Ditch the Keys and Be Car Free to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

It’s the time of year again where people all around the world are preparing to ditch their keys for Car Free Day on September 22 to help reduce traffic congestion and work towards creating a greener environment. Though our cars are convenient and offer a number of benefits, they also contribute a dangerous amount of pollution. Having a day off from driving is highly recommended to raise awareness about these concerns and to help reduce harmful emissions. 

Vehicle exhaust produces thousands of tons of toxic pollution, including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that contribute to the formation of ozone smog and particulate matter, which makes it especially hard for sensitive populations to breathe. As the nation and our region continue to navigate the ongoing effects of COVID-19, those same individuals are more at risk for severe disease than others, meaning that Car Free Day takes on additional significance during the current climate. 

Although Car Free Day is only a single day out of the year, the goal is to take heat off the planet and our lungs by alerting individuals of the impact traffic has on quality of life and to inspire lasting change to live more sustainably year-round, not just on special occasions. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available for residents to ditch their keys and be car free to help take vehicles off area roads and reduce emissions that lead to poor air quality: 

  • Metro Transit – The region’s public transit system offers great alternatives for the work commute or an option to hopping in your car for short trips. Serving St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Clair County, Ill., Metro Transit allows riders to walk to a nearby stop, or park and take a train or bus, or a combination of the two, to get where they are going – safely, comfortably and conveniently. Those who live in Madison County, Ill., will find Madison County Transit to be another great alternative.  
  • Ridesharing – With transportation-related emissions being one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, RideFinders offers a path to reduce those emissions by providing a free carpool and vanpool ride matching service for commuters to help improve the overall quality of the air. By sharing a ride instead of driving alone, commuters can save money and enjoy a more relaxing trip. Ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft match drivers of private vehicles to those seeking transportation and are another great option to eliminate the use of multiple vehicles. Earlier this summer, Metro Transit also launched a new, affordable shared-ride service called Via Metro STL, which allows passengers heading in the same direction to hail a vehicle directly from their smartphones using the Via app to get around parts of North and South St. Louis County.

  • Walk or Bike – Walking and biking are excellent ways to burn calories instead of burning gas! Not only do they serve as eco-friendly ways to run errands and get around town when weather conditions are favorable, but experts also note that if just 1% of those who drive chose to walk or bike regularly instead, automobile emissions would fall 2-4%.

  • Telecommute – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than a third of U.S. households reported working from home more frequently than before the onset of the pandemic. The power of telecommuting to reduce auto emissions was clear across the country and around the world as stay-at-home orders last year led to much lighter traffic and cleaner air in countless locationsWith the region being opened back up for business and traffic ramping up, so does the potential for increased emissions that contribute to ozone formation. For those that can work from home, continuing to telecommute at least occasionally is encouraged.  

You can do your share for cleaner air by taking the pledge to be car free on September 22 and beyond to help St. Louisans breathe easier. For a host of additional tips on how to achieve cleaner air all year long, visit our  website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @gatewaycleanair.  

Back to School with Sustainability on the Brain

As summer winds down with area students already settled back in the classroom, cooler nights and more pleasant daytime temperatures will soon make their way to the region, meaning it’s less likely that the quality of the air we breathe will be top of mind. But given that St. Louis is ranked as one of the top cities in the nation for ozone and particle pollution, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that there are various things we can be doing during the school year to help keep the region’s air clean all year-round.

The good news is all of us can take voluntary steps to reduce emissions by incorporating sustainable practices into our daily lives, and there are many actions parents and kids and college students can consider as part of their back-to-school routines to keep our air quality in healthy ranges:

  • Walk, bike or take public transit – When weather conditions are favorable, kids that live close to school can replace car trips with walking or bicycling to help reduce air pollution. Since fewer vehicles on the roads result in less pollution in the air, Metro is another great option for those who aren’t within walking distance to school. The region’s public transit system is designed so riders can walk to a nearby stop, or park and take a train or bus, or a combination of the two, to get where they’re going – safely, comfortably and conveniently. Metro also helps area students navigate to and from class with ease, with several local colleges and universities offering a customized Metro University Pass (U-Pass) that grants students and faculty unlimited use of the transit system at a reduced rate.
  • Nix bottled water – Did you know that up to 80 percent of single-use water bottles in the United States never get recycled? Not only does the production of plastic water bottles contribute significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, their litter lingers for years on end. Consider purchasing a reusable water bottle that can be filled up at any water fountain instead of throwing away a new one each time to cut down on unnecessary waste and help improve air quality.
  • Limit waste at lunch – When packing a lunch for school, opt for reusable sandwich containers rather than plastic zip-top baggies and consider investing in an eco-friendly, insulated lunch box instead of brown bags that get thrown in the trash anyways. Packing appropriately-sized lunch portions also helps to minimize food waste that typically ends up in a landfill where it rots and produces harmful greenhouse gases.
  • Go paperless when possible – Because we live in a digital world, there are many places we can opt out of using paper. Taking notes electronically during class helps to eliminate paper waste, which ultimately saves money and a substantial amount of energy that leads to cleaner air. Printing double-sided and using an online calendar or scheduler to keep assignments organized are also great ways to reduce paper consumption.

The Clean Air Partnership is proud to play a role in raising awareness about all the ways we can reduce environmental impact. To access a wealth of air quality information and tips designed to help area residents do their share for cleaner air, parents and students are encouraged to visit the tips section of our website at cleanair-stlouis.com, like the Clean Air Partnership on Facebook or follow @gatewaycleanair on Twitter.