How to Stop Water Pollution

Water pollution

Water pollution is one of the biggest threats to the environment today. The best solution for water pollution is prevention. While preventing water pollution may seem to be an overwhelming subject to tackle, there are a number of things that the average person can do.

Soil Conservation Can Reduce Water Pollution

One of the most important ways in which soil directly impacts water pollution is by soil erosion according to Iowa State University (pg. 1). When soil is eroded by water, it transfers sediment from the land to the eroding body of water. Along with this sediment come a number of nutrients and chemicals that exist within the soil, which are then transferred to the water.

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) explains that fertilizers in farms and gardens, and other backyard waste transported through erosion, is a main cause of nutrient pollution, where chemicals like phosphorus and nitrogen end up in water. When phosphorus levels in water become too great, they lead to algae blooms that cause massive fish deaths and make waterways unsafe for human use. Worldwide Wildlife Fund points out that even pesticides can pollute water through soil erosion.

soil erosion

Ways to Conserve Soils

Soil conservation needs action both at small and large scales.

  • Keep the banks of waterways well covered with soil-retaining plants, plant wind breaks, restore wetlands and maintain forest cover. Planting trees and certain herbaceous plants can have a positive impact on the mitigation of soil erosion. Some great plants to use when trying to control soil erosion are sage, buckwheat, Apache plume, oak trees and holly.
  • Graze cattle and animals only in well-vegetated pastures to avoid soil erosion, suggests Rutgers University.
  • Farmers can consider many cultural practices like no-tilling, leaving crop residue on fields, and growing cover crops during fallow, according to National Resources Conservation Service (pg. 3).
  • At home, individuals can reduce impervious surfaces, plant a rain garden, and use natural manure and pest control to avoid soil erosion and its effects.

Dispose of Toxic Chemicals Properly

The average person would likely be shocked to learn just how many toxic chemicals they use around their home on a daily basis, which Cleveland Clinic says causes many health problems. Chemicals such as ammonia, bleach, paint and many other cleaning products belong to a series of compounds known as "Volatile Organic Compounds" (VOCs), according to the Minnesota Department of Health. These chemicals are bad enough around the house, but they can also wreak havoc on waterways when they are not disposed of properly.

Safe Disposal Methods for Toxic Chemicals

Toxic chemicals should not be tossed into general garbage.

  • To get rid of these chemicals or the containers that house them, it's smart to look into local chemical recycling resources. In some states, people are legally required to dispose of these chemicals properly. However, a lack of laws should not prevent responsible individuals to dispose of hazardous chemicals in an ethical, safe way. Use Earth 911 resources to find a local recycling center nearby for toxic waste.
  • There are also many local information resources that can be used to discover local disposal facilities.
  • Besides governments, commercial enterprises offer home pickup, return-by-mail-recycling-kits or community collection and drop off centers for hazardous waste disposal.
  • People can acquaint themselves of safe methods of storing items until disposal, advises the Bureau of Waste Reduction and Recycling in New York State.

Proper disposal can control further pollution of water and soil.

Keep Machinery in Good Working Order

oil change

Oil is used to lubricate engines in all types of machines. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs explains that oil and petroleum do not dissolve in water and can be harmful to the environment and people. They note that "Americans spill 180 million gallons of used oil each year into the nation's waters."

When a leaky engine releases this oil into the street, it runs to the sewer and from there into waterways. Even a small drip of oil can turn into a disaster considering the fact that there are more than 260 million vehicles on the road in the United States alone.

Effective Oil Management to Prevent Oil Spills

Leaky pipes, oil changes and improper oil disposal need to be addressed. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, along with other groups, advises people to do the following.

  • Use rags or drip pans to collect oil from leaky pipes or during repair, writes the University of Florida.
  • Keep vehicles and machines in good working condition.
  • The American Petroleum Institute suggests taking used oil for recycling to service and repair facilities. Use Earth 911 to find local disposal center nearby.
  • Buy reused oil and recycle it.

Avoid Plastics When Possible

Many estimates place the consumption of plastic by humans between 250 to 300 million tons a year. About 80% of the plastic in the oceans come from the land. The ubiquitous nature of plastic in modern society is due to their versatility and affordability which make them obvious choices for many. The adage Reduce-Reuse-Recycle is still relevant to deal with the problem of plastic waste.


Plastic bags in the ocean is a well documented water pollutant. Mother Nature Network (MNN) suggests many simple ways individuals can eliminate or reduce plastics in daily lives.

  • Instead of using plastic bins to store food, try opting for glass alternatives. Glass is not only a more sustainable option than plastic, but it also doesn't retain food smells and is easier to clean.
  • Say no to plastic straws, chewing gum, single-use cups, disposable plates and cutlery, plastic lighters, plastic-ware and synthetic diapers.

Use of alternatives to plastics or "less disposable" plastics whenever possible can have a surprising impact on ocean pollution.


MNN advices reusing plastic bottles and containers to reduce consumption.


There are six different types of plastics, some more readily recyclable than others. Earth 911 recommends people:

  • Dispose PET (Plastic 1) and HDPE (Plastic 2) in recycle bins provided by governments.
  • Plastic types 3 to 7 to be taken to collection centres set up by manufacturers to take back their empty packaging, which they then recycle.

Clean Up Beaches and Waterways

beach cleanup

Waterways that see a lot of human recreation show lots of evidence of human use. Wrappers, bottles and other trash are a common sight at many busy beaches and rivers around the world, and they end in waterways causing pollution. Plastics are an especially big issue when it comes to water contamination at beaches and waterways according to National Geographic.

Some ways to reduce litter according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety are based on individual action.

  • Do not litter: Avoid throwing bags, fruit remains, or cigarette butts and any other waste out of cars.
  • Pick up litter: Picking up litter is the best and fastest way one can do their part to stop this type of water pollution.
  • Organize cleaning parties: Organize cleaning parties with local people to make the reach larger. Get businesses involved as sponsors to donate prizes to the person who collects the most trash if it is hard to get people to sign up to help.

Eat Sustainable Organic Food

grass fed cattle

Large commercial factory farms have a negative impact on water quality. In industrial farms, there is extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that end up in water sources, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In "factory-style" livestock operations, livestock is kept close together in very cramped conditions. As the animals produce waste in high concentration, they produce a number of toxins that can overwhelm water purification systems and leach into local waterways or aquifers, notes the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (pgs. 1-3). The antibiotics and hormones fed to these animals also comes out in the animal waste, which then contaminates the water further.

Go Organic to Reduce Nutrient Pollution

Individuals can reduce water pollution by adopting an organic lifestyle.

  • Buy organic food as much as possible to decrease chemical use at source and on food consumed.
  • Eat smaller portions of meat or consume meat fewer times in a week, says Environmental Working Group, if you want to go green.
  • This doesn't mean that people can not eat meat without contributing to this problem. Meat from sustainable grass-fed livestock operations or organic sources are another solution, according to Guardian.

Dispose of Medical Waste Properly

medical waste

One major problem facing waterways throughout the world is the improper disposal of prescription drugs. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports only 15% of medical waste is hazardous. The remaining is infectious, toxic or radioactive, and drugs are part of the problems that can be terrible for the environment and people.

Disposing of medical waste, prescription drugs or other personal care products differs:

  • Medical waste should be disposed in properly prepared landfills to avoid leaching of chemicals in soil and groundwater.
  • Modern incinerators with gas-cleaning equipment, or other techniques like autoclaving, microwaving, or steam treatment for infectious waste are advocated by the WHO.

For prescription drugs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends:

  • Use of local government websites, or contacting local trash collection and recycling authorities for the city or county to learn about local options.
  • Use the U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) website to find a local collection center.
  • If no collectors are available, remove medicines from packaging, mix with 'coffee grounds, dirt or kitty waste,' and then place in a covered plastic or metal box to prevent leaching, and throw in general trash.
  • Flushing medicines is not advised unless specially suggested on the package. This is done to prevent accidental consumption of some medicines that can be lethal.

Household Waste and Sewage

water treatment plant

Waste-water and storm water also cause nutrient pollution. Waste water contains phosphorus and nitrogen from human waste, detergents and food. Most of the sewage is treated in community systems, but some homes treat their waste-water onsite in septic tanks, notes EPA (Waste Water Management).

The EPA mentions tips individuals can use to prevent water pollution at home. Tips for keeping household waste from contaminating the environment include the following.

  • Use and maintain the septic systems properly.
  • Use phosphorus-free detergents and soaps.
  • Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management advocates efficient loading of washing machines and use of correct amounts of detergents.
  • Improve water use efficiency by taking short showers, preventing leaks, and using low-flow taps to reduce volumes of waste-water.
  • The Natural Resource Defence Council suggests picking up after pets during walks to ensure that waterways are not polluted by their waste.
  • Wash cars on grassy areas and not impervious surfaces, or in commercial wash centers.

Get Active and Get Involved

Is there a local company that releases heat, coolants or chemicals into a nearby waterway? Has soil erosion been spotted? Or an oil leak or spill? There are always ways for people to get involved and do something about it.

  • Contact the EPA, local authorities or write letters to the heads of companies.
  • Join local conservation organizations to get involved with solving these issues. National organizations like the Sierra Club have very active local chapters.
  • Spread an awareness of problems as a big first step toward combating them. Thanks to the organizational power provided by the Internet and social networking, the biggest obstacle toward getting involved with these issues is a person's own desire to do it.

Make a Difference

While water pollution solutions may seem like too little, too late when viewed in the light of major oil spills and floating plastic bag islands, they are necessary to prevent these problems from growing worse. Slowing down the rate of pollution can give the environment and scientists time to find long-term solutions to the very real problems of water pollution. Individuals acting to prevent pollution help to protect water for both themselves and everything else that relies upon this precious resource.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
How to Stop Water Pollution