IELTS speaking vocabulary about the environment and pollution

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You may be asked questions about the environment and pollution. Read the following IELTS style questions and answers below and pay attention to the words or phrases in bold.

Use the ‘definitions’ section at the bottom of the page to check any meanings you are unfamiliar with.

Make a note of any new vocabulary and the best way to learn it is to use it!

IELTS speaking part 1 style questions

Examiner: Has there been an increase in pollution where you live?

Georgio: Yes, there has been a dramatic increase in recent years as many of the most productive factories are built on the outskirts of large towns and some are even in quite central areas so very near where people live. Air pollution, as a result of factory emissions and toxic fumes has become a real problem.

Examiner: How has this pollution had an impact on daily life, do you think?

Helena: I think there are two key areas which have been most affected – firstly, our health, as air pollution is terrible in the city centre because too many workers commute and rely heavily on their cars rather than travelling by public transport and there are many traffic jams. Secondly, on the quality of crops and in rural areas, where the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in farming has contributed to a dangerous amount of pollutants in foods.

Examiner: Are residents in your town good at recycling? 

Sara: Sadly, in my opinion, not nearly good enough. I know in many European countries, the mantra of reuse and recycle plastics and cardboards has become automatic but here there is still a culture of throwing everything away and most domestic as well as industrial waste is incinerated. Obviously, this policy just contributes to worsening air pollution and to plastic being thrown into the sea.

IELTS speaking part 2 style question

Describe a time when you have caused pollution,

You should say:

  • When this was
  • What it was
  • Where it was

And the impact which you think this might have caused.

Zoe: I would like to describe a moment when I was on holiday a few years ago in a really beautiful part of India on holiday with a group of friends. We had been travelling around India for a month and I think I had adjusted to seeing a huge amount of waste on the streets. Not surprisingly, there were very limited facilities for recycling – this is not really part of the culture and it would require a huge investment to put in place the equipment and education programme needed.

We were travelling on a train and had been sleeping as it was a very long journey and early the next morning when we pulled into the station, everyone leaned out of the window and purchased bottles of water, cups of tea and hot food from excited street sellers on the platforms.

I was happy to join in with the locals and without even thinking drank my water then threw the bottle back out of the window which is something I would never have done back home. It wasn’t until later that I understood the consequences of this action.

After winding through the countryside for hours, the train finally reached the coast. I was stunned – rather than a beautiful, clear blue stretch of ocean, all I could see was plastic waste – bottles, bags, food packaging as well as larger items of industrial items were just floating, interspersed with a few seabirds who looked utterly confused and were not really able to swim.

I could clearly see the impact of my careless action on the train and the problem of plastics in the ocean became horribly evident. With no other way of disposing of rubbish, the temptation, indeed, the default had become to simply throw bottles and bags on the ground or into the sea, river or lake and so much of this has ended up in the ocean. Since then I have been rigorous about waste and campaigned to make sure my local town has widely available recycling bins for all.

IELTS speaking part 3 style questions

Examiner: What should be done about plastic in the ocean?

Emanuel: While quite a lot has been done already to highlight this terrible problem, I think more could be done to make sure the public know the dangers. Apparently around 350 million tonnes of plastic are being produced each year and around 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year.

If waste management practices don't improve, scientists predict this amount could increase tenfold by 2025. What happens is that while paper will eventually disintegrate, plastic does not do this and so when it does eventually break up, it still leaves smaller fragments called microplastics, which have been identified in commercial fish consumed by humans.

Examiner: What might some solutions be to reduce this situation?

Alexi: I think many manufactures should work really hard to reduce the use of what is called single-use applications, plastics which are used just once and then disposed of as this makes up approximately half of all plastics. Plastic can quite easily be recycled and used again for shampoo bottles for example. Some large companies have already started only using recycled plastics for their own- brand products and this kind of policy should be rolled out as widely as possible.

Examiner: What would you say to children who are faced with this problem for the future?

Benji: I would try to encourage teachers and parents to explain the situation to youngsters but also to try and be positive about what can be done. Firstly, we all need to be much more careful about recycling which is not impossible and should start at school as well as in the home.

There have been many incredible documentaries informing us all about the global plastic problem and awareness is a very important stage in beginning to stop the problem. I am not sure what is being done at the moment to remove this mass of plastic but we must make sure we do not make this worse, and we protect our planet as well as the wildlife and birds and we should protect the next generation who will also have to try to find solutions.

Word list and definitions

  • outskirts of large towns: areas outside the city centre, suburbs or industrial district
  • factory emissions: smoke and pollution from factories
  • toxic fumes: smoke which is poisonous
  • traffic jams: large queues of cars not moving
  • pollutants in foods: dangerous chemicals
  • pesticides: chemicals to keep bugs and animals away from plants
  • chemical fertilizers: chemicals added to make soil stronger
  • commute to work: drive or travel to work every day
  • Mantra: frequently repeated statement
  • reuse and recycle: use products again or find another purpose for them
  • industrial waste is incinerated: waste which is burnt
  • facilities for recycling: places where you can dispose of plastic / cardboard
  • education programme: teaching and learning in school or elsewhere
  • consequences: the outcomes
  • interspersed with (birds): mingled with, mixed with
  • campaign: high profile policy for the public
  • scientists predict: ideas for the future
  • disintegrate: break down into small particles
  • microplastics: very tiny pieces
  • single-use applications: use once then throw out
  • own- brand products: unique to the shop or supermarket
  • policy should be rolled out: implemented all over the country
  • documentaries: factual TV programmes

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