How everyday could be ‘Clean Air Day’

By Rachel White,
Sustrans infographic for National Clean Air Day
child cycle across a road

©2016, Jonathan Bewley, all rights reserved

Family cycle to school

©2017, Sustrans, all rights reserved

While Sustrans supports Clean Air Day we would like to see a time in the near future when everybody can leave their homes and get around their communities - schools, work, recreation and not be exposed to poor air quality.

Clean Air Day is important.

It raises awareness of an invisible public health crisis that the Royal College of Physicians estimates shortens the lives of between 29,000-40,000 people each year in the UK[1].

Only smoking contributes to more early deaths.  

Air pollution is the term given for a number of different substances suspended in the air that are harmful to humans and there are two that are particularly damaging: Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM).

There are two key things you need to know about air pollution and transport:

Firstly, road transport is responsible for 80% of the NO2 pollution where legal limits are being broken[2].

Secondly, in London, where there is good data, it has been found that 45% of the particulate matter comes from tyre and brake wear[3]. Therefore even if we switch all our vehicles to electric vehicles, we would still have a damaging amount of fine dust.

It is clear we need fewer, not just cleaner vehicles on our roads.

This is what Sustrans has said in our consultation response to UK Government on their draft UK Air Quality Plan for ‘Nitrogen Dioxide’.

The plan shows a vacuum of leadership and action from UK Government to help fight air pollution with no funding or announcement of further Clean Air Zones to help tackle the problem. There is also a lack of real support for a meaningful shift from private motor vehicles to walking and cycling. This must change when the final plan is published in July.

Without leadership from Government it can be harder to see change on the ground but there is still lots you can do to help the move towards clean air every day.

Here are three easy things you can do to both lower your contribution and exposure to air pollution:

1. Switch some of your shorter journeys from a car to a bike or walking. The journey to school or the shops is a great way to incorporate an active journey into your daily routine and it will also improve your health by keeping you more active.

2. Don’t let the engine idle. At Sustrans we know that it’s not always possible to leave the car at home but if you are stuck in traffic or waiting for a family member or friend, switch off the engine to reduce your emissions.

3. Already walking or cycling to work or school? Consider looking at your route to see if there is an alternative route on quieter back streets and away from main roads. This will not only lower your exposure to air pollution from traffic fumes but could make your journey more pleasant too.


To mark Clean Air Day, Sustrans Scotland are inviting the public to share their views on the current conditions and issues along streets in Edinburgh, and the type of improvements they would like to see in the city. Read more about the new Meadows to George Street: Streets for People project. 

Follow #CleanAirDay on Twitter. 

[1] Royal College of Physicians (2016) Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution. Report of a working party. London

[2] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2015) Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities, UK Overview Document, December 2015