5 Ways You Might Be Contributing To Water Pollution

The health of our planet’s water is critical to life on Earth, yet it’s being polluted at an alarming rate. And humans are to blame. In fact, roughly 80 percent of ocean pollution comes from land, primarily from human activity. Here are five ways people contribute to water pollution in their everyday lives — and what you can do to help combat the problem.

1. Plastic use

Maybe you’ve seen the viral video of the sea turtle who got a plastic straw stuck up its nose, and you decided to give up straws. That’s a great start. But the plastic problem facing the ocean goes a whole lot deeper. Millions of metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, influenced by population size and waste management standards, according to one study.

It all comes down to how much plastic people use. If you want to do your part to minimize plastic pollution, avoid disposable plastics wherever you can — straws, drink lids, cutlery, grocery bags, water bottles, etc. Steer clear of beauty products with plastic microbeads. Consider the packaging when you make a purchase. For instance, you might be able to buy food from bulk bins using your own reusable containers, rather than purchasing a product packaged in plastic. And, of course, always responsibly recycle plastic whenever you can.

2. Pouring toxins down the sink or toilet

colorful paint goes down a drain

If your kid tries to flush one of their toys down the toilet, it might just mean a hefty plumber’s bill for you. But if an item that isn’t biodegradable makes it down a drain, that could affect the sewage treatment process. Those items often end up polluting water and beaches, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, so never let them go down the drain.

Furthermore, keep toxins far away from your drains, as well — think old paint, chemical cleaners and unused medication. Instead, find a hazardous waste collection facility near you to dispose of them responsibly. The extra effort certainly is worth it to avoid those chemicals someday making an appearance in your drinking water.

3. Washing your own car

Being a model car owner doesn’t just make the roads safer. It also can keep our water cleaner. “Good maintenance can reduce the leaking of oil, coolant, antifreeze, and other nasty liquids that are carried by rainwater down driveways or through parking lots and then seep into groundwater supplies,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So what about a car wash? Although it costs more money, it actually might be more environmentally friendly to head to a professional car wash instead of doing it yourself. “The pros are required to drain their wastewater into sewer systems, where the water is treated for all the bad stuff before being discharged,” the Natural Resources Defense Council says. “Many even recycle that water.”

4. Not picking up after your dog

A couple walks a beagle.

If you have a dog, hopefully you’re already a responsible pet owner picking up its waste. And you can pat yourself on the back twice because you’re also preventing pathogens from entering our water supply. “Rain can carry pathogens in dog waste into streams where people swim, making them sick,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The nitrogen and phosphorus in dog waste also can contribute to toxic algae blooms and harm marine life.

And if you have a feline friend, never flush your cat’s poop down the toilet unless it has tested negative for toxoplasmosis. Cats excrete the parasite that causes the disease, which can lead to serious health complications in some people. If you don’t have a municipal compost program that accepts pet waste, the most practical option is to bag it — preferably in an eco-friendly bag — and throw it in the trash.

5. Applying lawn chemicals

As long as people insist on having the greenest lawn on the block and growing plants that don’t really belong in their environment, they’ll use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Those chemicals might make your grass green, but they also have some serious consequences.

“When lawn chemicals are applied improperly, they can run off into streams, harming fish and other animals and contaminating our drinking water,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “Overapplication of any lawn chemical can result in runoff that carries toxic levels of chemicals or excessive nutrients into lakes, streams and groundwater.”

Thankfully, there are many viable alternatives to toxic lawn chemicals that will keep your garden growing. Try organic lawn treatments or compost to feed your plants. Landscape with native species, which require less assistance from you. And test your soil for nutrient deficiencies before you apply anything unnecessarily.

Main image credit: Toa55/Thinkstock

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