Humans of the U: Piper Christian

This article was originally published in@theu on November 14, 2019.

“At the age of 16, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris during the COP 21 climate accords. As a junior correspondent for a Utah news station, I was tasked with reporting the events of the accords back to my home state. I wanted to know, ‘How are ordinary people confronting environmental threats in meaningful ways?’ To answer this question, I interviewed dozens of strangers throughout the city.

By the end of my project, the stories I gathered spanned six continents. My favorite story came from Melati Wijsen, a student who, with her younger sister, Isabel, convinced the governor of Bali to ban plastic bags when she was only 12 years old and Isabel was 10.

When I returned to Utah, I collaborated with students statewide to pass a climate change resolution through the Utah State Legislature, in 2018. Utah was the first predominantly Republican state in the country to acknowledge climate change in this capacity.

As an adolescent, I was troubled by the fact that Utah’s leaders were not speaking about climate change despite the threat it posed to our state. As we experience warmer winters, our yearly snowpack is shrinking, which not only hurts our world-renowned ski industry but also reduces our water supply that we depend on as one of the driest states in the country.

As a student, I believe that I, and others, can and should pressure our leaders to take action since ultimately my generation and generations to come will carry the greatest burden of climate impacts.

Looking to the future, I hope to pursue environmental law, serve as a city planner or study environmental economics.

Currently, I am the vice president of a new club on campus called Utah Climate Advocates. Our club focuses on projects pertaining to climate action and environmental justice. We have been meeting with congressional staffers to discuss climate policies, and we are exploring environmental justice projects in the Salt Lake area.

This semester, I helped organize the University of Utah’s involvement in the Global Climate Strike. On Sept. 20, more than 100 U students walked out of class to demand global action to address climate change. We guided students to the City and County Building, then marched with a crowd of over 2,000 to the state capitol.

While I’m daunted by the future of our planet, it is the stories of my fellow climate activists that help me persist.”

—Piper Christian, U student double majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.

A bright idea?

This article, originally published in @theu on September 6, 2019, was written by Paul Gabrielsen,
science writer, University of Utah Communications.

For low-income families, paying the energy bill every month can be challenging, as energy bills can account for up to twice the percentage of income as for families with median income. Further, converting to an energy-efficient lifestyle can come with a steep up-front cost, adding another financial barrier to saving energy.

But a recent pilot study, a partnership between the University of Utah and Utah Clean Energy, showed how to break through these barriers to empower Salt Lake City residents with energy saving technologies.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that over an eight-month period an LED lightbulb exchange program in Salt Lake City’s west side exchanged 1,432 lightbulbs, reached 181 households and saved participating families a collective $18,219 per year in energy costs. It’s one of several initiatives to introduce efficient technologies in underserved Utah homes and include all income levels in community efforts to combat climate change.

“Through this project we believe that community members realized that efficiency is something that they can do. It’s something that has real benefits to them. And is has spurred interest in taking additional actions to cut energy waste,” says Kevin Emerson, director of the Energy Efficiency Program for Utah Clean Energy.

Why lighting?

The pilot study focused on LED lighting because of its accessibility. “Lighting was targeted because it was a simple action that can be taken,” says Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah. “It’s something that anybody can do because it’s such a simple act. It’s also something that’s accessible to both owners and renters.”

Using LED lightbulbs donated in part by Rocky Mountain Power, Utah Clean Energy set up 23 community events in two ZIP codes on Salt Lake City’s west side. At the events, members of the community exchanged up to 15 older lightbulbs for new 9-watt LED bulbs, and received information about additional low-cost energy-saving strategies. The researchers also sent participants a follow-up survey to see how many had reached out to other local energy-saving programs.

The lightbulbs, Emerson notes, emit a warm, yellow light at a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin, which is natural-looking and is less harsh than bluer lights. “We wanted participants to have a positive experience with energy-saving LED lighting so they would think well of energy efficiency and be more open to take additional energy-saving actions,” he said.

Because the pilot program involved an exchange of lightbulbs rather than just a giveaway, the researchers were able to calculate how much energy participants would save with the new bulbs. Assuming each LED bulb would last for 14 years, the project staff found that the exchanged lightbulbs would save, collectively, the energy equivalent of 19 homes every year. The energy-efficient bulbs also save 134 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, along with other air pollutants. Participants shaved, on average, $100 a year off of their energy bill.

“It does make a quantifiable impact in terms of CO2reductions from avoided electricity consumption, as well as the nontrivial amount of money they can save in terms of an electricity bill,” Mendoza says.

Taking action

The environmental benefits of the LED lightbulbs are well-established. Beyond that, the researchers hoped to learn more about how to influence Utahns’ behavior to engage with energy-saving practices.

The team extrapolated their pilot program results, which reached less than 1% of households in the target ZIP codes, to ask what might happen if an expanded program was able to reach more homes, up to 7.5%. Expanding to that scale would cost more, around $34,500 in the first year. But between the electricity savings and the social cost of carbon (a measure of the economic impacts of carbon emissions) such a program could save a combined $110,000 in that same year.

“It’s really a test case that can then be expanded to help facilitate additional energy efficiency actions being taken that wouldn’t otherwise be taken,” Emerson says. “And we see it as part of a larger transition toward a carbon free energy system.”

“We’ll be able to tell people what we can potentially deliver with additional resources,” Mendoza adds.

The follow-up survey asked participants if they’d taken any action to engage with five different energy-saving local programs. Responses varied, but 51% of participants said they had ordered or planned to order a Wattsmart kit from Rocky Mountain Power, 30% had set or planned to set appointments to seal their homes’ air leaks and 75% said they were more aware of how saving energy reduces pollution.

The pilot program was an overall success, the researchers report, and taught lessons about how to introduce sustainable practices at the community level, as well as additional steps Utah Clean Energy can take to make the program even more accessible to the diverse communities of Salt Lake’s west side.

Find the full study here.

Emerson suggests two ways to support Utah Clean Energy programs:

  1. Donate to Utah Clean Energy to support the cost of implementing energy efficiency community programs.
  2. Visit utahcleanenergy.org and learn about what actions you can take, regardless of where you live.

 

Does public transit reduce pollution?

This article, originally published September 6, 2019 in @theu, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications.

Public transit has long been an answer for people looking to leave their car at home and reduce their air pollution emissions. But now, with better rider tracking tools, the University of Utah and the Utah Transit Authority can better answer the question: How much does public transit reduce pollution emissions?

In a paper published in Environmental Research Communications, University of Utah researchers Daniel Mendoza, Martin Buchert and John Lin used tap-on tap-off rider data to quantify the emissions saved by buses and commuter rail lines, and also project how much additional emissions could be saved by upgrading the bus and rail fleet. The study was conducted in cooperation with the Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality.

High-resolution rider data

Mendoza and his colleagues are certainly not the first to ask how much pollution public transit can save. But a couple of recent technological advances have enabled them to answer the question with a level of detail previously unparalleled.

The first is the advance of tap-on tap-off farecards that provide anonymized data on where those riders who have electronic passes enter and exit public transit. Approximately half of UTA’s passengers use an electronic fare medium. “Now we can truly quantify trips in both time and space,” Mendoza says. “We accounted for all of the 2016 passenger miles by scaling the farecard data, and we know which trips farecard holders make on buses, light rail and commuter rail.”

The second is the General Transit Feed Specification system. It’s the data source that supplies Google Maps with transit information to help users find the bus or train they need. With that data source, the researchers could track where and how often UTA’s buses and trains run.

So, with high-resolution data on the movement of both vehicles and passengers, the researchers could paint a nearly comprehensive picture of public transit along the Wasatch Front.

Balancing emissions

So, with that data, the researchers could quantify the emissions produced and miles traveled of the transit systems (TRAX light rail uses electricity produced outside the Wasatch Front, hence the emissions aren’t in Salt Lake’s air) and balance that with the miles traveled by passengers and the estimated amount of car travel avoided by riding transit.

On weekdays during rush hours, and in densely populated areas, the balance was clearly on the side of reduced emissions. “That tapers off significantly during the evening hours, on the outskirts of the city, and definitely during the weekends,” Mendoza says. In those situations, the number of passengers and how far they rode transit did not offset certain criteria pollutant emissions. (Criteria pollutants are six common air pollutants that the EPA sets standards for through the Clean Air Act.)

For transit to improve its regional reduction in emissions, particularly PM2.5 and NOx, the following strategies, alone or in combination, could be employed: more daily riders per trip, more clean-fuel buses and train cars and/or fewer low-ridership trips.

What-ifs

The current study looks at the bus and train fleet as they are now, with some UTA buses around 20 years old and FrontRunner trains whose engines are rated a Tier 0+ on a 0-4 scale of how clean a locomotive’s emissions are (Tier 4 is the cleanest; UTA is scheduled to receive funds programmed through the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to upgrade FrontRunner locomotives to Tier 2+). So, Mendoza and his colleagues envisioned the future.

“What if we upgrade all these buses, some of them from 1996 or so?” Mendoza says. “They emit a significantly larger amount than the newer buses, which are 2013 and newer.”

What if, they asked, UTA upgraded their buses to only 2010 models and newer, fueled by either natural gas or clean diesel? And what if the FrontRunner engines were upgraded to Tier 3?

Emissions of some pollutants would drop by 50%, and some by up to 75%, they found.

“Now, with this information, UTA can go to stakeholders and funding agencies and say, ‘Look, we’ve done this analysis,” Mendoza says. “This is how much less we can pollute.’”

Mendoza adds that taking transit offers additional benefits besides reducing air pollution. Taking transit gives riders time to read, work or listen while traveling. How does Mendoza know? He’s a dedicated transit rider. “I always get to where I need to go pretty much on time and completely unstressed,” he says. “I almost never drive.”

Find the full study here.

What inspires environmental action?

This is one in a series of stories about a clean air symposium held at the University of Utah on Oct. 3, 2019. The article was written by University of Utah Communications and published in @theu November 8, 2019.

There’s nothing like a crisis to motivate people to change their behaviors.

But when it comes to improving Utah’s air quality and slowing down climate change, action can be taken now to protect the state’s public health, economy and quality of life, according to a panel of University of Utah professors speaking on environmental change.

The panel was one of several presented at the symposium “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Air Quality.” The symposium took place Oct. 3, 2019, at the U.

Utah has serious air quality problems that “many people try to ignore on a day-to-day basis,” says Tabitha Benney, assistant professor of political science. She said behavioral studies show that a crisis can be “very useful in bringing about environmental change…. Do we want to get to that point? Hopefully, we won’t have to before we make decisions that help us in the long run.”

She is studying what would motivate Utahns to make changes to improve air quality by surveying almost 1,000 people across the state. The goal is to better understand perceptions and misperceptions about air quality, to explain behaviors Utahns take or don’t take to reduce air pollution, to motivate environmental actions and spur policy.

Benney has hypothesized that political orientation, socioeconomic background, religiosity and other factors affect Utahns’ environmental values and beliefs. Preliminary results show that roughly one-third of respondents believe air pollution in Utah isn’t caused by human behavior. And about half of the respondents were unsure if the government should implement policies to solve environmental problems.

While individual actions are important, government policy is seen as key to improving Utah’s air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the U’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is studying science-based solutions to both those problems at the request of the Utah Legislature.

Logan Mitchell, U research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and a member of the institute’s technical team, said the three drivers of air pollution emissions are electricity production, vehicles and buildings. The community should be focused on implementing policies in those three areas, including accelerating the transition to renewable energy and building homes and offices that run on electricity instead of natural gas, he said.

Mitchell said the advisory panel’s final recommendations are due Dec. 13. For individuals who want to take action, he said: “The most important thing as a citizen is to look at those things and let your legislator know you care … and that you’d like to see urgent action that will engender systemic change.”

Panelist Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonologist and assistant professor of internal medicine, said the health effects of air pollution would worsen as the temperature climbs due to an increase in wildfires and because warmer temperatures lead to more ground-level ozone. These effects should factor into the cost-benefit analysis of changing policies. She and other U researchers have found that during typical inversions, older adults are about 2.5 times more likely to have pneumonia and three times more likely to die in the hospital with pneumonia.

Still, it was the economic figure in her study that made an impact. The study estimated that reducing air pollution to healthy levels would save more than $800,000 in direct medical costs. The dollar amount “caught more attention than the health outcomes,” she said.

Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer) of economics, agreed that economics is a good motivator for spurring change. “The one incentive that really changes everybody’s behavior is large price differentials,” he said, adding that there needs to be a massive decrease in the cost of clean energy technologies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Selling the public—and the auto and petroleum sector—on the money to be made by moving to clean energy would be a good motivator, according to the panel. Benney said her survey has shown that Utahns, regardless of their age or political party, are more willing to take environmental action when they know one key element: the positive economic benefits of change.

Panelists: Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer), economics and director of the MIAGE Program, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Tabitha Benney, assistant professor, political science, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Logan Mitchell, research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, College of Mines and Earth Sciences; Cheryl Pirozzi, assistant professor (clinical), Division of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine.

Moderator: Brenda Bowen, associate professor, Department of Geology & Geophysics, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center.

 

When it comes to air quality, stick with the simple, hard truths

This is one in a series of stories about a clean air symposium held at the University of Utah on Oct. 3, 2019.The article was written by University of Utah Communications and published in @theu November 13, 2019.

Here’s what Keith Bartholomew tells his students: When it comes to Utah’s air pollution, it’s your job to be simultaneously Chicken Little and Pollyanna.

That mixture of alarm and hopefulness about the future of Utah’s dirty air was clear at the recent symposium “The Air We Breathe,” at the University of Utah. The daylong event focused both on dire data and the need for collaboration between scientists, planners, academics and health professionals.

One of the realities about air pollution is that scientists still don’t understand the complex chemistry of smog, nor the complex mechanisms that lead from pollutants to disease. The flip side is that Utah provides unique “exposure opportunities” to measure those pollutants and study the people affected by it, noted participants in a Scientific Cooperation panel moderated by Diane Pataki, associate vice president for research and professor of biology.

The bad news: “If you live in a place where air quality is worse, your mortality is higher,” said Rob Paine, pulmonary and critical care specialist in the U’s School of Medicine, citing the Harvard School of Public Health’s Six Cities study. “We’ve looked at it a gazillion different ways, and the data is solid.”

Air pollution impacts disease in multiple organ systems—not just the lungs (lung cancer, COPD, asthma) but also bone metabolism, vascular disease, diabetes and depression. “Some seminal work from this valley has shown if you increase PM 2.5 levels by about 10 micrograms per liter, it increases the rate of heart attacks by about 4%,” Paine said. But how pollutants target organ systems beyond the lungs is still a mystery.

To effect change in public behaviors and public policy about air quality, the message should come back, always, to health, he added. “Stick with the simple, hard truths. And say it over and over again.”

Christopher Reilly, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, reported that his department has received two NIEHS grants that will focus on understanding the mechanisms that lead from dirty air to damaged health.

Most of the pollution in the Salt Lake Valley is created “secondarily,” after emissions enter the atmosphere, although the chemistry is still not understood, said Jon Lin, professor in the U’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

The hopeful news: At the national level, average air quality has gotten better, in large part because of the Clean Air Act. “It shows there is action you can take to improve air quality,” Lin noted.

At the macro and micro level, improvements to city planning and building construction can make a difference too, said Bartholomew, associate professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning.

“Transportation is now the single largest sector of the economy leading to air quality problems,” he noted. On the macro level, increased housing density leads to a decrease in car use. On the micro-level, sheltered bus stops instead of the “pole in the puddle model” have led to twice the number of riders compared to a control group.

The U’s scientists need to work together to solve Utah’s bad air, the panel agreed, rather than working in their individual silos. “Gatherings like this,” said Reilly, “need to be a lot more frequent.”

Changing Behavior to Improve the Air

This article by University of Utah Communications was featured in @theu on November 19, 2019.

Sometimes even well-meaning people contribute to air pollution (exhibit A: the majority of attendees at the University of Utah’s “The Air We Breathe” symposium arrived by car). So how do you inspire people to change?

Take a look at the way obesity rates have risen even though people know that diet and exercise help, said Robin Marcus, and “we’re quite naïve to think if you just give people knowledge it will change their behaviors.” Marcus, professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training and chief wellness officer at the University of Utah, was part of the symposium’s Environmental Health Literacy panel, moderated by Beth Krensky, U professor of art education.

Of the people who commute to the U, 50% live within eight miles of the campus, she said, yet a very small percent use mass transit. “We’re bringing people to this campus every day contributing to the problem.” As the U’s wellness officer, Marcus said her staff is looking at whether incentives work to bring about change. “Do we incentivize people to not buy a parking pass? Or pay people $2 a day to not drive to campus?”

“We need experts on our campus who are implementation scientists,” she added.

“There’s a big gap between attitude change and behavioral change,” said Danielle Endres, professor in the U’s Department of Communication. Technology alone won’t solve the problem either, she said.

Some of the things Endres wonders about: “How can our decisions about air quality be as democratic and just as possible? How can we foster broad public participation in air quality decision-making?” She urged conference attendees to remember that “there are many communities outside of academia that have vast stores of expertise.”

One way to change hearts and minds might be to let people see more clearly how bad the air is, and how undemocratically it’s spread across the Salt Lake Valley. That can include providing low-cost PM2.5 sensors to individuals and public schools, said Kerry Kelly, assistant professor in the U’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

“We need dense measurements” that complement existing, sparser measurements supplied by the state, she said. These “community-engaged measurements” can also be a way to bolster STEM education, she added. In one experiment, young students were taught to build their own pollution sensors out of Legos, LED lights, photo detectors and computer fans as a low-cost hands-on way to measure light scattering.

Not everybody absorbs information identically, noted Whitney Tassie, senior curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. “Not everybody is inspired by graphs in the same way.” One solution: Art that is visceral—for example, adding smog to whipped egg whites, “so you can taste it.” Tassie is in the research and development phase of a six-month exhibit that will open in January 2021 that she hopes will bring air and air pollution to life.

New Directions for Environmental Justice

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Many of us who care about climate change and environmental justice take action in our daily lives to do our part: we recycle, use sustainable products, use public transportation or eat locally grown food. Yet often environmental problems play out at a larger scale, and while our personal actions can help in small ways, it is important to understand the forces at work in creating environmental hazards and injustice from the start. If we know where injustice begins, we can begin to make a change for the better.

Professor David Pellow of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is exploring new directions in environmental justice in his research. On April 16 from 4 – 5 p.m. in ASB 210, join him for his lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

Pellow began his research in Sociology and Environmental Justice in the 1990s when he completed his Ph.D. dissertation in Sociology,  “Black workers in green industries: the hidden infrastructure of environmental racism,” at Northwestern University. He has since taught at Colorado, UC San Diego, and Minnesota, before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 2015. There he is the Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project.

In his lecture, Pellow will explore new directions in the theoretical side of environmental sociology.  He breaks it down into multiple approaches. First, he is attempting to further build on existing research that focuses on the intersection between environmental hazards and class, income, race, gender, citizenship and nationality. He sees these intersections as critical for developing nuanced solutions to the complex interactions that produce injustice. “[I am] trying to ask bigger questions about the role of government or the nation-state in producing and exacerbating environmental problems and environmental justice issues in the first place,” Pellow explains. The contradiction is one of “relying on some of the same institutions that are arguably creating the problem in the first place.”

Pellow is also concerned with questions of scale in environmental justice research. He sees environmental justice as an issue that affects us  individually as well as globally. “Environmental hazards regarding academic and policy analysis must be approached as multi-scalar,” argues Pellow. “What happens at the micro scale is almost always revealed to be linked the community or national scale.” As no environmental issues exist in a vacuum, local and regional issues are just as “global” in consequence as environmental injustice outside of the United States. Often, we can find problems in our own neighborhood. Pellow’s recent research on oil refineries located in residential areas of Richmond, California illustrates this well, showing how global economic dynamics can lead to visible environmental impacts on real people.

Lastly, Pellow will explore the ethics of environmental injustice research.”The kind of environmental research I’m doing seeks to question the expendability of ecosystems, of habitats, and of marginalized human populations,” Pellow says. Pellow believes that environmental sociology shouldn’t simply seek to expose injustice, but should fight these notions of expendability. “It’s really about declaring, loudly, the indispensability (of marginalized people). It’s about saying every voice counts. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy.”

Should you too believe that every voice counts in the fight against environmental injustice, and have an interest in the cutting edge of environmental sociology research, come to ASB 210 on April 16 at 4 PM for David Pellow’s GCSC Seminar Series lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

INVESTING IN A CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE

Originally post on @theU on April 1, 2019.

By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund program manager

Did you know that every semester U students are investing in a clean energy future? In the past 15 years, students have come together on two occasions to pass self-imposed fees to create a fund for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. Both of these initiatives defined a more concrete pathway toward carbon neutrality while providing a mechanism to achieve the dream of a renewably powered future.

The resulting Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) is a revolving loan fund (RLF) dedicated to large-scale sustainability projects at the University of Utah. To date, the SEF has invested $235,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on campus.

Now faculty and staff have an opportunity to contribute to this same fund. Sustainable investment on campus doesn’t have to rely solely on student fees.  This April, in honor of Earth Month, we encourage our faculty and staff to join our students to take direct, tangible action to address climate change and realize our students’ vision of a clean energy future.

Due to the nature of the projects that are funded, the SEF reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water use, fuel use and waste. Because of these benefits, it helps the University meet its goals of carbon, waste and water neutrality.

Sustainability-oriented RLFs exist across campuses nationwide. These funds provide up-front capital to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that result in cost savings. As the projects pay back the loan, the money coming in from these cost savings is used to fund other projects. Quite simply, revolving funds are renewable sources of money for renewable projects.

Creating an RLF addresses a major roadblock in campus sustainability: High initial costs make many sustainability measures difficult for colleges and universities to finance, despite the fact that these projects often have long-term cost savings. These funds capitalize on the long-term profitability of sustainability projects by covering these initial costs while securing the return they produce for future initiatives, making such projects much more feasible.

Additionally, RLFs internalize the benefits of cost savings and energy production. Because the university’s fund uses existing resources to pay for projects, rather than seeking external funding, it allows the university to capture the full financial benefits of renewable energy and efficiency projects.

Just in the past few years, our students’ efforts have resulted in the following:

  • Mounted solar arrays on the S.J. Quinney College of Law parking canopy, Kennecott Mechanical Engineering building and Taft Nicholson Center.
  • Replaced old heaters at Red Butte Garden greenhouses with new high-efficiency and low-polluting models.
  • Installed motion- and daylight-sensitive LED lighting in the Special Collections area of Marriott Library to reduce energy and preserve collections.

These projects now return more than $25,000 a year to the fund in energy savings, which accounts for almost 20 percent of funding available for new projects. Within a few years, the growing fund will outpace student fees and staff donations demonstrating the power of an RLF.

Despite all of these benefits, the majority of the SEF projects have been funded only through student fees. Of the 80 plus funds like this at campuses around the nation, the university’s is one of five that relies almost entirely on student funding.

Now, University of Utah’s faculty and staff have an opportunity to match the efforts of the students to build a sustainable campus.  A simple $20 per month donation (just $10 per paycheck for U employees) will offset a single person’s portion of all carbon emissions coming from campus operations. Our students have put their dollars to work for the greater good. Now it is your turn. Join us in making an investment in sustainability this year. With your help, we will continue to make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Click here to learn more about the Sustainable Energy Fund and how you can make it grow.

HUMANS OF THE U: NAIMA DAHIR

Originally post on @theU on March 9, 2019.

“I grew up in a family that never discussed environmental issues or sustainability. That was not something known to us. My parents have been through a lot—war and things like that—so sustainability and environmental justice hasn’t been a focus. We weren’t privileged enough to know about those issues or to have the resources or knowledge to know how our actions related to climate change.

When I first started college and learned about environmental racism, such as the water crisis in Flint, MI., I was taken aback at how these environmental injustices are happening in communities of color that don’t have the resources to fight back against things that are affecting them. It became personal to me as a person of color, who comes from a community that has a large refugee community with a low socioeconomic status.

I’m a big believer that we need to make sure we take care of our environment and our world. The earth has resources that are finite and can’t sustain us the way we have been using them.

When I found out the U offered free bus and TRAX passes I was excited. I use TRAX to get to and from school every day. I also use the bus sometimes as well when I need to get to places outside of campus. It’s easier than driving and I’m able to do homework, read and get things done.

But more important, I am reducing my carbon footprint and that was important to me. It makes me feel empowered just to be able to do something as easy as taking TRAX to help the planet. It’s the little things we do in our communities that really add up at the end of the day.”

— Naima Dahir, junior, International Studies and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

RECYCLE RIGHT

Originally posted on @theU on March 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

“You think you know…but you have no idea.”

Sure, this is the lead-in for a celebrity exposé series on MTV, but in reality, it’s probably the best line to describe the state of recycling. Recycling isn’t a particularly new concept, even in the United States—Depression-era families couldn’t afford to throw things away and wartime conservation pushed for reduce, reuse, recycle before it was a “thing.” But the system we know today came out of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Chances are, the majority of people who recycle have been doing it wrong for decades. Recycling bins have long been the receptacle of hope—“aspirational recyclers” toss everything in the bin because they want it to be recyclable. That’s not how it works. Now, with China and other countries banning the import of a number of waste materials, including post-consumer plastic and mixed paper, as well as reducing the contamination threshold for other materials, learning to recycle right is more important than ever.

In January, the Sustainability Office, in partnership with Athletics and Stadium & Arena Event Services, launched the “Recycle Right” campaign at the Huntsman Center. We installed recycling and trash bins that follow best practices in waste management and added eye-catching posters designed to remind people to think before they throw. Then, on March 2, we decided to test how well the bins were working as part of the Pac-12 Team Green push to promote sustainability in conference sports facilities. After the gymnastics meet (in which our Red Rocksachieved a season-best score and beat Michigan!), employees and students in Sustainability and Facilities opened up the bins.

LANDFILL: Drink cups, lids, straws, condiment packets, chip bags, popcorn containers, food containers, food wrap, hotdog wraps, plastic cutlery, Styrofoam, napkins, paper towels, excess food and liquids. RECYCLING: Soda and water bottles, aluminum cans, candy cardboard boxes, paper drink trays, souvenir cups, clean food containers. No food or liquid.

 

We found recyclables—cans, plastics, perfect “10” signs—but we also found a lot of contaminants, aka trash. Contamination has long been a concern in single-stream recycling, where all recyclable materials go in one bin. The U uses single-stream recycling in the Huntsman Center to make recycling easier for fans and to reduce bin space. For the recycling bins on March 2, half the material by weight, was in the wrong bin. (By volume, an alternate way to measure, 40 percent was trash.)

We know people want to do the right thing, so we’re here to help you do the right thing right. Here are the top five contaminants we saw in the Huntsman bins:

  1. “Paper” soft drink cups
    Just like “paper” coffee cups, soft drink cups from concessions should go in the trash. While the outside of the cup is paper, the inside is a thin layer of plastic, which is what makes it able to hold liquid. It’s next to impossible to split the materials, so multi-layered cups go to the landfill.
  2. Liquid
    No liquid should go on the recycling side. So, if you have a soda bottle that is half empty that you want to recycle, empty the liquid first and then place the plastic bottle in the recycling bin. Same goes for water.
  3. Food
    Food is particularly problematic when all recycling is placed together. Large amounts of recyclable paper ended up in the trash because of food, syrup from ice cream and liquids. How clean should a container be before it goes in the recycling bin? Its contents shouldn’t spread to other materials. Also, popcorn isn’t recyclable.
  4. Food containers
    Paper popcorn bins should go in the trash, because like the cups, they are lined with plastic. Additionally, the red-checkered boat and paper need to go to the trash can.
  5. Napkins
    Yes, they are paper, but they can’t be recycled. Napkins are often soiled with food or human by-products (eww), plus the paper is such low quality that it doesn’t get recycled even when unused.

By eliminating these items from recycling bins, we can significantly reduce contamination and improve our recycling totals. It takes a community, and luckily, we’ve got a good one.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bottle

Recycling is good, but reducing our waste generation in the first place should be the priority. The three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—are actually a hierarchy, with recycle being the last option. Fans can reduce their waste by bringing their own water bottles. From the Stadium & Arena Event Services A-Z Fan Guide:

One factory-sealed bottle of water per person (1 liter or less), is permitted in the stadium and arena. Bottled water may not be frozen. In an effort to be sustainable, empty, clear, plastic water bottles will be permitted. Bottle-filling stations can be found throughout the concourses at Rice-Eccles and the Huntsman Center.