Water pollution is a pressing issue that causes illness and even death in humans and other species, on top of also disrupting ecosystems. Water pollution is any change in water quality that can harm living organisms or make water unfit for human use. The chief sources of water pollution are agricultural activities, industrial facilities, and inning. Growth in population and resource use only makes water pollution increasingly worse. The image below show the various types and ways that pollution can find it’s way to our water sources.


Water pollution is especially prominent in streams and lakes. Streams and rivers around the world are extensively polluted, but they can however cleanse themselves of many pollutants if we do not overload them or disrupt their flows. Streams and rivers can breakdown wastes on their own through a combination of dilution and bacterial breakdown, but this process is limited when streams become overloaded with pollutants or when their flows are disrupted by drought, damming, or water diversion. This process also only eliminates biodegradable waste, not slowly degrading or non-degradable wastes like trash and litter. Less developed countries appear to be more subject to stream and river pollution as a result of lacking a sewage system.

Water pollution in China

Water pollution in China

Chemicals used in agriculture, industry, transportation, and homes can spill and leak into groundwater, and make it undrinkable. There are both simple and complex ways to purify groundwater used as a source of drinking water, but protecting it through pollution prevention is the least expensive and most effective strategy. By making effort to avoid polluting our water sources in the first place, that is less time, money, and energy spent on cleaning that polluted water for drinking. Ground water cannot cleanse itself in the way that some rivers and streams can, making it that much more important to take preventative measures to avoid pollution. Fortunately in developed countries we have things like water filters (Brita filters) and regulated reservoirs to provide us with clean water for drinking, but some less developed countries are not so fortunate. It is important that we try to bring water filtration to these countries, and educate them on how to prevent their water form getting polluted in the first place.

There is also a considerable amount of pollution problems affecting oceans. The great majority of ocean pollution originates on land and includes oil and other toxic chemicals as well as solid waste; this threaten fish and wildlife while also disrupting marine ecosystems. The key to preventing this disruption and to protecting the oceans is to reduce the flow of pollution from land to air and from streams into emptying ocean waters. We can prevent coastal water pollution by:

  • reducing the input of toxic pollutants
  • sperate sewage and storm water lines
  • ban dumping of wastes and sewage by ships in coastal waters
  • ban dumping of hazardous material
  • strictly regulate coastal development, oil drilling, and oil shipping
  • require double hulls for oil tankers (to prevent spillage)

We can also lessen already polluted waters by:

  • Improving oil-spill clean up capabilities
  • use nanoparticles on sewage and oil spills to dissolve the oil or sewage
  • require secondary treatment of coastal sewage
  • use wetlands, solar-aquatic, or other methods to treat sewage

Reducing water pollution requires that we prevent it, work with nature to treat sewage, cut resource use and waste, reduce poverty, and slow population growth.

Slid waste is also a source of pollution and represents the unnecessary consumption of resources; hazardous waste contributes to pollution as well as to natural capital degradation, health problems, and premature deaths. Solid waste is one of the biggest categories of waste; it consists of any unwanted or discarded material that is not a liquid or gas. When we throw things that contain harmful chemicals away, we are essentially throwing those chemicals into the environment.


A sustainable approach to dealing with solid waste is first to minimize and reduce it, then to reuse or recycle it. Finally if there is still something left, we should safely dispose of it. It is our first priority to prevent waste and pollution and our second to manage any waste we do produce. The three words to keep in mind not only in this chapter and textbook but in our everyday lives are REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE! We should rent and borrow things when we can, avoid disposables and throw aways, read online newspapers and e-books, buy in bulk,  etc to help reduce the amount of waste we individually contribute to the environment.

Reusing items decreases the consumption of matter and energy resources, while also reducing pollution and natural capital degradation. Recycling items does the same thing just to a lesser degree. Doing this avoids having to burn or bury solid waste. Technologies for burning and burying solid wastes are well developed, but burning contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and buried wastes eventually contribute to the pollution and degradation of land and water resources. It is because of these things that we should make our first priority minimizing the amount of waste we create. Although burning our waste makes it disappear it makes greenhouse gasses and pollutants appear in the air, we need to find a way to replace this win-lose approach with a type of win-win, or rather find a way to dispose of hazardous waste without substantially harming the environment.

A sustainable approach to hazardous waste is to first produce less of it (as previously mentioned), then to reuse and recycle it, then to convert it to less hazardous materials (if possible), and finally to safely store what is left. Unfortunately the only answer to storing the waste is in landfills, underground injection wells, surface impoundments, and underground salt formations, all of which have their own environmental disadvantages which is why we should really made it a priority to reduce our waste. Shifting to a low waste society requires individuals and businesses to reduce resource use and to reuse and recycle wastes at not only local levels, but national and globe levels as well.

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