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Got questions? Ask the Green Geek.

Looking for ways to keep yourself and the environment safe as you exercise outdoors? Want to know to crank up the air conditioning without polluting the planet? Or are you curious about which plants might be healthful for you and your family as you spend more time indoors?

Ask the Green Geek.
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Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation. Send your questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov. And look for the column the second Friday of each month.

Hi, Green Geek,

Just as I was preparing to transition out of my home workout routines and go back to the gym, they close! I’m glad they did, but now I want to spice up my home routines a bit more with some outdoor recreation. I haven’t hiked since I was a kid so I just wanted to know if you had some tips as I go reacquaint myself with the great outdoors.

Thanks,

Alex


Hi, Alex,

It’s great to hear that you’ve continued to maintain your physical well-being practices during this time - thank you for the motivation! It’s wonderful that you want to reconnect with Mother Nature as well. She never disappoints! She will also thank you for your due diligence in wanting to protect her as you transition to more outdoor activities. 

At the moment, our outdoor recreation areas are taking quite the beating as so many of us want  to spend more time outside. In this widespread search for safe and healthy activities that follow official health guidelines for COVID-19, Pima County trails have seen a significant increase in foot traffic. Unfortunately, this has degraded  our natural areas as a result of damaging behaviors such as a trash dumping. 

As you re-engage with our natural environment, it’s important that you first adhere to the current CDC guidelines as well as those provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services. This includes staying at home if you are sick and observing physical distancing of 6 feet while out on the trails and wearing a face covering if you can’t maintain physical distancing. 

The next set of guidelines, which I highly recommend to follow, comes from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. This code of conduct results from timely research intended to help outdoor recreationalists minimize their impact on the environment. The Seven Principles can be found at their website. Here is a rundown of these ‘minimum impact practices’:Hiker
  • Plan ahead and prepare. Unexpected conditions and poor planning can lead to dangerous situations that provoke the damaging use of natural resources.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Hikers should travel on constructed trails to avoid creating irreversible damage to vegetation and organisms vital to the habitat.
  • Dispose of waste properly. In addition to placing your trash in plastic bags and packing it out, be familiar with the guidelines for proper human waste disposal. 
  • Leave what you find. The way you found an area is how it should be when you leave. This includes rocks and archaeological artifacts that may seem temping to take with you.
  • Minimize campfire impacts. Know the regulations, fire risks, sufficiency of wood, and proper campfire building techniques and tools to ensure that you Leave No Trace. 
  • Respect wildlife. View the wildlife at a distance and do not disturb or be an interference to their livelihood – we are visitors in their home after all.
  • Be considerate of other visitors. Be mindful about how your personal preferences and actions may impact the outdoor experience of others.
For other hiking tips and resources, visit the Arizona Office of Tourism to learn more about how you can Recreate Responsibly and which areas are open for you to explore. 

I hope you enjoy the great outdoors and become a proud Leave No Trace advocate!  

Hope this helps!
Avoid idling near schoolchildren. Turn off your engine while waiting to pick up your child after school. Many anti-idling programs focus on schools so many may have resources available, such as a comfortable waiting location for caregivers.

Instead of using drive-thru windows, park your vehicle and walk into coffee shops, restaurants, banks and pharmacies.

 If you’re waiting for someone in a parking lot in warm weather, park in the shade if available and open the windows to catch a cross breeze.

Reduce windshield defrost time in the winter months by securing a sunshade or towels on the outside of the windshield overnight.

Old habits can be hard to break. Place a decal or sticker on the edge of your windshield to remind yourself to not idle when you don’t need to.

 If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, opt for one that is hybrid or has stop-start technology. Both automatically turn off the engine when they are not moving. Fully electric vehicles are another great option, since they produce no tailpipe emissions. 

If idling is necessary, try to keep it to no more than 5 minutes at a time.


Green Geek

Hi, Green Geek,

I think it’s safe to say that our summer heat is now here to stay. I currently have an HVAC unit that needs to be replaced and my bills are probably higher than they should be. That’s the only impact that is motivating me to get a new one. Can you shed some light on the environmental impact of air conditioners? Hopefully that will get me to upgrade my unit. 

Jude


Hi, Jude, 


You can say that again! I appreciate that you  want to get more information about the impacts of AC use beyond your wallet. It’s actually a lot more significant than most realize. Let me give you a few reasons why and a few tips to improve your home energy efficiency. 

About 88 percent of homes in the U.S. have air conditioning, yet 89 million have HVAC systems that were installed over 10 years ago – meaning they don’t meet today’s energy efficiency standards. With this comes an unwarranted increase of energy demand that our power plants must meet. 

Unfortunately, there are still a significant number of power plants that are fueled by coal, oil, and natural gas (as opposed to zero-emission renewable energy sources such as solar). The increase in energy production caused by the increased need for cooling during the summer months releases harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and CO2. One of the most recognizable impacts of this air pollution is increased stress on the respiratory system, which exacerbates health issues such as asthma and lung cancer. More than 100,000 premature deaths annually are attributed to air pollution.

Globally, the energy demand for air conditioning is projected to steadily increase up through 2100 by as much as 72 percent. So just reducing the use of air conditioning will not be enough to combat the negative environmental and health impacts of AC use. We’re going to have to adopt more energy efficient measures and increase our use of energy- efficient appliances.  

As you start to upgrade your system, seek out the environmentally-friendly options that have phased out ozone-depleting refrigerants. Other considerations include:
  • Choosing the appropriate size, avoiding under-sized units
  • Two-staged compressors which automatically compress more or less depending on the temperature
  • Geothermal pumps 
  • Programmable thermostats 
There are several energy-efficiency measures you can start adopting now. These include:
  • Proper maintenance of your unit (i.e. change the air filter as recommended, annual inspections)
  • Close your blinds during the day. Open your windows and use fans on cooler nights.
  • Set your thermostat to a few degrees higher than normal. If you can’t go up to 75-80℉ (with fans), try starting at 72℉
  • Set the thermostat to 7-10 degrees above your normal setting while you’re away. The energy demand is higher to cool down your home after a day of the AC being completely turned off. 
You can learn more about these energy-saving tips from theU.S. Department of Energy's website.

All the best with the HVAC unit hunt and stay cool while being green! 

Green Geek

Dear Green Geek,

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time inside my home between self-isolation, telecommuting, and taking care of my family. Is there any way I can create a healthier environment by having plants in my home? Do you have any suggestions for air-purifying plants that I could get for my home that don’t require too much maintenance and could work in a low-lit environment? I’m not sure if I have a green thumb, so I’d like to start off with ‘easy’ plants. Thanks! 

Thanks,

Lilith

 

Hi, Lilith,Bamboo palm

Now that  summer is heating up, many of us will continue to spend quite a bit of time indoors. I think many people would be surprised to know just how polluted our indoor air is and may buy some greenery for their homes too!

Research has shown that we spend on average 93 percent of our times indoors and that the air that we breathe can be 10 times more polluted than outdoor air. Thankfully having plants inside can help offset the indoor air pollution created by upholstery, furniture varnishes and glues, products treated with fire retardants, and much more. 

There are some plants that are more effective at removing pollutants than others. However, the presence of any plants is better than none! A study conducted by NASA determined these plants drastically improve indoor air quality: 
  • Peace Lily, which removes formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene (the three most-common VOCs, or volatile organic compounds in a home).
  • Lady Palm, which removes formaldehyde, xylene, toluene and ammonia.
  • Golden Pothos (Money Plant), which removes formaldehyde, monoxide, and benzene.
  • Bamboo Palm, Spider Plant and Aloe Plant, which removes formaldehyde and benzene. The Bamboo Palm also acts as a natural humidifier.
  • Snake Plant, which removes nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde.
Many of these plants are relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and do not require a lot of maintenance or a lot of direct light so hopefully this gives you a starting point for choosing your new housemates.

Happy shopping and enjoy the fresh air! 

Green Geek
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