“I think the main influence has been living in New York City. Aside from all the crap around 9/11, I find it very demanding to think amid all the noise and visual pollution.”
George Murray, Poet
Visual Pollution: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Visual pollution can be defined as the impairment of the view of an individual due to environmental and man-made factors. Visual pollution can come in many forms, most of which are caused by human actions.
It can have significant negative effects on the well-being as well as on the health of people. In this article, the causes, effects and solutions for visual pollution are examined.
Causes for Visual Pollution
- Plastic pollution
- Traffic signs
- Light pollution
- Air travel
- Excessive waste production
- Excessive consumption
- Natural causes
Landfills can be a significant source of visual pollution. In many countries, especially in poor developing countries, waste management systems are not sophisticated enough yet to deal with all the waste appropriately.
Making things worse, many developed countries ship their waste to these developing countries in order to get rid of it. Thus, some countries are literally drowning in waste, which leads to excessive amounts of landfills and the resulting visual pollution.
Another big cause of visual pollution is littering. In many cities, it is quite common that people just throw their used cigarettes on the ground right where they stand, without caring about the resulting pollution at all.
This is not only true for cigarettes but also for many other garbage items. Through this behavior, the level of visual pollution may increase dramatically.
Smog can also be a great contributor to visual pollution. Especially in rush-hour, excessive amounts of harmful gases are emitted into the atmosphere. This can lead to significant smog.
Some big cities are suffering from excessive smog levels almost every day due to emissions from cars and other vehicles, which can in turn lead to significant visual pollution.
The emission of fumes from industrial processes can also contribute to air pollution and in turn to visual contamination. Depending on the country, the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere may not be regulated too strictly.
Thus, in countries with low levels of regulation, companies are tempted to maximize their profits by emitting excessive levels of fumes into the air, which often results in significant visual pollution.
In our nowadays society, most of our food and other material goods which can be bought in our stores are usually covered with plastic packaging.
Moreover, many people use disposable plastic cups every day, which also leads to significant levels of plastic waste. There are also several other causes of plastic waste.
This plastic waste has to be either burned or disposed into landfills in order to get rid of it. However, in some countries, part of this plastic waste will be illegally disposed into rivers, lakes or oceans, which can lead to significant visual pollution in the form of contaminated beaches or nature reserves.
Some buildings do not fit into the natural surroundings of a city. This may upset some people since the appearance of their city a lot, which is now negatively affected by these buildings.
Moreover, some buildings will also decay if they are not taken care of properly. These decaying buildings may also lead to visual distraction, since they usually do not have a nice visual appearance.
In some cities, houses are still connected with wires and cable in order to provide phone lines or other basic devices. Although these cables have been useful in the past, they are often not useful anymore since almost everyone has a smartphone now.
Moreover, these cables may lead to significant visual pollution, since it is usually no pretty picture if you have excessive cables in every house.
Antennas are crucial to provide good reception for television or other devices. However, big antennas may also lead to visual pollution, especially for people who are living near these antennas or even have a balcony with the view on an antenna nearby.
Some means of advertising can also have negative effects on the appearance of a region. For instance, if there are excessive numbers of billboards near the streets, this may lower the visual attractiveness of a city. Moreover, some areas are also covered with many banners or other ads that may also lead to significant visual pollution.
Another cause of visual pollution can be vandalism. Especially areas that are highly affected by vandalism activities suffer from an extreme decline in physical appearance.
Vandalism can come in many different forms, including the intentional destruction of newspaper dispensers or graffiti paints on buildings or trains.
Excessive amounts of traffic signs and light may also lead to visual pollution. Although these devices are often necessary to ensure safety on our streets, it may not be a nice picture if there are too many signs and traffic lights in a small area.
Light pollution can come in various forms and may also cause significant visual contamination. For instance, if you live nearby a main street, chances are that you are negatively affected, especially at nighttime, since your sleep may be interrupted by car lights shining through your windows.
Moreover, especially in big cities with excessive lighting, since the city will never get entirely dark, this can also lead to a feeling of artificiality.
Especially areas that are nearby airports may suffer from significant levels of visual pollution caused by planes. If every few minutes, a plane starts or land not far away from your house, chances are that you will feel distracted. Apart from the loud noise of airplanes, you may also suffer from visual pollution.
Excessive waste production
In our nowadays society, especially in the Western world, we produce large amounts of waste since our daily life items are often covered into plastic or other packaging material. This leads to excessive amounts of waste which we have to deal with somehow.
Part of this waste is burned, which in turn leads to the emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere and in turn results in visual pollution. Moreover, part of this waste will eventually end up in our oceans, which may further exacerbate the issue of visual pollution.
Our excessive consumption levels are another big cause of the decline in visual appearance of many regions. In our current society, everyone wants to have the hippest clothes and the newest version of a smartphone, even if the old versions are still working.
This implies that people often dispose of their items into the garbage after just a few or even just a single use of these items. This in turn leads to excessive garbage, which may cause significant visual pollution of many sorts.
Apart from man-made issues related to visual pollution, there are also some natural causes for visual contamination. For instance, the eruption of a volcano may lead to air pollution, which may translate into visual issues. Moreover, a tsunami may destroy many buildings, which can also lead to significant visual pollution.
Effects of Visual Pollution
- Lower quality of life
- Mental issues
- Physical health issues
- Decrease in property prices
- Eye fatigue
- Loss of original character of a region
- Neglect of highly visually polluted areas
- Effects on flora and fauna
Lower quality of life
Visual pollution can lead to a loss in the quality of life. This is especially true when the negative effects of visual pollution are quite high.
For instance, if you live near a landfill, chances are that you will not be able to enjoy your life too much since you will always look at a garbage dump and may also suffer from the smell.
Moreover, if you are living in an area where there is plenty of littering and the streets are covered with garbage, chances are that your quality of life will also suffer due to that.
Visual distractions may also lead to mental issues. For example, if you live near a main road, your sleeping quality may suffer since you may wake up due to car lights shining into your home.
This can in turn lead to serious mental issues, since sleep is quite important for our health and a lack of sleep may lead to a variety of mental health issues.
Physical health issues
Visual pollution may also cause physical health issues. This can be due to a lack of sleep due to distractions from excessive light pollution. A lack of sleep increases the probability of stress which may in turn lead to serious issues like heart attacks.
Decrease in property prices
Areas that suffer from high levels of visual pollution may also experience a drop in property prices. Property prices are directly linked to the quality of life in a specific area.
If this quality is decreased due to excessive visual pollution, chances are that investors and also private persons refrain from buying homes in this area, which may lead to lower demand for property and thus to a decrease in prices.
Visual pollution can also cause eye fatigue. Depending on the level of pollution, our eyes can be hurt quite a lot from visual distractions, which may in turn lead to serious eye issues and may prevent you from work or other things that you have to accomplish in your daily life.
Loss of original character of a region
Areas that have previously been quite untouched and now experience the construction of landfills may lose their original charm. Over time, areas that have previously been characterized by nature have turned into big cities and lost all of its former character due to that.
Visual pollution may lead to distractions and also to information overload. Especially in areas which have a high density of physical commercials like billboards, people may be easily distracted and may also suffer from information overload since their brain will not be able to process all the information in a healthy manner, which may in turn lead to mental issues like burnout.
The distraction related to visual pollution may also lead to accidents. This is especially true when it comes to driving cars. If you are distracted when you drive a car, chances increase that you get involved in a car accident since your attention may not be focused solely on driving but on other things around you.
Neglect of highly visually polluted areas
Some areas may suffer from such a high level of visual pollution that the local municipality may have already given up to change things. This may be the case when it comes to enterprise zones and related regions.
In these areas, there is just not much to do against light pollution since industries simply have to carry out their processes which may result in visual pollution of many sorts.
Effects on flora and fauna
Visual pollution may have severe adverse effects on the local flora and fauna. Since animals and plants are usually quite sensitive regarding their natural living conditions, a change in these conditions may lead to a decline in population for many species since they may not be able to adapt to excessive light pollution properly and may lose some of their ability to reproduce.
Prevention and Solutions for Visual Pollution
- Avoid the excessive use of physical advertising
- Avoid waste production
- Lower consumption levels
- Reduce the use of cars
- Use public transport or bicycle
- Signs against littering
- Convince family and friends
- Only build buildings that fit into the surroundings
- Higher fines and better control mechanisms regarding vandalism
Avoid the excessive use of physical advertising
In order to mitigate the issue of visual pollution, municipalities should make sure that they only allow for a certain level of physical advertisement like billboards.
By doing so, the number of billboards and other means of physical advertising can be lowered and thus also the level of visual distraction is likely to decrease.
Avoid waste production
Everyone of us should try to reduce waste production whenever possible. This could come in the form that we should try to buy things that are not packaged into excessive amounts of plastic wrapping.
Moreover, we should try to consume our food more efficiently. Plenty of food is dumped into the garbage can every day since people often buy too much food and will not be able to consume all of it.
By lowering our waste production, we can also indirectly lower visual pollution since lower amounts of waste have to be burned which may lead to better air quality and less smog.
Lower consumption levels
It is also crucial that we change our consumption behavior. Over the last decades, our consumption level skyrocketed since we in our Western world are able to afford plenty of stuff now.
However, this often leads to excessive consumption since people always want to have the newest things and throw their old things into the garbage can, even if these old items would still work.
Lowering our consumption levels would mitigate the issue of visual pollution since we would produce less waste which in turn would lower the adverse effects of waste like smog production.
Reduce the use of cars
Since our cars are a big source of visual pollution like smog, we should try to avoid the use of cars whenever possible. You should try to work at home more often instead of commuting to work so you can reduce the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere. Moreover, you should also walk short distances more often instead of using your car.
Use public transport or bicycle
For medium distances, using public transport or bicycles instead of your car may further mitigate the issue of visual pollution. Especially if you live quite near to your work, using your bicycle should not be a big deal.
Additionally, if your city has a good public transport system, you can also switch from car to public transport and improve your ecological footprint and therefore also reduce visual distractions.
Signs against littering
Since littering can lead to significant visual pollution, municipalities should install signs against littering to make people aware of the adverse effects of littering. By doing so, people may be more willing to change their behavior which may in turn translate into less pollution.
Education is key when it comes to fighting visual pollution. We have to show people the adverse effects and how we can mitigate the issue in our daily life. This education should start quite early in school since children are usually more eager to learn things compared to adults.
Moreover, these children may also convince their parents that it is important to mitigate visual pollution. These parents may therefore also be more willing to change their behavior in an environmentally-friendly manner, which may further reduce the problem.
Convince family and friends
You should also try to convince your family and friends to change their behavior in a more ecologically-friendly way. Whenever you see people in your circle of family or friends litter or do other things that lead to visual pollution, you should feel obliged to inform them about the adverse effects on our environmental system. By doing so, you can multiply your positive effect regarding the mitigation of visual pollution.
Only build buildings that fit into the surroundings
Municipalities should also make sure that they only approve the building of homes or offices that fit in the townscape of the city. By doing so, it can be assured that the townscape remains attractive and there will be no visual issues regarding new buildings.
Higher fines and better control mechanisms regarding vandalism
Since vandalism can lead to significant visual pollution, governments and other authorities should make sure that there are high fines for vandalism in place. Moreover, there should also be sufficient control to reduce the incentive for vandalism, which may in turn result in less visual pollution issues.
Visual pollution can be a serious issue in many regions worldwide. Although the problem is often belittled, visual pollution can have serious adverse health effects on the local population and may also hurt a variety of animals and plants.
There are plenty of measures that everyone of us can take in our daily life to mitigate the issue. By doing so, we can all contribute to a reduction in visual pollution and therefore to an increase in the quality of life of many people.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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