Tag Archives: South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Recycle and Reuse

by Mark Van Streefkerk


A majority of the waste in our landfills doesn’t need to be there. According to a 2019 King County Waste Characterization and Customer Survey Report, over half of what we throw away could be redirected. “Seventy percent of the material that is going to our landfill could be recycled, composted, or reduced,” explained Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington. “The vast result of what’s going to our landfill doesn’t need to be going to our landfill.” 

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report showing that the effects of climate change are “widespread, rapid, and intensifying,” and that “strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change.” Greenhouse gasses are responsible for raising the temperature of our planet. A warming planet is also partly responsible for increasing the severity of wildfires on the west coast in the past few decades. Extreme weather events like hurricanes or heat waves have also been linked to climate change, which also affects the most marginalized and socially vulnerable.   

Holding corporations and governments responsible to reduce greenhouse emissions is essential to limit the effects of climate change, and there are also changes we can make in our own lives that are relatively simple — and save money — to help offset our own carbon footprint. 

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The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Making Electricity Carbon-Neutral

by Mark Van Streefkerk


Most people probably don’t think about the fact that they’re burning fossil fuels when they flip on a light switch or plug their phone in to charge, but it’s a fact of life — unless you’re getting electricity from Seattle City Light, that is.

While 60% of electricity in the U.S. is derived from fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas, Seattle’s electricity is about 85% hydro-powered. City Light owns seven hydropower plants in Washington that provide green, renewable energy that powers our lights, computers, dishwashers, refrigerators, electric cars, and other household appliances. 

“City Light is engaged in preparing for climate change to ensure that we can continue to provide safe, reliable, affordable, and clean electrical services to our customers,” said Crista Chadwick, City Light’s energy advisor supervisor. 

“In 2005 [we were] the first carbon-neutral utility in the nation. Our power remains carbon-free, primarily because we generate about 85% of our power from hydroelectric dams,” she said. 

That’s a big win for our goal of reducing our carbon footprint. (Curious about where the other 15% of power comes from? 6% is “Unspecified,” meaning it’s not required to identify the generating source in the wholesale power marketplace, 5% is nuclear, 4% is wind, and 1% is biogas.) So if you live in Seattle or get your electricity from Seattle City Light, congrats, you already have a head start toward reducing your carbon footprint!

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The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Laundry Day

by Mark Van Streefkerk


Early last week a study released by the United Nations revealed the alarming state of climate change, which is accelerating at a faster rate than we previously thought. The effects of greenhouse gasses are warming up the planet, sea levels around the world are rising (about 8 inches on average between 1901 and 2018), and heat waves and wildfires are becoming increasingly more frequent in areas that historically never had these issues — as anyone living in Seattle in the last few years can attest to. 

In an NPR article, Ko Barrett, the vice chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, mentioned a couple of key takeaways from the report: “It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change,” and “[i]t is still possible to forestall most of the most dire impacts, but it really requires unprecedented, transformational change.”  

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The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Fighting Plastics

by Mark Van Streefkerk


Did you know that only 9% of plastic is actually recycled? That percentage even includes the wide range of plastics we put in the recycling bin. Plastic bottles are recycled consistently, but everything else — milk jugs, plastic wrappers, the clamshells that package your deli sandwich — ends up in landfills, incinerated, or shipped overseas to stagnate in heaps in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia or the Philippines. 

Worldwide, plastic invariably ends up in oceans and waterways, polluting the ecosystem, consumed by fish and other sea animals, which in turn are eaten by us. Even if you don’t eat seafood, plastics are everywhere. In fact, there is so much plastic in the world that we literally eat, drink, and breathe in microplastics. It’s estimated that we could be ingesting up to a credit card-size of microplastics a week. What that plastic consumption means for our bodies is still undetermined, although plastic chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors and could have harmful effects on hormones and reproductive systems. It’s a sobering reminder that we can’t outrun or outsource our waste. 

In this installment of our ongoing series on how to reduce our carbon footprint, we’ll take a look at what makes plastics so harmful, what the good news is, and how a group of South End youth are educating their neighbors on plastic waste. 

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The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Safety to Walk and Roll

by Mark Van Streefkerk


For Seattle to meet its carbon-neutral goal, we need to take an honest look at how we get from one place to another. Burning fossil fuels, like gasoline and diesel for motor vehicles, emits greenhouse gasses. In Seattle, roadway transportation makes up 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. For the U.S., emissions from transportation account for 29% of total greenhouse gases. Reducing our reliance on cars and gasoline plays an important role in reducing our carbon footprint. The good news is that everyday choices to walk, bike, scoot, or roll instead of driving can significantly reduce the greenhouse gasses we produce. Earlier this year a study found that ditching the car for one day out of the week can reduce personal carbon dioxide emissions by a quarter. Swapping even one trip in a car with walking or rolling makes a significant impact over time. 

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The South End Guide to Reducing our Carbon Footprint: Plant-Based Eating

by Mark Van Streefkerk


Just a few weeks ago we sweated through the hottest June temperature in Seattle’s recorded history. Heat in the triple digits can be dangerous, especially for vulnerable populations and the unhoused. The heat wave prompted the City to coordinate cooling stations — including libraries, spray parks, and beaches — as June 28 climbed to a record 108 degrees, capping a three-day stretch of triple-digit temperatures. The heatwave also affected plenty of non-human life. In Vancouver, B.C., June’s heatwave led to the deaths of 1 billion sea animals. Such staggering numbers could mean dire consequences for ocean life and interdependent ecosystems. 

The main reason for Seattle’s increasingly warming temperatures (overall, Seattle has warmed by 2 degrees since 1900) is climate change. Climate change happens when greenhouse gasses trap heat and warm the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency: “Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.” 

A carbon footprint is a calculation of how much greenhouse gasses a person, or population, generates. You can calculate your own carbon footprint at The Nature Conservancy. (It’s super-interesting!) Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades, and although there is much to be done on a global scale to change the course of the climate crisis, the decisions we make in our everyday lives are some things we do have control over. 

The Emerald is exploring changes that South End residents can make to reduce our carbon footprint in a new series of articles. In this first installment, we’re looking at how eating low on the food chain is not only more sustainable for the planet, it also plays an important part in the health of our communities and food-justice movements. 

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