This is a section of a five-part series produced by FLOW to educate residents about backyard conservation.
When you imagine water pollution, what do you see? Factories pumping out sludge into rivers? A plastic island? Giant fishing boats throwing their nets overboard? When we think about pollution, we often think about point source pollution, that is, pollution from a single source like a pipe or smokestack from a single mill or factory. We can try to combat this pollution with our consumer choices, how we vote, and by supporting organizations that take polluters head-on. However, the type of pollution we often forget about is non-point source pollution, which can be reduced simply by our everyday actions. Non-point pollution is more discrete: it is the accumulation of everyday people’s little bits of excess fertilizer or leaks in their cars picked up by stormwater runoff and taken to our waterways. Still, it adds up to be a lot.
Imagine pollution again, but this time picture pollution in your community, in your backyard, and what you can do to make a difference. By reducing the quantity of pollutants used in your home, yard, and garage, you can improve the quality of our waterways.
To start, hazards and toxins make their way from your home to your rivers and tributaries. To avoid such pollutants altogether, you can look for non-toxic labels in the store or the EPA’s safer choice eco-label. To prevent pollutants from being picked up by runoff, store paints, pesticides, and other chemicals in waterproof containers and on a shelf off the ground. To dispose of hazardous wastes, be sure to do so properly and safely. For paints, they can be combined with kitty litter, sawdust, or another hardener and thrown out in the garbage if latex-based. Oil-based paints need to be taken to a disposal center. Knowing what to do with each item can be difficult. To find drop-off sites for waste and more information in central Ohio, check the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio or SWACO’s website. There are also less obvious pollutants in your home. For instance, salt-based water softeners can release chloride that pollutes our water. By keeping a watchful and discerning eye around the house, you can identify and reduce pollutants in your home.
Rose Royce’s 1976 song “Car Wash” has many things going for it: a funky groove, peak spots on the Billboard Top 100, and even some good eco-friendly advice. Cars and car care doesn’t just create air pollution, they also have an effect on our waterways. Just as Royce sings about the possibility and magic of car washes, washing your car at a commercial car wash rather than at home is often safer for the environment and can save water. The phosphates in soaps runoff from our driveways. Plus, commercial car washes use up to 60% less water. To safely wash your car at home, do it on gravel or in your yard, empty the dirty water into sinks or toilets, and use biodegradable, phosphate-free, water-based cleaners only. Beyond washing your car, clean up or stop leaks and have a drip pan handy if you notice a leak. Don’t spill gasoline when filling up your tank or other yard machines. Finally, to manage your driveway and walks, sweep rather than spray and try to limit the use of salts. Taking good care of your car can also take care of the environment.
On average, each person produces nearly 200 pounds of yard waste annually. How we manage that waste has a big environmental impact. Grass clippings, leaves, twigs, trimmings, and the like can end up in our waterways where they release nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that cause harmful algal blooms and oxygen shortages. Simply put, yard waste in our storm sewers is bad news. To properly manage yard waste, try your hand at composting or try out some other tips. Rather than disposing of grass clippings, consider “grasscycling,” leaving clippings on your yard and thus fertilizing your grass. Leaflitter provides habitat for lightning bugs and other helpful insects, so maybe limit your raking and leave your leaves alone. Be sure to sweep clippings off paved surfaces like sidewalks back onto your lawn. If not using or composting your yard waste, be sure to check with your local officials to learn about waste collection in our community. In Columbus, consult the city’s website or call (614) 645-3111.
Based on your specific lifestyle, there are other practices you can adopt to be a better steward of your waterways. If you have pets, be sure to bury, wrap and throw away, or flush their waste as it contains bacteria that is harmful to waterways. If you have a swimming pool, try to drain it to a sanitary sewer system and research best practices.
Pollution doesn’t just result from mismanagement by big companies, it also results from all of our choices. For more information on how to reduce your pollution and on backyard conservation, you can consult FLOW’s website, online information from the EPA, or guides from the USDA. Your watershed thanks you!