By choosing our actions carefully, we can reduce the amount of pollution that enters stormwater in the first place. This will mean that the water that does run off into rivers and lakes is cleaner, resulting in swimmable beaches, better fish habitats, and safer drinking water.
Pick up dog waste. Use a compostable bag, then bury or compost it properly
Dog waste contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria per gram, almost twice the level that is in human feces. When people don’t clean up after their dogs, this toxic substance is left to wash into the stormsewers where it flows untreated into rivers and lakes. This creates a significant human health hazard every time it rains. Dog waste is often the primary cause of urban beach closures.
You can buy compostable bags from pet stores or make your own scooper from folded newspaper. Build a dog waste composter in your back yard and let it decompose naturally. Use the compost to provide fertilizer for nearby trees and bushes.
Wash your car at a commercial carwash
When you wash your car in the driveway the effluent (solvents, fuels, heavy metals) washes off the driveway and runs, unfiltered, directly to the nearest body of water via the stormsewer. Some municipalities, like Toronto, have storm sewer bylaws which prohibit anything other than water and snow melt from going into the sewer. Take your car to a commercial carwash where the wastewater will be treated. Look for the International Carwash Association WaterSavers sign of approval indicating the sustainable practices of individual carwashes.
Put your driveway on a non-toxic diet
It’s important to keep your driveway clear of snow and ice, but de-icing salts are a major source of water pollution. Be Smart about Salt and minimize your use of this product. Don’t usecoal tar based driveway sealants – they contain high levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are carcinogens and disrupt aquatic life. Green Venture provides advice on how to minimize pollution from your driveway.
Spread only natural fertilizers. Apply only during dry weather
Fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which occur naturally only in small amounts in fresh water. When applied in granular form on compacted lawns, most of the fertilizer goes right down the storm sewer when it rains. Overloading of these nutrients has caused algae blooms and aggressive weed growth in many lakes across Canada. Instead of commercial fertilizer, apply composted organic matter to well turned beds and help the goodness soak into the ground the next time it rains. When applying to lawns, always aerate first.
Butt cigarettes out properly and put them in the garbage
The used filters in cigarette butts contain a deadly combination of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals such as cadmium, benzene, arsenic and lead that are partially filtered out during smoking. Cigarette butts dropped on paved surfaces (sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, streets) float away with the rain, down the storm sewer to the nearest body of water, and their contents slowly leach into our drinking water. Fish and other aquatic life often mistake them for food. Cigarette butts are one of the most littered items in the world. So please butt out properly and put them in the garbage. Carry a pocket ashtray. If you own or manage an establishment where people smoke outside, provide an ashtray and sweep up butts left on the sidewalk.
Use natural cleaning and personal products
What goes down household drains often ends up in surface water after a heavy rain via combined sewer overflows, sewage treatment bypasses, leaking sanitary sewer pipes, and failing septic systems. You can help limit this by using natural cleaning and personal care products, which are biodegradable and phosphate free. Dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals properly, by taking them back to the pharmacy. Do NOT flush them down the toilet. You can find natural cleaning products almost anywhere, but don’t be fooled by greenwashing. Read the label. Know what you’re looking for. Gill Deacon’s website has a handy wallet size card listing common ingredients to avoid. Look up your favourite products here: Environmental Working Group – Skin Deep: Cosmetics Database. They also have a mobile app!
Pick up dog waste.
Use a compostable bag, then bury of compost it properly.