An Unseen Pollutant

Many people across the world are familiar with light pollution, the pollution that causes the night sky over urban areas to remain dark and starless. However, there’s a secret pollution that’s very similar to light pollution and that not many people know about. Light Pollution has a brother: Noise Pollution.

According to, “noise pollution takes place when there is either excessive amount of noise or an unpleasant sound that causes [a] temporary disruption in the natural balance”. For most human beings, noise pollution seems to be a feature of regular life; whether it’s people talking loudly into their cell phones, distant cars going by or children at play, it all just seems like a feature of the everyday. This feature, however, can be deeply damaging to the natural environment as well as our own health.

There are, fortunately, a few ways you can help reduce  noise pollution:

  1. Avoid using loud machinery, especially at night. This one’s just a given unless you insist on being “that guy” in your local neighborhood. Alternatives to using a leaf blower, for example, include raking the leaves, which also provides more exercise for you.
  2. Plant a Tree! No kidding: trees or other leafy vegetation excel at absorbing noise, with leaves and branches acting the same way as soundproofing walls do in recording studios.
  3. Keep the windows closed. Whether you’re listening to music, watching a movie, or just making a lot of noise in general, make sure you keep the windows shut. The world might be just dying to hear your cleaning playlist from 2007, but unfortunately, it will only add to the noisy pollution in urban areas.

Additionally, if you’re looking to get more involved (as the upstanding-environmental superhero you know you are), Noise Pollution Clearinghouse is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and supporting any activism in the fight against noise damaging the greater environment.

Just say “No”…to bottled water

Today’s heat index is 106..Summer is almost here! In three days, to be exact. Time for cookouts, floating the river, and lounging by the pool (if you haven’t done so already). But before you load up your cooler with ice cold beverages, consider what kind of packaging you select. You know what I’m talking about…the biggest scam of recent history…bottled water.

According to National GeographicAmericans drink their way through 50 BILLION bottles of water per year (and spend over $100 billion per year to do so), and most of those bottles do not get recycled (over 80% end up in landfills). Consider these other ramifications of bottled water:

  • Transporting the bottles and keeping them cold also burns fossil fuels, which give off greenhouse gases.
  • Groundwater pumping by bottled-water companies draws heavily on underground aquifers and harms watersheds.
  • According to some estimates, it takes up to three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water. What kind of ROI is that?
  • As of 2013, 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. And we are paying for something free!!! WHY.
  • Bottled water, even that “organic sustainable artisan spring water hand-captured by underprivileged yogis on a spirit journey” is not necessarily healthier or cleaner than tap water, and in many cases is often of lower quality. And that’s not even getting into the BPA and other chemicals in the bottles themselves that leach into the water. On that note, bottled water is usually taken from municipal supplies anyway, so I say again, we are paying for something free.

I want to encourage everyone to make more sustainable choices in your outdoor activities, and use reusable drinking containers. We got those excellent insulated mugs at the White Elephant party last December. Hard-plastic and stainless-steel water bottles are also good options. For picnics, why not buy reusable plastic cups (they are like 80 cents each), or challenge yourself to make a Solo cup last all summer (my grandma has used the same pack of Solo cups for several years). On that note, instead of buying lots of individual bottles of water or juice, why not buy a gallon or two and pour it into said reusable cups? That way we can save the bottled water for the people who actually need it, like those in developing countries, or Flint, MIWest Virginia, or North Carolina.

If you would like more information on bottled water, you can refer to these articles.

Reader’s Digest

United Nations


Catie Sauer
Archaeological Technician
LEED® Green Associate™

Transportation Transformation

The topic of the day is transportation and commuting traffic, so buckle up 😉

Austin likes to promote its weirdness and its breakfast tacos, but our dirty little not-so-secret is that traffic is an absolute nightmare. You may have noticed this on your daily commute.
Mayor Adler has designated May 11 as “Austin Don’t Rush” day, as part of an effort to recreate the traffic miracle that occurred during President Obama’s visit for SWSX. On that day, which will go down in history, the City requested that people work from home to minimize the predicted carpocalypse. The results were impressive.  

Compared to peak times on an average Friday:

— Drivers on MoPac experienced a 60 percent reduction in travel times.

— On Highway 183, travel times decreased by half.  

— Drivers on Cesar Chavez, Congress, Guad, Lamar, Lavaca,  and South 1st enjoyed a 32 percent drop in traffic volume and a 22 percent decrease in travel time.

Austin Don’t Rush has a similar goal, which is getting Austinites to avoid driving by themselves during morning and afternoon rush hours on May 11. Some alternatives include working flex hours, work from home during the first part of the day and come in for the afternoon, take transit (MetroRail, MetroBus and MetroRapid), use “active transportation” (bike, run, walk, scooter, skate, etc.), or even telecommute. The jury is still out regarding teleportation devices.

To support this effort, CapMetro is making service on ALL of their buses and trains and special access FREE to ride all day. This includes all users of MetroBus, UT Shuttle, MetroRapid, MetroFlyer, MetroExpress, MetroRapid, MetroRail, even MetroAccess.

Shifting gears (heh), have you voted on Proposition 1 yet? Early voting ends May 3rd and the last day to vote is the 7th. Whether you are for or against it, I encourage you to vote since it is a local election and we can actually have a say in what happens in our city. Now is your chance to tell Uber and Lyft (or City Council) to go kick rocks.

More about Austin Don’t Rush:

More about Proposition 1:

Pollen Season

The season of pollen is upon us, and rough winds do shake the darling oaks of March. My car is covered in yellow dust, how about yours?
Did you know that Austin’s trees provide the city with 30.8% canopy cover? Here are some other stats about our urban forest:
  • Every year, Austin’s trees remove 1,253 tons of pollutants from the air, which is worth about $2.8 million in avoided human health costs.
  • Austin’s urban trees help capture stormwater and reduce runoff, which in turn helps to reduce the amount of pollutants entering our waterways
  • By providing shade for buildings, Austin’s trees account for $4.9 million worth of avoided carbon emissions from power plants each year. This saves Austin residents $18.9 million a year in energy costs.
  • Our trees help to mitigate climate change by storing 1.9 million tons of carbon, a service valued at $242 million. On top of that, each year they sequester an additional 92,000 tons of carbon, which is worth $11.6 million.

– Courtesy of Austin EcoNetwork and the USDA – Austin Urban Forest Report 2014

Second-Life Uses for Batteries

Batteries often get a bad rap, since they’re associated with toxic heavy metals, acid, and other pollution that can leak into the environment if they are not properly disposed of, i.e., put in a landfill. The upside is that batteries are some of the MOST recyclable items we use, often being 99 or 100% recycled into a new product!

I’d like to take a moment to shine a light on lead batteries, an unsung hero often viewed with suspicion in the environmental world. Although lead has numerous documented, detrimental effects on health and development, and is not a thing we really want to come into contact with on a daily basis (shout out to the IH folks!), there’s a reason it is so widely used, AND it’s a recycling superstar to boot!

Lead Acid Batteries yield the following materials:

  • Plastic, often used to make new battery casings
  • Lead, generally used to make new batteries
  • Water (seriously!) that is treated to clean-water standards and released into the sewer system
  • Sodium sulfate, which is used in laundry detergent, glass, and textile manufacturing

Lead-based batteries can be infinitely recycled. They are used to store renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels, power over 1 billion vehicles worldwide, are used in 100% of hybrid vehicles, and, by 2020, will save the equivalent of 25 billion kg of CO2 by their use in vehicles.

To learn about the many second-life uses of lead and other types of batteries, you can explore these links: