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The Resource

The Resource

By Anne Marshall, Department of Public Works

Photo of someone checking boxes with a pink marker.

The term “waste prevention” describes the practice of not creating waste in the first place. By reducing what we buy and reusing what we already have, we surpass even recycling’s benefits in terms of resource preservation, pollution reduction and money savings.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management sought input through an online survey to learn how Baltimore County residents are preventing waste every day. Here are some of the survey results, thanks to this year’s 325 participants:

  • One hundred percent of respondents reported using energy-efficient light bulbs. Residents also commonly reported reusing tote bags (89 percent) and drink containers (81 percent).
  • Of the types of items listed in the survey, the least-used were refillable printer cartridges (15 percent) and high-mileage tires (47 percent).
  • Respondents most commonly donated clothing (97 percent) and books (86 percent). Medical equipment (19 percent) and tools (25 percent) were the least-donated items.
  • While cardboard boxes are recyclable, it’s best to reuse them first if possible, and respondents were doing an excellent job of that (97 percent). Another packaging material, bubble wrap, was also highly reused (82 percent).
  • Of the options listed on the survey, greeting cards were the least-reused (26 percent), with school and office supplies as the runner-up (47 percent).

Survey participants also shared many other tips and ideas for reducing waste at home:

  • Many residents suggested swapping or sharing items with friends, family and neighbors, or donating goods to organizations that need themthe Baltimore County Reuse Directory is a great resource for that. When looking to purchase, survey respondents recommended checking Freecycle groups or thrift shops before buying new.
  • Survey participants shared many ideas for reducing food waste specifically. Residents are planning meals in advance to ensure they only cook as much as they will eat, or if there are leftovers, they eat them right away or freeze them for later.
  • When getting take-out meals to eat at home, one Catonsville resident requests that the restaurant not include single-use extras like utensils, napkins and condiments, since he already owns more environmentally-friendly versions of those items. Other residents mentioned reusable straws as another way to reduce the need for single-use plastics.
  • Respondents reuse and repurpose plastic bags in many different ways. A resident in Woodlawn mentioned crocheting the bags into sleeping mats for the homeless; others suggested using the bags as trash can liners or “baggies” for pet waste.
  • Most tips from survey respondents had one theme in commonbuy less stuff. Before buying something new, one Timonium resident always asks the question, “Will this purchase make me better?” Many other residents emphasized maintaining items well and using them as much as possible before looking for a replacement, including vehicles, clothing and appliances.

Do you have a unique way of preventing waste at home, but missed this year’s survey? The Bureau of Solid Waste Management is always looking for ideas to share in The Resource newsletter and the Clean Green Baltimore County Facebook page.

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Photo of the interior of a vintage clothing store

From Los Angeles to New York, Boston and beyond, there’s a new holiday shopping “trend”: secondhand gifts. According to Accenture’s annual holiday shopping survey, more than half of respondents said they would consider giving thrifted gifts, and 56 percent said they would welcome receiving secondhand gifts. In fact, a recent report by ThredUp projects the resale market will nearly double by the year 2023.

Why are more consumers buying used? The benefits are many. When you buy “pre-owned” merchandise, you are preventing waste and reusing materials, which reduces your carbon footprint. Buying secondhand can help you save money, too. It can give you more buying power and allow you to purchase items you might not be able to afford new.

But let’s be honest—what makes secondhand shopping so fun is the finds! When you shop used, you can find unique and collectible gifts, as well as merchandise not currently available in stores. Sometimes you get really lucky and find items of value at bargain prices. For example, I recently bought a working antique German Black Forest cuckoo clock at a consignment shop for $20 that looks no different than new cuckoo clocks selling for $150 to $300 online. 

The truth is, buying used is nothing new. Some businesses are built on people’s willingness, or even eagerness, to buy used merchandise. By selling used items, these kinds of businesses make waste prevention an integral part of their business model.

I recently visited a few of the fun, unique resale shops in Baltimore County to get a look at their inventory and learn about the ways they prevent waste.

Photo of the Trax on Wax record store

Trax on Wax in Catonsville buys and sells new and used records, and their inventory is 90 percent used. They reuse record inner sleeves and sell earth-friendly tote bags. They also donate old unsellable LPs to schools, artists and libraries for reuse in arts and crafts projects.

10 Car Pile Up in Towson specializes in vintage clothing. Shane, the owner, seemed very knowledgeable about vintage garments and their care. I heard him giving customers clothing care instructions for their purchases. He told me to button up all of the buttons on the shirt I bought and turn it inside out before washing to preserve its collar and silver-rimmed, mother-of-pearl buttons. 

Ukazoo Books in Parkville is one of the few brick and mortar Baltimore County stores we could find that buys and sells new and used books. Like Trax on Wax, their inventory is also 90 percent used. Books that don’t sell are donated. When people bring in unsellable or unusable books, they are advised to place them out with their curbside recycling.

Race Pace Bicycles in Towson repairs bicycles (so you don’t have to buy a new one), rents bicycles and sells new and used bicycles. They also serve as a drop-off location for bicycle donations to Bikes for the World.

The Surprise Shop of Trinity Episcopal Church is a charming consignment shop in Towson that sells used clothing, accessories, jewelry, books, home décor and more. Merchandise that doesn’t sell is donated to help people in need through the Assistance Center of Towson Churches. 

Want to learn more? View photos from each visit, check out the list of local resale businesses below, and download the 2019-2020 Reuse Directory for information on reuse organizations throughout Baltimore County.  

Photo of wrapped gifts under a tree

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate 25 percent more waste than usual during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Waste less this holiday season by using these helpful tips written by various Bureau of Solid Waste Management staff over the years:

  • Choose a fresh, Maryland-grown tree this holiday season. Fresh trees look great and smell even better, but did you know that real Christmas trees are also renewable, recyclable and benefit the environment? Be sure to mulch or compost your live Christmas tree at the end of the holiday season. If that’s not possible, Baltimore County may collect and recycle your live Christmas tree. Check the County’s website or your collection schedule for more information.
  • Reuse the decorations you already own. If you wish to shop, consider thrift stores and yard sales as a source of new holiday décor, or swap decorations with family and friends. You could also try making decorations from things you already have around the house. 
  • Limit lighting and conserve energy by using LED bulbs. Put holiday lights on automatic timers.
  • Reuse greeting cards as holiday craft supplies, decorations, coasters and gift tags. If you buy new, purchase cards made of 100-percent recycled content, or go paperless and send e-card greetings instead.
  • Consider giving an experience, rather than a physical item. Tickets, memberships and lessons all make great gifts.
  • Shop local, buy used and make homemade gifts.
  • Choose gifts that are refillable or reusable. Avoid disposable single-use items, especially if they cannot be recycled. Plants, flowers or food are great gifts that can minimize waste.
  • Donate unwanted items to people who can use them.
  • Reuse holiday wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags, boxes and bows. Cloth items, such as scarves, bandanas or shawls, can also be used to wrap presents (and become part of the gift, as well).
  • Turn down the heat. Wear clothing in layers, use blankets and get active if you feel a chill.
  • Hosting a holiday dinner? Use a meal planning tool to help you make just the right amount of food and generate less food waste. 
  • When hosting parties, use reusable kitchenware, tableware and linens. Offer leftovers to guests, or have a potluck and exchange leftovers to prevent food waste.
  • Traveling this holiday season? Reduce fuel costs by driving smart: pack light, change your oil, tighten your fuel cap, check your vehicle’s air filter and tire pressure, drive under 60 MPH, use cruise control and don’t idle. Carpool if possible. Need to travel long distances? Consider taking a train.

Whether you plan to celebrate at home or find yourself traveling to spend it with family and friends, these tips can help you and your loved ones make more cheer and less waste this holiday season.

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Revised October 25, 2019