How can pollution be removed

Can there be a world without pollution?

1 Introduction

Pollution has a significant impact on human health, the environment, and even the functioning of some Earth systems such as the climate. Pollution affects the entire planet. It affects our health through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. An estimated 19 million people die prematurely each year as a result of the way we use our natural resources to promote global production and consumption and how this affects our environment.

2. Where are the sources of pollution?

Pollution can come in many forms; some are easy to identify, such as certain forms of contaminated water, poor air quality, industrial waste, rubbish, light, heat and noise. Others are less visible, such as pesticides in food, mercury in fish, excessive nutrients in oceans and lakes, chemicals with endocrine disruptors in drinking water, and other micro-pollutants in freshwater and seawater. Some represent a long-term legacy, namely from decommissioned industrial plants, armed conflict areas, nuclear power plants, pesticide storage facilities and garbage dumps.

The sources and types of contaminants are very diverse, as are the solutions for dealing with them. For example, dangerous chemicals in some paints, some detergents, dyes, electronic products, and many other household substances become pollutants if not handled properly. Highly hazardous chemicals such as mercury, ammonium, ozone, and perchloric acid, which are used in numerous industries, are toxic and reactive; some have the potential to cause cancer and birth defects, genetic damage, miscarriage and injury, and even death if released into the environment, even with relatively low exposure. Functions of the ecosystem are also at risk. There are also many novel substances, such as some therapeutic drugs and nanomaterials, about whose potential pollution effects there is only sparse information.

  • Air pollution: Using solid fuel for cooking, burning fossil fuels, wildfires, incinerating garbage, tobacco smoke - all of these contribute to air pollution. Nine out of ten people in the world breathe air below that of the World health organization (WHO) acceptable standard.
  • Land and soil pollution: Agricultural practices, improper irrigation, solid waste management issues such as industrial and municipal landfills, and a range of industrial, military and mining activities.
  • Freshwater pollution: Excessive nutrients from the use of fertilizers in agriculture, pathogens in untreated water, heavy metals from mining and industrial waste. Over 80 percent of the world's wastewater is released into the environment without treatment.
  • Marine and coastal pollution: Nutrients, waste and heavy metals from soil sources, plastic waste and pollutants from the fishing, shipping and energy industries.

3. What are the effects of the pollution?

The risk of a pollutant for human health and ecosystems is based on its chemical nature and its inherent toxicity, whereby the risks are linked to the quantities put into circulation, the polluting concentrations and their fate in the environment at stake such as humans and individual species. Pollution can have a particularly disproportionate and negative impact on the poor, disadvantaged, marginalized, vulnerable populations, as well as some indigenous peoples, due to their general health, potentially higher levels of exposure and less resilience to social, economic and environmental risks.

Pollution also creates significant economic health care costs, lost productivity and damage to the ecosystem. For example, in 2013 the cost of air pollution was estimated at over $ 5,000 billion. That is far more than the United States' annual budget.

If consumption and production patterns continue to exist as before, then the linear economic model of “take, make, dispose” will continue to burden an already polluted planet and thus damage current and future generations.

4. What measures are currently being taken to tackle the pollution?

Pollution is not a new phenomenon; it is largely controllable and often avoidable, but it is still significantly neglected. There have been responses to pollution from governments, businesses and citizens, but these remain isolated and limited. In the meantime, better knowledge, alternative consumption and production models and innovative technological solutions have meant that many countries, cities and companies have already successfully addressed a number of serious pollution problems.

With regard to chemicals and waste, existing multilateral environmental agreements have enabled measures such as the Montreal Protocol banning ozone-depleting substances, the ban on the addition of lead in fuels and, most recently, the 2013 Minamata Convention on the banning of mercury, all legally binding approaches at the global level are important in addressing the most critical and complex pollution challenges. In particular, the 17 destinations cater for sustainable development of the United Nations2 an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of targeted and time-bound actions on pollution, which have hitherto been rather limited and inadequate.

It is also encouraging that more governments, industries and citizens are relying on sustainable materials management, greater resource efficiency, fewer polluting chemicals, clean technologies and the circular economy as part of a broader shift towards a sustainable economy.

5. What are the advantages of taking action against pollution?

A clean planet is by far the best insurance policy for the survival and well-being of current and future generations of human beings and ecosystems. It is known from many case studies that there have been numerous benefits to removing pollution, even if current responses are still limited and unsuitable. Projections indicate that further measures have the potential to strengthen health and well-being as well as the economy. In particular, the two success stories, the Montreal Protocol to Heal the Ozone Layer and the Leakage of Lead Additives in Fuels, show the success these initiatives can achieve.

Better resource efficiency in the entire production and consumption system can result in products that are identical or have the same functions as if they had been manufactured with traditional technologies and processes, while at the same time emissions and resource requirements are reduced. The path to less polluting and nature-based technologies as well as waste recycling offer opportunities for the economy and employment. However, careful and inclusive migration planning is required for those affected by this change.

6. What measures can be taken to make the world truly pollution free?

Solutions that help eliminate pollutants and detoxify our environment are available all over the world. These must be expanded, jointly used and strengthened in order to avoid the risk of further pollution of people and ecosystems from current and future pollution and an increase in the costs of remediation. An improved risk assessment of new sources of pollution is also urgently needed. Implementation gaps arise, in particular because of a lack of resources and unsuitable administrative, financial, institutional and technical skills. A lack of coordination between ministries and a lack of political will are the main reasons why action is not taken.

With this in mind, this report provides the following five overarching messages:

  1. A global agreement on pollution would make prevention a priority for all. It would encourage decision-makers to integrate prevention into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and national accounts;
  2. Environmental governance needs to be strengthened at all levels;
  3. Sustainable consumption and production should be promoted; Waste prevention and waste management must be a priority;
  4. Investments should be made in cleaner production and consumption so that pollution can be controlled, and more funds should be devoted to monitoring, infrastructure, management and control of pollution;
  5. Multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration are necessary for innovation, knowledge sharing and cross-disciplinary research to develop technological and ecosystem-based solutions.

The report then proposes a synergetic mix of measures and promotes an overall system, a decision-making approach with several advantages that builds directly on existing, internationally agreed environmental goals. To achieve these goals, the report proposes two-pronged measures as a framework for action on environmental pollution:

  • Targeted interventions based on risk assessments and scientific evidence of impacts to address 'critical' pollutants and areas of pollution (air, marine and coastal waters, land / soil) including cross-cutting categories (chemicals, waste);
  • System-wide conversionsto bring about greater resource efficiency and fairness, circularity and sustainable consumption and production in the economy to support cleaner and more sustainable development that improves the resilience of ecosystems.

1 To differentiate between danger and risk see GreenFacts animation:
2 See: