Pollution happens when people don’t dispose of their waste properly, but simply leave it to the environment. This can be plastic that is thrown away carelessly, but also toilet flushes that are not fed into a sewage treatment plant. The exhaust fumes from cars, airplanes, and heating also pollute the environment, as does waste from mining and from many other things that people do.
Large-scale pollution has existed since about the time of industrialization. Even then it was noticed that the snow around many factories was turning black from the smoke. Many substances got into the water through the production of leather or dye works. They became colored, foamed, and stank.
In the years after 1960, many bodies of water were so badly polluted that it was no longer possible to swim on many of the famous beaches. Later, people noticed how dirty the air is in some places. This was also evident from the fact that some forests became ill and died. At that time, there was talk of dying forests. For these reasons, a new idea emerged: environmental protection.
In a short time, chemists discovered that plastic is not just everywhere in large, visible pieces. There are also countless tiny parts, the microplastics. This tiny little plastic waste is now distributed all over the world and it is even found in Antarctica, where almost no people live. Pollution has therefore steadily increased in certain areas.
How is the environment polluted?
The best way to see pollution is when rubbish is left unattended. Plastic is then found on roadsides or in fields, but also cigarette packets, food packaging, and much more. That doesn’t look nice. But it is also dangerous: cows, for example, swallow waste with the grass. People and animals can injure themselves on an aluminum can. Toxic substances can also be released into nature if the waste decomposes over time. Plastic or metal waste sometimes takes many decades to decompose.
Another type is water pollution. There is already a lot of waste in rivers, lakes, and seas. Turtles, for example, eat plastic because they think it’s jellyfish. Over time they die from it. But there is also the invisible pollution of water bodies by poison. Toxic substances that make animals sick and can even kill them still get into the water from many chemical factories. Residues of medicines get into the sewage through the urine. In the case of fish, for example, they can lead to the fact that they no longer have healthy young.
A third type is air pollution. Exhaust fumes from cars, airplanes, and heaters always contain a proportion of toxic gases. Such toxins also get into the environment through accidents in chemical factories. In some countries, people burn computers, other electrical parts, or cables to later collect valuable parts like copper. Such fires are particularly harmful to the environment and people. The large amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted in traffic and in many power plants and factories also pollutes the environment.
The fourth type of pollution affects the soil. In many places, too much fertilizer gets into the soil due to agriculture. This can have a detrimental effect on groundwater, for example. Many residues from sprays are also deposited in the soil. Poisons that are carelessly thrown away are particularly bad, for example, spray residues, but also petrol, oil, and other liquids.
The fifth type of pollution comes from nuclear power plants or atomic bombs. They emit invisible radiation into the environment. People, animals, and plants become ill from it and can die from it. The waste that is produced in nuclear power plants will continue to radiate for thousands of years. To this day, no one really knows where to store nuclear waste.
Many people today also count the radiation from mobile phones and their antennas as part of environmental pollution. Others include the noise, which is mainly caused by traffic, but also by church bells. Too much light is also considered pollution by many people because it disturbs the natural life of animals and plants.
What is particularly bad for the environment?
It depends on whether the substances are highly toxic, how much there is, where they are and whether they disappear naturally in nature. Heavy metals such as lead or cadmium are particularly toxic. Very little of this is needed to damage nature. It doesn’t matter where these toxins are located.
Carbon dioxide is a gas. It is not only created during combustion but also in most living things. We humans also exhale carbon dioxide. The green parts in the plants break down the carbon dioxide again, that would be a natural cycle.
The burning of coal, oil, and natural gas produces so much carbon dioxide that climate change has started. The world is getting warmer and warmer.
Thirdly, where the fabrics are located is important. Plastic isn’t as bad on the roadside as it is in the sea because it can be eaten by turtles and fish. Uranium is less bad in a nuclear power plant than when it explodes and the uranium is distributed in the environment.
It is also important how long the unwanted things remain in the environment. A banana peel disappears very quickly through nature. An aluminum can takes over a hundred years and a PET bottle around 500 years. Waste from nuclear power plants radiates for about 100,000 years. Glass does not degrade at all in nature. So it stays there almost forever.
Can it get any worse than pollution?
Even worse than pollution is environmental destruction. Rainforests are lost forever due to deforestation. This part of the environment is thus destroyed. Even if a swamp or bog is drained, the original environment is destroyed forever.
Mining can also destroy the environment. This applies to opencast mining, i.e. where the earth is removed in order to obtain mineral resources such as coal or certain metals. Mining gravel for concrete can also have this effect. Such examples also exist in our countries.
Industrial accidents can also destroy the environment in a given area. Accidents in chemical factories can release strong toxins into the air and water. The accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant destroyed the environment in a wide area.