The old adage is right, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; It’s less expensive and better for our air, water and health to prevent pollution than to try to clean it up. To celebrate Pollution Prevention (P2) week, we’re sharing a sampling of how MPCA works with all kinds of partners to go beyond monitoring and controlling pollution to preventing it in the first place.
Clean diesel and small business grants means we all breathe easier
If you want to point fingers at Minnesota’s big sources of smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you point first at engines, especially older diesel engines. And then you point at solvents – from personal, industrial and commercial uses and paints and coatings. That’s a lot of small users adding up to a big problem.
The MPCA has tackled both by distributing targeted grants to upgrade and replace older diesel engines and to small businesses to switch from solvent-based to water-based cleaners and paints.
Since 2006, via its Clean Diesel Grants Program, the MPCA has helped replace or upgrade more than 2,800 diesel engines in Minnesota, ranging from school buses to snow plows, construction cranes to dump trucks. And in the last two years, $662,500 in grants have gone to 21 small auto body shops around Minnesota.
What were the outcomes?
Well, just one new truck, replacing a 2002 model, after 110,000 miles resulted in:
- 97% reduction in small particles that cause breathing problems (200 lb/year)
- 93% reduction in smog-causing hydrocarbons (220 lb/year)
- 10% reduction in greenhouse pollution (20 tons/year)
- 95% reduction in carbon monoxide (1,530 lb/year)
And the 21 small business projects have prevented over 16 tons of VOCs.
Both industries find that making the changes carry other benefits too, like saving money, delivering better service, and happier employees.
“It drives like a Cadillac! I love the way it handles,” said driver Dan Hund of Caledonia Hauler’s new milk tanker truck, which was partially funded with a Clean Diesel grant.
“You can tell by the smell that this is a less polluting product and that we’re in a cleaner environment,” said Ramin Hakimi, owner Oscar’s auto body, after switching to water-based paints.
Interested in applying for a grant? A new clean diesel grant round of $400,000 is expected this fall. Sign up to get an e-mail when the grants are available. And sign up to be notified when the next round of small business VOC reduction grants is open.
So simple: Preventing waste prevents more than waste
The grant to the Minnetonka Middle Schools was for a simple project: Stop using plastic utensils and paper bowls. Replace them with stainless steel utensils and durable plastic bowls. The school switched from buying (and throwing away) 700,000 plastic utensils a year, to buying (and washing) about 12,000 stainless steel ones, and replacing them only as they were lost or damaged.
The schools’ goal was to reduce solid waste. And they did. About 6,000 lb a year were prevented.
But MPCA analysis done as part of the project also showed that preventing solid waste also prevents pollution. The analysis used a method called environmental life cycle analysis to compare the environmental impacts the throw-aways to the reusables, including the impacts of manufacturing and the small amount of on-site water needed for washing the reusables.
First-year environmental outcomes from making the switch:
- reduced greenhouse gases by 77% (from 7.61 to 1.75 mtco2e)
- reduced water withdrawals by 78% (87,000 gallons saved)
- reduced sulfur dioxides and smog causing oxides by 74%.
Plus, the schools stood to save an estimated $26,000 over 3 years.
This simple grant showed that reuse not only prevents waste, but also prevents pollution by reducing manufacturing impacts. As a result of this study, several other schools in Minnesota have switched to reusable utensils too. Read more about reusable utensils.
P2 close to home: Remodeling MPCA St. Paul lobby and conference rooms
Opinions varied on the bright orange, green and blue color scheme, but everyone liked the commitment to sustainable materials when the MPCA recently remodeled the lobby and first floor conference rooms of its St. Paul office. The project was a perfect example of MPCA walking the talk on sustainability and highlighted pollution prevention through reuse and reduced toxics in products. Here’s how the MPCA’s product choices made a difference:
No toxic flame retardants: The Herman-Miller conference room chairs and lobby chairs are flame retardant free (eliminating need for pounds of flame retardant chemicals, many of which have been linked to cancer and other health impacts).
Reuse of materials: Reclaimed barn wood was used as a wall covering; existing interior doors were salvaged and reused to replace damaged doors on other floors.
Recycled content: Conference room chairs are 52% recycled content, ceiling tiles are 50% recycled glass, and base molding, bathroom tiles, desk surfaces, and flooring all contain recycled content.
Cleaner indoor air: By choosing wall coverings and counter surfaces that are GREENGUARD certified for indoor air quality we reduced smog causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other air pollutants.
Recycling: Existing vinyl wallpaper was recycled into new wallpaper (eliminating need for new vinyl production, a very polluting process).
If your office is remodeling, your choices can make a difference too. Check out MPCA’s green building resources.