Natural Vegetation Is an Effective Alternative to Expensive Anti‑Pollution Technology, Researchers Say
Growing plants and trees in areas surrounding factories and other such polluting structures could reduce pollution by an average of 27%, according to new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Researchers also found it is significantly cheaper to plant trees rather than invest in expensive anti-pollution technology like smokestack scrubbers.
“The fact is that traditionally, especially as engineers, we don’t think about nature; we just focus on putting technology into everything,” Bhavik Bakshi, lead author of the study and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at The Ohio State University, said in a statement. “And so, one key finding is that we need to start looking at nature and learning from it and respecting it. There are win-win opportunities if we do — opportunities that are potentially cheaper and better environmentally.”
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Researchers analyzed public data about air pollution and vegetation from counties in 48 U.S. states. Then, they calculated how much it would cost to add extra vegetation. They also factored in restorative planting — that is, bringing the vegetation of a region up to country-average levels — and how well vegetation could absorb pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter that contribute to smog.
Apart from a reduction in air pollution by 27%, researchers found that increasing vegetation could benefit both urban and rural areas, depending on the quality and quantity of land available for the plants and trees to grow in. Bakshi also said the species of plants used to repopulate areas could also make a difference, though a deeper look into species of plants wasn’t included in this research.
Researchers believe that nature should always be a part of plans to mitigate air pollution, especially for engineers and builders. “The thing that we are interested in is basically making sure that engineering contributes positively to sustainable development,” Bakshi said. “And one big reason why engineering has not done that is because engineering has kept nature outside of its system boundary.”