The best place to breathe pure air... is at home

Many plants supply us with oxygen, serving as an important ally in the fight against pollution.

It’s increasingly popular with tourists, but recently overtook Beijing as the most polluted city in the world. Its name? New Delhi – a city where the peak value of fine particles is more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization. In fact, no fewer than 620,000 people die from respiratory diseases in India every year. To address this disaster, plant biology and sustainable development specialist Kamal Meattle developed a simple but radical solution: plants.

A “magic” combination

More than 20 years ago, doctors told Kamal that his allergy to New Delhi’s air had reduced his lung capacity by 30% and could eventually kill him. With help from the Indian Institute of Technology, the Energy and Resources Institute and data from NASA, the scientist identified three common foliage plants that changed his daily life – and could change the lives of millions of Indians. The first is a small indoor plant called Areca, which is capable of converting CO2 into oxygen. The second is called Sansevieria, which works in the same way, only at night. The third plant, Pothos, is able to absorb volatile organic compounds, which can cause irritation. By combining these three plants in the same space, Kamal created a natural air purifier that doesn’t require electrical power.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The power of nature

In the building where Kamal works, 1,200 of these plants filter the air for 300 people, over a total surface area of 4,600 square meters. A study conducted by the Indian government showed that it has the cleanest air of any building in the city. But the advantages don’t end there. Building users have reported a 52% drop in eye irritation, a 24% drop in headaches and a 12% reduction in lung impairments. Not to mention a 20% increase in human productivity. It would be hard to find a more compelling argument in favor of Kamal’s system.

This natural air purifier has since been tested successfully in a larger building, with 60,000 plants for a total surface area of 163,000 square meters. Given that 60% of the world population is expected to live in urban areas within ten years, these affordable, environmentally-friendly systems with proven effectiveness hold out a lot of promise. As Kamal says, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

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- Ted de Kamal Meatle

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