Introduction: Land is a very important resource. For one, it’s a factor of production and secondly, it’s the very surface that we live on.
It’s difficult to imagine planet earth without land. We must, therefore, conserve this important resource. That’s why soil, which is the main component of land, is usually referred to as earth.
Like many things that exist within an ecosystem, it also suffers from pollution. Land pollution is a reality and its negative effects are very serious. But just what is the meaning of land pollution?
Meaning of Land Pollution
Land Pollution can simply be defined as the contamination or degradation of earth surface. This can be caused by several factors. Soil that is contaminated becomes less productive and this reduces the value of land.
Land pollution can mean the misuse of land by human beings. Using this resource in the wrong way would lead to a fall in its value. A common example is excessively farming on a piece of land without allowing time for it to remain fallow and build up nutrients.
It also refers to the deterioration or degradation of land surfaces. When this happens, the affected pieces of land become less productive and their maximum value cannot be realized.
Land pollution is also the process of introducing pollutants or contaminants into the surface ecosystem. The natural environment, including land, is affected or polluted by these impurities.
Any type of destruction that is done to the surface of the earth is basically land pollution. This can come in different forms and can be caused by various reasons.
Causes of Land Pollution
There are several factors that can lead to the pollution of land. Some occur naturally while others come about as a result of human activities. Here are some of the common causes of land degradation:
(i) Excessive Use of Pesticides: Some farmers use pesticides excessively and end up contaminating the soil. This affects the quality of soil and also destroys the useful microorganisms found in it. This happens because there are some farmers who believe that by using a large quantity of these chemicals, they eliminate any possible threat from the destructive organisms. What they forget is that by so doing, they destroy or degrade the very land that they expect to give them a high yield of crops. When these chemicals are used excessively, they drip to the ground and cause land pollution.
(ii) Indiscriminate cutting down of trees: Massive deforestation is another factor that causes land pollution. Trees serve a very important purpose in improving the quality of soil and land. They increase soil aeration, improve soil fertility, create water catchment zones and through their decaying leaves, they form soil. So when deforestation occurs, soil is exposed to intense sunlight that causes evaporation of water, death of useful bacteria in the soil and ultimately a reduction in soil fertility. This degradation of soil is what is known as land pollution. The net effects are many and far-reaching. Massive deforestation has contributed to many pieces of land being declared unsuitable for agriculture because of the soil quality. Even when used for farming, the yield would be awfully low.
(iii) Poor disposal of untreated waste: Some industries dispose untreated waste in a poor manner and these leads to land pollution. Industrial wastes contain so many harmful chemicals that degrade the quality of the soil. As we discussed earlier, some human activities, especially those that are done intentionally, contribute so much to land pollution. Even human excreta that is not disposed of properly leads to the pollution of land.
(iv) Acid Rain: Chemical pollutants such as greenhouse gases and emissions from motor vehicles may cause acid rain. This type of rainfall affects the quality of soil and may cause crops to die. Remember that the level of soil acidity plays a very important role in determining the quality of soil and the type of crops that can thrive on it. An optimum level of pH is required for any piece of land to be declared ideal for farming. Acidic rain leads to the introduction of so many harmfully chemicals into the ground and renders that surface of the earth useless. It also gives rise to contaminated underground water that is unfit for human consumption and not good for uptake by plants.
(v) Poor Farming Techniques: A high crop yield can only be realized through smart farming techniques. Poor farming methods cause soil degradation. What are some of these methods? A common practice is where a farmer uses the land continuously without allowing it time to lie fallow and increase fertility. Non-stop farming means that minerals found in a particular piece of land will all be used up. Another poor farming method that causes land pollution is the lack of mixed farming. It is known that legumes release nitrates into the soil and growing them together with other crops such as corn can increase the fertility of the soil and lead to a higher yield. Lack of crop rotation and use of chemical fertilizers also lead to soil degradation.
(vi) Economic activities: Land is a factor of production and a very important one at that. It is therefore used for a lot of economic activities by human beings. One such economic activity is mining. Even though mining has created several billionaires, it also destroys land. Underground tunnels and dumping of mineral residues cause specific surfaces to be impossible to use for human settlement or farming. This activity particularly reduces the quality of soil in a major way. It’s also why very little agriculture goes on in mining towns. The quality of land is so poor that plant life cannot be supported. The chemicals released into the atmosphere as a result of the machines used also cause land degradation.
(vii) Accidental oil spills: This is another cause of land pollution. An accidental collapse of an oil rig can cause spillage that affects a large surface of land. It can take up to several years before the land is fit again for agricultural activities. Crude oil makes land unable to support plant life because of the chemicals that it contains. Reclaiming such a piece land takes a lot of money and in most cases, it’s usually left to lie fallow.
Effects of Land Pollution
Pollution, any type that is, has never been good. That’s why land pollution has many negative effects that impact both plant, animal, and microorganisms lives as well as humans. These are some of the effects of land pollution:
(i) Lack of Land For Agriculture: Farming is one thing that greatly depends on land fertility for higher yields. Land pollution thus leads to less agriculture as most farmers find it increasingly difficult to realize any meaningful harvest. Polluted land, like those with chemical wastes and oil spills, can also not be used for farming unless they are first reclaimed. Most of the foods eaten by humans are produced from the ground. Even those aren’t are made with substances that have either been extracted from plants or animals. The importance of agriculture can therefore not be stressed enough. Countries that experience food insecurity mostly suffer because of lack of ideal land for farming. Since many forests have been massively destroyed, climate changes for the worst and soil quality falls.
(ii) Loss of Biodiversity: Land pollution affects the ecosystem negatively by causing loss of biodiversity. This then triggers a chain reaction that upsets the environment in many different ways. An ecosystem with high biodiversity thrives and most of the living organisms within it enjoy good health. When this is lost, several chains are interrupted and continuity is affected. Land is a very important part of the environment and when it’s polluted, it becomes less productive and leads to loss of biodiversity. The future generation is, therefore, likely to inherit a more hostile earth.
(iii) Health Problems: Eating crops harvested from polluted farms can cause many health complications. Introducing these chemicals into the body system can result into diseases such as cancer. Also coming into contact with such materials when farming can cause irritation to the skin as well as breathing complications. It’s necessary to watch the type of food that we eat but that alone is not enough. One should also be aware of where that particular food was grown because these chemicals are still contained in the crop even after harvesting.
(iv) Expensive Process of Land Reclamation: Reclaiming polluted land is not a walk in the park. It is a complicated process and quite expensive. Turning a polluted piece of land into a productive one will thus set you back financially. That means that money that would have otherwise been used elsewhere is channeled to this process. There is also no guarantee that it will be as productive as it were before it was affected.
(v) Contaminated ground water: Most of the ground water comes from rain. When rain falls, water drains into the ground and is stored within the earth. Land pollution, especially from chemical spills and contaminated material, may cause this water to be contaminated. Underground water is used in many ways. It is taken up by plants and also used by humans domestically. As a result of these chemicals, the water is rendered unfit for human consumption and the plants that use it are also likely to whither and die. The quality of soil will be affected too because chemicals reduce soil fertility and the resulting acidity or alkalinity may not be conducive for plant growth. This is how mindless human actions can seriously affect the environment.
(vi) The emergence of tough weeds: Pollution may weaken the growth of food crops and result in the emergence of tough weeds that hamper their growth and affect the overall yield. This happens when land cannot sustain the growth of native plants and weeds take the opportunity to thrive.
(vii) Related Pollution: The pollution of land can give rise to pollution of other areas of the ecosystem. For example, contaminated dust can lead to air pollution while acidic ground water can result in acidic rain. This happens because several parts of the ecosystem are interdependent. Pollution in one part, can, therefore, result in pollution of several other components.
How to Solve the Menace that is Land Pollution
Since most of the causes of land pollution are as a result of human activities, a lot of the solutions should also be geared towards changing the actions of people. These are some of the solutions to this problem:
(i) Recycling of Waste Material: Instead of throwing out waste material that causes land pollution, it would be prudent to recycle them and make new products. This reduces the degradation of land and also the pollution of air and water bodies. It’s a practice that is very sustainable and great for the environment. It would cut manufacturing costs and keep the environment clean. The main focus should be on materials that are not biodegradable because they are the ones that mostly pollute land. Households can have separate waste collection bins that are specifically meant for recyclable material. Industries should also make it a part of their operations strategy to do recycling wherever possible.
(ii) Organic Farming: This is a smart farming method that is highly necessary in the modern world. The use of chemical fertilizers leads to land pollution and several other health complications. Some of these fertilizers can also alter the soil pH and make the farm unable to support plant growth. Organic farming is a great way to increase the fertility of soil and improve crop yield. Some of the practices that are often adopted with this type of farming include using organic manure such as animal waste and compost. They do not contain any chemicals and are therefore good for farming and for the conservation of land quality. Crops grown through organic farming are also very healthy and ideal for human consumption.
(iii) Waste Treatment: Industries should make it their responsibility to treat any waste material or substances before disposing of them. In this way, they prevent the introduction of harmful chemicals into the soil. The problem with industries that dispose of untreated chemical wastes is that they do it continuously and therefore cause a lot of damage to the environment. It is never really a one-off operation. When they take the initiative and treat these wastes, they do a lot of good to the environment.
(iv) Education and Awareness: What does the earth mean to you? How much do you value your planet? Pollution affects everyone, even the bystanders, so it’s much better when you take the initiative to do something about it. In your own small way, you can work towards having a clean planet. Some people are just naturally environmentally conscious, while others require a little prodding to do what is necessary. This is where education comes in. Teaching people about the effects of land pollution and what can be done to reduce it is a job that cannot be left to just the government alone. Yes, the government can do its bit by introducing it into the school curriculum and running media ads as well as organizing for grassroots awareness campaigns, but the civil societies and families can also play their parts in creating awareness. Family heads can impact into their households good values so that environmental conservation becomes their way of life. When people are knowledgeable enough, they tend to do what is right. A change in mindset definitely goes a long way in reducing land pollution.
(v) Introducing Appropriate Legislation: Policy makers should introduce appropriate legislation that would deter those who would want to pollute the environment. Sometimes people act out of fear, especially when the consequences of their bad actions are dire. This would stop companies from carelessly disposing of their wastes, encourage the establishment of good agricultural practices and set standards for different products that are manufactured and sold. Having a national policy on land pollution and the use of land itself as a resource would play an important role in reducing or eliminating this problem. Global policies that deal with the issues of land pollution on a global scale would also help.
(vi) Using Spill-Proof Containers to Store Chemicals: To prevent pollution from chemical spillage, spill-proof containers can be used. These specially designed containers provide a safe way to store chemicals and reducing the chances of land pollution.
(vii) Reforestation: This helps to increase forest cover and improve the quality of soil. The restoration of forests is an important part of the process of improving soil quality and the value of land. When we cut down trees and fail to plant new ones, we are actually doing the environment much disservice. It really doesn’t take much effort. Improving the forest cover also increases biodiversity in the ecosystem and this has so many benefits.
(viii) Using Resources Efficiently: When we use resources more efficiently, we reduce the amount of waste material that is introduced into the environment. Some of the best practices include using less paper, less plastic and printing out emails only when there is no other option. One can always reuse some of these materials instead of throwing them away after only using them once. A plastic bag, for example, can be used so many times before being disposed of. Individuals can also consider using biodegradable materials to avoid accumulation of waste matter on the surface of the earth. The next time you see that simple statement at the end of an email that says, “Do not print this email, conserve the environment,” you should actually take it seriously. Every little action counts because collectively, the impact is much bigger.
Land is such an important part of this planet that we cannot afford to waste or degrade it. We have seen that most of the causes of land pollution are actually human activities. Some of them are deliberate while others happen due to lack of information and others as accidents.
Many of the factors that cause land pollution could be avoided if only we became proactive and realized that the conservation of the planet is every human being’s responsibility. Sometimes we fall sick from diseases such as cancer and begin to wonder what could have gone wrong. Maybe it’s the food we eat or the air we breathe that is contaminated and making us ill. Plants that have been harvested from contaminated land are likely to affect our healthy because of the chemicals we ingest. The air we breathe also contains dust particles from polluted pieces of land. It is something that must be approached from every angle.
Land pollution has several ripple effects and sometimes with far much worse consequences. The biggest question that everyone should be asking him or herself should be, “How can I make the earth more habitable?” When we answer this, we do what is right and reduce pollution. Some of the natural disasters such as famine, drought, and floods occur as a result of land degradation. Why then can’t we, as the inhabitants of this planet, do what is necessary to keep it clean and make it better? The issue of land conservation should be part and parcel of our daily activities. It is not an event that happens once but a continuous process. When we adopt that line of thinking, we will do what we must and reduce land degradation.