It’s #WorldEnvironmentDay and the theme for this year is #BeatAirPollution - urging people to "be part of the solution, not part of the pollution". But while many of us agree air quality needs to improve, we struggle for practical ways to do it.

But taking action, no matter how small, is crucial. The World Health Organization calls air quality a public health emergency and research shows pollutants harm a range of body organs.

While cities including London, Paris, Madrid and Oslo have taken steps to ban or discourage car use, the broader discourse on pollution tends to focus more on what policymakers can do and less on what can be done at the individual level.

 Global deaths from air pollution
Global deaths from air pollution
Image: Our World In Data

On #WorldEnvironmentDay, here are five areas in which we can combat pollution as individuals on a daily basis.

1. Automobiles

Leaving the car at home and taking public transport, cycling or walking are key ways we can all make a difference to air pollution, according to UN Environment. Other options to reduce vehicle pollution include car sharing, using hybrid or electric vehicles and turning off the car engine when not moving.

2. Food

Cutting down on meat and dairy products can reduce methane emissions released into the air. At the same time, reducing food waste and planting vegetables in your garden can also help improve air quality.

3. Waste

Improving how your household manages waste by working to produce less of it or repurpose it is vital for lowering polluting emissions. This can help to improve air quality by lessening the need for landfill sites and water incinerators, while fostering a more sustainable economic model for the future.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the circular economy, by embracing the need to recover, recycle, repurpose, refurbish, repair, refuse, rethink, reduce, reuse and remanufacture waste.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.

4. Energy

Simple measures like turning off the lights, shutting down electronics when they’re not in use and choosing more energy-efficient equipment can help to lessen the need to burn fossil fuels. And harnessing renewable energy through rooftop solar panels also helps to reduce emissions and limit air pollution.

5. Advocacy

Individual advocacy can make a difference. Ask teachers to incorporate sustainability and air quality themes into their classroom lessons, and urge your lawmakers to more act more urgently against pollution.

These ideas aren’t revolutionary, but they illustrate how small changes to our daily habits can help to globally work toward a greater goal.

And if these aren’t enough for you - how about planting a tree?