Explainer

Air Quality: What can be done to improve air quality?

Air pollution can have a devastating impact on our health and well-being.

But there are lots of things we can do to improve the air quality around us - and many are very simple. In short, we need to reduce the fossil fuels we burn individually and as a community and country.

Heating

Around 20% of our carbon emissions in the UK come from our homes - heating and electricity. If it’s possible you could consider changing from a gas boiler to a renewable heating source such as solar panels or ground source heating. When at home you can help by reducing the amount of electricity you use. This saves energy thus reducing the amount of air pollution created at power stations. You can also opt for renewable energy suppliers or tariffs.

If you can, avoid using wood burners and fires - if you need to use solid fuels, try to make sure they are smokeless. If you are burning wood check it is dry so it burns efficiently.

Transport

We can make a big difference here both to our planet and the air around us. Avoid using petrol or diesel vehicles where possible – use public transport or walk or cycle instead. Car-sharing is another option if you have to use a car.

Electric vehicles are far better for our air quality - particularly if your electricity supplier uses renewable energy. But remember even electric cars are sources of particle pollution caused by the dust from tyres and breaks so avoiding cars full stop remains the best option.

By 2030, new cars that only run on fossil fuels will no longer be sold in the UK – that will go a long way to improving the air quality near our roads.

You can also avoid idling - leaving your engine on while it’s stationary. This is particularly important around schools. Children are at greater risk because their lungs are developing and their height makes them closer to the exhausts. Did you know that you can be fined for idling? 

Waste and recycling

Waste that goes to landfill and waste that is burned creates pollution. It’s best to limit use of plastics and other single use items and recycle what you can. Buy sustainably when and where possible. 

Food

Food and air pollution are also linked. According to a UN-backed study more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity can be attributed to the way we produce, process and package food. There are many campaigns to eat more sustainably produced food to improve our climate and to create less waste. According to the UN 17% of all food is dumped - not only wasting the resources used to make it but adding to pollution as it breaks down.

You can stay up to date with the latest Daily Air Quality Index

Air Quality Index Example Credit: ITV Weather - with data from DEFRA and Met Office

 It uses a colour coded scale of 1 to 10.

Low air pollution is between 1 and 3, Moderate between 4 and 6, High is between 7 and 9, and Very High is 10 on the scale 

Air pollution levels Credit: ITV Weather, DEFRA and Met Office
  • 1-3: Enjoy your usual outdoor activities

  • 4-6: At risk individuals consider reducing physical activity outdoors

  • 7-9: Anyone experiencing discomfort should reduce physical activity

  • 10: Everyone should avoid or reduce physical activity

You can find more information on air quality on the CleanAirHub