Car-Free Day

September 22nd is Car-Free Day, dedicated to finding alternative ways to get to work, school, or running errands. This can include biking, walking, running, taking a scooter, taking public transit, or telecommuting—which many of you are already doing. 

Finding ways to reduce car trips is important to your health. Transportation accounts for 28% of US greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS), motor vehicles emit six harmful pollutants that hurt human health:

  • Particulate matter: fine particles that are one-tenth the diameter of human hair and can embed themselves in lungs and/or bloodstream, causing heart attacks, and/or heart and lung damage
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxide: both harmful particulate matter that irritate the lungs and body in way that makes it hard to fight respiratory infections like pneumonia and COVID-19.
  • Carbon monoxide: blocks oxygen from getting to the brain, heart, and other vital organs.
  • Sulfur dioxide: fine particle matter that negatively affects young children and causes asthma
  • Greenhouse gases: Several gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, that are released that trap heat in the atmosphere and causes climate change. These gases are harmful to human health and those impacts will be exacerbated as climate changes worsens.

UCS says, “Indeed, tailpipe pollutants pose health risks at every stage of life, and can even cause premature death. But the impacts of climate change, driven by global warming emissions, also affect people’s health and the well-being of entire communities.”

You can make a difference.  If you are working on campus, consider TravelSmart—free bus passes, free parking for carpoolers, free shower/locker use, even free emergency rides home.  If you need help finding a bus route, email TravelSmart and we’ll help. 

For errands, plan out your route before leaving and try to only run errands once a week. If that’s not possible, link your trips together and find the stores that are closest together to reduce driving. Consider shopping at stores that are closer to your home, and are within walking or biking distance—which can further improve your health.

Getting out of your car and finding ways to make active transportation a priority helps improve your health as well as the health of members of our community, decreases emissions that will continue to cause health problems, and saves you money. Changes in our community are making it even easier, consider giving it a try!

Active Transportation Improvements in Omaha

Transportation in Omaha has been dominated by the use of cars, with many familiar with the “20 minute commute”.  As the city/metro area continues to expand, that commute is taking longer for many, increasing pollution, and negatively impacting our health and the environment around us.

The new bus rapid bus transit, ORBT, is in the final stages of preparation. Currently, all westbound stations have been installed and 5 of the 10 eastbound stations are complete.  Final testing is underway in preparation for a fall 2020 launch.  ORBT will help Omaha to have an interconnected, fast, and reliable public transportation network. ORBT will connect with other bus stops to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Public transit connects people to the places they need to be, and ORBT stops at highly trafficked destinations, including the Med Center, UNO, Midtown Crossing, and downtown Omaha, among others.  Bus lines need to be accessible to people, and urban sprawl makes that challenging. 

The Missing Middle Housing campaign focuses on policies and rezoning that will increase housing diversity and density in Omaha. Strong Towns, an organization dedicated to finding ways to rebuild American cities’ prosperity, notes single-family detached housing makes up “60% of the U.S. housing stock, and occupy over 80% of the land in most cities”. Changing the zoning to put in duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, and mixed-use housing/retail buildings will increase density and be a way to live closer to places that we live, work, and play. Blackstone is a pretty good example of this practice.

Omaha has proposed bike lanes from 16th to 24th and from 10th to Turner Blvd., and changes to the city’s zoning laws near the ORBT line to increase density. These proposed changes and improvements to transit will increase density and make movement around Omaha easier and active.        

All of these changes can help us to be healthier.  Air pollution from motor vehicles causes adverse cardiovascular and respiratory health effects.  However, using public transportation reduces the amount of pollution while helping keep people physically active.  The American Heart Association found that people who ride the bus to work were 44% less likely to be overweight, 27% less likely to have high blood pressure, and 34% less likely to have diabetes.

TravelSmart can assist you in your health goals by providing free bus rides, which will include ORBT, free amenities to cyclists and walkers, and free parking for carpoolers.

 

Recycling Event Success

By Melanie Stewart       

We were fortunate to be able to reschedule the recycling event in August, and we anticipated many of you did some extra spring cleaning while you were being safe by staying home.  We were right—more than 400 people dropped off:

  • 861 pounds of VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs, and floppy disks
  • 15,681 pounds of electronics
  • 12,876 pounds of paper for shredding
  • 300 pounds of alkaline batteries
  • 28,943 total pounds diverted from the landfill. That impact?*
    • 74 trees saved
    • 393 gallons of oil not used
    • 882,742 hours of electricity saved
    • 11,949 gallons of water

You also donated:

  • 600lbs of food/toiletries and $2,555 to the Maverick Food Pantry
  • 161 eyeglasses donated to the TEI clinic
  • 5lbs pop tabs to Ronald McDonald House (which helps to pay their electric bill)

A big THANK YOU to the volunteers that were able to help at this two day event; Kristina Hughes, Dakota Stock, Deb Bass, Ryan Lawson, Anita Soto, Rosie Zweiback, Peggy Heires, Tricia Saxton, Peggy Schneider, Julie Sommer, Brian Dykstra, Kyle Dykstra, Andy Balus, Brian Spencer, and Melanie Stewart.

While we love being able to help you properly recycle these hard to recycle items, and protect your identity by shredding paper, we’ve been noticing a trend—every year our totals increase. For the last two years, the weights of the electronics we collected were almost double what they were the two years before that (~8,000lbs in both 2017/18 and ~15,000lbs in 2019/2020).  All other categories have increased in weight as well.  We’re also receiving more items—not only have we filled more containers, but older electronics, especially TVs, were heavier than the new models.  As we receive newer items, we know they weigh less, meaning the quantity of items received has increased.

A lot of this is due to planned obsolescence.  To reduce your environmental impact and save your money, do some research before buying products to see how long the product will last and consider  spending a little more for something that will last longer.  Other ways to reduce include requesting electronic/online versions of statements, removing yourself from mailing lists, and upgrading to rechargeable batteries.  Reducing waste is the most important step, recycling is the last resort.

*Estimated impact; actual totals may vary slightly depending on the exact mix of electronics and type of paper dropped off.

Planned Obsolescence

 

We live in a world driven by economics and that means corporations are mostly driven by one thing: the bottom line. Profit determines how they make their products, the quality at which those products are produced, and the price points for sale. One way to increase profits is called planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is the “strategy of deliberately ensuring that the current version of a given product will become out of date or useless within a known time period. This proactive move guarantees that consumers will seek replacements in the future, thus bolstering demand.”  Companies can decrease the quality of their products, which saves them money, and then sell more products later, which increases profits—a win-win for them, but more money out of your pocket.  This can be the microwave that won’t last for more than a couple years (but is more expensive to repair than buy new) or the cell phone that isn’t able to update security software and becomes obsolete. 

Planned obsolescence causes large amounts of waste.  Not only are there more products headed to the landfill (which fill up faster), the manufacturing of those products use more energy and natural resources, and transportation is needed between each phase.  Most of those products come with packaging, which goes through the same waste-producing process as the product itself.  All of this increases emissions, contributes to climate change, and negatively impacts human heath, and is killing more people each year.

You can help break the cycle, while saving your money and improving everyone’s health:

  • Research the product you want to buy, read reviews, and buy the best made product you can.
    • It may be more expensive at the start, it will generally last longer and will save money over time.
    • For electronics, specifically research its end of life/life expectancy to know how long it’s expected to last.
  • Bring complaints to companies and advocate for replacement parts for the gadget that is broken. Leave negative reviews for products that are poorly made or hard to fix. Companies have to change what doesn’t sell.
  • Buy from companies that are transparent about their processes and have made changes to lessen the impact—but be wary of “green washing”. Look for companies that have “cradle to grave” or “cradle to cradle” policies.
  • Fast fashion adds up too; consider a capsule wardrobe.
  • Be honest about what you need as opposed to what you want; only buy needs.

               

Carbon Dioxide and Your Health

By Melanie Stewart

As we use fossil fuels for energy, buildings, cars, and homes emit carbon, mostly as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere and the carbon cycle begins.  The ocean absorbs about 30% of the emitted CO2.  The amount varies based on what is available, atmospheric pressure, and wind turbulence.  As levels in the atmosphere have increased, the ocean has taken in more CO2, which in turn makes the ocean more acidic, causing problems for ocean plants and animals. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that ocean acidification will continue to get worse.

Plants take up 25% of the CO2 that is emitted by humans through photosynthesis releasing the oxygen (O2) and storing the carbon(C). As humans tear down forests, this creates a negative feedback loop. The more trees and forests that are cut down results in less plants available to absorb the CO2.   It stays in the atmosphere which causes the earth to heat up more, which contributes to droughts and plants drying out, which causes forest fires to burn more extremely, and causes the carbon that was stored in the tree/plant to be released into the atmosphere.

The rest of the emitted CO2 (45%) will remain in the atmosphere.  The ocean has a limit on what it can absorb and deforestation limits the availability of plants to absorb it.  Essentially, the more CO2 we emit, the more CO2 stays in the atmosphere.   This is the leading cause of climate change, and it’s also bad for human health.  CO2 is a pollutant and it, along with other fossil fuel emissions, are harming human heath, and killing more people each year.

Don’t despair, you can help reduce emissions!  You can:

Click on the links for tips to get started and/or to learn more.  These steps will almost always save you money and some will improve your physical and mental health.  Your actions add up and can influence others, increasing the impact.

Health and Urban Trees

By Blake Van Jacobs

Skyscrapers, concrete, and cars come together to make cities concrete jungles. The lack of vegetation combined with the concrete and metal creates an “urban heat island” which causes temperatures in urban areas to increase anywhere from 1.8-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the EPA.  This heat poses a serious threat to human health. One severe and recent heat wave was in 2010 in Moscow. It killed 56,000 people from July-August due to poor air quality, heat, and the wildfires the heat caused.

As climate change worsens, our cities become a vulnerable space for these same kind of heat waves and cities are already heating up. However, there is one saving grace: trees. Trees provide a canopy over urban spaces that help cool down urban areas and provide numerous environmental benefits including stormwater runoff capture, carbon storage and sequestration, and reducing energy use. According to Stockton Tree Foundation, trees around your home can decrease air conditioning needs by 30%. Urban trees also provide economic benefits by increasing neighborhood property values, reducing the stress of heat on concrete, and creating jobs in the planting and upkeep of these trees.

Human health is also drastically affected by trees. The Nature Conservancy and the National Institute of Health began a study  in 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky focusing on how nature can better improve human health in urban areas. In the suburbs of Louisville, where more trees are planted, life expectancy can be upwards of 13 years longer than in urban areas. Much like Omaha, in Louisville, your zip code predicts your income, life expectancy, and overall health. At least 8,000 trees were planted in some of the highest polluted areas in Louisville. At the time of this article, 700 people had signed up to participate in medical tests to track stress levels, impacts of air pollution, and noise reduction as a result of the trees being planted. This study continues and should be completed in 2022 or early 2023.

Trees are a huge benefit to urban areas as they spur job creation, decrease air pollution, mitigate climate change, and give communities a safer space to live, work, and play. Planting trees improves the environment and can directly and positively affect human health where the tree is planted.

Human health and pollinators

By Blake Van Jacobs

Last week was Pollinator Week—but why should you care?  Humans rely on many insects, arachnids, birds, and bats to survive, and the work they do can make us healthier. We like to think of pollinators as bees and butterflies, because we generally like them, but it’s often our instinct to swat, spray, kill, and even discourage other pollinators from visiting our yards.

Did you know that at least 1 out of every 3 bites of food you take are possible because of pollinators?  Eating is obviously essential to our survival, and the work these pollinators perform adds between $235-577 Billion worth of global food supply.  Pollinators often go unnoticed, but they are critical to non-human species survival, biodiversity and this has a $50 Billion value to U.S. tourism and recreation. 

Insects help humans survive by cleaning up—they eat plant matter, animals/other insects we consider pests (worth $4.5 Billion in pest control), already dead animals, and even dung. All of this helps to reduce the waste we deal with, disease, and can even prevent forest fires.  Entomoptherapy is the use of insect derived products in medicine—everything from the use of honey to the treatment for inflammatory diseases (like arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis) using bee venom—known as apitherapy.

Pollinator habitats is being reduced and disease, parasites, climate change, and contaminants/chemicals are reducing pollinators.  Insects have been dying off at a rapid rate, with studies showing a 41% of species having steep declines in the last decade and 40% of insects species threatened with extinction.  If these declines continue, it could lead to a “total collapse of nature” and threatens the survival of humankind.

You can help by creating a habitat in your yard.  Plant clumps of native plants that flower at different times of the season and are correctly sited to the soil and sun. Don’t use pesticides/chemicals to control pests—create a healthy ecosystem so they take care of themselves.  Don’t forget insects and all pollinators need help at all stages of their life—some need to eat the plants (monarch caterpillars and milkweed), not just the flowers; some need plants/trees for habitat, and they need places to survive the winter.  Practice conservation for all pollinators, and support farmers who use less chemicals and provide pasture habitat.  Together we can save pollinators…and ourselves.

 

A Plastic Pandemic

By Melanie Stewart

Plastic is the new dirty word.  It’s in our air, oceans, soil, drinking water, virtually everywhere.  Chemicals in plastic can leech into food and drinks and reduce fertility, harm fetal development, disrupt the endocrine system, affect children’s behavior, and even increase blood pressure.  Plastic can break down into smaller pieces, but it never goes away—every piece of plastic ever created still exists today.

None of that was known when the first plastic was created in 1869 as a substitute for ivory, helping to stop the slaughter of elephants and tortoises.  Nor did we worry about the effect as it helped us to win World War II—nylon was used for parachutes, ropes, and helmet liners, and Plexiglas replaced standard glass in aircraft windows.  Single-use plastic items are a mainstay in healthcare, with sterile wrapped products reducing infection, while personal protective equipment (PPE) keeps both the patient and provider safe.

COVID-19 has increased our plastic use.  PPE use has gone up, with one forecast estimating $166 billion will be spent on disposable masks in 2020.  Most PPE cannot be recycled and it’s actually become an increasing amount of litter, as people toss what they perceive to be dirty on the ground—and this eventually makes its way into the ocean.  Staying at home means more e-commerce, with Amazon seeing a 65% increase in customers.  More people are ordering food online, which increases plastic use—containers, utensils, and bags.  Many cities are temporarily banning reusable bags in favor of disposables. The International Solid Waste Association is estimating that single-use plastic consumption has increased 250-300% since COVID-19 began. To make matters worse, oil prices are low, making production of plastic cheap, while labor shortages are making recycling more challenging, which likely results in less items being recycled.

There’s still hope.  UNMC/Nebraska Medicine developed a way to decontaminate and reuse some PPE.  It’s easy/affordable to get a reusable mask for you/your family. Reusable masks have been shown to be safe to use.  There is a lot of information available to help you reduce your plastic use—everything from buying more fresh fruits and veggies (and less packaged food) to buying plastic-free clothes (hint: most of what you are wearing is partially plastic) to consuming less in general.

Consider joining our plastic-free ecochallenge team.  You pick the actions you want to take and/or learn about and can earn prizes while seeing the collective impact.

Saving Energy & Water at Home

By Melanie Stewart

Summer often means higher utility bills, and more money out of your pocket.  Spending more time at home could increase those costs, but LiveGreen has some easy tips to help you save resources, money, and improve community health.

Your air conditioning (AC) unit uses a lot of energy to keep you cool but you can lower that cost by using a programmable thermostat, keeping sources of heat (lamp, TV) away from your thermostat, changing your HVAC filter regularly, vacuuming return air vents, and planting the right tree/shrub in the right spot.  Raising the thermostat by 1 or 2 degrees can also have an impact, and you can use a fan to keep you cool.  Turn the fan off when you leave a room—fans cool people, not spaces.

Reduce the heat that your AC has to overcome and use less electricity by swapping incandescent/halogen bulbs for LEDs, turning items off and unplugging infrequently used items (consider smart strips), keeping curtains/blinds closed to direct sunlight, making sure vents aren’t blocked by furniture/toys/curtains, and keeping the damper shut on the fireplace (consider a flue blocker).  Turn your water heater temp down to 120°F—it’s still plenty hot for showering and cleaning.  Don’t use your oven on the hottest days—instead opt for the grill, toaster oven, or crockpot.  Dry laundry by hanging it outside (or inside) rather than using the dryer and run your washer on the highest spin cycle possible, getting the most water out and decreasing dry time (saves energy all year round!).

Speaking of laundry, do full loads to save water, electricity, and soap—this applies to the dishwasher too.  Unless your dishwasher is really old, it uses less water than handwashing, so save yourself some time and load it up.  To save more water, fix drippy faucets and running toilets, install low-flow shower heads and fixtures, monitor your sprinkler system, and take shorter (or maybe even less?) showers.  For more water saving tips, check out our Every Drop Counts page.

Already an energy/water saving expert?  Adding insulation to your attic, replacing windows, and making sure your ducts are sealed properly will save energy and pay you back over time.  Installing a tankless water heater, high-efficiency toilets, and upgrading to energy star rated appliances will raise your status to pro.

To learn how much you can save with these and other simple changes, check out this calculator.

Healthy Gardens

by Blake Van Jacobs

Last week we shared with you the benefits of eating more fruits and veggies, buying locally grown produce and community gardens.  If you have the space and the desire, growing a garden in your backyard is great! It’s also good for your physical and mental health.

Gardening is not a “plant and leave” activity–it requires care and attention to grow what you want, and to do so in a healthy, safe way. When deciding what to plant and when to plant it, Cornell University has a great resource on the proper place to plant different vegetables or flowers, plant traits, and special considerations.

The Omaha Library in Benson has a seed library–seeds you can check out to grow (you return seeds in the fall), as well as community resources, book recommendations, and other gardening resources.

A way to get your vegetable garden started is to build out the Square Foot Garden. This method plots your garden by each square foot.  Plants are properly spaced, it’s easy to water, and you can fit the largest amount of plants in the space.  Use this resource to help with proper soil, if you’re filling a bed.

Think you need a fertilizer?  Try compost.  It reduces landfill waste, is better for your soil and plants, and safe to handle.  You can compost at home or buy compost.  Want to learn more?  LiveGreen is hosting a 30 minute webinar, Wednesday, June 17th at 11am on composting and we’d love to see you there!

If you have to use a fertilizer, know that many large amounts of chemicals that are bad for the plants and soil. The Organic Material Review Institute OMRI has a safe product list. This is an unregulated industry, so be cautious and do research—a package that says “organic” does not mean its safe.

Insects and weeds are a fact of life.  Weeds can be pulled (part of the health benefit!).  Insecticides will kill everything, including the pollinators the plants need—and potentially the birds that eat those bugs.  It’s best to let nature do its thing and know that you may lose a few leaves or some produce in the process, but you and the ecosystem will still be better off.

If you do have to buy a pesti/fungi/herbi-cide, there are some chemicals you should avoid, like DDT, Glyphosate, and Atrazine. Other chemicals to avoid can be found here.

photo credit: freeimages.com/ramzihashisho