Short Environmental Encyclopedia

1. What is decay?

When you find a piece of brown and soft apple, mouldy bread (food), skeletons of last year's leaves or wood or anything else that was alive (organic) and see they are rotten, you understand they started to decay. Decay is caused by small organisms: microbes (fungi, bacteria). When fungi and bacteria feed on dead organic matter they are called decomposers. Decomposing is another word for rotting or decaying. Decomposers produce a liquid that dissolves the plant or animal they are feeding on and take this liquid into themselves. The process is slow and gradual.

2. When is decay useful (decomposing)?

1) bacteria: sometimes it is useful: in the cheese and yoghurt business, in making compost, in cleaning oil tanks on board ships and in oil refineries;

2) fungi: in beer and wine making

Another use of decay is compost: a mixture of the organic matter (old potato peelings, grass cutting, shredded newspaper) under right conditions (warmth, moisture, oxygen). Compost holds moisture and plant nutrients (chemicals that the plants need to grow), provides food for earthworms and kills weeds (plants growing where they are not wanted).

3. What is waste? How may the problem be solved?

Waste is everywhere, and everyone produces waste: bags, boxes, cellophane wrappers, plastic, aluminium, glass bottles, newspapers, leftover food. Many of the things which are thrown away every day can be reused or recycled, i.e. turned into something useful. Recycling helps conserve the environment.

There is no real difference between reuse and recycling. They mean that the objects can be used again. Either way a lot of waste is avoided. For example, milk bottles are reused many times, at least 30 times, before they are melted down to be remade, to be recycled.

Every year in Britain alone, 18...20 million tones of waste is buried in the ground.

4. Where is the rubbish taken? What are its main problems?

You throw something away into a waste bin at the University, in the street, at home. The refuse collectors collect your rubbish and take it to a land fill site. There are a lot of problems of dumping our rubbish in land fill sites:

- They smell. It means they give off a number of gases. One of them is methane which burns easily. But it may be piped away and used as a source of energy.

- They contain poisonous chemicals which poison water.

- They attract unwanted wildlife (foxes, mice, rats, gulls) that can transfer diseases.

5. What is pollution?

Pollution happens when something is added to the environment that must not be there. The only animal that causes pollution is the human animal. Pollution comes in many forms: dropping a packet or plastic bag or oil spill in the sea.

Pollution indicators are used for invisible pollutants. They show if pollution is present.

There is a group of plants that are very sensitive to air pollution: lichens. They die because of the air pollution.

There are also animals, insects, fish that are also very sensitive to the water pollution. If there are only red worms, water is badly polluted. If there are the trout in water, its quality is high.

6. What are fossil fuels?

Coal, gas, oil, peat are called fossil fuels. They were made many millions of years ago.

7. What is the greenhouse effect? What is global warming?

The greenhouse effect is creating a slow warming up of Earth's surface and atmosphere. It is caused by a large number of gases. Carbon dioxide, one of them, is polluting the atmosphere. It is produced when petrol or diesel is burned in a car engine, when anything organic is burned. It is produced in factories, power station, motor cars every day. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does the same job as the glass in the greenhouse. The result is called global warming.

8. What are the reasons of acid rains?

Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide are produced by power stations and factories. They rise in the air and are flown by the wind. Then they dissolve in water and make it acidic. When it rains, the rainwater falls as "acid rain" which causes a lot of problems: kills the fish in livers and lakes, animals in the forest, plants growing in the acidic soil.

9. What is sewage?

Sewage is a mixture of waste from many places. It includes human waste from toilets, waste water from every house and factory, rain that has run into drains, industrial waste from factories.

10. What is wildlife?

Wildlife is ... animals and plants live and grow in natural conditions.

All over the world, wildlife is being threatened because habitats (the natural home of a plant or animal) and woodlands are being destroyed. Many species (a group of animals or plants of the same kind) are called endangered (one that may soon no longer exist, they can become extinct). For example, wolves are now an endangered species in Europe. Some species are protected by law, so that it is illegal to kill it or harm it.

11. What is the environment?

The environment is the air, water and land where people, animals, plants live and the way they depend on each other so that life can continue. That's why all over the world people try to find environmentally friendly ways to deal with the environment causing it less harm.

Green issues, i.e. the ideas about the environment, are discussed in mass media.

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