Eight ways to fight air pollution from your doorstep

Day 3: An invisible menace like air pollution can be a daunting adversary. How can we fight something we can’t see, touch or sometimes even notice?

Pic: Sarah Glover-Smith

Living in the bustling capital is not without its perks, but one drawback is the low air quality Londoners endure. The city’s constant throng of traffic and its population of just under nine million people contribute to London’s high level of air pollution, which is being shown to have devastating effects on health.

IQ Air, a world-wide watchdog for air pollution, states that, “for at least the past three years, London’s annual average PM2. 5 level has exceeded the World Health Organisation’s target limit of 10µg/m3”. In fact, London’s average level of 11.4µg/m3 measured at 14% above the limit, placing vulnerable groups like children and elderly people at risk of illness and affecting every London resident’s quality of life. 

Luckily, combatting air pollution – or at least mitigating its effects – can be as simple as shutting your window to passing traffic. Read on for some straightforward lifestyle alterations you can make today to lower your carbon footprint for good.

Get on your bike

When it comes to pollutant-free travel, slow and steady wins the race. Cycling and walking are two simple ways to cut down on your personal carbon consumption, and both provide a myriad of health benefits. Why not borrow a Boris bike for the afternoon, or swap your sweaty Tube journey for a cycle? 

Hackney is leading the way here. An LSE study in 2017 named Hackney as having the highest level of commuter journeys made by cycling in all of London, as 15.4% of all commuter travel in Hackney is on two wheels. 

Cycling is a great way to reduce carbon emissions. Pic: Jordan Brierley/Unsplash

Turn off your engine

Idling cars are the devil’s tools! If driving is unavoidable, there are ways to lower your impact on the planet during your morning commute, one of which is to avoid idling in traffic jams or when waiting by the roadside. 

Not only is idling with your car engine on a major source of pollution, it is also illegal. Local environmental consultancy firm CWC Environmental carries out anti-idling campaigns, and worked in conjunction with the London-wide campaign run by Idling Action to encourage drivers to switch their car off whenever possible. 

Idling releases dangerous pollution into the air. Pic: Jacek Dylag/Unsplash

Shop local

Lowering food miles by shopping with nearby suppliers is a surefire way to decrease your carbon footprint; but city life can make it hard to source local, organic produce. Local institutions like Brockley Market in Lewisham, provide a weekly opportunity to stock up on locally sourced fruit and vegetables, among a wide variety of products. 

And markets aren’t only useful for grocery shopping – Broadway Market in Hackney offers clothing, artwork, books and many more. Although the pandemic heavily affected this Victorian street market, most of its wares are now available in its online shop, while the market itself still stocks essential food and goods. 

Helping small scale vendors is only one of the benefits of local markets. Pic: M Ashraful Alam/Unplash

Go zero waste, with zero fuss

If you want to extend your commitment to climate-friendly shopping beyond just groceries, why not visit a zero waste store? Swop, a “shop without packaging” in Lee Green, Lewisham, promises “organic zero waste shopping that doesn’t cost the earth”. 

Run by local residents Jess and Claire, Swop stocks dry foods like grains, seeds and nuts as well as detergents, shampoos and beauty products. They also welcome customer requests for new products, so you can find alternatives for all your usual products which won’t be transported in vans and lorries from hundreds of miles away. What’s not to like?

Are zero waste stores the future of grocery shopping? Pic: Benjamin Brunner/Unsplash

Grow your own

Looking for a retreat from hectic London life, but can’t grow so much as an Aldi basil plant in your flat? Look no further than an allotment. According to Croydon Council, applications in the borough for a spot on one of their 17 allotment sites have seen an “unprecedented increase” during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 1000 applications since March 2020. 

It’s no surprise that Londoners are yearning for their own fresh produce and haven of nature in the busy city, and growing your own fruit and vegetables is a win-win – more healthy produce and a new hobby for you, and an extra patch of well-tended nature for the planet. 

Nothing beats a meal you’ve grown yourself. Pic: Elaine Casap/Unsplash

Ditch the woodburner

It may be deliciously cozy to curl up by a real fire, but the craze for wood burning stoves and log fires has ignited a new domestic air pollution crisis. Jemima Hartshorn, founder of air pollution activism group Mums for Lungs, said that when using a wood burning stove, “we’re talking about the same level of emissions as 18 diesel cars, or six diesel HGVs.”

Mums for Lungs has made awareness-raising around wood burning an important part of their campaigning, stating on their website that,“wood burning is a greater source of pollution than older vehicles when it comes to particulate matter.” So swapping your traditional fire for a more eco-friendly source of electricity, though slightly less fashionable, will make an important difference to the planet.

It may be cozy, but it’s not eco-friendly! Pic: Hayden Scott/Unsplash

Buy secondhand

Secondhand is the new black! Avoiding fast fashion is a straightforward method of cutting down your own emissions, and it has never been easier to stay on trend while shopping locally. Hackney is a rich source of quality vintage items, boasting an array of secondhand stores full of affordable clothing. Try Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney Central, a vintage store which transforms into a buzzing bar at night, or head to Dusty Fingers vintage market for a monthly fix.

Other great options include Beyond Retro Dalston, The Market Cartel and Hackney Flea Market. With so many high quality secondhand options, it’s time to make your fast fashion addiction a thing of the past.

Vintage stores are full of hidden treasures. Pic: Umanoide/Unsplash

Take action

Change doesn’t happen overnight – it relies upon the actions of those who have had enough of the status quo. One such group is Choked Up , a Kingston-based campaign group which fights for clean air equality. 

‘We grew up along the polluted streets of London, breathing illegal air,” reads a statement on the group’s Twitter account. “Our stories have been forgotten and overlooked. But not anymore.”

Another way to get involved in air pollution activism is by campaigning with a larger group such as Extinction Rebellion, who hit the headlines in their early stages for their outlandish methods of protest. The group has factions in each of the ELL boroughs, among its many London outlets, and each holds regular meetings online in addition to seminars and protest marches.

A poster for the controversial Extinction Rebellion group. Pic: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Click here to read more of the clean air series #ELL4CleanAir

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