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WasteNot: To idle or not to idle (part 2)

The WasteNot column is idling along for a Part 2 on … idling. As you likely know, the word, “idle” is a homonym with two other "idles": idyll and idol. I venture to guess that the vehicle "idle" is the most recent addition to the English language since the advent of the automobile in the late 1800s. Some might claim (based on observations) that “Americans idolize idling.” With a little more data (with an emphasis on little), I hope to catapult you toward considering a reduction to your current idling habit.

Our daily lives are a reflection of our values expressed, in part, by the choices we make every day. We cast a vote with every expenditure.

Avoiding engine idling for more than a minute is optimal. When those out of the ordinary situations occur, they offer opportunities for improving the next time. Feeling committed to being as efficient as possible and avoiding waste is great and in reality we don’t always hit the mark. It’s still worthwhile to set high goals and give yourself a break when it doesn’t work. That’s OK because, after all, we are not programmable robots like Siri or Alexa.

The window for avoiding damage to your idling vehicle ranges from 10-60 seconds. After 10 seconds of idling, re-starting the engine saves more gas. That 10 seconds after starting the car and driving off passes quickly. With a little organization, preparations needed before driving away can be done before starting the engine. For example: kids in car seats and everyone buckled in, coffee cup removed from roof of car and phone on “airplane mode” (hah).

Did you know that in the United States more than 6 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel is wasted from idling? Passenger cars and light trucks are responsible for half that amount and medium and heavy duty vehicles make up the rest. That amounts to roughly $20 billion! There are several particulates emitted from idling that degrade our air quality. Pollutants include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. (More information can be found at Argonne National Laboratory.)

The city of Ashland is reducing idling and conserving resources by transitioning its vehicle fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles. The Electric Department recently purchased a bucket truck that will be able to operate on location and operate its utility functions with the engine off. The buckets are for people to stand in and get mechanically transported up high to work on power lines, etc. The older trucks require running the engine for this to occur. The new trucks can be plugged in to re-charge its battery so the bucket mechanism can operate all over town on electricity only. This eliminates the need to idle at all, thus saving fuel and protecting air quality for all of us, including the workers.

The state of Oregon has an idling ordinance for commercial vehicles. It appears there is some room for improvement throughout all sectors of the city. Ashland’s efforts are helping us head in a cleaner direction.

When passenger vehicles or employees driving company vehicles idle often out of convenience, these habits take a daily toll on our air quality and fuel costs to their organizations, businesses, personal vehicles and government. Collectively (together) every day we are creating the air we breathe.

Plug-in electric cars cannot idle even if they wanted to. An electric car can run down its battery storage without going anywhere just by running the air conditioner or heater. But the up side is that there are zero emissions spewing into the air we all share with every breath we take. Our air is like a community garden and when we emit toxins by idling, excessive driving or illegally burning “stuff” it has a personal and community-wide impact. We are all connected by our proximity and the planet that we share.

Give a hoot, don’t pollute. It’s never cool to idle at school. Consider doing what you can do. If nothing else, pay attention and reduce or eliminate idling.

One more thing: A point of clarification for an article headlined "Recycling restrictions" in the Tidings Region section on Page A8 on Monday, March 12. The changes discussed in the article apply to customers of Rogue Disposal, which services Medford and some other communities, but the changes do not apply to Ashland and Talent customers of Recology. There are no changes to the local curbside recycling program.

—Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through betling@dailytidings.com. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.