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The Resource

COVID-19 Coronavirus Updates and Guidance

The County is taking a number of actions to keep residents safe and minimize the spread of COVID-19. Find status information for County operations and services.

The Resource

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Photo of someone looking at a book on a table about reducing energy use

This June, for the first installment of the Staying Green During COVID-19 series, we talked about ways to reduce your use of common single-use items, such as disposable masks, gloves and wipes. In July, Department of Public Works intern Emily Small gave us a number of tips to help us safely manage and prevent waste at a time when we may find ourselves buying and using more stuff. For our third installment, we will cover methods to reduce home water and energy use, and how to green your cleaning routine by using products deemed “safer choices” for your home and the environment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Let’s Clean House

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we should follow a two-step cleaning and disinfection process to reduce our risk of exposure to the coronavirus. First we should clean surfaces—removing dirt, grime and germs—and then, to kill pathogens such as COVID-19, we should disinfect those surfaces, making sure to closely follow the directions for disinfection on the product label. Though you could use a product from the EPA’s “Safer Choice” list for the cleaning step, be sure to choose a disinfectant from the EPA’s list of disinfectants for use against COVID-19 to disinfect surfaces and kill pathogens. Read more about the use of green cleaners during the coronavirus pandemic in this recent piece from the Washington Post.

Slow the Flow

Photo of two glasses on the counter being filled with water

We all are cleaning more these days, doing more dishes and laundry and washing our hands more often than ever. To help conserve water, the Baltimore County Department of Public Works, Bureau of Utilities asks you to:

  • Keep a container of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap for a cold drink.

  • Avoid rinsing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

  • Run the washing machine and dishwasher when they are fully loaded.

  • Take a shower instead of a bath.

  • Avoid running the faucet when you're brushing your teeth or shaving.

  • Visit the Bureau of Utilities online for information on water usage and more water-saving tips.

  • While conserving water, do yourself a favor: protect your pipes and help prevent overflows by not pouring fat, oil and grease down the drain.

Starve Your Inner Energy Vampire

  • Reduce your COVID-19 risk, commuting costs and carbon footprint by working from home if possible.

  • Turn off the lights in rooms not in use.

  • If you have energy-efficient windows, utilize natural light by daylighting your home.

  • Use energy-efficient window attachments to save energy and lower your heating and cooling bills.

  • Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs.

  • Green your thermostat.

  • Is everyone in your household spending more time at home? Try to organize movie or game nights to get everyone in the same room (and shut off lights and electronics everywhere else).

  • Schedule blackout hours when everyone turns off their screens (phones, tablets, computers, games and TVs).

  • Use power strips you can switch on and off.

  • Unplug chargers, small appliances and other electronics when not in use.

  • View our Facebook post for even more energy-saving tips.

It also wouldn’t hurt to "unplug" yourself—take a break from work, social media and news updates, turn off the television and get out of your head. Call a friend. Read a new book or an old favorite. Do an upcycle project. Spend quality time with your cohabitants and/or pets. Get some fresh air if possible. Do some gardening or bayscaping. Take your dog for a walk and clean up after your pet. Do daily checks around the yard to keep it free of pet waste. Remove invasive plants from your yard. Pick up litter on your block following proper guidelines to protect yourself and others. Take a deep breath…or 50. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones. And most importantly, stay well.

by Emily Small, Department of Public Works

Photo of healthy groceries in a bag

The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. As we all adjust to a new normal and learn to deal with the closure of many businesses we once relied on, there are important lessons we should learn from the pandemic. One important lesson many of us have learned is that we do not need as many “things” as we thought we did. This thought should stay with us as nonessential businesses begin to reopen so we do not return to the habit of buying more than we need.

Want vs. Need

Several months of closures and stay-at-home orders have prevented us from walking around shopping malls and taking trips to retail stores. Since our trips to the store generally have been for groceries and other essential needs, many of us have noticed the money we are saving. Cutting back on the number of trips we take to the store, by planning ahead, not only saves time and money but also discourages bad habits of buying more than we need.         

What you may not have realized about these new shopping habits is their positive effect on the environment. By decreasing the amount of unnecessary shopping we do, we reduce the need to make more products while making the most of what we already have. This reduces landfilling, the creation of greenhouse gases and the use of energy and natural resources. While we may miss the days when we could go to a store to simply browse and shop, we have learned a lot about what we truly need versus things we just want.

Wasting Less

Waste prevention is now more important than ever. The pandemic did not hit the “pause” button on climate change, and during a time when many people have lost their jobs and are experiencing financial uncertainty, it is important to find ways to waste less, to cut back on costs. One way to do this is by using things as long as possible and getting multiple uses out of one item. With many of us having spent a lot of time at home recently, some people have worked on “upcycling” projects. These are great opportunities to reduce and reuse materials you have lying around the house.

Being at home also allows for more time to clean out closets and downsize. Don’t forget to donate old clothing or household items that could be used by someone else. The County’s Reuse Directory is a great resource for finding organizations that will accept all different types of items and materials. Contact the organization before dropping off any items to make sure they currently are accepting donations. Other ways you can waste less include:

  • When shopping (online or otherwise), look for quality products that will last a long time, and always try to repair instead of replace.

  • Try to buy products with minimal packaging.

  • Save paper by using both sides for printing or taking notes.

  • Reduce “junk mail” by opting out of marketing mailing lists.

  • Reuse items like glass jars for food storage or other projects.

  • Compost yard materials at home.

Food Waste

In normal circumstances, it’s easy to waste food. In fact, about 30 to 40 percent of food goes to waste in the U.S., according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Now is a good time to be thinking about how each of us can cut back on food waste.

Since most of us have been trying to limit trips to the grocery store, we are using what is already in our pantry, refrigerators and freezers, eating leftovers and not letting things go to waste. Maintain these habits of reducing food waste after the pandemic is over. Remember the following tips to reduce food waste, even when life returns to normal:

  • Organize items based on expiration dates; put the items that expire first in the front of the pantry or fridge.

  • Eat leftovers. Before making a new meal, do your best to eat what you have left over from the day before.

  • Freeze leftover food to make it last longer.

  • Do not panic buy. Many people started doing this when stay-at-home orders began. Panic buying leads people to buy more than they can consume, and food ends up going bad before you can eat it all.

  • Plan your meals in advance. To save money and time, try to plan meals for the week before you shop.

  • Read more about food waste on the County’s blog.

Recycling        

Photo of plastic bottles in a box to be recycled

The recycling sector has been deemed essential and has continued its work through the pandemic, though it has been affected by the uncertain business climate. Businesses who normally buy recycled commodities may not have been buying regularly the past few months. This has demonstrated the importance of establishing strong markets for recycled materials. The emphasis on the need for stable markets calls on us to expand market development and “buy recycled” efforts.

Along with market effects, there have been significant effects on material recovery facilities (MRFs) across the nation. Concerns over spreading the virus have caused some facilities to temporarily close. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, it is likely that other employees have been exposed, due to the nature of the work. In the event that a MRF has to be closed, recyclables cannot be processed and sold.          

While communities face decisions about what to do with changing budgets, some have made cuts in their recycling programs. According to Resource Recycling, East Peoria is an example of a city that cut curbside recycling due to financial constraints from the pandemic. As other communities around the country are facing similar issues, it is important that we recognize and be thankful for the important work done by haulers who continue to collect trash and recyclables during the crisis. You also can show your appreciation by closely following trash and recycling guidelines, which can be found on the County’s website. 

Remember to recycle hand sanitizer bottles and all other plastic bottles (after removing any pumps). Recycle jugs, cartons, cardboard, dry goods packaging, steel and aluminum cans, newspapers, magazines and junk mail. If you find yourself shopping online more often, reuse and/or recycle your shipping boxes and materials.          

The pandemic has changed our world, most likely forever. Learn from the pandemic to reduce your purchases and your waste. Remember the importance of markets for recyclables and buy products made from recycled material. Finally, recognize the unsung heroes who collect our trash and recyclables each week, even in a global pandemic.

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Photo of face masks hanging

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, but we can still find ways to live more sustainably during these difficult times. The Resource will publish a series of articles this summer focused on helping you do just that. This month we want to talk about some of the single-use items commonly used during the pandemic and suggest some safe alternatives.

Masks

  • Wearing a mask outside of your home helps protect others and prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can reduce waste by choosing reusable (washable) cloth masks over disposable ones. A wide variety of reusable masks are available online, or you may know someone who makes them. You can even make your own mask using leftover fabric or repurposed clothing or linens. Wherever you get your mask, make sure you follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • If you need to wear a disposable mask, put it in the trash after use. Disposable masks do not belong in the recycling, down the toilet or on the ground.

Gloves

Photo of someone scrubbing a counter while wearing gloves
  • According to the CDC, you should wear reusable or disposable gloves for routine cleaning and disinfection. If you choose reusable, the CDC states that those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and nothing else. The CDC also recommends wearing disposable gloves when you are caring for someone who is sick or cleaning a home where someone is sick. Otherwise, wearing gloves is not necessary in most situations. Instead, practice frequent handwashing, social distancing and other everyday preventive actions recommended by the CDC.

  • Put disposable gloves in the trash, not the recycling. Don’t flush or litter your gloves, either. Help us get the message out by sharing our Facebook post about the increase of litter related to the pandemic.

Wipes

  • The use of disposable wipes is on the rise. Remember: Wipes clog pipes and can cause sewage backups and overflows. Do not flush any kind of wipe or towelette, even the ones that are labeled as, “flushable.” Do not litter or try to recycle wipes. Place used wipes in a trash can. Help spread the word about wipes by sharing our social media graphic.

  • You can reduce “wipe waste” by cleaning or disinfecting your home with an EPA-registered disinfectant and reusable, washable cloths instead of disposable wipes.

  • Clean your face with soap and water using a washcloth or your hands instead of facial wipes.

  • Use good old fashioned toilet paper instead of wipes labeled, “flushable.” Keep germs inside your toilet by putting down the lid before you flush!

  • Did I already say not to flush wipes? I did? Okay, good; because it’s really important that you don’t. Here’s why.

Shopping Bags

  • Use washable (reusable) shopping bags if permitted by the store. Make sure to check with the store first. Washable shopping bags can be found online, or you can make your own with materials you may have around the house. If you are able to use reusable bags at your local store, don’t forget to wash your bags following the CDC guidelines for washing clothing, linens and other laundered items.

  • Some grocery stores and retailers have temporarily ceased recycling plastic bags. If you wish to drop off your plastic shopping bags for recycling, your best course of action is to 1) enter your address in the recycle search tool at abagslife.com or plasticfilmrecycling.org to find a drop-off location at a retailer near you and 2) call that location first to confirm that they are currently accepting plastic bags for recycling.

Other single-use items you can try to avoid include individually wrapped snacks, single serving beverages and disposable kitchenware, tableware, towels and napkins.

We hope these tips will help you safely reduce your use of single-use items during the coronavirus pandemic and keep you on track in your efforts to make ours a cleaner, greener Baltimore County. Be sure to keep an eye out for next month's installment of our Staying Green During COVID-19 series, which will more broadly address trash, recycling, litter and waste prevention.

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Revised October 25, 2019