Has COVID Moved Us Closer to Clean Air?

Posted on 17 June 2021 by CarTakeBack

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Clean Air Day, led by Global Action Plan, is the UK's largest air pollution campaign. In the lead up to this year's event, they've released the latest figures for deaths caused by air pollution, which now stand at a truly shocking 36,000 every year.

Global Action Plan states that the World Health Organisation and the UK Government recognise that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today, and looking at that figure it's not hard to understand why.

The Standard newspaper spoke to experts that believe the best way we can support Clean Air Day was to travel green; with the main source of this country's air pollution being transport. 80% of nitrogen dioxide is recorded at the roadside and 30% of fine particulate matter is traced to vehicle tailpipes. On that basis, we all have to address the uncomfortable fact that if we drive a car, we're contributing to that pollution.

It's hard to reference a silver lining to the tragic COVID pandemic, but as we face a climate and health crisis on an even bigger scale, we shouldn't shy away from the reality of the surreal experience we witnessed across towns and cities as the roads cleared. For a period of time, we and the environment, were able to enjoy cleaner air and experience what many campaigners had been hoping we'd achieve over decade's rather than days, during lockdown.

Empty road in Manchester
Government data showed that in March 2020 traffic on the roads dropped by nearly 80%. And although you would have expected that impact to be felt mostly by people living in built-up areas, a huge 88% of those of you we surveyed, from all over the UK, said that you noticed a significant reduction in road use in your area over the lockdowns. But has that affected how you travel now?

Graph showing drop in car use during lockdown
Obviously, for many people, it's not possible to ditch the car completely, or instantly replace it with an eco-friendly model. However, just over 7% of the customers that recycled their car with us recently, did so because of the alternative transport methods they used over this last year. 7% might not seem like a high figure, but if that percentage is representative of the whole driving population, once their cars are at their end-of-life, that will be 7% of the 38.6 million licensed vehicles in Britain that the Department of Transport tells us are on the roads! In other words, a possible 2.7 million people ready to swap their traditional-fuelled car for more environmentally friendly alternatives, once they are in a position to do so!

Clean Air Day 2021

This year's Clean Air Day is focused on protecting our children's health from air pollution and the campaign is promoting awareness and action, supported by the media and journalists keen to tackle this modern day demon.

Clean Air Day logo
The Daily Mail spoke to researchers who believe inhaling microscopic particles may affect children's brains. As well as known health benefits of improving air quality, they claim a reduction of a fifth in nitrogen dioxide pollution could improve memory, putting children the equivalent of a month ahead in school.

Despite media coverage and the campaign's general success, when we surveyed customers about their old vehicles, worryingly, there still seems to be a large proportion of people unconscious of the traffic pollution they could have been contributing to. More than a third said they weren't even aware the emissions of their old car would have been high, and although they were in the minority, some people said they didn't think vehicle emissions were a significant problem. We see this lack of awareness or belief play out across the country; with schools struggling with drivers who idle their engines near entrances, or make unnecessary journeys on school routes. The campaign clearly still has more work to do, even if the lockdowns have helped some of us realise the impact of old driving habits.

Photo of exhaust fumes
Of course, as many of the people we surveyed explained, there are other traffic issues in the air pollution debate… poor traffic management in places, the number of lorries and commercial vehicles increasing, idling taxis and many others. However, what is encouraging, is that although only 26% felt air pollution was an issue in their locality, a huge 83% support the use of Low Emission Zones across the country, where poor air quality is an issue. That's an overwhelming majority and seems to be a reflection of the general public's opinion. Also, nearly half of the people that scrapped their car due to high emissions did so wholly or partly because of the negative environmental impact of those emissions.

Photo of LEZ sign

While many of us are keen to tackle air quality and address our own contribution to the problem, a large proportion of us are still struggling with what to do. Many feel the cost of owning an electric vehicle is prohibitive in itself. There is also wide concern about the infrastructure in place to facilitate the wide use of electric vehicles, regarding both purchase support and the practicalities related to charging.

Electric and hybrid cars charging

How to achieve Clean Air from a driver's perspective

We all know, even if people are prepared to replace the journey's they can with alternative methods of transportation, there are still many people with no viable option other than to use their car. While the government tackles long-term plans with announcements such as the ban on sales of petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, that doesn't satisfy those of us who want to take action now. And we've just explained how many people feel about owning electric vehicles.

What we can do to help improve air quality and support Clean Air Day is to make the changes we know we really can. Replacing as many journeys as possible with walking and cycling, switching off our engines, sharing journeys or using public transport and making the transition to more environmentally friendly vehicles when it's possible for us to do so.

Many of you are already taking these positive steps, and whether or not it was the quiet and clean-aired lockdown roads that prompted you, we think we can speak for the Clean Air Day campaign when we say thank you!

Phioto of people walking
Nearly 20% of our customers surveyed didn't plan to replace their car with a traditional fuel vehicle, with a relatively even spread between hybrid and electric alternatives as well as public transport. Also, more than 40% of people planned to replace some of their journeys with walking or cycling, which is incredible news.

Of course, if you've decided to get rid of your old car, for any reason, don't forget to have it responsibly recycled by an Authorised Treatment Facility, so you know the last stage of its life will protect the environment. Every CarTakeBack recycling centre gives you that reassurance.

If you want to go one step further, you could donate your old car through our Charity Car scheme to one of our environmental charity partners, or even to the Clean Air Day campaign itself!

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