Have you ever seen a bunch of plastic bottles and bags floating in your local river or lake? Were you ever tempted to grab a mask in order to prevent smog from getting into your lungs? Pollution today is all around us, some results of it we can see (trash, landfills, smog) and some we can’t see which makes them even more dangerous. Luckily, city authorities are finally cracking under pressure and making serious steps to put a stop on our environmental crisis. Here’s what urban settlements can do in order to fight plastic and air pollution.
Laws prohibiting single-use plastic
Most single-use plastic items are made with low-quality and low-value material that’s easy to manufacture yet difficult to collect and recycle. However, we have better alternatives that have a longer lifespan and are easier to recycle, so the only way to eliminate single-use plastic from use is to ban it. Things like plastic bags, straws and foam food containers are all better eliminated with a worldwide ban. The US government already set up plastic bag fees and bans, plastic straw restrictions and foam container prohibitions.
While plastic bottles can be recycled, the best strategy is still reducing disposable bottle production and demand. With public drinking fountains and water refill stations, cities can reduce single-use plastic bottle consumption. Free and quality sources of water will definitely reduce waste.
Incentivized reverse vending or IRV is very successful at reducing plastic pollution, mainly single-use water bottles. These reverse vending machines allow people to dispose of plastic bottles and get cash refunds like in London, prizes like in Abu Dhabi, metro tickets like in Istanbul or paid telephone cards like in Kuala Lumpur. These benefits push people to willingly return empty bottles which results in a clean and constant stream of recycling materials and less litter.
China is a very forward-thinking country, but one thing is for sure—it’s still not synonymous with green living. People of China battle air pollution every day feeling quite helpless when it comes to making a change. However, the war on pollution in China is finally in its good phase with the biggest culprits identified and some good attack strategies in place. China has won many battles in the past (e. g. against poverty) so we can all expect improvements in the future.
Some of the most innovative solutions when it comes to cleaning out the air are definitely Smog-Free Towers. Installed in Beijing, these interesting-looking towers can clean out 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour and they require very little energy for the process. The smog particles the towers collect are compressed and used for making rings, cufflinks and other similar items in order to further engage the public with the project and pollution issues.
Strict vehicle testing
New vehicles emit fewer polluting particles all thanks to rigorous tests and controls. Since 2013, Europe’s roads have an effective system of monitoring of buses and freight trucks. Passenger cars are tested in real-life conditions and monitored on the streets. Vehicles that fail to meet the standards are sanctioned or even excluded from the traffic. This practice can reduce NOx emission and provide cleaner air in cities.
Vehicle ban in certain parts of the city
The European Union has strict air pollution limits, yet still, many cities are exceeding those limits. Luckily, people are having none of this, so they are taking cities to court. While the European Commission offers some answers, other cities decided to take matters into their own hands by banning cars from city centers (Oslo, Ghent), introducing car-free days (Paris, Madrid, Bogota) or implementing diesel car bans. In Germany, authorities are aiming to introduce a “blue badge” that will be awarded to cars that meet standards and can enter the city center.
Encouraging alternative mobility patterns can also help reduce air pollution and slow down climate change. Many cities are putting more money into public transport and cycling infrastructure. In big cities, e-bikes are great alternatives to personal vehicles. In most countries, electric cars are still very rare, but in Norway, every fifth car is battery-driven. Thanks to this, the Norwegian government plans to stop gasoline and diesel vehicle sale by 2025.
As we all know, plants have the ability to produce oxygen, but they can also act as toxin filters that “soak up” toxic particles from the air. Also, plants help keep the cities cool and reduce the urban heat island effect. Planting trees can be a problem due to the space they require, but creating green walls on existing façades can solve that problem. Cities like Dresden in Germany created special walls covered with moss and each one of these green walls can filter as much air as 200 trees.
After many governments failed to meet pollution limits, cities decided to do their best to lower waste and pollution and to provide their citizens with a healthy and bright future. We can expect many urban environments to follow suit in the future.
Chloe is a journalist who loves to write about sustainability and lifestyle-related topics. She is also passionate about photography. Her biggest dream is to travel the whole world and take some stunning photographs of beautiful places. Besides all this, she enjoys drinking coffee and reading a beautiful book from time to time. You can find her on
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