Top 5 Most Polluting Industries & What You Can Do To Help!

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It’s hard not to feel discouraged when looking back on our climate crisis and its exponential growth in the past decade. We’ve evolved into such a fast-paced, quick reward system that is taking its toll on our planet. Clothing, automobiles, appliances technology, etc. were all things that would be fixed when broken, lasting us a lifetime. But what do you do when it’s become cheaper to just get new clothes or a new refrigerator? A lot of waste is created, fossil fuels emitted and a planet that is crying out for a change. Our consumption rates have drastically risen, plastic pollution is the worst it’s ever been, we’ve seen the hottest years on record and more animals have reached extinction.

Sounds dreary, but, this past decade hasn’t been all bad. We’ve seen the most effort in combating our climate crisis through the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 (The US is back in it baby), ever-growing use of renewable energy, united climate strikes across the world, and the lowest use of coal since records began.

With a cleaner, more sustainable future on our horizons we still have a lot of work to do to become the flourishing planet of a time before. Specifically, I will be calling out the top 5 most polluting industries that contribute to our climate crisis and what you can do to help keep them accountable. 

When it comes to types of pollution these 5 types tend to be the biggest culprits: air, water, soil, light, and noise. Obviously, these all can be harmful to us but, air and water pollution pose the biggest threat. 

In 2017, air pollution contributed close to five million deaths globally – that’s nearly one in every 10 deaths. And as for water pollution… 14 billion pounds of plastics are dumped into the ocean each year, contributing to 1.5 million children’s deaths, and poisoning our precious sea life.

In this blog post, I will discuss the industries that pose the biggest threat to air and water pollution.

Fuel industry 

We rely heavily on this industry to achieve everyday tasks. Charging our electronics, driving our cars, and flights to explore faraway lands. All these luxuries require coal and oil. We also need coal and oil to make products such as medicines and plastics. 

As more people inhabit our planet the more fuel we will require for everyday life. It’s estimated that the world consumed 100.3 million barrels of oil per day in 2019. To put this into perspective, our oil consumption in 2006 was 85 million per day. Is it possible to sustain this growth in consumption? Not likely, we need to find better alternatives. As fossil fuels are burned, it releases mass amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere – heating up our world.

Fossil fuels don’t just negatively affect our atmosphere but our oceans as well. Our oceans absorb about one-quarter of the CO2 emitted increasing the acidity level of our oceans. Landscapes like coral reefs which provide food, hunting grounds, and homes for millions of sea animals cannot survive in such a state. 

Not to mention the oil spills that poison fish and birds, destroy the insulation of fur-bearing animals, and reduce the water repellency of birds. Did you know there are about 500 dead zones in our oceans created by pollution making those zones impossible for marine or plant life?

What You Can Do To Help: 

  • Use renewable energy whenever possible 
  • Use reusable or more sustainable options instead of plastics – this way, less oil will be used in manufacturing products 
  • Petition or campaign against big conglomerates using so much fuel – remember you vote with your dollar


How can eating meat and dairy negatively impact our planet? This might shock you, but the impact is major hence why it’s number two on the list. The agriculture industry accounts for a shocking 13-18% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Most (65%) of the agricultural emissions are methane and nitrous oxide, which mostly come from cows. 

As our population grows and meat and dairy become more of a staple in just about every meal, the planet can’t keep up. From feed production and processing to enteric fermentation, and transportation of goods; our love of burgers is killing our planet. 

Also, get this, we’re a planet with too much CO2 in our atmosphere so to feed our people the meat and dairy they want, we burn down trees which naturally and beautifully absorb CO2 (ahem, the answer to our problem), to create more room for animals that to emit even more CO2 into our already struggling atmosphere. How does that make any sense?

In 2019, over a single month, 870 square miles were lost to fires – a rise of 278% compared to the same month last year – most of which was due to agriculture. This really brought to light the negative impacts our diet can play on the planet.

What You Can Do To Help: 

  • Go vegan! Or at least try to eat vegan/vegetarian meals more often. Going vegan for two-thirds of meals could cut food-related carbon emissions by 60%. Even just eliminating beef from your diet can help a lot, that’s what I do
  • Trust me I get it, burgers are tasty but if you want one, get it from somewhere that the beef is organic and locally sourced. (Tucson peeps, I got you)
  • Support organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to assist their work fighting the Amazon fires
  • Lobby your child’s school to include more ecological food choices in the daily lunch menu

Fashion Industry

Oh man, y’all already know how I feel about fast fashion… I loathe it. How can shopping at HM, Zara, Boohoo, Forever 21, Fashion Nova be bad for our planet? Well, when you combine the fashion industry’s CO2 emissions, and the mass of clothes waste that is dumped around the world, it’s a no-brainer. Fashion production currently makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions.

Let me be clear this is pertaining to fast fashion brands. Fast fashion refers to clothing made from cheap material – often containing microplastics. On top of this, the clothing is usually manufactured in Asian countries, where most factories run on coal and gas and their employees work in dangerous and inhumane conditions. So not only is this an environmental issue one could argue it’s morally wrong as well. And don’t even try and say well if we didn’t buy the clothes then they would have no jobs, NO! We could pay a few dollars more and give those workers a livable wage. 

Also, you have to take into account the emissions that come from delivering your parcels. Not just in our digital era, but especially in our COVID life, this has become even more prevalent. The combined annual emissions of postal services in the US, such as FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service are roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 7 million cars. 

Fast fashion has also created this throwaway culture around clothes. It used to be where new styles came out 2-4 times a year. Now you can see new clothing lines coming out every couple of weeks. Keeping up on fashion trends means that 85% of textiles go to the dump each year. Once people are done with the season’s best clothes, they’re onto the next.

What you can do to help:

  • Thrift baby! Find unique often high-quality clothes that no one will have at a fraction of the price (Tucson peeps, I got you)
  • Shop from companies who produce their clothing locally and/or sustainably 
  • Rent your clothes, companies like RTR or Nuuly allow you to share the most perfect closet with people all over the world
  • Repair your clothes before just buying new ones. Did the button fall off your favorite pants? Learn to sew it back on! A hole in a pair of socks that are otherwise in good condition? Patch it!
  • Clothing swaps with your friends- SO MUCH FUN! Gather clothes that you no longer love and swap them with your buddies so they can give them a new life. Free & fun!

Food Retail 

The world’s growing hunger is expanding food retail’s carbon footprint. Again with the increase in population levels rightfully so, we’re seeing increases in food consumption levels. The frustrating part of it is, we’re also wasting more food than ever before. The United States is the global leader in food waste, with Americans discarding nearly 40 million tons of food every year. That’s 80 billion pounds of food and equates to more than $161 billion, approximately 219 pounds of waste per person, and 30-40% of the US food supply all ending up in a landfill. 

One of the most polluting aspects of supermarkets and other food retailers is what our goods come packaged in plastic. We are producing over 380 million tons of plastic every year, and some reports indicate that up to 50% of that is for single-use purposes – utilized for just a few moments, but on the planet for at least several hundred years. 

What this does to our wildlife: 
  • 1 million marine animals are killed by plastic pollution every year
  • 100% of mussels tested have contained microplastics
  • Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish, marine mammals, and human seafood eaters

What You Can Do To Help: 

  • Bring reusable shopping bags to the store 
  • Bring your own cutlery/straws/napkins and to-go boxes when you go out to eat
  • Petition for supermarkets to be more sustainable, it can happen, just look at Trader Joe’s
  • Shop local when possible, see if your community has any Farmer’s Markets near you
  • Grow your own food by starting a small garden or joining a local food cooperative


This one probably doesn’t surprise you, getting from point A to point B is a key contributor to greenhouse gasses. Transport emissions – primarily road, rail, air, and marine – account for over 24% of global CO2 emissions

There are two types of sections when it comes to the transport industry: commercial freight and passenger. Commercial freight is responsible for 40% of total transportation emissions, whereas passenger travel is 60%. 

International travel has become much more accessible due to the affordability and availability of flights. The number of flights taken has increased by 40% since 2010 – but does this make air travel the bad guy? Actually, no! 

Although the CO2 emissions of flights will make you cringe, air travel only accounts for 16% of passenger transportation emissions. This means that land-based passenger travel is the prime source of emissions.  

Even though airplanes emit much more CO2 than a car you have to look at frequency. Many more people use a car daily (maybe not so much now) than they use a plane. In the US alone, about 91.3% of households most recently reported having access to at least one vehicle. Keeping that in mind, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. 

What You Can Do To Help: 

  • Limit international travel 
  • Prioritize public transport when possible 
  • Walk or bike when possible help the planet and your health at the same time
  • Travel locally or if flying try to find direct flights when possible to limit your impact 
  • Try and shorten your commute 
  • Carpool with coworkers or friends 
  • On rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber opt for share rides (post-COVID of course) 
  • Buy produce that’s in-season it likely won’t have to travel as far to get to you

The goal of this blog is to help simplify the climate crisis and its biggest contributors so you can focus your effort on areas that are causing the greatest harm. A common phrase I hear is, “I’m so overwhelmed, I don’t even know where to start”. Well I hope this helps break it down for you, slowly you can start to make more sustainable decisions with your behaviors in these 5 industries and over time those small changes will add up to make a big difference. 

If you think of more ways you can help combat the damage these industries are doing, let me know by messaging me on Instagram! Also, my favorite point to drive home, you vote with your dollar. The change is truly in the hands of the consumers, if we demand better, industries will have to do better. The climate crisis is a bipartisan issue, this is our home, we will need to come together if we want to save it.


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