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Doing Our Bit for Sustainability

Everyone contributes to the problem of air pollution, but it is not only governments which can take action to reduce the threat of poor air quality, acid rain and global warming. For their policies to work effectively and for their targets to be achieved, the actions of the individual are required. The cumulative effects of saving energy, reducing waste and adopting more environmentally friendly forms of transport by individuals would reduce the need for energy and resource consumption. In this way the actions of the individual can help to promote the conservation of natural resources like coal, oil and gas and bring about a reduction in air pollution, thereby encouraging more sustainable development.

Most of the electricity we use in our homes is produced by large power stations which burn coal, oil and gas, and release greenhouse gases and other air pollutants in the process. If we reduced our use of electricity, we could conserve stocks of fossil fuels and reduce air pollution. Using less electricity also means savings on fuel bills. In addition, many homes are now supplied by natural gas for space and water heating. Although the burning of natural gas in homes is more efficient and cleaner than older solid fuel heating, it still releases carbon dioxide and contributes towards global warming. Energy used in the home can be saved by a number of measures, including draught-proofing, insulation, and using energy efficient lighting and other household appliances. Although some energy-saving ideas may involve a substantial initial expense, in the long run the reduction in energy consumption saves money through reduced fuel bills.

We can also help to reduce the consumption of energy and raw materials used in manufacturing, by reducing the amount of waste we produce, re-using products, and recycling them where possible. At present, consumers in the UK produce about 28 million tonnes of domestic rubbish each year. That's about 500 kilograms for every person in the country. Currently most of this waste is dumped into landfill sites. Landfilled waste produces the second most important greenhouse gas, methane. The Government is trying to increase the amount of household waste that is recycled to 25% by 2005 and to 33% by 2015. Examples of materials that can be recycled include paper, glass, plastics, clothing, aluminium cans and organic materials such as waste food for composting. There are many council sites which currently collect waste for recycling, and the number is likely to increase in the future.

Transport is the fastest growing energy-consumption sector, in the UK and throughout the world. Nearly all cars burn petrol or diesel and account for about 20% of worldwide man-made carbon dioxide emissions. The average car user is responsible each year for a weight of carbon dioxide roughly equivalent to the weight of the car. In addition, cars and other forms of motorised road transport release other air pollutants which contribute to poor air quality and acid rain. Individual car use can be reduced by choosing alternative modes of travel, including public transport, walking and cycling.