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The Resource

Keyword: reuse

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 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.  

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Revised October 25, 2019