Healthy, Sustainable, Actions During a Pandemic

By Melanie Stewart

It’s April and that means it’s Earth Month—even if it doesn’t really feel like it.  COVID-19 has dominated our lives for the past month and forced all kinds of changes, with many working from home and/or trying to keep kids occupied.

We recognize the seriousness of the situation, but also know that this could be a time to make changes that will have a positive impact—on your family’s health, your pocketbook, and the environment around you.

The first is a home waste audit.  With limited trips outside your home, the waste stream you are responsible for is easy to track—and make changes.  Count the number of bags of trash vs. recyclables for a week (or day, whatever is easiest) and then work with everyone in your family to get the right things in the right container.  Maybe your spouse doesn’t know the gable-topped milk/juice containers can be recycled, or maybe your family needs a place to collect glass.  Check out KeepOmahaBeautiful’s page or Wasteline for more information.  If your family has a lot of organics, consider composting in your backyard, or through a compost club.

Don’t forget to reduce!  Replace disposable items with reusable–no need to hoard paper towels/napkins if you have fabric alternatives, and they’ll save you money in the long run.  Consider the packaging of items you buy and find alternatives whenever possible.

Other possibilities:

  • Swap out some home cleaning products with less toxic, cheaper, versions. LiveGreen has some recipes we tested/like, and more on our Pinterest page (including reusable disinfecting wipes!).
  • Eat more fruits/veggies, more locally grown items, less packaged food, and consider reducing the amount of meat you consume. Try out some new recipes, and have your kids help!  If you have a green thumb, consider planting a garden and plan a neighborhood vegetable exchange.
  • Spring cleaning? Don’t forget to set aside your recycling for our collection event.   Clothing, toys, and goods can be donated or sold for extra money on a variety of apps or websites.  Don’t forget to repair what you can.
  • If it’s safe to do so, get outside. Movement/exercise is good for you and relieves stress.  If you can spend time in nature, even in your backyard, your mental health will benefit.
  • Follow LiveGreen Nebraska on Facebook. We’ll continue to share activities that individuals and families can do to have fun, learn something, and keep busy.

Earth Month Activities

Earth Month is going to look a little different this year, but COVID-19 isn’t going to stop us from celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  We are going to postpone the personal document shredding/electronic recycling event to a future date, but we will still have it.  So, if the changes to your weekend plans includes some spring cleaning, keep all your electronics, techno trash, batteries, eyeglasses, and paper for the big event.  For details on what we will and won’t accept, go here.

We still hope to have free trees to share for Arbor Day, and if so, we’ll find a way to do that while keeping everyone safe.

We are still having the RePurpose It contest.  We know that recent events may have changed things, so we have extended the submission deadline to April 6th.  Don’t forget that you can enter more than one item.  Also, while the project needs to be done by you, it doesn’t have to be done by only you.  If you have kids (or spouse?) that needs a project while they are at home and they want to do most of the work, that’s great!  Don’t overthink this, just find something that’s outlived its original purpose, and find a different way to use it.  Check out our webpage for rules and helpful hints and our Pinterest page for inspiration.

We have also set up an EcoChallenge team.  It’s free, and entirely online.  You get to pick the topics and actions you want to participate in (can be changing a habit, learning about a new topic, or completing a single action) to earn points.  EcoChallenge also gives out prizes.  Not only can you join our team—anyone can!  So if you have kids, friends, family, neighbors, etc. that you think would be interested, we’d love to have them on our team.  UNO has officially challenged us to a battle, and we need to defend our title!

We will also being doing our first ever online scavenger hunt.  You’ll be able to participate at your convenience and everything will be online.  Participation will help you learn more about sustainability as well as campus programs and successes.  We’ll have lots of prizes to hand out for this too!  Scavenger hunt items will be posted on this page on April 6th.

 

 

Social Justice, Black History Month, and Sustainability

By Melanie Stewart

Last week the United Nations marked World Day of Social Justice, promoting equality, removing barriers, and helping people living in poverty, unsafe conditions, and/or without dignity.  The “field” of sustainability has advanced beyond what we would mostly classify as “environmental sustainability”—taking care of the physical environment.  While that’s still important as we are all products of our environment, there are “other” areas of sustainability that we need to address separately.

Social justice and sustainability intersect in equity and in health (our mission!).  In North America, virtually all areas where low-socioeconomic-status communities are located experience higher concentrations of air pollutants.  As you likely know, air pollutants lead to a variety of health conditions—asthma, cancer, birth defects, etc. You may also know that in the United States, racial and ethnic minorities are more likely than non-minority groups to experience poverty.  Given this, it’s not surprising that African Americans are exposed to pollutants and suffer the maladies they cause at a higher rate

In honor of Black History Month, we offer a few pioneers in this important work.

Heather Toney, was the first African American, female, and youngest mayor of Greenville, MS and served as the regional administrator to the EPA, and currently leads the Moms Clean Air Force—a group of more than 1 million moms and dads fighting against air pollution and for climate safety to protect children’s health.

Dr. Robert Bullard is often listed as the father of environmental justice.  He founded the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, has authored 18 books, co-founded the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Climate Change Consortium, and has received multiple accolades and awards for his work.

Dr. Mildred McClain is a teacher and human rights activist.  Her work with the Black Youth Leadership Development Institute has trained thousands of young people to be community leaders while also working to promote healthy lifestyles.  She has led community gardens, health fairs, soil testing, and lead testing in children while creating major partnerships with the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the CDC.

Dr. Beverly Wright founded and is the executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, which provides education, job placement, and health/safety training to climate impacted communities.  She developed curriculum, runs a hazardous waste work training program, and has produced research related to environmental justice and superfund sites.

 

Ready to Re-Purpose It?

After a 1-year hiatus, the RePurpose It contest returned last year, but participants had to use storage containers that were no longer needed in the library—and they did not disappoint.  

This year we will go back to the original version of the contest. Participants can repurpose anything that has outlived its original intent and been transformed into something else.  Entries will be featured on our webpage and open for voting by your fellow colleagues during Earth Month.  Entries with the most votes will win prizes.  We are confirming those now, we’ll let you know soon, but promise they’ll be good prizes! 

Here are the basics of what you need to know; check our website for details and full contest rules.

  • Use an item that is no longer serving its original purpose and transform it into something useful.
  • Take before and after pictures and provide a brief description of what it was and is now.
  • Don’t submit anything you submitted before.
  • You can submit more than one item, but can only win once.
  • Group projects are allowed.
  • Submit your entry to LiveGreen@unmc.edu by March 29th.

Don’t have a project in mind? Concerned that you’re not crafty?  Or handy with tools? Good news—you don’t have to be!  Visit our RePurpose It Pinterest page to find no-tool/no-special-skill-required ways to repurpose items and make your life easier!  Entries do not have to come from this page, it’s just there to help you with ideas—and maybe inspire you with other projects too. 

Some projects are big and really impressive, but it’s often the simple things that are the most inspiring—projects that are repeatable by most people often have the most appeal.  If you need further inspiration or places to find supplies, check out both locations of the Habitat for Humanity Restore.  Their inventory changes weekly.  Have items to help the cause?  You can drop them off or contact them to arrange pick up.

Reclaimed Enterprises facilitates deconstruction of (as opposed to demolition) metro area buildings and saves items for sale and repurposing. Trim, doors, old growth lumber, they have it all.  Contact them for more information.

Don’t forget to check out second hand stores in your area.

We’ll have more details on the events of Earth Month soon; but wanted you to have plenty of time to get your projects together.

 

 

Jevon’s Paradox

A chill is in the air, peppermint is infiltrating our beverages, and holiday lights are on gutters, trees, and yards. Many of us remember, not so fondly, searching for a burnt out incandescent bulb that single-handedly brought down the entirety of a holiday light display. Today’s LED light strands not only save us time and frustration, but they are more energy efficient as well. Throughout our homes and businesses, incandescent bulbs have given way to LED and CFL bulbs, which individually use a fraction of the energy of a traditional incandescent and last longer. Despite these benefits, some experts doubt we will see any reduction in energy use over the long term.

How can this be?

During the industrial revolution, a British economist named William Stanley Jevons predicted that increased efficiencies in burning coal would not lead to less coal consumption, but more. Known as Jevon’s paradox, the basic premise is that technological efficiencies lead to lower costs, and these lower costs lead to higher consumption. 

Take vehicle fuel efficiency as an example. A driver with a more fuel efficient car might choose to drive more because they spend less per mile. In addition to the gas consumed, increased mileage leads to increased vehicle wear, which in turn increases emissions from manufacturing of new tires and car parts. Longer road trips might also lead to more hotel stays and meals on the road, which requires more energy inputs as well. In the end, a fuel efficient car can lead to greater emissions based on driver behavior.

What can you do?

Technological efficiencies can provide significant cost and time-saving benefits but only if we truly take advantage of them: hang the same number of holiday lights as before and watch the smaller bill roll in because they are LEDs. Increase your savings by turning them off at a time when no one will see them (timers are inexpensive and you don’t have to remember or go out in the cold) and continue to invest in energy efficiencies.

A great way to keep yourself accountable is to take a page out of the Med Center’s book; set goals for yourself! Try to decrease your energy usage 10% compared to last December, or find another measurable, achievable goal your household can reach. Fighting Jevon’s paradox is good for your wallet, the planet, and your health



What’s your fashion footprint?

Being fashionable can come at a cost to your wallet and the environment, but it doesn’t have to.

by Tina Spencer, sustainability coordinator

According to recent studies, the fashion industry is the second most pollutive industry in the world, second only to oil, and it still contributes more to the world’s total carbon footprint than air travel, a staggering 10% to the aviation industry’s 2%.

Fast fashion adds to pollution and generates potential environmental and occupational hazards. High water usage, pollution from chemical treatments used in dyeing and garment preparation and the disposal of large amounts of unsold clothing through incineration or landfill deposits are hazardous to the environment. 

Although some computers are used, most raw material production and manufacturing is still sewn by a person and is labor intensive. This results in manufactures seeking out low-wage environments for their factories where issues of industrial safety and exploitation of workers often arise.

There is also an increasing concern as microfibers from synthetic fabrics are polluting the earth’s waters through the process of laundering. The tiny microfibers are too small to be captured in filtration systems and end up entering our natural water systems. One study found that 35% of microplastics found in oceans come from the textile and clothing industry and majority of them were made of polyester, polyethylene, acrylic, and elastane. Eliminating synthetic materials used in clothing products can prevent harmful synthetics and microfibers from ending up in our natural environment.

None of that is good, but there’s hope! 

Start by learning your fashion footprint. Regardless of your score, there are some simple ways to be more sustainable. Support sustainable fashion—clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects:

  • Reduce: Buy fewer items and the items you do buy should be high-quality materials that last longer. This eliminates the constant need to replace items and saves you money
  • Reuse: keep those investment pieces longer instead of purchasing more
  • Choose sustainable brands that are truly committed to the cause
  • Take items that you no longer want or use to a consignment shop or donate pieces that are still wearable to organization and/or people that would appreciate what you’re eliminating

Nearly 95% of the clothes we throw away have the potential to be reworn, recycled or reused in some way. None of us can be perfect, but a lot of us making small changes can have a big impact.

 
photo credit: freeimages.com/odanjaeger

 

America Recycles Day

By Melanie Stewart

This Friday, November 15th, is America Recycles Day, a nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting recycling, and buying recycled products.

Not sure what to recycle on campus? Watch this short video to find out, or visit our webpage for on-campus information.  Check out the Wasteline site for recycling information in and around Omaha.  But don’t be a “wish-cycler” –that only creates more problems and increases waste.

Recycling is important and has huge impact on our planet and our economy. In order to complete the loop and make sure your recycling effort has value, buy products made of recycled content.  When you purchase a product take a look at the label.  If it contains the 3-arrow triangle (often referred to as the recycle symbol) it is recyclable.  If that triangle is inside in a circle, that product is made from recycled content.  The package should tell you the percentage of that item that was made from recycled materials, and if the materials are “post-consumer content.” 

Recycled content product diverts materials from the landfill while protecting new or virgin resources, so make sure what you are buying has the highest percentage possible of recycled content.

This year, Keep Omaha Beautiful is challenging people to go further than recycling with their 24-Hour Zero Waste Challenge.  Can you and your family think about waste differently by considering the source?  By being aware of everything you consume, purchase, and use on a daily basis, you may recognize how many things go to the trash—and then find ways to reduce, reuse, or recycle.

Please note, going zero waste is hard (that’s why it’s a challenge!) so focus on progress, not perfection.

Need a little help to get started?

  • Refuse—turn down any unnecessary waste—shopping bags, receipts, any item you don’t need.
  • Reduce—Avoid disposable and packaged products, bring your own containers.
    1. Buy secondhand items—you’ll save something from the landfill and save your money.
  • Recycle Right—both on campus and at home.
  • Rot—Compost anything you can, in your backyard bin or consider signing up for a compost club.

Want to be rewarded for your efforts?  Tag #24hrZeroWasteChallenge on social media, share a story or action, and Keep Omaha Beautiful may select you to win a zero waste kit.

Plastic, Recycling, and China

By Melanie Stewart

You’ve likely heard the stories in the news—China stopped accepting much of the world’s materials for recycling and this has sent shockwaves through the recycling market, prompting fears of recyclables being thrown in the trash.

This has prompted a lot of you to ask questions about the value of recycling, what this means for waste and the environment, and whether or not it’s even worth your time. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t forget that recycling is really the last option.  If you are buying something with the idea that “it’s OK, I can recycle it” you may need to adjust your thinking.  Instead of the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—but still notice the order) there are now 8 R’s:

  • Rethink –the choices you make
  • Refuse –single use plastics
  • Reduce –consumption
  • Reuse –everything you can
  • Refurbish –old items instead of buying new
  • Repair –before you replace
  • Repurpose –items that you don’t need, reinvent!
  • Recycle –when you can’t do any of the items above

Following these steps helps reduce all kinds of waste—pollution from extracting new materials out of the ground, emissions from transportation and manufacturing, and the resources used to dispose of items.

While this applies to all materials, plastic gets more attention, and for good reason.  It produces a lot of pollution in the manufacturing process, never breaks down, recycles inefficiently, and worst of all, is exposing all of us to toxins that are threatening human health at a global scale.  Plastic may have its place, but there are also lots of healthier alternatives.  Making these changes are good for you/your family’s health by reducing your exposure and items pre-packaged in plastic are often the less healthy option.  Think apple vs. bag of potato chips.

When all else fails, recycle—it still helps.  But recycle right, and whatever you do, don’t wish-cycle!  It’s easy to hope they’ll find a way for those items, but you are really just putting recyclable items at risk for the landfill.  Glass and some metals are recycled regionally, and they can come back as the same product again and again.

What changes can you make to reduce your waste and get rid of some plastic?  LiveGreen wants to know—and share them with others so they can make the same choice.  Please leave a comment below or email LiveGreen@unmc.edu with a change you’ve made.

Julie Sommer Selected to All-Female Plastic Research Team

You may know the name Julie Sommer.  She’s worked on campus for 8 years and is the Research Resources Manager and a LiveGreen Ambassador.  You probably didn’t know she’s one of only 300 women (and very few Americans) that have been selected for the eXXpedition: Round the World 2019-2021.  This all-female group will sail 30 voyages around the world as a hands-on crew, conducting scientific research on the causes of plastic pollution, the devastating impact plastics from land-based activities are having on our planet’s oceans, ecosystems and on human health, and will have achievable actions crew members can take back to their own communities.

The sailboat has already launched it’s first voyage and will continue through 2021 with Julie’s voyage taking place from Vanuatu to Cairns (Australia) next June.

LiveGreen is excited to learn about Julie’s work and we know many of you are concerned about plastic too.  Next Tuesday, October 29th, at 12pm Julie will present some information about the eXXpedition, as well as information on her effort to reduce the amount of plastic she and her family use. Bring your lunch to the Eppley Science Hall Auditorium at noon to learn more.

Plastic pollution in the ocean has been covered for years, and effect on marine life well established, but we are now realizing its impact on human health.  In the middle of the country, it can be easy to have concerns other than the ocean, but the world’s ecosystem (including human life) depends on it.  We eat food from the ocean and as such are also consuming plastic.  We are also drinking it, breathing it, and ingesting it from other sources—all of which can lead to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, and neurological damage, just to name a few.  For more information on plastic’s impact on health, read this.

“Every minute, one garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean—plastic breaks down but never goes away.  By 2050 oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. “ Sommer said. “Recycling efforts on their own are not enough, we have to reduce our plastic use.”

You can learn more about Julie and her journey here.

Please join us next Tuesday to learn about the health impacts of plastic and how you can reduce your own use.  Can’t attend? Watch online here.

Energy Efficiency Day

By Melanie Stewart

October 2nd is Energy Efficiency Day—a collaborative effort to “Save Money. Cut Carbon. Breathe Easier.”  Yep, it’s all about energy use from energy groups, and the goal is still health. 

As you hopefully know, this is why UNMC & Nebraska Medicine have a goal to achieve Net Zero Building Emissions by 2030—it directly aligns with our mission to create a healthy future for all.  Emissions are driving climate change, which is already having an impact on our health, with more drastic changes coming.  Emissions are pollution, and that pollution has now been tied to maladies in every bodily system—from cancer to diabetes to skin disorders and infertility.

As we work towards our goal, we’ve reduced a drastic amount of energy on campus—new systems and processes to control buildings, a new (highly efficient) chiller, LED lights in parking garages and buildings (update coming soon!), and changing processes for energy curtailment in the summer.

While those projects are impressive, it’s important not to forget those seemingly little actions that really add up!  Every time you Flip the Switch (off), Shut the Sash on your fume hood, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or choose not to use an ADA button at a doorway, you are helping us to achieve our net zero energy goal.  That energy may seem like a small, unnoticeable amount—but it’s not.  The size of the Med Center means that thousands of lights are being turned off, hundreds of fume hoods are being closed, etc. and it really adds up! 

The same is true at home—energy efficiency actions save you money, but the more people that take part the larger the effect is.  Speaking of home, here are some simple actions you can take:

  • Replace light bulbs with LEDs.
    • Can’t replace them all at once? Start with the bulbs that are on the most.
  • Seal leaks around doors and windows.
  • Replace your furnace filter regularly.
  • Turn off/unplug electronics that are not in use.
  • Use cold water to wash clothes, air dry as many as possible.
  • Close blinds in the summer, open them in the winter.
  • Use a programmable thermostat, or set a reminder to change yours manually.
  • Buy Energy Star labeled appliances and equipment.

Thank you for all you do to save energy, both here and at home; you are improving your health and the health of your community.