B.C. Air Quality

What Individuals Can Do

Individual action in our own community, region and province is key to reducing all kinds of air quality problems — from neighbourhood smoke to global atmospheric degradation. Each one of us plays a part in polluting the air. Equally, there's so much we can do to become part of the environmental solution. Here are some suggestions:

Getting Around

  • Break the automobile addiction! Use public transit or join a carpool. Better yet, ride your bike or use your feet. Even if each of us leaves our car at home just once a week, the reduction in emissions will be substantial.

  • Combine errands to save gas and reduce exhaust. Parking and walking is easier on the air than sitting with your motor running (idling) at drive-through restaurants and banks.

  • Don't idle. Idling is running the vehicle, instead of turning it off, when it’s sitting still or parked longer than 10 seconds (e.g., when you’re waiting for someone). If all Canadians avoided idling for just five minutes every day, we could prevent more than two million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. That’s like taking 380,000 cars off the road!

  • Idling is not an effective way to warm up a vehicle. The best way to do this is to drive the vehicle slowly for the first five kilometres or so. To find out more, visit Idle Free BC or the Idle-Free Zone.

  • Switch to cleaner fuels. Cleaner fuels (alternative fuels) are low-polluting fuels that can be used in motor vehicles instead of gasoline or diesel. Examples include ethanol, methanol, natural gas and electricity.

  • Slow down when you drive. You'll use less gas and thereby produce less pollution.

  • Drive slowly on unpaved roads and other dirt surfaces so that your vehicle doesn’t kick up dust.

  • Prevent gas leaks and evaporation by resisting the temptation to overfill your gas tank. Gas emits VOCs, one of the major building blocks of smog.

  • Keep your vehicle engine in top condition with a regular tune-up and an annual emissions check.

  • Use radial tires to cut down on tire drag and save gas. By inflating your tires to the manufacturer's recommended pressure you'll save up to 10% on fuel consumption.

  • Rather than owning a vehicle, consider joining a car-sharing co-operative. You'll end up driving less, which is good news for the air. You'll also save money.

  • Looking for a new vehicle? Go for a smaller, fuel-efficient model with low emissions. Buy for your regular use, rather than getting a larger vehicle you rarely need (and which you can rent).

  • If you have an older, polluting car that you'd like to get rid of, look into the BC Scrap-It Program, which provides strong incentives to take old vehicles off the road.

  • For school children, create a walking school bus: a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. For more information, visit ICBC’s Way to Go website.

Home Sweet Home

  • Conserve energy. Some sources indicate that Canadians use more energy, per capita, than any other people in the world. A family of four is responsible for releasing 20 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, each year.

  • Most of our energy comes from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal). The emissions from these fuels are the primary source of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas. Fossil fuel use also releases particulate matter and smog-forming pollutants.

  • The home is the third biggest energy hog in the country, after industry and transportation. Most of our household energy is used for space heating, but a lot is wasted because of inefficient house construction and poor heating methods. The average Canadian home loses about a quarter of its heat through air leaks.

  • It doesn't have to be this way. An energy-efficient house that traps passive solar energy and retains it by minimizing air leaks can reduce annual energy consumption by over half that of a conventional home. This can create substantial benefits for both the atmosphere and our energy bills.

  • Set your thermostat no higher than 20°C during the day, and turn it down when you're out or asleep.

  • Have your furnace serviced regularly to ensure efficient operation.

  • Keep your water heater at 50°C, and use cold water whenever possible.

  • To keep your home warm in winter and cool in summer, follow these tips:
    • Insulate your home effectively and install a vapour barrier.
    • Caulk or weather strip cracks and holes, as well as windows and doors.
    • Install windows that are efficient at preventing heat loss. Plastic insulating sheets that can be attached to window frames are also effective heat savers.
    • Close heating vents and doors to rooms you aren't using.
    • Plant a deciduous tree beside your home to keep out the sun in summer and let in the warmth during winter.
    • Convert to cleaner, more efficient fuels. Natural gas is an interim solution. Though it's more efficient than oil and creates fewer emissions, gas is still a fossil fuel and releases large quantities of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
    • Hydroelectricity is preferable to both natural gas and oil for heating, although it has environmental repercussions, too. Solar energy is another viable option.

More Hints for a Green Lifestyle

  • Avoid garden tools that run on gasoline. The engine in a gas-powered lawn mower produces eight times the pollution that a car engine does. The best option is human energy: push a hand mower, and use a rake instead of a leaf blower. Your neighbors will appreciate the peace and quiet, and your body will get a free workout!

  • Paint with water-based (latex) paint rather than the oil-based variety. Oil-based paint contains three to five times more toxic solvents than latex.

  • Close paint cans tightly. An open 4.5 litre can of paint emits up to a kilogram of VOCs by the time all the paint has dried up.

  • Steer clear of aerosol cans containing products such as paint, deodorant and hair spray. The gases that make the product shoot out contribute to smog.

  • Buy products with less packaging. It takes a lot of energy to make packaging, and VOCs are generated during the printing process. More packaging also means more solid waste, putting an extra strain on our landfills.

  • Large amounts of ozone-depleting substances (CFCs) are used as the coolant in refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners. If your appliance is leaking its coolant (or isn't working well), get it repaired as soon as possible to avoid further ozone depletion. Make sure your service technician is properly certified and recovers the CFC safely. This is required under B.C.'s Ozone Depleting Substances and Other Halocarbons Regulation.

  • Turn off the lights when you don't need them. You'll reduce your electricity consumption, and have lower bills, too!

  • Use energy-efficient light bulbs. If every B.C. household replaced two regular (incandescent) light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, the energy saved could power 30,000 homes.

  • Conserve water: A leaky hot water tap can waste up to 13,000 litres of water a year. If the faucets are fixed, they’ll save energy used to heat the water in the hot water tank.

  • Hang clothes out to dry instead of using a dryer, when you can. Wash your clothes in cold water. When you’re buying a new washer or dryer, consider buying low-energy ones.

  • Turn off your computer and your television when they’re not in use. Program your computer to power down into sleep mode when you’re not on it. By the way, screen savers don’t save energy. In fact, they can prevent the sleep mode feature from working.

  • Plant a tree or garden at home or school. Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, and convert it to oxygen, which we need to breathe. They are also natural air filters, breaking down pollutants and reducing dust. In addition, trees are energy-free providers of shade in summer, and a windbreak in winter.

  • Be an environmentally friendly shopper. Buy products that don’t have a lot of packaging and can be recycled. Buy local products. The average meal travels 2,500 km to our plate. To get there, the elements of the meal probably traveled by fossil-fuel-based transportation, such as motor vehicles, planes, trains and marine vessels. When we buy local products, we cut down the travel time of that product, which helps to decrease air pollution.

Where There's Fire, There's Smoke

Wood smoke is much like cigarette smoke, containing a mixture of tiny particles (called particulate matter, or PM) and gases. The smaller particulate matter, PM2.5 can be breathed into the deepest reaches of our lungs. They are associated with serious (sometimes fatal) breathing and heart disorders. Particulate matter also tends to pick up other hazardous pollutants, giving them a free ride into the lungs.

Besides, the stuff we frequently toss into the fire shouldn't be wasted! Leaves, clippings and branches can be reused — to make compost or wood chips (mulch), for example. Here are some smart-burning tips:

  • Instead of burning your garden leftovers, start a backyard compost. Some cities have community composts that you can use.

  • Don't burn your garbage or building materials (e.g. plastics, tires, garbage, painted wood, paper and cardboard). These can release very toxic substances when they are burned. Reduce your waste by avoiding over-packaging. And recycle everything you can.

  • When you burn wood, make sure the combustion is efficient, releasing the least possible amount of smoke:
    • Wet or green wood produces a lot of smoke. Wood should be properly seasoned in a dry place for at least six months.
    • Avoid wood that is treated, painted, or laden with salt from exposure to sea water.
    • Buy an efficient, certified wood stove that's just the right size for your home. Install and operate it correctly. Overloading your stove or starving the fire of air are both harmful.
  • Think of your neighbors' health, not to mention your own — don't burn when the smoke won't dissipate from the area, such as on cold, clear and calm nights. Be aware of the "no-burn" periods in your community, and don't bend the rules!

Extend Your Commitment to Community Action

  • Spread the news! Tell your friends and neighbours how they can help protect the environment. Your own example and gentle persuasion can really count.

  • Whenever you shop, make choices for the environment. Cut down your consumption, first of all. Buy environmentally friendly products — encourage retailers to stock them and get rid of more harmful products.

  • Ask your employer to consider starting a carpool and switching to alternative work patterns — for example, compressed work weeks and working at home (telecommuting). Your workplace could also develop a "work-bike policy," in which bikes are provided at the office for business travel. See The Ministry of Environment's Work-Bike Policy: Use of Bicycles for Business Travel.

  • Support urban planning that lowers automobile use. Options include:
    • promoting bicycle use and bike paths;
    • improving public transit systems; and
    • developing vehicle-free areas.

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