Which Industry Creates The Most Pollution?

Posted on 9th March 2015

Which Industry Creates The Most Pollution?


Recently here at AMA, we've been trying to encourage everyone we know to cut down on how much waste they produce. Whether it's friends and family or businesses big or small, almost everyone we meet could do more to make the world a little greener.


All of our environmental efforts have left us thinking though, who actually produces the most waste? Initially our thoughts turned to large factories and power stations, buildings with chimneys visibly pumping pollution into the atmosphere, but we decided to do a little research and come up with some answers for you.


Where Does The Waste Come From?


Perhaps the most surprising pollution-spilling businesses we found were the small and easily overlooked ones. It makes sense when you think about it, but even factory, office and shop cleaners can count amongst the most polluting of people. Throughout the UK, thousands of cleaners are employed who use harsh chemicals in their work, and the majority of those will then dispose of contaminated water down the drains.


Even within our own homes we are all likely to be contributing to water pollution, readily pouring bleach and other hazardous chemicals down the drain. Once we wash waste away we rarely think of where it's headed, but water pollution is a serious issue throughout the world, and one the authorities are no doubt working overtime to rectify.


Another small but common business area is motor garages. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of garages across the UK, each performing services and MOTs on all of our cars daily. With each car they work on these garages are consuming and disposing of vast quantities of oil and petrol, substances that can't easily be removed cleanly.


Chemicals like these are also widely used in manufacturing; often in those big factories that we initially suspected. Production of practically any modern material or item uses huge volumes of hazardous liquids, and although a lot of attention has been given in the past to air pollution, the harm caused by these liquid substances goes largely unreported.



The Waste Produced By Farming


One of the worst polluters around the world, not just in the UK, is farming, which came as a surprise to us, given that they naturally seem a lot greener than, say, a factory. Whilst most farms create some form of pollution, from animal waste, crop treatments and cleaning chemicals, the worst offenders are so called factory farms”.


Factory farming usually comprises intensive animal farming, the type where warehouses full of animals are kept together. Although these farms are present in the UK, the biggest impact of them can be seen in America, and there it presents some very worrying statistics. Factory farming in the US, for example, accounts for nearly 40% of the country's methane production, methane being more than 20 times worse for global warming than CO2, and farming even produces 3 times more raw waste than all the humans in the US.


Intensive farms have been the cause of some large environmental disasters in the US in the past too. In 1995 an eight-acre lagoon of waste was spilt into a river in North Carolina, killing over 10 million fish and damaging 364,000 acres of wetlands, and a recent similar incident in Illinois killed over 110,000 fish. Farming waste has a damaging effect on humans too, with a leaking storage tank in Maryland being blamed for an infection in nearby towns causing memory loss, cognitive issues and skin irritations for the locals.



How Polluting Is Transport?


Though technically not an industry, not in the same sense as manufacture and farming anyway, global transport is widely considered to be the worst offender when it comes to pollution levels. We've all heard in the past about the gasses produced by cars and planes, and how carpooling, public transport and eco-cars will help us to cut their impact.


What surprised us here at AMA though was the unheard of impact that shipping has on the environment. Research has shown that the world's 15 largest container ships produce as much pollution as all 760m cars on earth, due mostly to low-grade shipping fuel containing 2000 times more pollutants than diesel. To put this into perspective, the average car driving 15,000km a year will produce around 100 grams of sulphur oxide gasses, whilst the largest cargo ships will pump out up to 5,200 tonnes of it per year.


The cost of this pollution isn't only measured in the money spent on cleaning up the seas and coastlines, but in human impact too. It's estimated that in the US 60,000 people die prematurely due to shipping pollution each year, adding around $330billion to the healthcare bill.


Clearly the cost of pollution, wherever it is from and whatever form it takes, is too high to ignore. All of us here at AMA will continue to try and make the people and businesses we interact with go green this year, and we hope you will too.