The Effects of Noise Pollution on The Environment
Noise pollution is defined by Oxford Languages as “Harmful or annoying levels of noise”. The key word that stands out in this definition, in our opinion, is “harmful”. The sources of noise pollution vary widely, as do the effects on individual humans and the wider environment, all of which require exploring in greater detail to understand ways to combat them.
Common sources of noise pollution
There are many common sources of noise pollution that we live with day-to-day, almost becoming an expected background noise when living in an urbanized or built-up area like a city centre or suburb.
A big one that people who live in urban areas deal with, is traffic noise. Whether you have double or even triple-glazed windows, it’s an unavoidable fact that petrol and diesel vehicles kick up a lot of noise, with loud engines underneath the hood. However, due to bold legislative moves, the production of quiet electric vehicles is on a sharp rise which should give people hope for quieter roads in the future.
Petrol-powered gardening tools are extremely loud, with some creating the same amount of noise as a rock concert. In a test we commissioned with Earlsmere, a leading on-site noise and vibration testing company, it was found that four out of five petrol-powered tools exceeded the daily noise exposure limit set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as 87dB (A). One tool was even measured at 100db which is the same noise level as a jet. In contrast to these issues, the battery outdoor power equipment industry is moving forward in leaps and bounds to reduce the amount of noise pollution created by gardening tools.
Anyone who has ever stepped outside their house has heard the pounding sounds of a pneumatic drill, the grating sounds of a metal saw and the roars of a JCB digger. Construction noise is almost a given in a built-up area, but that doesn’t stop it from having the same effects on the surrounding environment as other sources of noise pollution.
Increasing levels of noise in areas of natural beauty have been known to have significant effects on wildlife and do serious damage to wildlife. National Geographic reported that loud noises can cause caterpillars’ dorsal vessels (heart) to beat faster than normal and can even reduce the amount of chicks that bluebirds have.
Delicate ecosystems can be disturbed and displaced, as in a similar way to humans, animals use sound to navigate, gather food, avoid danger and even to attract a potential mate. With the introduction of noise pollution, these processes that usually happen naturally can be disturbed and therefore weaken animals’ ability to procreate and survive.
Not only does noise pollution affect wildlife, but it also affects humans too. With the most common physical ailments being hearing loss and tinnitus, there are also a host of mental health issues that it can cause, such as depression and anxiety disorders. Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise can cause chronic stress, which not only exacerbates underlying mental health issues but also creates new ones. Sleep can also be disturbed, which can lead to cognitive impairment and a rise in heart rate and blood pressure.
Combatting noise pollution is a tough and nuanced problem, with the causes sometimes being hard to mitigate and the definition of noise pollution varies from area to area. However, there are some active methods to try and reduce the amount of noise pollution out there and its subsequent impact.
There are various noise regulations in the UK that attempt to reduce levels of noise pollution by providing local authorities with the power to sanction offenders. The Noise Act, 1996, doesn’t clearly define a specific decibel limit but it does allow local authorities to act when an obvious nuisance is being caused. The Environmental Protection Act, of 1990, does define specific decibel levels and allows for noise abatement notices to be issued to those creating excessive levels of noise.
The UK is not the only country with regulations around noise pollution, many others understand the dangers and have implemented restrictions to protect public health. Germany, for example, adheres to the concept of Ruhezeit (quiet time), which restricts noise above around 50db (general room volume) between 10pm-7am on weekdays and the entire day on Sundays and public holidays.
Advancements in technology
New technological advancements allow us to replace the noisy polluters of the past with cleaner and quieter solutions. The petrol-powered tool market is slowly being replaced by much quieter and safer battery-powered alternatives, allowing both professional and casual gardeners to tend to green spaces without disturbing their surrounding environment and putting themselves in harm’s way.
Quieter electric trains have replaced clunky steam engines, discreet electric cars are replacing petrol vehicles and a rise in rentable bicycles and electric scooters in city centres are all contributing to a quieter environment for humans and wildlife.
Noise pollution has many sources, and definitions of what contributes to noise pollution can vary depending on location, but across the world, there are legal regulations in place to try and alleviate the situation. With continuous advancements in technology helping to create quieter vehicles and appliances, a quieter future is seeing more and more possible by the day.
As part of our Challenge 2025 initiative, we’ve launched our ‘Noisy Neighbours’ campaign which highlights testing commissioned with leading noise and vibration testing company, Earlsmere. The testing found that noise pollution generated by petrol-powered outdoor power tools – notably those used in gardens – heavily exceeds the HSE’s daily exposure limit of 87dB (A). With the negative health implications of prolonged exposure to noise and vibration, our goal is to help home users of petrol-powered tools to understand their effects and make the switch to battery power – for the benefit of both themselves but also their neighbours.
Are you interested in ways to help reduce noise pollution and protect the environment? – then download The Report below and keep an eye on our blog for updates on how we’re helping create a future that’s cleaner, quieter, and safer.