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We've Got the December Bad Air Blues

The view from the SLCgreen office on Dec. 4, 2019.

With a week of air that has been some of the worst in the country, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling frustrated. Salt Lake City’s current air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups and requires mandatory action of limited driving and no wood burning. For most of us, Salt Lake City’s notoriously bad air is a nuisance and health concern, limiting our activities and turning our skyline grey. Moreover, pollutants like PM 2.5 are dangerous, especially for older residents, children, pregnant women, and people with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Air quality is a public health concern, as well as an economic one.

It may come as a surprise that although transportation currently contributes nearly half of the emissions causing Salt Lake City’s bad air, buildings are catching up. Indeed, houses and buildings currently contribute roughly 38% of emissions, and industry point sources produce the other 13%. As emissions standards on cars are becoming more strict, managing emissions from houses and buildings is a growing priority.

PM 2.5 is the primary winter concern in Salt Lake City’s airshed. The particulate matter poses serious health risks and gets trapped in the Salt Lake valley during inversion. Most of the PM 2.5 is a direct result of precursor emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks, and chemicals that mix to form PM 2.5 in the atmosphere.

When you look outside, it may feel like there’s no good news. However, per capita pollution in Utah is decreasing. Salt Lake City is taking steps to help clean the air and protect our public health and environment. Find out how you can keep our airshed (and lungs!) clean and healthy.

What is SLC doing?

Reducing combustion and emissions are a key step towards cleaning the air.

Salt Lake City has many air quality initiatives in place that are helping clean the air. Among these include the continued expansion of EV infrastructure, expanding cleaner vehicles in our fleet, and implementing our energy benchmarking ordinance for nearly 1,000 commercial buildings. Additionally, the HIVE pass provides residents with access to UTA’s public transit system at a reduced cost.

Salt Lake City built the nation’s first Net Zero energy Public Safety Building.
In 2018, Salt Lake City converted five parking enforcement vehicles to all-electric Chevy Bolts. As of Oct. 2019, the Salt Lake City fleet has over 135 hybrids, 32 all-electric vehicles, 72 compressed natural gas heavy duty vehicles, and 117 clean diesel heavy duty vehicles.

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What We’re Thankful For

This graphic shows SLC’s residential recycling impact for one month (June 2019 at 585 tons). From Jan – Oct, we’ve collectively diverted 6,466 tons of recycling and 14,320 tons of green waste through our curbside programs.

There is always a lot to do during the holidays, but before we tuck into our plant-based Thanksgiving dinners or go find the second-hand treasures to complete our holiday look, we want to take a minute to count our blessings and thank you!

Without your engagement in sustainable actions and participation in SLCgreen’s programs, we could not have the positive impact we do.

Sometimes it’s all too easy to think “What I do doesn’t matter” or “What difference is one person going to make?” But when you take that individual impact and add it up on a community scale, those little sustainability actions really do make a difference!

Take recycling. We can vouch for the impact all of you have on the thousands of tons of waste diverted from our landfill each year to recycling and compost. 

So today, please join us in celebrating these aspects of our community that help us be stronger and more sustainable. 

We’re always thankful for recycling!

Salt Lake City is working towards our zero waste goals. In June, we recycled 585 tons of cans, bottles, paper, and cardboard. To put this in perspective, this saved the equivalent of 5,732 mature trees, 2,238 cubic yards of landfill airspace, enough water to meet the daily needs of 41,625 people, and enough electricity to fulfill the annual needs of 175 homes!  All this recycling helped us avoid 2,018 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which makes for cleaner air too!

Multiply those numbers by 12 and you have the average impact of Salt Lake City’s curbside recycling program over the year. 

Your recycling is making a difference! Thank you!

We know that recycling has been in the news a lot lately. It’s gotten confusing. Some people are even wondering whether it’s “worth it” anymore. Numbers like the above remind us just how important it is. Thank you for continuing to recycle.

Here are some easy ways to keep up the good recycling habits this holiday season:

We’re thankful for small businesses

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is #SmallBusinessSaturday. Buying locally-made goods supports our economy and is often a more sustainable way to shop. When you shop at a small local business, you support local artisans and business owners and reduce the environmental impacts associated with shipping and packaging!

Clever Octopus is ready for fun on #SmallBusinessSaturday!

Here are a few fun local events to check out:

Following Small Business Saturday, #GivingTuesday is around the corner. Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to give back to our community by donating money, goods, and volunteer time to worthy causes!

We’re thankful for sustainable holiday DIYs!

Unless you’re willing to keep your fake holiday tree for a very long time, real trees can actually be a more sustainable option. However, there is an even more sustainable – and entertaining – option: DIY Holiday Decor!

Check out these fun trees made with upcycled plastic bottles, bike wheels, and even old hubcaps! Another option is to make your tree using old tomato cages and fabric or fresh cut bows as a wrapping!

Fun holiday decorating can help us feel cozy and festive! We know it’s tempting to get your fireplace going. But before you do, please check the air quality and make sure there aren’t any restrictions. You can protect the air by eliminating vehicle idling and respecting burning restrictions. Moreover, you can make your holiday cozy with just a little creativity — no real fire necessary:

Our friends in Public Services enjoy their hand-made holiday fireplace!

We’re thankful for YOU!

We want to take a minute to thank our SLCgreen team! Our readers, residents of Salt Lake City and beyond, are helping us reach our goals when it comes to reducing waste and building more sustainable communities. We hope you have a wonderful and sustainable holiday season!

Can Fashion be Sustainable?

On this blog and in general sustainability circles, we often talk about the environmental and health impacts of plastics, vehicle emissions, buildings, air travel– even the food we eat.

But today we want to take a deep dive into something we haven’t discussed very much. It’s a sector which is lesser-known, but hugely impactful in terms of waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions. We’re talking about clothing and textiles.

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans throw away 25% more trash than during the rest of the year?!

As the Black Friday flurry and holiday gift-buying season approaches, it’s a good time to be mindful of this impact and how we can take charge of minimizing our environmental footprints.

It may come as a surprise, but the fashion industry is a significant contributor to our landfills, as well as to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, almost as much as the entire European Union!! The clothes industry also creates plastic pollution, threatens public health and the environment through intense chemical pollution, and takes up an enormous amount of landfill space.

Clothes are definitely a necessity and are also a fun way to express one’s creativity. But today, we want to emphasize the impact of the textile industry and why we need to think more carefully about the clothing purchases we make.

Laying Out the Issue

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the environmental impacts of clothes production include:

  1. High reliance on nonrenewable resources
  2. High use of hazardous chemicals
  3. High land use (competing with agriculture)
  4. High greenhouse gas emissions (1 ton of textiles generates 17 tons of CO2)
  5. Textile production requires 93 billion cubic meters of water annually (4% of the global freshwater withdrawal)
  6. Microplastic pollution into the ocean
  7. Poor working conditions for garment workers (slavery and child labor included)

These impacts are increasing due to the rise of fast fashion.

Global Material Flows for Clothing in 2015 (Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015)
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Take our Waste & Recycling Survey

In the last year, the Sustainability Department’s Waste & Recycling Division collected 68,994 tons of material from Salt Lake City residents. That amounts to the weight of 34,500 cars! Approximately 37% of that material was diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting.

If you are a Salt Lake City resident who uses curbside waste and recycling services, we want to hear from you! We are seeking input on curbside services and feedback on a modest proposed fee increase.

Funding Waste & Recycling

How does the city manage to haul away and process that many tons of waste? The Waste & Recycling Division operates as one of the city’s Enterprise Funds, which is funded through service fees.

The fees pay for weekly curbside collection of garbage, recycling, and compost to approximately 43,000 residents, primarily single-family, duplex, and triplex homes. The funds also support the costs of equipment and operations, as well as recycling costs.

Waste and recycling service fees have not been raised in the last five years. However, due to rising costs, the City is proposing to raise fees slightly over the next few years.

Currently, fees are based on the size of garbage can residents opt for. There is a 90-gallon for $21/month, 60-gallon for $17.75/month, and 40-gallon for $13.75/month. Recycling and compost containers are included without additional charge. The fees also fund the city’s bulk collection program, Call 2 Haul.

Take the Survey!

We want to hear from everyone in our community who uses our curbside waste services.

Please take the survey and let us know what you think about the city’s waste and recycling services. You will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed fee increase, as well as share your thoughts on recycling, special waste programs, and more.

Take the survey here: www.slcgreen.com/rates

It’s open through December 8!

Welcome Christopher Thomas!

Christopher Thomas joined the SLCgreen team in November 2019.

SLCgreen is excited to welcome Christopher Thomas to our team as the new Senior Energy & Climate Program Manager!

Christopher brings with him a unique blend of experience in clean energy policy, regulatory engagement, advocacy, non-profit leadership, energy efficiency, data science, and more.

He previously worked with the Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, the energy efficiency firm ETC Group, Salt Lake County, and more. He holds a B.A. in English and Biology from Grinnell College and a Master’s Degree in Information Systems from the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business.

His is an important role for the Sustainability Department and the City as a whole, as the lead staffer (see our farewell post to his predecessor Tyler Poulson) on many of Salt Lake City’s climate initiatives. Learn more by visiting the Climate Positive SLC plan.

Christopher has already hit the ground running and we’re thrilled to put his expertise to work!

His main responsibilities include:

  • Bringing new clean energy projects online to meet Salt Lake City’s municipal power needs
  • Collaborating with our electric utility Rocky Mountain Power, other 100% clean energy communities, state leaders, businesses, and regulatory authorities to move forward Salt Lake City’s community-wide clean energy goals
  • Partnering with city departments and divisions to reduce municipal energy use and pollution through cleaner fleets, energy efficiency, and renewable energy projects
  • Creating programs and partnerships to reduce the City’s fossil fuel footprint

Welcome Christopher!

Get Ready to Eat Local this Winter

Our eating habits can contribute a lot to our carbon footprint. The process of growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, and packaging food all emits CO2. And the farther away from the farms we live, the bigger our environmental impact becomes. By eating more locally, we support the local economy and protect the environment by cutting down on the time and resources spent producing our food.

But what about in winter?!

Eating fresh and local produce can be harder depending on the season. Indeed, if you look at this seasonal food guide, you can see how the produce availability changes from month to month even in Utah.

Luckily, there are many ways to extend the harvest season and enjoy local food all year round.

Preserving the Fall Harvest

It may feel a little old fashioned, but making your own jams, marmalades, and jellies is a great way to make your local fruit last and reduce your food waste. Preserved fruit can be done in several ways, but a simple jam just requires high pectin fruit and sugar.

If you’re not into sweets, try pickling! You can get started with almost any vegetable with the basic (and delicious!) refrigerator pickle approach.

Preserving fruits and veggies doesn’t have to be as simple as jams and pickles. Depending on your recipe, you can make soups and sauces and other delicious meals from your fresh fall harvest and freeze them until you need a taste of summer to lighten the midwinter mood.

Downtown Winter Farmers Market Logo

Find Seasonal Treats at the Winter Farmers Market

Thanks to the local farmers with greenhouses, cold storage, and hydroponic systems, Utah’s harvest season is a lot longer.  The Downtown Farmers Market is helping extend the season with the Winter Farmers Market!

With many of our favorite farmers from the summer Downtown Farmers Market, the Winter Farmers Market will run from November 9th to April 18th on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm at the Rio Grande Depot.

As we approach the winter, don’t give up on eating fresh, locally grown food!

November’s Ghoulish Garbage: A Curbside Guide

As we know, there can be some scary finds in the Salt Lake City curbside recycling bins! There are also many tricks! (Both of these links are to recent Instagram stories done by our Recycling Education team. Pretty interesting, right?)

So now that Halloween is over, don’t give our waste management teams a fright! Here’s a quick guide to where your Halloween waste should go.

Help stop monstrous non-recyclable things from ending up in your recycling bin!

Compost: Your Jack-O’-Lantern’s Final Resting Place

If you’re an extra resourceful pumpkin carver, you may have decided to roast up your pumpkin seeds for a delicious Halloween snack! In fact, there are many fun ways to put your pumpkin’s guts to use.

But once you’ve used up your pumpkin and the jack-o’-lantern’s smile is fading, you have an important choice to make: where does the pumpkin go?

The combination of yard waste like leaves and sticks and kitchen scraps including eggshells and coffee grounds makes nutrient-rich dirt that promotes plant and soil health. Indeed, about 30% of what’s thrown away as garbage in the United States — including your perfect pumpkin — could be composted.

So instead of letting the great pumpkin take up space in the landfill (where it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas), put your pumpkin into the compost bin!

(Remember to only put pumpkins without paint, wax, glitter or other non-organic decorations in the brown bin).

Image of a cute wrinkly pumpkin ready to compost!

Garbage vs. Recycling?

Unless a helpful witch or wizard was able to transform all those candy wrappers into clean cardboard or aluminum, or if you send materials to a recycling program like TerraCycle, candy wrappers should always be put into the garbage can.

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