Smokestacks billow toxic clouds, while crumpled wrappers dance across the street with the breeze – pollution, whether industrial or civilian, is never a good thing. Given the damage it can cause, it’s fair to wonder: How do Americans feel about it? What types of pollution bother us the most? And why?

We asked over 2,000 Americans these questions. Here’s what we learned about the state of pollution in the U.S.

Going Off On Gas

While pollution is a broad term, several different types bother the American people. Based on our results, industrial pollution draws the most ire, followed by water waste and civilian pollution (such as littering).

What people may not understand, though, is what exactly industrial pollution is. Perhaps images of massive factories or plants with smoke shooting from its stacks 24 hours a day, seven days a week come to mind.

While it could seem cartoonish, these plants can pose a major risk to the health of the surrounding environment and population. Byproducts from such plants can be carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, lead, and mercury – toxic elements that no American wants near their home or community.

The remaining four types of pollution are of a more personal nature. Water waste, littering and/or civilian pollution, food waste, and energy waste are all types of pollution that can be caused by a single person.

bothersome litterers

When looking at specific instances of civilian pollution, people were most offended by pollution of our natural landscapes. Out of 10 scenarios, young adults leaving beer bottles behind after a day of surf and sun was the most bothersome to those surveyed. Save Our Shores – a nonprofit marine conservation organization – shares glass bottles take upward of 1 million years to break down naturally.

A situation where a woman neglects to pick up her dog’s excrement in a local park also presents a terrible health risk. In fact, a study of air in Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan, found that between 10 and 50 percent of the bacteria in the air came from man’s best friend.

Dirty Water Isn’t a Joke

Respondents found contaminated local water supply to be the most upsetting industrial pollution scenario. No one wants to consider what health issues could arise if they were using a compromised water supply in their daily lives. Whether due to burned chemicals, changes to a less protected water source, or even from failing to use federally mandated anti-corrosive agents, so many things could go wrong. And you might not know before it was too late.

The second- and third-most bothersome industrial pollution scenarios deal with waste from a local power plant and factory smoke impacting the quality of air. More than half of the U.S. population resides in areas where air pollution levels are dangerously high. Air pollution also kills about 7 million people worldwide every year.

Supporting Green Businesses

A business that chooses to be environmentally responsible isn’t just good for the planet – it may even encourage greater customer loyalty. Nearly 90 percent of participants are more likely to support a business if it is environmentally responsible. In fact, 19 of the top 50 most sustainable companies in the world are from the U.S., including Cisco, Coca-Cola, Intel, General Mills and Johnson & Johnson.

However, while many people are willing to make their feelings known through their wallet, fewer respondents are willing to share a verbal or written concern with a business they believe isn’t behaving in an environmentally responsible manner. A little over 20 percent are willing to voice their concerns.

Courageous Confrontations on Behalf of Mother Earth

Have you ever witnessed someone littering? What about harmful chemicals being dumped on the ground or into a body of water like a river or lake? Would you be willing to confront them? It turns out, more than half (54 percent) have not previously confronted a person for their environmentally irresponsible behavior.

Notably, though, just over 30 percent of respondents are likely or very likely to call out environmental recklessness in the future. Further, more than 40 percent are not likely or very likely to single anyone out in the future.

Why Americans Hate Pollution

No one likes pollution. Why? Those surveyed indicated they were most bothered by pollution because it contaminated the water and air. Without water and air, we’d have a rather hard time existing on this planet. Pollution, no doubt, has a huge impact on our survival.

Planting the Seeds of Change

When it comes to environmental protection, more fight and less flight is required to protect air and water supplies for current and future generations. Nobody likes pollution. While the jury is still out on whether Americans will say anything when they see someone taking environmentally unfriendly actions out on the planet, they will support businesses that have a greener focus.


We surveyed 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older about their biggest pollution pet peeves. Our survey participants came from nearly every state with a wide range of ethnic, educational and professional backgrounds. We averaged the rankings of each scenario in our survey to find which ones were the most offensive.


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