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Walk tall and breathe deep

idle-free school zone

By Doug Norsby, Air Quality Planner III

The trees are changing colors and the last few days of beautiful fall weather are upon us. Take this opportunity to get out and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature before the warm glow of sunlight is replaced with the white snow and cold winter days.

As you breathe in the cool fall air, take a moment to congratulate yourself on everything you’ve done this year to help protect our air quality. By walking instead of driving, you’re doing your part to keep the air — and yourself — healthier.

Consider these tips before you step out:

  • Trade a trip. Try walking instead of driving to destinations near home such as school, church or the park. At work, try walking to lunch or a nearby business meeting.
  • Choose your shoes. Running, cross-training or walking shoes? What are the differences and how do you choose the right ones? When should you replace shoes? When is the best time to test the fit of a new shoe? The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society has answers to all of these questions! A good fit is a critical part of enjoying your walk.
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Food for thought — and our air

idle-free school zone

Do you take your lunch to work or go out to eat? Either way, we have some tips to make your meal sustainable and waste free so you can have your lunch and reduce your carbon footprint, too.

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle your lunch. Reduce your food waste — the single-largest source of waste in municipal landfills — by adjusting your lunch size to match your appetite. Reuse lunch containers to limit your food wrapper trash. Recycle your leftovers by composting any food you won’t eat later. Contact MARC or Bridging the Gap for guidance on developing a food recycling program at your office.
  • Buy local foods. You can protect air quality by purchasing local foods — less time on the delivery truck means fewer emissions polluting the air. Buying local produce and meats doesn’t have to be expensive or a hassle. LocalHarvest and KC Food Circle can help you find local farmers’ markets, community sustainable agriculture (CSA), farms and shops. If you’re eating out, try carpooling or riding transit to a restaurant that gets its ingredients from area farms.
  • Encourage food waste recycling programs. Recycling food waste makes use of valuable organic resources instead of filling up landfills. Programs like Missouri Organic Recycling’s FRED Project provide a collection service for schools and businesses. These programs often offer a free audit to assess your institution’s needs and provide education to employees or students. In 2012, the Shawnee Mission School District was recognized for its composting efforts through MARC’s Sustainable Success Stories.
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A geo-what system?

The new IKEA in Merriam, Kansas, has shoppers and budding interior designers excited, but they aren’t the only ones. Green energy aficionados are happy to see a geothermal HVAC system helping to heat and cool the expansive store. But what is a geothermal HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, and what’s the big deal?

What is a Geothermal HVAC system?

Unlike ordinary heating and cooling systems, geothermal HVAC systems transfer heat to and from the earth using a loop of buried pipes filled with fluid instead of burning fossil fuels to generate heat. Outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons, but underground temperatures don’t change as dramatically thanks to the insulating properties of the earth. Four to six feet below ground, temperatures remain relatively constant.

How does a Geothermal HVAC work?

popular mechanincs geothermal hvac heat exchange

A geothermal cooling and heating system has four main components: a heat exchange pump unit with compressor, a loop of underground pipes, heat-exchange fluid, and air-delivery ductwork.

In the summer, the system passes cool water from the underground pipes across a heat-exchanger before passing it back through the system where it can be re-cooled by the earth. In the winter, the lukewarm water pumped from the underground pipes runs past the heat exchanger and is then compressed, warming it to an even higher temperature, before a fan system distributes the warmth throughout the building.

Why is a Geothermal HVAC a great idea?

  • Most geothermal heat pump systems are very energy efficient. Typically, electric power is used only to operate the system’s fan, compressor and pump. For every unit of energy used to power the system, three to five units of equivalent energy are supplied as heat. The system works just as effectively in warming and cooling and can be engineered to require no additional backup heat source.
  • It’s low-maintenance. A geothermal system may cost more up front when compared to a more traditional HVAC system, but it requires less ongoing maintenance. Underground pipes — the most expensive part of installation — can last for generations, and the heat-exchange equipment typically lasts decades since it is protected indoors.
  • Installation can be flexible. Depending on the site, the underground pipes may be buried vertically, meaning little above-ground surface is needed. If desired, a small backup system can be added for extremely hot or cold days so that the underground pipe system is right-sized for average temperatures.
  • It’ll keep going and going. New guidelines and techniques have eliminated the issue of thermal retention in the ground which means heat can be exchanged with it indefinitely. Plus, modern underground pipe systems don’t consume extra water.

So if you shop at the new IKEA store, take a moment to enjoy the air temperature and appreciate the energy-efficient comfort you’re experiencing. And next time you’re looking for an HVAC upgrade at home, consider a geothermal system of your own.

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Support your team and our air

idle-free school zone

Football season is here, and with it comes tailgating! If you plan to join the crowd at Arrowhead to watch a game, it’s important to remember how your participation can impact air quality. Here are some tips for celebrating in an air-friendly way.

  • Your grill affects more than your burger. A typical charcoal grill is good for burgers, but not so good for our air. Help out by using a charcoal chimney to light the coals instead of lighter fluid. This produces fewer harmful fumes. You could also consider using a propane or natural gas grill. Each creates less air pollution than charcoal.
  • Be car-conscious. We know that you know it’s best to carpool to the game. Be sure to look up the best route before you go for quick entry and exit. Less time spent in the car means fewer emissions and more time for tailgating. Arrowhead has made some changes this year to help traffic flow smoother, which limits idling. Check Arrowhead’s website for more information.
  • Avoid foam food containers (which is often mistakenly called Styrofoam). The lifecycle of polystyrene — used to make foam food containers — has many impacts on air quality, from manufacturing to disposal. It’s bad enough for the environment that some communities have banned the product altogether, and you usually can’t recycle it after it has been used to hold food. Look for alternative packaging when you buy food or utensils — materials made from recycled paper, recycled plastics or biopolymers (plastics made from plants). By purchasing alternative containers, you use your dollars to send a message to manufacturers that it is important to be air- and eco-friendly.

Go Chiefs!

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Avoid idling cars on school grounds

idle-free school zone

Car idling is a big concern for air quality, and one place that is notorious for lots of idling engines is your local school. When dropping off or picking up children from school, it’s important to be aware of your idling habits. Turning off your car engine while stopped helps improve the air quality by reducing the amount of ozone-forming emissions and other pollutants.

  • Idling is bad for students with asthma. According to Children’s Mercy Hospital, one in 10 people is affected by asthma, including more than 28,500 children in the Kansas City area. Less idling means fewer vehicle emissions and particles that contribute to air pollution, making the air safer for everyone to breathe. Take a look at this checklist to determine if your school is asthma-friendly.
  • Parent organizations can be drivers of change. PTAs, PTOs or School Advisory Councils can encourage schools to implement Idle Free Zones. MARC provides schools with signs to place along pick-up and drop-off areas and parking lots as a helpful reminder to parents and visitors that your school is committed to preventing increased emissions and protecting air quality. Contact a MARC Air Quality staff member if you would like a presentation about air quality at your next PTA meeting.
  • Watch D.O.G.S. can watch out! Does your school have a Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) or other parent volunteer program? These volunteers can help improve air quality by asking parents to turn off their engines during drop-off and pick-up times. You are also a critical role model, so practice healthy air habits like not idling and speak up for your student’s health!
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Be air-friendly on campus

packed carThe first day of college is an exciting step for a freshman — and may be ho-hum for returning upperclassmen. But both newbies and old hands can make life on campus air-friendly by going car-light or car-free. Keep these tips in mind as you send your student off on that next adventure:

  • Carpooling is for cool kids. Sharing the ride between home and college with a new friend can save emissions and gas money, especially if each student would have otherwise driven separately. Plus, the long car trips provide an opportunity to get to know new friends. Try using RideShare’s single trip matching to find a carpool buddy.
  • Consider car-sharing. Most colleges require that freshmen live on campus, and campuses are often easy to navigate by bike or on foot. For those occasional off-campus trips, research car sharing services such as ZipCar — available in our area at the University of Missouri–Kansas City — or look for a similar company in another city.
  • Invest in two wheels instead of four. A bike — with a reliable lock — will often get a student closer to class in less time, compared to driving in circles searching for a spot in overcrowded parking lots. Try a folding bike for cramped dorm spaces. And don’t forget that your Kansas City B-Cycle membership works in more than 20 cities nationwide!

Staying local? Most of our region’s local colleges are served by public transportation. In fact, a UMKC student ID doubles as a KCATA bus pass and the JO’s K-10 Connector runs between KU’s Edwards and Lawrence campuses with a stop at Johnson County Community College in between. Try a combination of carpooling, biking and transit to get from home to class. All of Kansas City’s regional transportation systems use Google Maps, so finding a route is just a few clicks away.

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Join RideShare for the 2014 Green Commute Challenge

By Matt Davis, RideShare Outreach Coordinator

Green Commute Challenge Banner

From June 2 through Aug. 29, commuters from all over the Kansas City region will participate in the seventh annual Green Commute Challenge. The Green Commute Challenge is an employer contest to see whose employees can make the most “green commutes.” To participate, employees choose to get to work by carpooling, taking the bus, bicycling, walking or telecommuting. Any time an employee logs miles for a green commute, he or she will be awarded points and entered to win daily, weekly and monthly prizes. The goal of the Green Commute Challenge is to help improve local air quality while educating commuters about their commuting options.

The summer months are the time of year when our air quality is most vulnerable to pollution. The combination of heat, sunlight and emissions from vehicles, lawn mowers and power plants form to create ground level ozone. Ozone is dangerous to our health, especially to the most vulnerable: the young, elderly and those with health conditions. By limiting the amount we drive, we can take significant steps to protect our local air quality.

In 2013, the Green Commute Challenge had 835 participants who reduced their driving by 999,151 miles. That prevented 963,924 pounds of emissions from entering our atmosphere and saved these commuters a combined $187,878 in driving costs!

The 2014 Challenge is made possible by some very generous sponsors and prize donors. We would like to thank this year’s sponsors, Commerce Bank and Hallmark, and our prize donors: the Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City T-Bones, KC B-Cycle, WWI Museum, Sea Life Aquarium, Legoland, Alamo Drafthouse Theater, Nelson Atkins Museum, Negro Leagues Museum, Powell Gardens and Yoga Patch.

For more information about the Green Commute Challenge, including instructions on how to register as a team or an individual, please email rideshare@marc.org, call 816-842-7433 or simply visit RideShareKC.org.

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May is Bike Month!


BikeMonthLogos2013-07Bike month
 is upon us! Riding a bike is a cost-effective way to reduce your impact on air quality. Have you wanted to ride your bike to work? Have you been looking for ways to get your family involved in biking? Are you unsure of the safety and responsibilities of commuting with a bike? Try one of these ways to get involved:

  • Tell us where you want to pedal. MARC is working with regional partners to develop a Regional Bikeway Plan that will establish a vision for high-priority bikeway and trail investments across the metropolitan area. Use the interactive WikiMap to tell us where you are currently riding, where you want to ride and what’s keeping you from riding.
  • Check the BikeWalkKC calendar of Bike Month events and programs to help you and your family better understand bike riding safety and needs. Be sure to check out the MARC Bikeway Map to find a safe route for your recreation or commuting.
  • See how over 100 women participated in the KC Women’s Bike Summit on May 10. BikeWalkKC organized this groundbreaking event for women of all ages and backgrounds. The MARC AirQ program presented information about the RideShare program, including details about how the Guaranteed Ride Home program can provide transportation in times of emergency.
  • Understand the Kansas and Missouri bike laws. Cyclists are expected to uphold traffic laws, just like drivers. You can be a responsible rider by reviewing the Kansas and Missouri bicycle statutes.
  • Rent a Kansas City B-Cycle bike from locations all around the downtown and Crossroads areas. Register online to access any of the station locations. Ride to lunch, to a downtown meeting or just to have fun!
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Two new websites help you take care of our air

To wrap up Air Quality Awareness Week, the MARC Air Quality program is excited to share its new online educational website, www.AirQKC.org. The site is designed for people of all ages who want to learn more about Kansas City’s air quality. Let Quinton, the Air Quality bird, be your guide as you:

  • Read our new children’s book, Wingin’ It: Quinton’s Clean Air-Venture (for children ages 3-103).
  • Play the AirQuiz game to test your knowledge of all things AirQ. Categories include alternative transportation, driving habits and ozone facts.
  • Download coloring pages and word games — some can be tricky!
  • Explore an interactive bike map of the Kansas City region.
  • Watch air quality videos.

The newly redesigned RideShareKC.org has a friendlier user interface and additional commute options. Now in addition to finding carpool matches, users can:

  • Search for commute partners who bike or walk a similar route.
  • Find or advertise a ride for a one-way regional trip.
  • Calculate financial and environmental savings.

What’s more, those who carpool, vanpool, bike or use Johnson County Transit to get to work on a regular basis are eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home program, which eliminates the barrier of worrying how to get home in cases of illness, accident or emergency.

And, as always, you can visit www.marc.org/AirQ to learn more about the region’s air quality and how you can help take care of our air.

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Celebrate National Air Quality Awareness Week!

You already know that the AirQ program gets excited about our region’s air quality, but we aren’t the only ones! This year, National Air Quality Awareness Week (AQAW) is April 28 to May 2, and there are several ways you can participate.

  • Join us for story time. During AQAW, branches of the Mid-Continent Public Library will read our new children’s book, “Wingin’ it: Quinton’s Clean Air-Venture” during story times (contact your branch for specific dates and times). You can also request a copy for your organization’s lobby or waiting area, or read it online at our new air quality education website, AirQKC.org.

  • Send Quinton a question. Quinton has learned to tweet, and is taking over our Twitter feed during AQAW! Send him a question or let him know how you help our air using #AirQKC. Be sure to follow all week for AirQ tips from our winged friend.
  • Take action every day. Check out our list of every-day actions to take care of our air. With more than 50 ideas, we hope everyone can find a way to help our air be cleaner tomorrow!
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