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The Resource

Keyword: reduce

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.

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.

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Photo of a carved pumpkin

Americans will spend about $9 billion this Halloween on costumes, decorations and candy. Most of this merchandise is single use and comes in packaging that can’t be recycled. In fact, the amount of Halloween waste we generate each year is downright terrifying. But fear not! There are lots of creative ways to green your Halloween and save money while having a ghastly good time.

Buy pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks from local farms, nurseries or farmers markets. Have a green goblin thumb? Grow your own next year. And don’t waste those pumpkin guts – use the flesh in recipes and roast the seeds for a healthy snack.

Swap, Buy Used or Upcycle

Swap, buy used or create upcycled decorations. You’d be surprised by how easy it can be. It took me less than 30 minutes to transform a selection of sweet-faced knick-knacks into a motley crew of creepy décor using a little paint.

You also can swap, buy used or make upcycled costumes. Use ingredients you have at home to make face paint. Next September, host a Halloween costume swap party.

Use up arts and crafts supplies by upcycling buckets, pillowcases, cans, t-shirts, gift bags or reusable totes for trick-or-treating. Trick or treat in places you can reach on foot or by public transit.

Keep Treats in the Bag

Please don't litter! Parents—bring a bag and gloves or grabber tool to pick up litter along your trick-or-treating route. Your little ghosts and ghouls shouldn’t be leaving a trail of candy wrappers in their wake. Want to help keep ours a clean green county year round? Clean streams and public lands with your local watershed association, do a Clean Green 15 pickup in your community, or get your group to participate in the Adopt-A-Road program.

Having a Party?

Send invitations electronically. Serve locally-sourced food and drink. Buy fair-trade chocolate. Use reusable linens and kitchenware. Serve witches’ brew or Frankenpunch in drink dispensers instead of beverages in bottles and cans. Use a meal planning tool to determine how much food to prepare. Store leftovers in reusable containers and (actually) eat them. Put out a recycling bin and ask your guests to use it. Visit the County’s website to find out what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling collection.

Use leftover candy in baked goods, ice cream sundaes, snack mixes, cereal bars and more. Use your imagination, or try one of many recipes found on Pinterest.

A few last words: If you purchase new items for your Halloween celebrations, look for products and packaging made with recycled content. Most importantly, be safe and have fun!

Have a Green-o-ween idea you’d like to share? Send it to

This article originally appeared in The Resource newsletter in October 2018. Visit the County’s website to subscribe or read The Resource blog online.

Dec 2019
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Revised October 25, 2019