Water Pollution

Meaghan O'Neil
18 March 2020

Photo by Claudia_Letz from Pixabay

Keeping water clean is essential to the continuation of the human race and the world as a whole. Of all the water that covers 70% of the earth, only 2.5% is freshwater, and most of that is contained within glaciers and ice, and difficult to access. While it's vital to preserve freshwater sources so we have clean water to drink, it's also important to keep the oceans safe from pollution.

Water is a universal solvent, meaning many substances can easily be dissolved in it.  This also means that dangerous products can easily contaminate it, whether by directly being dumped into a aquifer or leaching out of solid objects as they decompose.


Great Pacific Garbage Patch, photo by NOAA Source: National Geographic

Plastic waste is a large component of pollution in the world's oceans. Although incredibly large collections of plastic bottles and refuse are obviously a problem, an even bigger one is something much smaller: microplastics. Microplastics are tiny pieces of broken down plastics, some microscopic in size. These are consumed by fish, which are then consumed by humans or through the food chain until they can be found within the human body. The World Wildlife Fund reports that the average person ingests a credit card sized amount of plastic per week! In polluting the oceans, we are polluting ourselves.

A chief provider of plastic, as well as dangerous runoff from the factories creating the plastic, is the bottled water industry. Besides draining local waterways (even during water restriction times), it also costs a lot of fossil fuels to create and transport each bottle. While tap water isn't perfect, bottled water isn't any better, especially considering they often contain water from the same municipal supplies as tap. An Environmental Working Group study in 2008 found several contaminants in each of the ten water bottle brands tested. It doesn't help that the bottles also leach chemicals like BPA into the very water they hold. If you want truly clean water, consider purchasing a water filter for your sink.


Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

Flushing certain items contributes to the problem of freshwater contamination. Medications are a leading culprit, leaching into the water supply. Some areas have drug take-back locations, such as a local police station or pharmacy. South Africa has National Pharmacy Month every September, so you can bring unused or expired medication (prescription or over the counter) to a local pharmacy for proper disposal. Many pharmacies will even accept dropoffs throughout the year. Baby wipes, tampons, and the like are also difficult for sewage treatment plants to process and often end up littering the area nearby.

Conserving water is a good way to help your area's sewage treatment facility. Too much water is hard for it to process, and reducing that amount by taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet when hand scrubbing dishes (before rinsing them), and fixing leaky pipes or faucets is an easy way to help out. Don't forget to turn off the water when brushing your teeth!


Photo by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Ways you can help keep waterways clean:

Refrain from using chemicals to keep lawns green (they're bad for animals as well as water runoff), and if you must use pesticides, keep them to a minimum. Remember that bees and other insects are important to the ecosystem and will help your flowers grow. Treehugger.com has a list of natural options that target specific troublesome species without harming the environment. Also consider planting larger, native plants to help decrease runoff.

Support organic farms when you're food shopping. Foods grown without synthetic pesticides won't create dangerous runoff or collect in your body.

Use environmentally safe cleaning products around the house, including dish soap, laundry detergent, and window cleaner. Then try to run the dishwasher and washing machine only when there's a full load, to conserve water.

Discard garbage into its proper receptacles, and make sure the lid is on securely so the trash doesn't fly away with the wind.

Pour cooking oil into a bottle to reuse, or dispose of it properly into the trash.  Refrain from dumping paint, motor oil, polishes, and cleaning products into storm or house drains.