Nitrogen Pollution

Everyone knows that pollution is bad. It is taught at a very young age. What most people don’t realize is that pollution is more than just the plastic in oceans or leaving cigarette butts on the ground. It also includes things like nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen pollution is an everyday occurrence, and it is a major contributor to climate change. Nitrogen pollution affects the air and water around us in a lot of ways. For example, smog is a chemical reaction that occurs because of nitrogen oxide in the air. When nitrogen pollutes waterways, it causes an increase in algal blooms, which decreases the amount of dissolved oxygen for the aquatic animals. Fish need dissolved oxygen in order to survive, so it is important that we limit the pollution as much as we can to protect the fish and other animals living in those aquatic habitats! Luckily, there are many things that people can do at home to help eliminate their contribution to nitrogen pollution.

One area in which people can make an easy change to help reduce nitrogen pollution is pet waste disposal. Pet waste has high levels of nitrogen that can pollute the grass and waterways, making it important to dispose of the waste properly. The recommended method of disposal for dog waste is to flush it down the toilet just like human waste! (Important note: Do not flush cat litter! It’s bad for your plumbing.)

Another area for improvement is yard waste. Improperly handled yard waste can easily be washed into the streams and rivers and cause an increase in  nitrogen pollution. When you finish mowing your lawn, there are always grass clippings left over. All yard waste, including grass clippings, can be used as mulch. You can also dispose of yard waste in brown lawn waste disposal bags, though this is not always the most sustainable or economical option. Some communities have neighborhood composts, or you can start a compost bin in your backyard to help reduce nitrogen pollution. 

Fertilizer use has a large effect on nitrogen pollution, as the main ingredient in most fertilizer is nitrogen. There are some simple things that you can do at home to ensure that your fertilizer is not contaminating our waterways. Fertilizer should only be applied when necessary and should not be applied near waterways. Fertilizer spreaders should be filled  on hard surfaces like a paved driveway to ensure proper and easy clean up. It is also important to store unused fertilizer in a cool, dry place, where it won’t be picked up by rainwater and get into the water as runoff.

Making small changes in how we handle waste and fertilizers can positively affect the waterways around you, and the animals that live in them. North American river otters, like the ones that live at Potter Park Zoo, live in the waterways of Michigan! So you can protect wildlife right at home by protecting our local waterways!