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The Resource

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The Resource

Keyword: reduce

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 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.

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Revised October 25, 2019