Five main types of pollution disrupt our planet: air, soil, water, noise and light pollution. Of these, the first three are the most harmful to living beings. In 2021, air pollution contributed to almost 8.7 million deaths worldwide, while 400 million metric tonnes, or over 440 million U.S. tons, of hazardous waste contaminate our soil each year. By studying how industries contribute to these types of pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we can explore solutions to lessen our environmental impacts. This article will explore the top seven polluting industries starting from lowest emissions to highest.
7 – Technology
Each year, the IT industry is responsible for about 1.1 billion tons of GHG emissions. But what does this entail? Technology is engrained in all aspects of life, including electrical devices and entertainment. In fact, estimates show that by 2025 this industry will account for 20% of the world’s energy usage and 5.5% of carbon dioxide emissions.
Digital currencies also form a part of the tech industry. To mine cryptocurrency, significant amounts of electricity are used. Unfortunately, most of this electricity is powered by fossil fuels which release over 142 million tons of carbon annually.
Nevertheless, companies are making efforts to lessen environmental impacts by limiting carbon emissions and developing energy-conserving devices. As consumers, we can further lighten our footprint through our choices. This can be done by purchasing from carbon-neutral or negative companies, such as Microsoft. Another strategy is exploring local options to recycle old devices to prevent landfill waste and ecosystem pollution.
6 – Fashion
Globally, the fashion industry is responsible for 2.3 billion tons of GHG emissions annually. This is as much as Germany, France and the United Kingdom combined! To limit manufacturing costs through cheap labor and raw material, fast fashion companies set up factories in Asia and Africa. Typically, these factories are powered by non-renewable resources like coal or gas.
Textile production runs on cheap materials and lots of water. Estimates show that over 3 trillion cubic feet of fresh water are used by the fashion industry each year. In fact, natural fabrics are just as water-consumptive as synthetics. Just a single cotton shirt requires over 792 gallons of water for production. This puts immense strain on local ecosystems and can cause droughts. Moreover, textiles such as polyester can contaminate water by shedding microplastics.
Shipping and waste also have negative consequences. Overall, shipping amounts to 2.5% of global emissions. However, with increasing global connectivity, this is expected to rise to 17% by 2050. Waste is also a key factor and approximately 85% of fast fashion is thrown away each year.
Besides negative impacts on the environment, the fashion industry can have negative socio-economic effects. Companies exploit marginalized communities through minimal pay and poor working conditions. Buying second-hand items from vintage/charity shops are good ways to save money and minimize clothing waste. Making conscious decisions to purchase long-lasting, sustainably-produced items is another good strategy.
5 – Food retail
The food supply chain, specifically packaging, transport and retail, is responsible for 3.4 billion tons of GHG emissions every year. This is caused by two primary factors — energy consumption and plastic packaging.
Grocery stores consume significant amounts of energy, 50-60% of which fuels refrigeration. Each year, a supermarket will emit nearly 3,300 tons of energy consumption and leaked refrigerants. Transportation of non-locally sourced foods can also add to these emissions.
Meanwhile, plastic packaging also generates significant carbon emissions. Packaging is usually thrown away, which contaminates land and water habitats through microplastic particles. These harm the health of living organisms and have repercussions up the food chain.
Shopping for locally-sourced foods and using reusable shopping bags are two ways to minimize your environmental footprint. Where possible, it can also help to shop at sustainable food stores where you can fill dried goods in your own containers.
4 – Agriculture
It is estimated that agricultural activities are responsible for approximately 8.5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. That amounts to more than 6.4 billion tons of GHGs. Processes like clear-cutting and land-burning that prep land for agriculture produce a further 14.5% of emissions. These activities pollute ecosystems and eliminate thousands of trees that could sequester CO2.
Currently, the global population of farm animals is triple that of humans. This is to meet dairy and meat consumption demands. Research carried out by Oxford University shows that meat-eaters account for twice as many agriculture/diet-related GHG emissions as vegetarians and two and a half times as many as vegans.
Limiting or cutting out animal products can lessen the strain on the planet. For those that would still like to consume them, locally-sourced options are typically better, as these have lower food miles. This is because distances are shorter between production to plate than non-locally sourced options, which in turn minimizes transport emissions.
3 – Construction
Without a doubt, construction is one of the most pollution-producing industries and contributes (in some form) to all five types of pollution. It produces a whopping 6.9 billion tons of GHGs each year.
The most harmful aspect of the industry is its overconsumption of raw materials, of which 25% is wasted each year. Construction also accounts for half of the world‘s natural resource extraction and one-sixth of freshwater consumption.
The waste produced annually by the construction industry makes up 25% of global waste. This contributes to water, air and soil pollution, all of which harm living creatures in local ecosystems. Through re-wilding efforts in urban and suburban areas, we can create safe havens for endemic flora and fauna while encouraging carbon sequestration.
2 – Transportation
Transportation emissions are responsible for 20% of global CO2 emissions. This is roughly 9.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year. Transportation emissions are a combination of road, aviation, rail and shipping.
Though flights have become more accessible worldwide, air travel surprisingly only accounts for 11.6% of passenger transport emissions. Meanwhile, road travel accounts for 74.5% of all transport-related CO2 emissions, especially since most households own a car. By maximizing the use of public transport, cycling and walking, we can limit vehicular CO2 emissions.
1 – Energy (electricity and heating)
Unsurprisingly, energy tops the list for global GHG emissions. Burning non-renewable resources such as coal, oil and gas for energy expels about 17.5 billion tons of GHGs and CO2 into the atmosphere.
We use energy for almost everything — to charge handheld devices, regulate temperatures in our homes, and power large factories and industries. Besides contributing to air pollution, toxic waste and oil spills also pollute soil and water.
Unfortunately, despite people wanting to transition to greener options, fossil fuels are still flourishing. However, there are some ways to take action. Try to incorporate energy-saving appliances and renewable energy on your property if possible. Campaigning against large conglomerates that rely on fossil fuels is another way to help.
To wrap up…
There is still a lot that needs to be done to lessen GHG emissions across these seven industries. Nevertheless, reducing emissions on both large scales (companies) and small scales (consumers) is becoming more prevalent. Now that these changes are becoming increasingly popular, we need to follow through with them and continue making positive changes.
via The Eco Experts
Infographic via The Eco Experts and images via Pexels