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10 ways you can improve air quality

Inversion season is here. Peruse this list of ideas for ways you can make an impact on Salt Lake’s air quality. Together, we can make a difference.

Where does our winter pollution come from? It comes from three major categories: 57 percent comes from mobile sources, including cars, planes, lawnmowers, etc.; 32 percent comes from area sources, such as homes and businesses; and 11 percent comes from point sources, including large industries and factories. You can learn more about the air quality and get real-time alerts from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality by visiting

We all have a direct impact on these sources. As a community, we can greatly affect air quality by collectively adjusting our behavior. The time to act is before the smog builds up and obscures the beautiful mountains. Here are the top 10 ways you can improve air quality.

  1. Air Quality 1Participate in Clean Air for U
    From Feb. 1-29, join the University of Utah’s Clean Air for U Challenge, a friendly competition to reduce emissions by cutting back on single-occupant-vehicle trips. Participants can enter bike trips, bus and TRAX rides, carpooling, etc. online to see how many non-single-occupancy vehicle trips you can make, as well as how many calories you burn and how much money and carbon dioxide you save. The teams that either log the most trips or log the most trips per capita will be honored, and the five top individuals will win a sit-down dinner with Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins and Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth. There will also be drawings throughout the competition for prizes donated by GREENbike, Ski Utah, Enterprise Carshare, Liberty Heights Fresh, UTA and the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Sign up today.
  1. Air Quality 2Replace two-stroke engines
    Two-stroke engines, such as leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, can contribute significantly to air pollution. One experiment by found that 30 minutes of leaf blowing packs the same emissions punch as driving a giant pickup truck from Texas to Alaska. The university’s landscape department is replacing its two-stroke engine equipment with battery-powered equipment and four-stroke engines that produce fewer emissions than two-stroke equipment. By replacing equipment, as well as using more hand tools, the landscape department is further reducing its impact on air pollution. Consider making these types of changes at home. Try using a push mower and let leaves compost in the yard. For more information, visit Sustainable Utah.
  1. Air Quality 3Wear a mask supported by SCIF
    Warren Beecroft, a student in the Environmental Studies program, is helping his community breathe cleaner during poor air quality days by making reusable air filtration masks more accessible. Starting in fall 2015, Beecroft worked to secure $11,900 from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund in order to purchase 1,000, custom-designed reusable filtration masks from Vogmask. Beecroft hopes these masks will encourage the community to continue using alternative forms of transportation when commuting to campus. These masks protect people from breathing toxic air and make a statement about the safety of Salt Lake’s air quality. Masks will be available to U students, faculty and staff committed to using active forms of transportation for just $5. A valid uNID is required. Stay tuned for more information.
  1. Be idle free
    Did you know that it only take about 30 seconds for your car’s engine to warm up? The S. Department of Energy notes that most manufacturers state that after the first 30 seconds, the best way to warm your car is to drive it. According to a 2009 study, 1.6 percent of all U.S. emissions are the result of idling. Next time you are warming your car by idling, remember that around 10.6 billion gallons of gasoline are wasted every year on idling, according to the study. Additionally, if you are stopped and not in traffic for longer than 10 seconds, turn off your car. For more information, check out this study, “Which Is Greener: Idle, or Stop and Restart? By reducing idling time, not only can you save money by not wasting gas, but you can also help improve air quality.
  1. Adjust your home-energy use
    According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality Division of Air Quality, around 32 percent of our pollution comes from homes and businesses. Simply adjusting your thermostat can reduce this pollution, and it can also save money — up to 5-15 percent on your heating bill. This winter, set your home at 68 degrees F, and in the summer set it at 78 degrees F. By adjusting your thermostat, you can eliminate 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year through the reduction of power use. After adjusting your thermostat, consider weatherproofing your home to avoid heat loss. You can save energy by upgrading your insulation, installing weather strips and sealing your windows. For more energy cutting, don’t forget to change the filters on your furnace regularly for the best efficiency. Check out this home heating infographic by the Department of Energy for more information. In addition, students at the University of Utah are eligible for free audits from the Sustainability Office’s Energy Ambassador.
  1. Air Quality 6Try Zimride for carpooling
    Share the ride or carpool when you are going to campus or driving to the mountains for some fun in the snow. Zimride, a service of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, is an online ride-matching service that connects drivers and passengers within a private University of Utah network who are heading to the same area. It is free for students, faculty and staff to join the network and begin searching for matches or posting rides of their own.
  1. Air Quality 7Use active transportation
    Do you bike, run, walk, skateboard or unicycle to campus? If so, you are among the 5-15 percent of the U community that gets to campus through active transportation, according to the university’s commuter survey (numbers vary depending on weather and time of year). These modes of transportation are great for your health, and they lessen the number of cars on the road, which reduces emissions and congestion. The university continues to build active transportation infrastructure by expanding bike routes and other facilities such as bike parking.
  1. Air Quality 8Power up through U Community Solar
    In addition to hosting a community drive electric program, the U also sponsors a community solar program, which offers community members a discount incentive for the purchase and installation of rooftop solar panels. In 2014, the University of Utah, in partnership with Utah Clean Energy, debuted U Community Solar, which was the first university-based community solar program in the country. This program succeeded in installing 1.8 megawatts, with 380 homeowners participating.  The university supports solar because solar energy saves money, is an independent energy source, is dependable and benefits the environment. You can participate in U Community Solar in February 2016. Stay tuned for more information.
  1. Stop burning wood in fireplaces
    According to Utah Clean Air Partnership, wood-burning fires create fine-particle pollution that leads to health hazards and contains compounds that can cause cancer. Pollution from one wood-burning stove can be the equivalent to the emissions from 90 SUVs. Additionally, up to 70 percent of that pollution can enter a neighbors’ home. Currently, burning wood fires is prohibited during red air quality days and mandatory action days (except for households that use fire as their sole source of heat), but we can make a difference by exceeding the current regulations. Before burning, think about our air quality and your neighbors. Instead of burning wood, consider switching to natural gas fires or try this virtual fireplace — all the fun without the smoke.
  1. Tell your friends and your legislators
    Actions matter; they matter even more if your efforts inspire others to take action. As you do your part to reduce emissions that cause poor air quality by walking to the grocery store, riding TRAX to campus, and carpooling with people for a mountain adventure, remember to invite your friends to do the same. People can feel uncertain about how to make a difference, so by sharing your knowledge and behavior with them you can reduce their anxiety about making a change. Individual actions, collectively, can make a big impact. Be sure to let your legislators know how you feel about the state’s air quality policies. Visit the Utah State Legislature website and click on “map it” for senate and house information.

Are you working on a project to improve air quality on campus and in our community? Email us now.