Gasoline prices are on everyone’s mind these days. But what about the price gasoline pays on the environment?
Taking their feet off of the proverbial pedal, three students found an answer.
Environmental studies majors Caitlin Shubick ’12, Jessica Bozzo ’12, and Annie Golovcsenko ’12 (pictured right) collected vehicle emissions data from two fast food restaurants in Gettysburg. They split up and spent three days monitoring each restaurant’s drive-through, compiling data in two-hour intervals during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What they found may not only surprise you, but also make you think twice about idling your car.
763 vehicles used the drive-through during their study, idling a combined total of almost 24 hours and producing approximately 13,825 grams of emissions. The total amount of carbon dioxide emitted during their study is equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions from the consumption of a half-barrel of oil, or the carbon sequestered by five seedlings grown for ten years.
“These results were un-expected, and completely eye-opening,” said Bozzo. “It’s so interesting how something I’ve never really noticed, but see all the time, creates such a significant environmental issue,” added Golovcsenko.
The students reached these results by recording the number of vehicles using the drive-through, as well as makes and models, fuel type, and the air temperature. They also timed how long each vehicle idled in the drive-through, starting as soon as the vehicle stopped at the first ordering station and ending when it left the pick-up window. Shubick, Bozzo, and Golovcsenko used an equation provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Mobile Sources to calculate the data they compiled.
Although quick and convenient, the effects of vehicle emissions at drive-through restaurants are long-term and damaging to air quality. The harmful pollutants emissions produce and their subsequent negative effects could be avoided if customers shut off their vehicles and entered the restaurant instead of idling in line.
“Prior to our research, I would use my bank’s drive-through all the time and wouldn’t think twice about it,” said Shubick. “After all that we learned during our work on this project, I feel much more aware and motivated to park and walk inside.”
Did you know?
• Idling emissions from vehicles produce a combination of pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide, which impact our environment and human health.
• Idling has been linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease, and cancer.
• Idling for one hour burns nearly one gallon of gasoline as well as your money: you’re getting zero miles per gallon.
• Pennsylvania’s idling law states that the maximum amount of time a vehicle may idle is five minutes in any one-hour period (exemptions include traffic, law enforcement, etc.).
• Idling increases maintenance costs, degrades engine quality, negatively impacts driver well being, and increases noise levels.
What can you do to minimize your carbon footprint and maximize your energy/financial savings?
• If you're going to be stopped for more than ten seconds, it's best to shut off your engine (except when stopped in street traffic).
• Idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to warm up your vehicle is to drive it. With today's modern engines, you need no more than thirty seconds of idling on winter days before driving away.
• Frequent restarting of your vehicle has little impact on engine components, such as the battery and the starter motor. Component wear caused by restarting the engine is estimated to add ten dollars per year to the cost of driving, money that will likely be recovered several times over in fuel savings from reduced idling. More than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine.
The bottom line:
Instead of idling while at a drive-through restaurant, in line at the bank, or waiting for a friend, park your car and turn off its engine - give the environment (and your pocket) a break!
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Posted: Fri, 6 Jul 2012
Next on your reading list
Share this story: