Since the Industrial Revolution forever changed humanity’s relationship with the natural world, we’ve been steadily harming the planet with our economic activity. From spewing toxins into the air to polluting bays, oceans, and rivers, we’ve managed to do all sorts of harm in the last two centuries. Luckily, recent decades have brought a tidal wave of awareness regarding our responsibility to protect the environment. Governments, community organizations, and ardent individuals have worked to clean up polluted or compromised natural landscapes. These efforts have made considerable progress, but there is still much work to do as pollution continues to threaten countless ecosystems. Here are some of the types of environmental cleanup projects taking place around the world today.
Lots of environmental cleanup projects center on the simple need to remove man-made debris and waste from places where it doesn’t belong. Contaminated soil containing volatile organic compounds or other toxic elements needs to be physically removed with heavy machinery and then hauled away. When these toxins are found in the sludge or substrate of waterways, extensive dredging is required. Once the contaminated soil is dredged up and contained in a spot where it can no longer do harm, scientists can treat the soil until it is once again safe and healthy.
Contaminated soil must be cleaned, or “remediated” in scientific parlance, to keep it from doing harm to the natural environment. There are a number of ways to clean contaminated soil. One popular method is called “nanoremediation,” in which nanomaterials are injected into the soil to immobilize or absorb arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals. Thermal desorption, which involves the separation of toxins from the rest of the soil, is another popular stategy.
This less-scientific approach is a common way for communities to come together and combat environmental degradation. Every year, countless tons of plastic and other human products find their way from our communities into the oceans. Coastal inhabitants can make a small but meaningful impact by organizing beach cleanup efforts. By picking up the trash lining the ocean, they do their part to cut back on the nefarious pollution that’s clogging up the planet’s waterways and decimating many aquatic species. These cleanups might not solve any problems all by themselves, but they help set the tone at a point in human history when we all need to think about environmental issues.
Sometimes pollutants find their way into our precious groundwater systems. Perhaps a plumbing component has failed, or maybe microbial induced corrosion has caused a leak. Whatever led to the issue, it needs to be dealt with immediately to avoid irreparable damage to the natural ecosystems and the human populations that count on these water sources to survive. Pumping out groundwater and treating it in a scientific facility is one method to combat this pernicious method. Another common strategy involves injecting hydrocarbon mitigation agents into contaminated aquifers.
This is a unique approach to contaminated ecosystems that essentially amounts to using nature itself to help clean up nature. Environmental remediation experts seek to tweak the conditions in a natural environment to encourage the growth of microorganisms that will then clean up the contaminated elements by virtue of their own biological tendencies. It is an ingenious strategy, but it is not always so easy to pull off. Scientists need to be sure that the alterations to the natural environment will not bring about any external, unwanted side effects. That’s why this technique is used sparingly, and only with extreme diligence.
Earth’s very existence is truly a miracle. Our planet and the environment it provides is what allows us to survive and thrive as a species. That’s why it is so important to keep our natural habitat healthy. By using the methods mentioned above, small communities, national governments, and international organizations can help keep the Earth clean and healthy for future generations.