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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 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.

By Erin Watts, Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability

Photo of a garlic mustard plant

As a natural resource specialist, I am often asked the question, “Is this a weed?” However, there is no “yes or no” answer to this question because a weed is merely an unwanted plant. I prefer the question, “Does this plant belong here?” People have carried plants and seeds from one part of the world to another for centuries. When some plants are introduced to a new area, they become invasive. These are plants you likely have seen taking over a garden or natural area. Non-native plants are also called, “exotic,” or, “alien.”

Non-native, invasive plants present a problem because all the parts of an ecosystem evolve together. When our native plants are outcompeted for light, nutrients and space, they no longer provide resources for the ecosystem. For example, spring wildflowers are disappearing, crowded out by garlic mustard (European) and Japanese stiltgrass, and trees smothered in English ivy are threatened by extra weight and decay from trapped organic material and moisture, which can kill a tree.

Therefore, invasive plants should be removed. Many invasive plants, such as garlic mustard and wavyleaf basketgrass, are easily removed by hand. Some larger shrubs, such as multiflora rose and bayberry, require cutting and digging. If possible, choose these mechanical methods over herbicides. In some cases, select herbicides are warranted to prevent persistent regrowth of certain species, such as tree of heaven, as well as for large infestations and for species that spread by roots (Canada thistle). For more information, refer to Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas, an authoritative guide with removal instruction provided by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 
A yard is a great place to start tackling invasives. If you don’t have a yard, there are plenty of areas that could use your help, just be sure to get the landowner’s permission. Once the risk of COVID-19 has eased, our Baltimore County watershed associations are a great source for invasive removal workshops. Learn from the pros and help protect your watershed!
 

Photo of English Ivy
Tips for invasive removal:
• Identify plants accurately, and avoid pulling natives.
• Wear sturdy gloves.
• Work in damp soil to get as many roots as possible.
• Remove plants before seeds develop.
Set out pulled invasive plants with your yard materials, if you're a Baltimore County resident with a separate "Y" collection day; otherwise, dispose of these plants in the trash.
• Do not put invasives into your compost at home to avoid potential spread later.
• Let vines in trees die in place to avoid breaking branches from pulling.
• Some invasives are sold in stores–don’t buy them.
 
Successful invasive plant removal requires a watchful eye and ongoing treatment, but a healthier ecosystem is worth it. Pulling “weeds” also helps us to unwind, so listen to the birds and enjoy.
 
Special thanks to the 5th grader from Rodgers Forge Elementary School who asked the question that prompted this blog post.

Photo credits: Garlic mustard (top) – Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org; English ivy (bottom right) – James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
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Revised October 25, 2019