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The Resource

By Ellen Kobler, Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability

Photo of a northern pitcher plant

Meat-eating plants stalking prey along a stream in Perry Hall? It’s true, but don’t worry, it’s not the plot of a cheap horror film or a bloodthirsty threat to small children and pets. It is part of a much-needed stream restoration project that Baltimore County’s Watershed Restoration team completed last year along the Lower Gunpowder Falls in Perry Hall.

The County selected the project because of eroded streambanks, poor habitat and degraded water quality. However, when the County was working with the community during the design phase, people voiced concerns about the mosquito population. The environmentally-friendly “skeeter” solution? Installing carnivorous plants native to Maryland along with quick-drying biochar soils:

  • The Watershed team planted three native species of carnivorous plants to “eat” mosquitoes and help reduce their population.

o Sarracenia purpurea (northern pitcher plant): Modified leaves use a sweet nectar to attract bugs and insects. Small downward facing hairs allow unsuspecting prey to enter the plant but prevent their escape. The slippery hairs cause them to slip down into the pitcher plant, which secretes digestive juices and dissolves the prey for nutrients.

o Drosera rotundifolia (round-leaved sundew) and Drosera intermedia (spatula-leaved sundew): Sundews have modified leaves with small stalks containing drops of a sticky substance to attract bugs and insects (thus the “dew” in the name “sundew”). Prey get trapped, and the stalks on the leaves roll around the insect to digest it.

  • Biochar (80 percent sand and 20 percent charred wood chips) structures were installed to sequester nutrients to improve water quality. The charred wood chips help capture nitrogen, and the sand provides large pore spaces for quick drainage. This biochar area was designed to drain within 72 hours to prevent mosquito larvae from becoming biting adults. However, the biochar soil is a very poor host for the deciduous and coniferous plants normally installed in stream restoration projects – that’s why we called in the carnivores.

Being carnivorous is beyond cool!

“Being carnivorous is an incredible ecological adaptation for very unforgiving environments,” said Eric Duce, Natural Resources Specialist with Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. He explains that carnivorous plants live in bogs, swamps and acidic-nutrient deficient soils where most other plants can’t grow. They actually get their nutrients from the bugs they digest and can only survive in a few very specific environments that are saturated with somewhat acidic soil that has limited nutrients.

“These are the only carnivorous plants I’m aware of in Baltimore County. I know they grow in some areas of Anne Arundel County and Southern Maryland,” Duce added. Carnivorous plants are challenging for the average gardener to cultivate, partly because tap water will kill them. Tap water contains too much of a concentration of nutrients and minerals. To successfully grow carnivorous plants, they should be watered with rain water or water from dehumidifiers, because of their low mineral and nutrient content.

Why we invest in restoring our streams and shorelines

Many of the County’s stream systems have become impaired due to historical land-use changes, poor development practices prior to stormwater management regulations and the pressures of increased urbanization. Challenges include increased impervious surfaces, such as pavement, roofs and manicured turf lawns; diminished stream buffer areas where trees and vegetation help shade the stream, slow runoff and reduce pollutants; and outmoded efforts to channelize streams and contain flood flows.

Baltimore County’s nationally-recognized watershed restoration and stream stabilization program improves the water quality and health of our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay by:

  • Stabilizing stream banks to reduce the downstream flow of sediments
  • Creating riffles and pools to control the damaging rush of storm water
  • Providing essential habitat and promoting the proper exchange of microorganisms, dissolved gasses and particles that are necessary for healthy streams
  • Restoring long-term natural stream functioning by replacing outdated, deteriorated channels with natural, native materials like rock, logs and vegetation
  • Planting and enhancing vegetative buffers to reduce nutrient pollution and provide habitat

How you can help

You can support the health of your local stream by not disturbing plantings and other features of stream restoration projects, leaving an unmown grassy buffer along streams, avoiding excess fertilizer and pesticides that pollute the water and taking an organic approach to lawn care. If you use a lawn care service, let them know that you want environmentally safe options.

After a five-year hiatus, the County’s compost bin and rain barrel sale will return in 2021; however, there will be significant changes from previous years’ events.

The sale will be held online, with pre-orders accepted from February 1 through March 31. Compost bins will be available for $45 and rain barrels will be available for $55 (there will be an additional $15 flat rate delivery charge per order, and both prices include tax). This sale is not limited to residents of Baltimore County.

All orders will be delivered to customers between March 15 and April 30, 2021. The delivery agents will follow physical distancing protocols and orders will be delivered to the driveway or front door area of an address.

Starting February 1, visit www.baltimore.enviroworld.us to place an order, or check the Baltimore County website for more details about this event.

By Emily Small, Intern, Department of Public Works

Photo of a variety of mixed plastic items

Last year was one of ups and downs for everything, including our environment. Going into 2021, now more than ever, we all need to do our part to live more sustainably. The good news is that you don’t have to overhaul your entire life—you can make simple changes to benefit our planet.

If you are looking for ways to help the environment but don’t know where to start, check out these ideas for sustainable living that take little effort but can have a big effect.

Avoid single-use plastics

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, single-use plastics are made primarily of fossil fuel-based chemicals and are meant to be disposed of right after use. They are usually small items such as straws, bags, utensils and packaging. These items are harmful to the environment because they typically cannot be recycled. When not recycled, some plastics can last in the environment for decades; others can last centuries.

There are certainly times when you will not be able to avoid single-use plastics, but choosing other options whenever possible can help you reduce your plastic waste.

The easiest way to avoid single-use plastics is to look for alternatives when you shop. Since 40 percent of plastic produced is packaging that is used just once (according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]), a good place to start cutting back on single-use plastics is packaging. As you shop, avoid buying items that come packaged in excessive and unnecessary plastic. A few examples of more sustainable packaging options are paper, glass and bamboo.

Aside from packaging, be sure to avoid other single-use plastics with these simple actions:

  • Carry a reusable water bottle.
  • When ordering takeout or delivery, ask the restaurant to skip the plastic utensils and use your own at home.
  • Bring washable, reusable shopping bags to the store.

Minimize household waste

The easiest way to minimize the amount of waste you generate is to reduce the amount of new items you buy in the first place. This requires making the most out of what you already own. The good news is that this will not only benefit the environment by saving resources and landfill space, but it will also save you money.

When you have an item that you think is ready to be thrown out, take some time to think about how it could be reused to serve another purpose in your home. This is where you can get creative. Even if you cannot find an obvious use for an old item, consider donating it, or think about how it could be used to make something new.

To get some ideas on how to reuse common household items, do a quick internet search for DIY and upcycling projects.

Recycle right

Photo of glass being used as containers

If you already recycle in your home, keep up the good work! While it is important to recycle whenever possible, the quality of your recyclables is just as important.

When incorrect items are placed in your recycling, they contaminate a bin of perfectly good recyclables. Avoid contamination in your recycling bin by knowing what items are acceptable, and make sure everyone in your household is also aware. For a complete list of what Baltimore County accepts and does not accept for recycling, visit the County’s website.

Make a special effort to avoid putting tanglers—long, stretchy items such as clothing, garden hoses and plastic grocery bags—in your recycling bin. They are not recyclable and can get tangled in the sorting equipment at the recycling facility, bringing the entire process to a halt.

Cut back on food waste

In the United States, food waste is estimated at 40 percent of the food supply, and it accounts for about 24 percent of all municipal solid waste landfilled (EPA, 2018). According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food waste has far-reaching impacts on the environment, including the land, water, energy and labor used in producing the food and then eventually discarding it.

Reducing the amount of food you waste will not only save you money, but it will also reduce methane emissions and conserve energy and natural resources.

To cut back on food waste this year, buy only what you need. The best way to do this is by planning your meals ahead of time and sticking to a list when you shop. When you have leftovers, make sure they are properly stored and try to eat them before making a new meal.

Eat less meat

Consuming meat can be a major contribution to your carbon footprint. In fact, meat production is one of the primary sources of methane emissions, which is a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Meat production requires a large amount of resources, including land and water, and is a major contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting to a diet consisting of mostly plant-based foods will help fight climate change and deforestation, as well as air, soil and water pollution.

The good news is that you do not need to completely eliminate meat from your diet to have a positive effect on the environment. Simply reducing the amount of meat you consume is a great way to start, and it will also benefit your overall health. Try picking a few days a week when you and your family will not consume meat, and from there you can gradually cut back even more.

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