What Is Pollution?

Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These pollutants can damage the quality of the air, water, and land and can have lasting effects on the environment. There are a lot of things that can produce pollution. Some of them are natural, like volcanic ash, but more often than not, they are created by human activity. What can be difficult is that plenty of things that are useful for humans are the very things that produce the most pollution. However, all living things depend on Earth's supply of clean natural resources, and there's much more to lose when the environment is in poor condition.

Pollution Causes

Pollution comes from many places, but the most prominent sources are human-made. Gas-powered cars and burning coal create air pollution. Garbage from homes and businesses can create land and water pollution, and chemical poisons like pesticides can seep into waterways and pollute the water.

Pollution may not seem like a big deal at first because the effects you see around you can be small; one might assume that the garbage only affects your local landfill, pesticides only affect your lawn, and the exhaust from one vehicle isn't that much. In a way, that's true: Urban areas where there is a larger population density are usually far more polluted than countrysides and remote locations. However, it's also misguided for two reasons. The first is that one household may not have a big effect, but there are many households in a community, county, state, or country, and when people in all of these households contribute to pollution, it adds up. But beyond that, pollution can also affect other places: The wind, ocean currents, and animals can help to carry pollutants far from their source, meaning that the damage you do in your own yard could cause negative effects many miles away. In fact, pesticides have even been found in the Antarctic!

Water pollution is a particularly large problem. In fact, garbage and microplastics have found their way into the Pacific Ocean in large amounts, creating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There are actually two patches, one between Hawaii and Japan called the Western Garbage Patch and one between Hawaii and California called the Eastern Garbage Patch. Both patches are linked together by a Subtropical Convergence Zone, where warm water from the Pacific Ocean connects to the cooler water in the Arctic Ocean has essentially created a highway that moves debris between the two patches. While it's true that water can break some materials down over time, most of the debris in the two garbage patches is not biodegradable, so it only breaks into smaller pieces. This means that the garbage patch likely won't get smaller without human intervention. And to make things worse, the sea floor beneath it is likely also a heap of trash because most marine debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

Pollution Facts

Here are some facts you might not have known about how much pollution affects our world: