National Clean Air Day 2019

Written by Victoria Duckworth

Clean Air day is the UK’s largest air pollution campaign and there are three key things worth highlighting. Air pollution is real. Air pollution is not only a UK issue but a global issue. Air pollution harms (and will continue to harm) the health of millions of people.

According to the WHO, air pollution levels remain at dangerously high levels in many parts of the world. Data reveals that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants and in the UK, it is estimated that there are a staggering 36,000 deaths a year related to air pollution.

It is not surprising therefore that air pollution is being talked about in the media, and the current BBC series ‘War of Plastic with Hugh and Anita’ touched on this topic just a few days ago. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall put micro-plastics under the microscope, noting that microscopic plastic particles have already been found in the deepest ocean trenches, the highest mountain ranges, and in ice-core samples in the Arctic. With mounting concern about what they could be doing to our health, Hugh learns that one major source is our synthetic clothes – and even shredding from us as we walk down the street. He discovers that it is also raining down from us after being found in the air and may well be entering our lungs.

Governments, brands / organisations and us as individuals need to have this issue on our radar. We all should be playing a part in both helping to reduce the levels of air pollution and helping protect ourselves against it.

From speaking to consumers across the globe, we have uncovered a few key themes on the topic:

  • Consumer awareness of pollutants largely revolves around traffic and crowded cities – exhaust fumes and no green spaces. Some consumers also consider anything that can cause a negative respiratory problem such as strong chemical cleaners or perfumes to be pollutants. It is outdoor air pollution rather than indoor pollution that tends to be top of mind
  • There is an element of the unknown, while many feel the symptoms of toxic air there are underlying concerns around the long-term impact of exposure
  • Pollution is strongly considered to be a man-made problem
  • Consumers generally do not feel they are in control of their exposure to pollutants. They also do not know who or where to look for advice

…So what can be done to address the quality of the air we breathe?

Individuals can help the issue and can help protect themselves and others around them. Small changes can make a big difference, collectively. For example

  • Changing how we travel; walking and cycling, car shares
  • Thinking about the products we buy e.g.
  • Using roll-on deo rather than an aerosol
  • Open window rather than using air fresheners
  • Choose paints with the ‘low VOC’ label
  • Don’t forget what is in your home; service your boiler regularly, when cooking put lids on pans when possible, open widows and use extractor fans
  • Be mindful of what we burn; always use fully dried out wood for wood burning stoves
  • Choose the route you travel; taking the scenic route, avoiding busy main roads
  • Close windows when stuck in traffic or going through tunnels
  • Take trips to green spaces / woodlands / countryside

Some consumers are buying plants for the home in order to help purify the air they breathe. Research carried out by NASA showed some plants can remove pollution from the air – Ivy, spider plants, Peace Lilies and Chrysanthemums are named as such plants.

When researching in Asia, it is quickly evident that wearing face masks is common consumer behaviour. New Delhi is recognised to be one of the worlds most polluted cities. Pollution has worsened considerably, late last year the air pollution levels reached nearly 30 times the ‘safe’ amount as deemed by the WHO. We know that some brands are innovating within this space and worked with them to create insight; such as NPD for nasal filters designed to limit the impact of pollution on the respiratory system.

So what next for brands? Bearing in mind the learnings evident from the ‘War on Plastic’ series, brands should be pushing themselves to look more broadly at the impact they are having. If we look towards the clothing and laundry category as an example, many of our clothes contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic. Every time we wash these materials they shed millions of plastic microfibres which can drain out of our washing machines. Can innovation make it possible for appliances to filter out microplastics to eventually lessen or prevent this pollutant? Is there something that could be done to detergent formulas to aid this? Can we as consumers find a way to wash our clothes less? We aren’t expecting retailers to be able to press a magic button but they can start to urgently look into removing the most polluting items from our shelves, or finding alternatives.

In summary, at RDSi, we are drawing attention to Clean Air Day as we believe it is an important issue and we believe we need to act now. We all need to do what we can to make a difference.