New research suggests that planting trees and other plants near factories could reduce pollution by almost one-third.
The addition of plant life may even cost less and be more effective than technology designed to cut pollution, a new study found. The findings were reported in the publication Environmental Science & Technology.
The lead author of the study was Bhavik Bakshi. He is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Bakshi and other researchers collected data about air pollution and plant life in 48 of the 50 American states. They studied public records from every state other than Alaska and Hawaii.
This file photo from July 14, 2010 shows smoke pouring from the United States Steel Corp.'s Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, Pa.
The researchers knew that trees and plants are already capturing large amounts of harmful emissions from the air. So they attempted to find out whether new vegetation could lessen air pollution’s effects.
The study attempted to show how this vegetation could reduce the most common pollutants from industrial areas, including the production of energy from coal, oil and gas.
The researchers found that restoring vegetation to land cover, where possible, could cut air pollutant levels an average of 27 percent in the areas studied. They also found that in 75 percent of the areas, it would cost less to use plants and trees to reduce air pollution than to add new air cleaning technology.
“The fact is that traditionally, especially as engineers, we don’t think about nature,” Bakshi said in a statement. “We just focus on putting technology into everything.”
People seeking to solve air pollution problems “need to start looking at nature and learning from it and respecting it,” Bakshi said. He added that nature-based methods could result in “win-win” solutions that save money and are better for the environment.
The study found that in most cases, less money would be spent creating vegetation solutions than building and operating air cleaning equipment. It found that only one piece of equipment was estimated to be more cost effective than trees and plants. That device is an industrial boiler.
The research suggested that in manufacturing, both natural solutions and technology could offer cost savings, depending on the kind of factory.
The study did not identify which kinds of trees or plants would be best at reducing air pollution. But Bakshi said the kind of vegetation likely would make a difference in air quality and that further study is needed.
The researchers predicted that the addition of trees and plants could help lower air pollution levels in both cities and rural areas. However, success rates would differ widely depending on how much land was available and current air quality levels.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Words in This Story
emission – n. the act of releasing something, such as gases from vehicles or factories
vegetation – n. plants and trees that grow in a given area
restore – v. improve something or bring it back
focus – v. to direct your attention or effort at something