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The Resource

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Communications Specialist, Department of Public Works

A man in an orange uniform stands with arms crossed in front of a garbage truck

How dangerous is your job? When we think of deadly professions, we tend to think of mining, construction, law enforcement and firefighting. Oddly enough, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those jobs are not among the top ten civilian occupations with the highest fatality rates. In fact, the five civilian occupations with the highest fatality rates in 2017 were fishing, logging, piloting/flight engineering, roofing and refuse and recyclable material collection.

You read that right – the men and women who cart away more than 250 million tons of trash, recycling and organic materials generated by Americans each year have one of the nation’s deadliest occupations. In fact, waste collection has an incidence rate of 35 fatalities per 100,000 full-time workers, ten times the national average! (I’ll keep that statistic in mind the next time the lid to my trash can goes missing.)

What makes solid waste collection such a dangerous profession? Falls, slips, trips, fires, explosions and contact with dangerous, heavy equipment all cause fatalities among collectors. However, across all occupations, transportation incidents were the most common cause of fatal injury, which is not news to waste collectors.

A man empties waste in to the back of a garbage truck

“Most people don’t realize just how dangerous the solid waste management field can be,” said Tim Dunn, Baltimore County’s solid waste superintendent. “It’s important to remember the hardworking people who perform this essential public service when you’re out and about. A little bit of extra care and caution behind the wheel can go a long way.”

In recent years, the National Waste and Recycling Association and the Solid Waste Association of North America made it a priority to pass “slow down to get around” (SDTGA) legislation in states across the country, including Maryland SB 445, which was signed into law last year. These laws require drivers to slow down and change lanes when approaching waste management vehicles from the rear.

In addition to following Maryland’s SDTGA law, you can take some simple steps to reduce the risk of injury for sanitation workers:

  • Wrap broken glass before disposing of it.
  • Place needles, syringes, razor blades and any other sharp objects in a closed, heavy-duty plastic container for disposal.
  • Do not put household hazardous waste in your trash can. Take it to one of the County’s drop-off centers.
  • Do not use a trash can that exceeds a maximum filled weight of 40 pounds or a maximum capacity of 34 gallons. See the County’s collection set-out guide for more information.

By following a few basic rules, being mindful and showing a little common courtesy, you can help reduce injury and fatality rates not only among waste collectors, but workers across industries.

Have questions about trash and recycling collection in Baltimore County? View a list of collection FAQs on the County’s website or send an email to

A new public service ad demonstrates why Baltimore County doesn’t accept items such as plastic bags and clothing for recycling. Produced in-house by Bureau of Solid Waste Management employees, “Tangled Up!” shows how operations are halted daily at the County’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) because of residents putting “tanglers” in their recycling bins.

“Tangled Up!” will be shown before feature films at Cinemark Towson, AMC White Marsh and AMC Owings Mills through the end of January. It will also run on the County’s television channel, BCTV (cable channel 25 on Verizon and Comcast). Currently, the PSA can be viewed online at Facebook, YouTube and the County’s website.

What are Tanglers?

Tanglers are materials such as plastic bags and textiles that get caught in the MRF equipment and must be cut out by hand, one by one, for operations to resume. At the end of each day, the County uses 10 temporary employees to cut tanglers from between a few thousand “stars” on the MRF’s five sorting screens. Watch footage of the sorters at the County’s MRF becoming tangled with plastic bags. If residents kept tanglers out of the recycling stream, these employees could do other maintenance.

Recycling and Waste Prevention Manager Charlie Reighart said that keeping tanglers out of the recycling stream is part of an overall effort by the County to reduce contamination. Reducing contamination (non-recyclable items in the bin) has become more important due to efforts by China to ban imports of certain products and tighten contamination limits on others.

 “While we appreciate residents recycling, it is critical that they keep contaminants out of their recycling so that the County receives more money for its recyclables and produces quality material for new products,” Reighart said. “We hope this PSA will get people to think twice before they throw.”

Keep Tanglers Out of the Recycling Stream

The County asks residents to reuse, upcycle, donate or properly dispose of tanglers in a trash can instead of placing them in the recycling bin.

Local retailers often accept plastic bags for recycling. Residents are encouraged to visit or to find plastic bag recycling drop-off locations in Baltimore County. In addition, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management updates its Reuse Directory every two years to help residents find places to donate or sell clothing, linens and other items that the County does not accept for recycling. For tangler upcycle projects and reuse ideas, residents can follow Clean Green Baltimore County on Facebook or search Pinterest.

For more information on accepted recyclables, see the County’s website or call 410-887-2000.

by Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

The Guiness Brewery.Do you like green beer? Not the dyed frothy beverage some people drink on St. Patrick’s Day, but beer that’s made with sustainability in mind. If so, you’re not alone. These days, many beer enthusiasts are even willing to pay more for sustainable beer. In fact, this focus on sustainability is found across consumer markets: a global Nielsen study found that 66 percent of respondents would pay more for products made by sustainable companies, and a Cone Communications study found that 76 percent of Americans expect businesses to address climate change.

Some might say this expectation could negatively affect a company’s bottom line, but studies show that sustainability is good business. An eight-year study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group found that companies can profit by implementing sustainability practices. A study by CDP shows that companies that do this enjoy an 18 percent higher return on investment (ROI) than companies that do not. And a Harvard Business School study shows that one dollar invested in 1993 in a portfolio of companies focused on environmental issues while growing their business would have increased to $28 in 2013 – nearly twice the ROI as a dollar invested in companies focused only on growth in the same time period.

While a global circular economy may seem impossible to some, industry leaders, such as Google, Philips and Unilever, are looking for ways to make it work for them.

Two pints of Guiness.This brings me back to the beer: as a closed-loop model, a circular economy relies heavily on waste prevention and natural resource conservation, and it just so happens one company operating in Baltimore County is leading the way toward a sustainable future by changing its approach to waste.

Located in Halethorpe, Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House is Baltimore County’s newest and largest brewery and the brand’s first U.S. brewery in more than 60 years. Over the last several years, Guinness’ parent company, Diageo, has made great strides in sustainability, most recently making the Global 100, which places them among the most sustainable companies in the world. In addressing waste, the company is wasting no time, with a target of eliminating waste to landfill from their operations by 2020. Besides recycling, their methods for doing so include:

  • Phasing out plastic straws and stirrers in their establishments.
  • Making packaging more sustainable by reducing the overall packaging weight, increasing the level of recycled materials used in packaging, and ensuring all packaging is recyclable or reusable.
  • Using waste for agricultural purposes. Brewing and distilling by-products are now being used by farmers as animal feed.

Diageo has also committed to establishing sustainable supply chains by working with local suppliers, encouraging suppliers and business partners to adopt similar sustainability standards, and by providing training to help their suppliers do so. Diageo also seeks to use and waste fewer natural resources by improving water and energy efficiency, sourcing low-carbon or renewable energy and using new technology to eliminate unnecessary materials from operations.

Since 2009, Diageo has reduced packaging weight by eight percent, increased recycled material in their packaging by 40 percent, and improved the recyclability of their packaging by almost 99 percent. The company has reduced waste going to landfill by 90 percent and absolute carbon emissions by 36 percent since 2007.

Lastly, Diageo and Guinness undertook a massive “upcycle” project by rehabbing old buildings that housed an historic whiskey distillery instead of building new structures for the brewery site, using recycled and low VOC (volatile organic compound) materials in the process.

Visit Diageo’s website for more information about the company’s zero waste to landfill target and efforts to reduce its environmental impact. To learn more about the brewery, visit

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Revised November 14, 2018