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The Resource

Photo of a group accepting the NAGC award

The Bureau of Solid Waste Management’s public service announcement (PSA), “Tangled Up!,” won first place in the PSA category at the 2019 National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards. Bureau employees Rashida White and Jeanette Garcia Polasky and interns Natalie Adachi and Jahi Thomas accepted the award at a reception last month in Arlington, Virginia.

The NAGC Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards competition opens at the end of November each year. Professional communicators from around the country volunteer their time and talent to judge entries in more than 30 categories. Finalists were announced in April and winners were recognized at the reception in June.  

Produced in-house, “Tangled Up!” demonstrates why items such as plastic bags and clothing, known in the recycling industry as “tanglers,” are not accepted by Baltimore County and other recycling programs across the country. More than 170 government, business, nonprofit and media organizations and industry professionals on four continents have shared the PSA on social media pages, blogs and websites.

“Tangled Up!” also earned the Bureau’s recycling staff a Silver Telly Award in the Social Video, General-Public Service and Activism category in May. And last month, the Maryland Recycling Network (MRN) honored the Bureau with the MRN Outstanding Government Leadership Award for its marketing campaign to educate people about tanglers, which included the PSA.

Baltimore County’s award-winning recycling PSA can be seen on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works


Photo of the White House

With the recent soaring temperatures and humidity across the U.S., lawn care is one of the last things people want to do. But mowing your lawn during extreme heat is not just an uncomfortable task—it’s potentially dangerous, posing a risk of heat-related illness. Maintaining the “perfect lawn” through a heatwave simply isn’t worth the risk.

What led to America’s lawn obsession, anyway? A medieval practice that originated in the European climate using European vegetation, growing lawns began as a means of protection for aristocratic estates, giving guards a treeless view of oncoming attacks. Colonists eventually brought the practice to the Americas. Centuries later, with the invention of the mower, lawns’ popularity grew so great that today, from coast to coast, blankets of turfgrass line countless neighborhood streets—a status symbol for some and a mark of pride for others. However, some people consider the ubiquitous American lawn an impractical and unnecessary practice that should be put out to pasture.

Lawns require significant upkeep. Baltimore County Code § 13-7-401 prohibits “a growth of grass, weeds or other rank vegetation to a height exceeding one (1) foot.” There are good reasons for that, one being it helps control the rodent population. Some special circumstances apply for bona fide agricultural properties and natural areas.

Your Grass Could Be “Greener”

Unless you use a reel or electric/solar-powered mower, mowing your lawn means polluting the environment and generating greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we spill 17 million gallons of gasoline each year while refueling our mowers—mowers that emit as many volatile organic compounds as 11 cars in an hour, accounting for five percent of the country’s air pollution.

A 2005 study sponsored by NASA estimated that U.S. lawns cover about 49,000 square miles, making them our largest irrigated crop. The EPA estimates that watering an average-sized U.S. lawn for 20 minutes daily uses as much water as taking a four-day-long shower.

According the Natural Resources Defense Council, each year American lawn maintenance consumes nearly three trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas and 70 million pounds of pesticides. The pesticides and fertilizers used on lawns can contaminate the soil and end up being washed down nearby storm drains, polluting our water and harming wildlife and the ecosystems on which they rely.

As explained by Baltimore County Natural Resource Specialist Sarah Witcher in a recent @CleanGreenBaltCo mini-documentary:

How you take care of your lawn is really important. Less is more. You don’t want to fertilize a lot. All that fertilizer can end up in a stream and create all kinds of problems for these critters. Also, everybody wants to see a perfect green lawn, but weeds are beautiful, too, and a lot of them have a function. And a lot of native species have much greater ability to filter (pollutants) than some of the invasives we plant in our yards.

Most grasses grown for lawns in the U.S. are non-native plants that reduce habitat, threaten biodiversity and require extra care and resources to maintain. Raking or blowing grass clippings into the street is illegal and can block gutters and storm drains, leading to environmental and safety concerns.

Then there’s all the “stuff” involved—the $99 billion landscaping industry sells a list of products as long as the White House lawn—products and packaging made using natural resources that have to be shipped, stored and applied in such a way that requires even more natural resources.

Alternative Landscapes

Photo of a Monarch Butterfly

The good news is, with the increasing popularity and availability of sustainable and environmentally-friendly lawn alternatives, none of us is stuck with our medieval landscape. You could replace your lawn with xeriscaping, otherwise known as conservation landscaping, or what some in the Chesapeake region call, “BayScaping.” Contact your local watershed association for advice on how to create BayScapes and other sustainable horticulture in your yard, or check out resources from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. People looking to get serious about conservation landscaping can even get certified through the Baltimore County Master Gardeners’ BayWise Yard Certification program.

Lawn Care: Less is More

If you just can’t give up your lawn, you can use these tips to lessen its environmental impact.

  • Use a reel mower.
  • Try organic fertilizers and natural alternatives to pesticides.
  • Water your lawn only when it’s necessary. The EPA recommends watering your lawn no more than once a week, and that’s only if your lawn doesn’t get sufficient rainfall. If you use an irrigation system, adjust it for grass to avoid problems with insects, disease and shallow rooting.
  • Grasscycling (and leafcycling) can reduce the amount of time you spend and fuel and fertilizer you use to maintain your lawn. Cut it high and let it lie!
  • By using compost you make at home with grass clippings and yard materials, you can improve the health of your soil, promoting healthy plant growth while recycling organic matter. 
  • Before you mow, check for small critters on the lawn, such as toads or bunny nests, and always clean up any pet waste you may have missed, because poo pollutes the land and water, too.

For more information on sustainable lawn care, conservation landscaping and other ways you and your family can help protect the environment, visit the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability online.

Photo of a group accepting an award

Baltimore County’s Bureau of Solid Waste Management is on a roll! After already earning two awards this year for its “Tangled Up!” public service announcement (PSA), the Bureau was recognized yet again for its outreach efforts at the 2019 Maryland Recycling Network/Solid Waste Association of North America Mid-Atlantic (MRN/SWANA-MA) Conference on June 11. During an awards ceremony in Linthicum, Maryland, MRN presented its 2019 Outstanding Government Leadership Award to bureau representatives, honoring the Bureau for its recent “tangler”-focused public education campaign.

The presence of tanglers (such as plastic bags and textiles) in the recycling stream is a major problem that affects material recovery facilities around the world, impeding operations, damaging equipment and threatening worker safety. Over the past year, the Bureau targeted its public education efforts on reducing tanglers and other forms of contamination incorrectly placed out for recycling collection. By making these problematic items the primary focus of its annual marketing campaign, the Bureau was able to develop high-quality original content for public education that can be used by organizations across the globe, having a positive impact far beyond Baltimore County itself.

The County’s outreach content, including the award-winning “Tangled Up!” PSA, was developed fully in-house by County employees and made available free of charge to any interested group, such as government recycling offices and recycling and waste industry organizations. In addition to the PSA, the campaign’s outreach methods included direct mailings, digital ads, newsletter articles, social media posts, and the creation of additional educational videos.

Watch and share the “Tangled Up!” PSA on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
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Revised November 14, 2018