SmartCommute Challenge Kicks off in RTP!

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North Carolina’s Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti and Deputy Director Sheila Holman from the Division of Air Quality of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources will take the Challenge – the SmartCommute Challenge.  During this year’s kick-off event “Curb Your Congestion” on April 15th at 9:00a.m., Secretary Conti and Deputy Director Holman will give remarks on the importance of using alternative modes of transit in relation to the growth of the Triangle, the state of transportation in the Triangle and how the SmartCommute Challenge is a great way change commuting habits and improve the Triangle’s air quality.

The 2010 SmartCommute Challenge, an annual non-profit public service campaign aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality in the Triangle, encourages commuters who work or live in Durham, Orange or Wake counties to pledge to ride the bus, carpool, join a vanpool, telework, bike or walk to work at least once between April 15 and May 15.

“Events like the SmartCommute Challenge can increase the number of people on those buses, on bikes or in vanpools and take even more cars off the road,” says Secretary Conti.

AAA of the Carolinas recently reported that the cost of driving in North Carolina is on the rise.  The average cost of driving a sedan is up to $9,098 from $8399 in 2008 which is an increase to 61 cents a mile. With the economy still recovering, Triangle residents can mitigate the price hike by finding different ways to commute. Choosing sustainable transportation can save a driver up to $25/day for a 40-mile commute to and from work.

This year’s kick-off event is a transportation and air quality press conference and fair featuring:

  • Bicycle safety checks provided by REI staff,
  • Triangle Segway Obstacle  and Demo Course,
  • Melon Bicycles with folding bike test drives,
  • Alternate fuel vehicles displays provided by Triangle Alternate Fuel,
  • Triangle Transit bus display to demonstrate how to use the bike rack and riding the bus,
  • A  chance to meet the Triangle’s air quality mascots, Clair and CAM, the Clean Air Maniac
  • Sponsor and partner organization display tables with information and give-aways.

“With gas prices at their highest in months, many commuters are still looking for ways to save in this economy,” said David King, general manager of Triangle Transit, a member of the GoTriangle family of services and partner of the SmartCommute Challenge. “The SmartCommute Challenge gives Triangle commuters a chance to look at how they currently get to work and assess where they can make environmentally-friendly and budget-friendly changes.”

“Curb Your Congestion” the SmartCommute Challenge and Air Quality Awareness kick-off will be April 15th at 9:00a.m. at the Research Triangle Park Headquarters, 12 Davis Drive in RTP.

Not a “Waste” of a Lunch Break

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Yesterday, the Research Triangle Foundation and the Environment@RTP committee hosted a Solid Waste Management Vendor Fair at the RTP Headquarters (which also conveniently happens to be my place of work). Around noon, I ventured across the lobby with some of my colleagues to people watch and check out the smells of pizza wafting through our offices.

What started as a quick lunchtime excursion turned into an educational networking event – in addition to the free pizza and nifty giveaways at the exhibitor tables, Scott Mouw, the North Carolina State Recycling Director, presented a thought-provoking talk on the waste-related challenges currently facing North Carolina.

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The numbers are quite staggering. Did you know the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash” annually – about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Together, Durham and Wake counties contribute over 1.5 million tons of this amount. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills.

According to Mr. Mouw, the mega drivers of waste problems are peak oil, global competition, and climate change. Spawning from these impacts, waste generates a huge hit on our economy as well as on the environment – Mouw expects a 20% cost of the country’s GDP will be spent on waste management over the next few years.

We’re not the only ones feeling the economic and environmental effects of waste piling up in our landfills. China now consumes about half the world’s cement, over 30% of its steel, and more than 20% of its aluminum. At the RTP event yesterday, Mouw alluded to a “circular economy” concept China and the World Health Organization are exploring to battle the country’s environmental issues. The circular economy approach focuses on the life-cycle of economy and environmental interactions, with the idea that waste from one product becomes the input of another. This is something China and other countries must get serious about in order to sustain their incredible growth and manage heavy economic costs.

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Solid waste-management costs for selected cities worldwide.

When Mr. Mouw started talking about our state’s economic development potential in the waste management industry, my ears perked up. I had no idea North Carolina will soon be home to the largest PET bottle recycling facility in the United States. A company called Clear Path Recycling plans to build a facility in Fayetteville to recycle over 280 million lbs. annually of PET bottles – or about 5 million bottles – starting in 1st quarter of 2010. In addition to creating quality jobs for the citizens of North Carolina, recycling this amount of bottles annually will save over 1 million cubic yards of landfill space.

After I left the Vendor Fair and recycled my Coke Zero, I sat down to talk with my colleagues about best practices in blogging and ways we can cover events of this sort throughout RTP. If waste-management can generate seven paragraphs of text, just imagine what we have in store for this blog!

Now, don’t forget to subscribe to that little RSS feed in the upper right corner before taking out the week’s recycling.

-Cara Rousseau-