you wish to drain, you can look for them in the “Drain Discharge Guide” published by the National Institute of Health.
When discarding cleaning chemicals, ensure you do not mix any products together before disposal. Doing so may cause toxic chemicals to be created by unwanted chemical reactions. Hazardous household waste disposal differs on a state-by-state and city-by-city basis. If your region offers special collection for hazardous household waste, take advantage of the opportunity to safely discard these items.
Oils are not only detrimental to the water supply, but they can also solidify and clog your pipes. When oil enters a drainpipe, it coats the outer edges. As the oil cools, it solidifies, creating a layer that is difficult to get rid of. If oil continues to be discarded down the drainpipe, extra layers will be created, and the clog will become thick enough to halt water flow. This can lead to costly repairs, inconvenience, and wasted water.
Learn more: How to clean a clogged drain
2. Use less plastic.
Plastic pollution is one of the greatest environmental problems of our time, particularly with water. Depending on the material, exposure to sunlight, and other environmental conditions, plastic can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose. As it weathers, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces. Once these fragments reach below five millimeters long, they are labeled as microplastics. Microplastics are present practically everywhere on Earth, from water supplies to arctic ice. The effects of microplastics on humans are largely unknown, as exposure to them is a new trend where there has not been enough time to collect data on the consequences of ingestion. Presently, microplastics are believed to cause harm to the human reproductive system, stunt growth, disrupt the immune system, and lead to oxidative stress. Microplastics are particularly harmful because most homeowners do not have a water filtration system in place to remove them. This leads to high levels of microplastic consumption, which causes unpleasant symptoms and threatens unknown long-term effects.
Learn more: How to remove microplastics from drinking water
Practical ways to use less plastic
Using less plastic sounds like a simple task, but it may seem challenging based on the number of everyday products that are made of or stored in plastic. While it is impossible to completely avoid plastic in the world today, there are simple ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use.
- Use a home water filtration system instead of bottled water. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 85 million bottles of water are consumed in the United States each day. This total reaches over 30 billion bottles of water annually. The amount of plastic pollution in water from just water bottles is staggering, and this does not include disposable plastic from other beverages or food packaging.
- Take reusable bags to the grocery store. Cloth grocery bags are not only more environmentally friendly than disposable plastic bags, but they are also sturdier and, in most cases, larger. These bags can last several years, replacing the need for unnecessary plastic waste for every trip to the store.
- Use stainless steel or glass in place of plastic Tupperware. Plastic Tupperware is not only an unnecessary use of plastic in the home, but it also causes microplastics to contaminate your food. As plastic containers are repeatedly subjected to hot water during wash cycles, they can begin to break down. This causes microplastics to enter the food and, ultimately, the body of the consumer. In addition to being healthier than plastic containers, stainless steel and glass are better at keeping food at a safe temperature.
- Avoid plastic food packaging when possible. Water bottles are not the only plastic you can avoid at the grocery store. Disposable plastic packaging may be unavoidable with some food items, but some items, such as milk, offer glass or another alternative packaging. Much of this alternative packaging can then be reused for other purposes or recycled, leading to less plastic waste.
3. Conserve water.
A simple way to reduce water pollution at home is by using less water. When water is wasted, it must enter a sewer line and be treated. The treatment process uses fuel and chemicals to eliminate contaminants in water. As a result, using less water means using less fuel and subjecting the water to fewer treatment chemicals.
Practical ways to conserve water at home
You can take small steps to conserve water at home, or you can implement water-saving systems that offer more than just water savings. Here are some practical ways to conserve water at your home.
- Shut the water off when not in use. Turning the water off when you are not using it is the most obvious solution to conserving water, but it can significantly decrease your home’s monthly water usage. Whether you are lathering up your hands, brushing your teeth, or shaving, getting in the habit of turning your water off between times of need can prove to be beneficial to both your water expenses and the environment.
- Take care of limescale. Limescale in the home is a result of hard water building up inside pipes. Once sufficient scaling has occurred, appliances run inefficiently, using much more water than they should. To combat this, a water softener or water conditioner must be used to eliminate the risk of limescale buildup in a home. The plumbing in a home must then be treated to eradicate the limescale that has already built up.
- Run fuller loads of dishes. Rather than running a dishwasher on a set schedule, utilize your dishwasher on the basis of need. To use as little water as possible, wait to run a wash cycle until the dishwasher is full. Dishwashers are far more water-efficient than handwashing, so avoid handwashing any items that can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
- Install a more efficient toilet. Modern toilets are much more water-efficient than older models. In fact, many modern toilets use less than half the water a standard toilet used 30 years ago. If your toilet uses 5 gallons of water per flush, replacing it with a modern toilet can save an abundant amount of water over the course of a year.
- Harvest rainwater for outdoor use. A rainwater harvesting system saves rainwater for use in your outdoor applications. Not only is rainwater good for watering plants and washing cars, but it is also superior to tap water for both purposes. Rainwater does not contain chlorine, fluoride, or other treatment chemicals that tap water contains. This makes it ideal for soil, where these chemicals can cause beneficial bacteria to die. Rainwater is also ideal for washing cars because it does not contain the levels of paint-damaging water hardness that tap water does.
- Use a smart leak detection system. Leaks can cause devastating water damage to your home, and they also lead to large amounts of wasted water. A smart leak detection system can help prevent leaks by alerting you the moment a leak is discovered.
4. Prevent runoff.
Runoff is a major source of groundwater pollution. Rainwater or melted snow runs through yards, sidewalks, roads, construction sites, and anywhere else water can flow. Along the way, this water picks up chemicals, debris, and other unwanted contaminants. Once it reaches groundwater, runoff can be filled with pollutants that harm the water supply. Eliminating runoff helps groundwater avoid unwanted chemicals on the surface.
How to prevent runoff at home
Multiple additions to a yard can prevent groundwater pollution caused by runoff.
- Collect rainwater in a rain barrel. Rainwater harvesting systems divert rainwater from your rooftop into a rain barrel, where it is stored until it can be used. Rain barrels prevent water from flooding soil beneath gutters, where the soil can eventually be washed away.
- Implement a dry well or rain garden. Both dry wells and rain gardens are intended to divert runoff into soil. Dry wells are depressions in a cavity in the ground where water can sit until it can be absorbed. They are connected to a pipe or series of pipes at the surface where water can enter. A rain garden is a depression in the ground that is covered with plants or shrubs. They absorb rainwater and, like dry wells, offer a place for water to sit until it can all be absorbed.
- Cover topsoil with mulch. If topsoil is thin and loose, it can easily be washed away by a standard amount of rain. Covering topsoil with mulch allows the soil to remain in place and helps absorb rainwater.
5. Cut down on pesticides and herbicides.
While pesticides and herbicides are excellent at doing their job, they can pollute water supplies with toxic chemicals. Often used for crops, lawns, and gardens, pesticides and herbicides can wash off plants and enter groundwater via rainwater. Once in rainwater, the chemicals in these products are difficult to treat, leading to more energy being consumed during the treatment process. Alternatives to pesticides and herbicides include diatomaceous earth, natural pesticides, neem oil, and organic weed killers.
6. Pick up pet waste.
Pet waste may seem like it does not harm water supplies. After all, human waste enters sewer lines, where it must be treated before making water suitable for use. However, pet waste can contaminate the water that fish live in and that other animals drink. This leads to an unhealthy ecosystem for the fish, which, in turn, can impact the environment outside of the water. The nutrients and pathogens in animal waste increase algae growth. This turns the water green and cloudy, making it unsuitable for drinking and any water-related activities. To prevent these effects, pet waste should be scooped up, placed in a biodegradable bag or container, and discarded in the trash.
If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.