2.1 What is environmental pollution?

The environment should be clean and safe and provide healthy surroundings for people and other living things. However, continued expansion of urban areas, industrialisation and population growth are causing environmental damage. Large quantities of industrial and community waste, as well as human bodily waste, are released into the environment every day. The effect of continued disposal of untreated waste and release of harmful substances is called environmental pollution.

Global warming is one well-known effect of environmental pollution, caused primarily by increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but there are many others. Many people are exposed to smoke from motor vehicles, burning wood or charcoal on a daily basis, which can cause respiratory infections. Industrial waste containing toxic chemicals causes contamination of water resources. Fertilisers and pesticides used by farmers are easily washed by rain into run-off water, eventually reaching surface water sources, such as rivers, and groundwater sources, such as wells and springs. Moreover, many wastes can also lead to pollution and degradation of soil, making it impossible to grow crops and other plants successfully. Examples of potential soil pollutants include waste from dumping sites, industry, vehicle workshops and chemical fertilisers.

There are many different causes of environmental pollution related to different types of waste; these are described in the following sections.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 2

2.2 Solid waste