Schools Stop Idling to Save the Earth

Jul 9, 2012

Clay Today’s Turning Point comes from guest writer, Clay McMullen, a senior at West Geauga High School in Munson Township, Ohio where he is president and founder of the Wetlands Education Team. 

A car that idles for 10 minutes uses as much fuel as it takes to travel five miles and burns more than 27 gallons of fuel annually. For every gallon of gas a car consumes, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. These emissions account for one-third of all greenhouse gases. Do you need more reasons to turn off your car while you are waiting?

Idling for longer than 10 seconds wastes fuel and is no more effective than turning an engine that is warm off and then on again. Internal combustion engines in cars are not the only threat to the environment. Diesel engines, such as those found in school buses, are also a problem. A school bus that idles for one hour per day for the entire school year will have 1,260 miles of additional engine wear just from idling, or as many miles as it would travel on a trip from Cleveland to the Everglades. Idling not only causes excessive engine wear, but it also dirties the engine causing the injectors and oil to become fouled. This too causes an engine to die faster, thus costing the school more money from typically paper-thin budget.

In addition, idling needlessly releases more than 40 different pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, benzene and formaldehyde into the environment. Many of these pollutants are carcinogens and the particulates are detrimental to people’s lungs. The pollutants released by idling cycle back into the vehicles, causing potential harm to anyone inside including the 9 percent of all school-age children who have asthma, who are especially vulnerable to poor air quality.

I take the bus to school most days. One day, my friends and I could smell the bus exhaust inside of the school. We realized that the air intake for the school was right next to the bus waiting area. Something had to be done! This was my turning point. The school board already had a no-idling policy in place, but it had fallen into disuse, so I fought to bring it back. I consulted with the superintendent and we not only restored the no bus idling policy, but we also added a no-idle policy for cars. By doing this, we ensured that my school would be a much cleaner, healthier place. I designed “Idle Free” signs for the schools, sent flyers home to parents and stenciled parking lots with no idling reminders.

 I worked with a local university to successfully win the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Diesel School Bus Retrofit Grant, which provides funds for filters to be installed on the transportation fleet to clean the air inside the buses and trap the emissions in the environment. DMF filters can reduce emissions by up to 60 percent. I tested the air quality before the “Idle Free” program was implemented and we have seen substantial benefits with the new filters.

If others want to improve air quality at their schools, I highly recommend talking to school board members and superintendents. In my experience, I found unanimous support for my ideas because they saved money and equipment, and they improved the air quality at the school and on the buses. In addition, voluntary compliance with no idling policies is a no-cost solution to air pollution. Most school districts can apply for funding to purchase particulate filters for their fleet. Many states have grant programs like Ohio’s to provide money for bus retrofits. Idling is an unnecessary action that wastes money and fuel while hurting the environment and our lungs. Fight to improve air quality and save your wallets, your environment and yourselves.

Clay is a member of the of the 2011 PARADE All-America High School Service Team, an award recognizing outstanding young service leaders presented by PARADE Magazine in partnership with generationOn, the global youth enterprise of Points of Light.