Traffic Pollution: The Shocking Cause You May Not Know About

Traffic pollution is caused by more than the exhust
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Pollution from traffic is making the headlines – particularly in the ULEZ zones where owners of classic vehicles like our 1992 Cree Motorhome are finding it harder to justify the costs of using them.

Naturally we want cleaner air. It is shameful that globally, thousands of human deaths are still attributed to poor air quality from industry and transport combined.

Now let’s bring that closer to home – yearly 26,000 to 38,000 people die earlier than necessary IN ENGLAND due to air pollution!

Awful figures!

Vehicle users do not want to cause people to be sick. But we also want to enjoy life. And in our case, that means getting out in our old van!

How can we mitigate our effect on the planet?

What causes traffic pollution?

Surely it is exhaust fumes? Well yes, some of it is! Sit in a queue of traffic or travel behind a truck for a while, ride a bike through a town or walk in a city – you’ll notice a change in the air!

But are you aware that one of the main causes of traffic pollution is not exhaust fumes?

It is TYRES!

Every vehicle has emissions tests so exhaust pollution has fallen dramatically over the past 25 years whereas the increase in traffic volume, speed and weight has led to far more tyre wear.

Traffic pollution from exhaust and tyres

Tyres give off micro-sized particles along the road which blow along with the traffic or settle on the ground and in waterways. These particles are small enough to enter the lungs and even the blood stream and body organs and contain thousands of chemicals – some known to be toxic and/or carcinogenic.

Tyre particles play a large part in oceanic micro-plastic pollution too.

Either we inhale them, or they enter the food chain – we poison the creatures we then prey upon. We pollute our water courses and oceans. The whole ecosystem is the innocent victim of our mismanagement.

What is our government doing about traffic pollution?

Worryingly, these tiny particles have not been regulated in the EU or US although they are now gaining attention. The EU is going to regulate tyre emissions by 2025.

Also, there has been little or no governmental consideration given to what tyres consist of. Again, this is now on the agenda albeit belatedly. The composition varies from brand to brand, with a cocktail of chemicals added to synthetic rubber. That is rubber made from crude oil.

Most of us – including those charged with governing – have no idea what we have been breathing in! It is difficult to measure anything under 23nanometres but these particles fill the air wherever there is traffic. And fill our water sources everywhere!

Then they fill every living creature. That’s you. Your children. Your dog.

Exhausts and brakes are also guilty of spewing these toxic specks out into the environment. The former though has been forced to radically clean up its act recently. In fact, modern filters make tailpipes almost acceptable.


Now add to the mix, tarmac and painted road markings which also gradually – insidiously – disintegrate into tiny particles over time and you have a nasty concoction. BUT the main traffic pollution culprit is tyre wear.

What else can local authorities do? How about mending potholes?! Every time your tyres bump into and out of the craters which blight our roads, they leave pieces of rubber to pollute the ground.

What can we do about traffic pollution?

Is there anything that the average vehicle owner can do?

The incentives and persuasion to purchase electric vehicles has led to less exhaust pollution however these vehicles are heavier and often faster which actually produces more tyre nanoparticles along with increased road wear and brake dust. (And that is without mentioning the production of the necessary batteries! Mining lithium is highly damaging to the earth and surrounding air quality)

Buying high-end tyres will reduce the amount of micro-particles released. Yes, they’re expensive but hopefully worth the outlay in terms of durability – and getting the motorhome off grassy pitches in the rain!

Adopting a gentler driving style can help. Aggressive driving emits far more tiny particles into the air. High speed and braking causes more tyre wear and particle release. It also adds to the pollution from brakes.

Reporting potholes may prompt a few of them to be fixed – you never know!

tyres and brakes, more polluting than the exhaust

Of course, there is always the option of public transport. If public transport still exists near you of course! HOW shortsighted our country is in cutting services and allowing them to be so expensive!

How can motorhomes, vans and RVs create less pollution?

The larger vehicle can create more pollution due to the increased weight. Keep to well below the recommended payload…pack mindfully! This will save on fuel as well as tyre wear. A win for you and for the environment.

This is our blog post about the dangers of going above the payload

Getting the top quality tyres means that the fewer particles released will be less toxic. They will also create better traction on those muddy campsites.

Our old Cree motorhome cannot break many speed limits – larger recreational vehicles do not go fast. So that is in our favour. However, the extra weight makes the brakes work harder.

The adopted driving style of most motorhome users is gentle. These vans are not made for screeching round corners – especially if the cupboards are not cleverly loaded! It makes sense to read the road, brake in good time and corner carefully. Not only are you protecting your expensive outlay, you are creating less pollution.

What should you do with old worn tyres?

Mindfully disposing of old tyres is important if difficult.

If you’re having yours changed at a garage, they will manage collection of old tyres.

Can you recycle tyres changed at home?

I took a tyre to a recycling centre – only to be told it would not be accepted. I asked what I could do with it…they said that a garage or bigger recycling centre may take it for a fee. Our nearest such centre is around 20 miles away – more tyre wear and fuel use as well as a charge! I commented that it was no wonder that there are so many dumped in hedges. The guy said that he would pretend not to hear that.

Maybe THAT is the problem – authorities are not thinking about the everyday issues which affect the public. They don’t hear us – or they pretend not to.

I still have the darned thing – it is a useful weight to chain my bicycle to! My “clean-green” bike with rubber tyres!!

Other than paying for someone to take it off my hands – driving a fair way to do so – I could make a garden swing, a planter, use a few to make funky furniture, donate it to an organisation for use as bumpers, exercise etc.

Don’t dump tyres…and certainly don’t burn them. The chemicals released by burning tyres are as nasty as the oily, sticky residue left afterwards!

But since they are recyclable as rubber-crumb, why do local councils not allow/equip all recycling centres to take them? Tyres are a fly-tipping problem which costs money to clear up – put that resource into free recycling!

What do you do with your old tyres? Let us know and we will add your ideas!

Since we drive a “classic” (old) diesel motorhome, we’re in no position to preach to anyone regarding pollution – although she passes the emissions tests and rarely speeds along. And, in our defense, we leave a small carbon footprint in everyday life.

Do what you can to help the planet!

This planet needs our help…the pollution is choking everything around us. The flora, fauna and all that surrounds it, shelters it and feeds it is suffering. We – you – are not “big industry” and cannot make huge differences – but if everyone made a tiny adjustment, the effect would be huge!

Without banging the eco-drum too loudly, we really must all do our bit!

Traffic Pollution Resources:

Tackling Toxic Emissions

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Got any bright ideas about what to do with old tyres? Any suggestions to reduce nanoparticles? Drop a comment below!

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