This time we decided to address one hot topic which comes back on the round table every winter – the air quality. We are going to focus the article on the situation in Plovdiv, Bulgaria because this is where Green Revolucia is based and that is the city we have most information about.
How is air quality measured?
According to the levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter (PM10), benzene, ozone and more. The lower the levels are, the purer the air is.
How does air pollution impact us?
It can lead to a number of medical illnesses such as dementia, bladder and kidney cancer, leukaemia, anaemia, diabetes (type 1 and 2), gastritis and more.
And how polluted exactly is the air that we breathe in Plovdiv, Bulgaria?
People living in Plovdiv have experienced higher levels of fine particulate matter (PM10) during 29% of the days in the last 5 years. Also, sadly the two places with most polluted air for 2019 were the city of Vidin and the Trakia neighbourhood in Plovdiv. In both places the levels of fine particulate matter (PM10) rose even more than the average yearly ones of 40 micrograms per cubic meter.
It is extremely important to address the problem because 15,000 people die of premature death in Bulgaria due to poor air quality according to a report of EIT European Climate KIC & Ashoka (2020).
What are the reasons for the high levels of fine particulate matter (PM10) in the city of Plovdiv?
71.6% are due to unsustainable heating methods (burning coal, wood and trash)
21% are due to the geographic location – contributing factors – wind speed, temperature, height of the buildings in the city and more
6.9% are due to transportation
0.5% are due to industrial activities
*Certain private companies refuse to provide information about the environmental impact of their industrial activities so these haven’t been included in the stats.
Who is responsible for improving the air quality in the city?
It’s a shared responsibility between:
- The ministry of labour and social policy because it needs to provide citizens from disadvantaged backgrounds with more sustainable heating options than coal and wood;
- The ministry of energy because it needs to come up with a plan for a fair transition from the coal industry to the renewable energy one;
- The local municipality because it needs to provide better control over the unregulated burning of trash. The local municipality should also improve public transportation, create more urban green spaces, stop the practice of sweeping dust off the streets by hand and replace that by cleaning with modern and sustainable machines. The local municipality also has the power to install solar panels and water collectors on the rooftops of public buildings and we are very much looking forward to seeing this;
- The citizens are also responsible because the less unrecyclable plastic we use, the less burning of trash there will be.
What measures for improvement can we suggest?
As we already mentioned the local municipality can tighten the control on unregulated trash burning and littering. The authorities need to maintain regular checks outside of working hours and during the weekends as well as this is when most of the trouble occurs. Another thing which the local municipality can do is to install solar panels and water collectors on the rooftops of public buildings such as schools, kindergartens, hospitals and to make sure that these are heated sustainably during the winter months (Velev and Aleksandrova, 2018). We also recommend finishing the network of cycling lanes and creating a system of bike rentals, also the local municipality can amend the law forbidding citizens to cycle in the city centre. A curious fact is that driving is allowed but cycling remains forbidden. We also recommend better control over the electronic bus stop signs + introduction of online and mobile ticket purchase options. For example, in Belgium one can purchase a bus ticket by simply sending a text message to the local network. The better local transport works and the more developed the cycling lanes are, the more people are going to use them instead of driving to work/school each morning.
According to Velev and Aleksandrova (2018), the practice of sweeping dust off the streets by hand should be banned completely and replaced by machines. Another recommendation for the local municipality which we also have is to create more urban green spaces. 20 years ago each Plovdivian had access to 20 square meters of green space for relaxation and sports. This number has decreased to 12 square meters in 2015 according to Velev and Aleksandrova (2018).
And last but not least, we recommend the introduction of designated “compost bins” for the households and “smart bins” following the example of the Burgas Municipality. Over there citizens are enjoying closed containers which are lifted only with the push of a button without additional work force and noise. You can learn more about them here
This practice can be further improved following the example of Italy where in certain residential areas each building has a specific area allocated for bins. Only residents of the building have access to the bin area by an individual chip card for every household. The chip card is used to calculate the unrecyclable waste of every household and the less that is, the less landfill tax the household pays.
How can the citizens help to improve the situation?
We wholeheartedly recommend not using coal or wood for heating purposes. Another thing we can all do is to reduce the use of nonrecyclable plastic as the less of that we throw away, the less trash will be burnt. Using public transport, cycling and walking are also great. When one cannot do that on the way to work, he/she can share the ride with colleagues living nearby. This way only one car will be used for the ride of 4-5 people rather than using 4-5 cars. Working from home is also a great way to help by cutting the air pollution from the commute to work.
How can we protect ourselves from the polluted air?
We recommend avoiding the walks close to big boulevards, outdoor activities and airing out our homes in days with high levels of pollution. You can check the air quality in Bulgaria every day over here
People sensitive to air pollution can also wear protection masks with filters against fine particulate matter, standard of at least FFP2/N95. You can also get an air purifier at home and at work.
Is the air polluted in your area? What measures are you taking to combat the situation? Let us know with a comment below.
Velev, G., and Aleksandrova, V., 2018. “Measures for improving the air quality in Plovdiv“.
EIT CLIMATE-KIC & ASHOKA, 2020. “Climate Innovators – Mapping in Central and Eastern Europe”.
Hlebarov, Y., 2018. “The air we see“.