23_unclog-drains

Protect Your Drains

Let’s be honest, we are ALL guilty of rinsing dishes or throwing leftovers or scrapes into our “garbage disposal” in our sinks. After all, if that’s not what it’s meant for, why do we have them? Garbage disposals are great additions to homes. For example, they:

  1. reduce the use of plastic trash bags that end up in landfills and waterways
  2. reduce food waste in landfills, which helps reduce greenhouse gases like methane
  3. send wastewater to water treatment plants where it is then recycled into fertilizer and other energy sources

Despite its benefits, it turns out that garbage disposals are not a trash can substitute. Although it may be convenient, disposing certain things through the sink and garbage disposal does more harm than good to your plumbing, expenses, and to the general quality of water. For example, grease should never be poured down the drain. When fats and grease cool, they solidify, thus creating blockage in the system. Also, grease and water do not mix. If a food item is covered by grease the grease builds up over time making it harder for the water to pass it through the system. On a neighborhood scale, pouring grease in your drains affects  the sewage, water pressure, and water quality for you and your neighbors.

Try to avoid disposing the following into your drains and garbage disposals for the sake of your expenses and the health of the region:

  1. Grease – for the reasons stated above.
  2. Pasta and Rice- When exposed to water, they expand, meaning they will clog your drain.
  3. Bones- The thickness and strength of a bone can reduce the strength and sharpness of the blades and eventually ruin your disposal.
  4. Seeds, apple cores and other solids- these items are too solid for the disposal and, like the bones, can break down your system.
  5. High-fiber foods and egg shells- The fiber in foods like celery, kale, potato peelings and asparagus can entangle the blades, thus slowing down the equipment and dulling the blades.
  6. Hair- Like fibrous foods, hair can get tangled in the drain, creating more blockage, slowing down the equipment and dulling the blades.
  7. Coffee Grounds- This tends to get caught in the drain trap.
  8. Non-food items- The quickest way to ruin your system is to place plastic items such as utensils, plates or even napkins into the garbage disposal. If is harder for such items to pass and can destroy or back up a system.
  9. Chemicals- Though household cleaners and items like bleach and paint are liquids, they can cause damage to the drain. Also most contain toxic chemicals that are then passed into the water system and are much harder to filter.

So what is safe to go down the drain? Below are things most disposals and drains are equipped to handle:

  1. Water- It’s a best practice to rinse your drain and disposal first before running food through it.
  2. Liquids and soft foods- It’s important to specify here that chemicals are inappropriate. Juices, vinegar,milk, etc are ok. As far as foods, blend or chop up the food as much as possible. The consensus is that if it’s smooth or soft enough for a baby to eat, then it is ok for the drain.
  3. Ice- this may help break up any build up in the pipes while also giving it a good rinse.

Key takeaway: Do not place non-food items into the garbage disposal. This will save you money, time, and frustration within your home and extend the longevity and quality of the regional water and sewer system. Remember, every small action has large scale consequences for the region and individual alike.
For more information on how to protect your drains, check out sites like the North Texas “Defend Your Drains” Program or your city’s recommendations on composting, recycling and waste management. And in case you forget, check out this infographic by 1st call drains at http://www.1stcalldrains.com/news/12-things-never-put-drain/.

Drainage Clearance

Drainage Clearance

Christie Holland is an urban planner from St. Louis, MO interested in community development, transportation planning, infrastructure, and urban design challenges. 

 

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Should the Experiment City Be Revived?

I find it fascinating how the writings and sketches of visionaries like Le Corbusier, Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Clarence Perry, to name a few, have influenced the development of cities around the world. I think that is the reason I was drawn to planning and engineering: I love how visions and ideas become tangible.

In late February, I had the opportunity to watch Chad Freidrich’s documentary “The Experimental City.” The film is about the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC): a planned domed futuristic city for 250,000 residents to be placed in the isolated woods of Swatara, Minnesota. Envisioned by Athelstan Spilhaus, a scientist and futurist comic strip writer, the purpose of this experimental project was to tackle the problems affecting urban centers in the 1960s (and today): pollution, segregation, sprawl, and aging infrastructure. The city was supposed to pilot the latest technologies in communications, transit, pollution control, and energy supply, learn from the mistakes, and ultimately, provide solutions to create more livable cities for the 21st Century.

“Our New Age” Comic (1966) by Athelstan Spilhaus. Climate change was identified as a future problem by  Athelstan Spilhaus' "Our New Age" comic. Source: Archdaily

“Our New Age” Comic (1966) by Athelstan Spilhaus. Climate change was identified as a future problem by Athelstan Spilhaus’ “Our New Age” comic.
Source: Archdaily

Things did not quite go as planned despite the support from public and private stakeholders (spoiler alert!). To Spilhaus and his backers’ surprise, the community of Swatara and many environmental groups, like the Izaak Walton League, rallied against the project. MXC was seen as a source of pollution; not a way to tackle it. As such, Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency did not grant a permit and the project ran out of funding. MXC became a thing of the past.

However, after watching the movie, I wonder: should MXC be revived? Personally, I do not like the idea of having a domed, segregated city placed in a pristine environment. I do believe that these unspoiled areas should be conserved for the public’s enjoyment. However, I like the idea of establishing pilot cities in previously impacted areas, such as brownfield sites, to evaluate the effects of new technologies at a faster rate.  This will not be an easy task. It will require strong public-private partnership and community support as well as regulatory oversight.

We are faced with many challenges, such as the effects of climate change and aging infrastructure, which require the development of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. Pilot cities may promote the proper advancement of technologies and its consequences at a faster pace. There is always a risk in experimentation. However, trial-and-error is how humankind has advanced over the years.

Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges

Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

Discussion of Telework Continues

Last week, I discussed the April 11th Kojo Nnambi Show from WAMU, where he explored telework and further delved into some of the issues pertinent to telework. How important is telework, not only to the federal workforce, but to local and state agencies as well as the private sector?

According to a study conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), 68 percent of the employees who telework have indicated they would stay with their job versus 62 percent of those who do not telework. Employees in the federal work-force are getting older, so having someone who wants to stick with their job in the long-term is a benefit in itself.

The first question employers will ask is, “does telework make a work force more productive?” Research from the Global Workplace Analytics indicate the following

  • Over two-thirds of employers report of increased productivity among their telecommuters.
  • Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are 35-40 percent more productive.
  • Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions.
  • AT&T workers work five more hours at home than their office workers.
  • JD Edwards teleworkers are 20-25 percent more productive than their office counterparts.
  • American Express workers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts.
  • Compaq increased productivity 15-45 percent.

I am especially interested in whether telework will reduce employee attrition and how traffic congestion plays a role in an employees’ considering another job. Research showed the following results:

  • Losing a valued employee can cost an employer $10,000 to $30,000.
  • 46 percent of companies that allow telework say it has reduced attrition.
  • 14 percent of Americans have changed jobs to shorten the commute.
  • Almost half of employees feel their commute is getting worse; 70 percent of them feel their employers should take the lead in helping them solve the problem.
  • 92 percent of employees are concerned with the high cost of fuel and 80 percent of them specifically cite the cost of commuting to work.
  • 73 percent feel their employers should take the lead in helping them reduce their commuting costs.
  • Two-thirds of employees would take another job to ease the commute.

Other benefits sited through the Analytic research included:

  • Improves employee satisfaction – Two-thirds of people want to work from home.
  • Reduces unscheduled absences – Organizations that implemented a telework program, realized a 63 percent reduction in unscheduled absences.
  • Saves employers money – Nearly six out of ten employers identify cost savings as a significant benefit to telecommuting.
  • Increases collaboration – Once the technologies are in place
  • Equalizes personalities and reduces potential for discrimination
  • Cuts down on wasted meetings – Web-based meetings are better-planned and more apt to stay on message.

The one thing from Kojo’s Show that really hit me was the revelation that if you have bad telework experiences, it is generally an example of bad management. It is a sign of not really thinking out the complexities of the modern work force and how to fairly treat all employees, whether they telecommute or not. If there are problems with telecommuting, there are probably problems with the overall workplace.

Working-from-homeWe know that some jobs just are not appropriate for telework. More collaborative and problem solving can best be achieved with all employees at one location for proper discussion and dialogue. But that is why we have conference calling and webinar capabilities that allow people to share computer screens.  Again, a clear telework policy is necessary. It’s not easy, but nothing worth achieving, is ever easy.

It is important to encourage telework where appropriate, for that matter all Transportation Demand Management (TDM) options, to reduce solo driving. TDM options include carpooling, vanpooling, Guaranteed Ride Home, employer shuttles, flex workdays/ workweeks, etc. Financial incentives are very important to encourage potential employers to incorporate TDM (including telework) into their regular business operations. There are many such program that are available, and it is always easier to use a carrot rather than a stick to initiate a positive action. More information on telework and financial incentives, in this region and across the country, is available below.

  1. !VA
  2. Telework.gov
  3. Telework: Maryland and Virginia
  4. Tax Benefits Gives Added Incentives to Telecommuting
  5. San Diego Association of Governments
  6. Commuter Connections Flextime Rewards
  7. Georgia – Commutesmart

Please provide your thoughts in the comment section whether telework has been successful, or not, in your company or agency. Yes, we want to hear from you!

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of County as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.





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