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A tour of food scraps and yard waste… yippee!

I recently had the plea­sure of attend­ing a tour of the new pilot com­post­ing facil­ity at the Alpha Ridge Land­fill. Busily, I took notes as the tour guide (Bureau of Envi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices Oper­a­tions Divi­sion Chief Jeff Dan­nis) gave us a thor­ough expla­na­tion of the oper­a­tions of the facil­ity. After the tour, due to my inter­est level and enthu­si­asm, a coworker called me a “Trash Nerd.” I am entirely okay with that.

Think about it – all of this yard waste and food scraps which could be tak­ing up space in a land­fill, and worse yet trans­ported to an out-of-state land­fill, could be processed into a valu­able prod­uct. You can see why this would be excit­ing to me!

Howard County is doing the pilot project to see if larger scale com­post­ing can save money on dis­posal costs while help­ing the envi­ron­ment. Here is a pic­ture from the tour.

The food scraps and yard waste that are deliv­ered by the col­lec­tion vehi­cles are ground up when they arrive. That ground mate­r­ial is then placed in piles along neg­a­tive air pipes that draw the air out and vent it through a large pile of wood chips. Once the pile is at the cor­rect size for pro­cess­ing, it is typ­i­cally cov­ered unless it becomes too damp. In that case, it is uncov­ered and “fluffed” to pro­mote a dryer envi­ron­ment for the com­post­ing to be suc­cess­ful. Com­post piles are care­fully mon­i­tored for tem­per­a­ture and mois­ture so that ideal com­post­ing con­di­tions can be reached.
Any other “trash nerds” out there? Or per­haps just peo­ple who want to learn more about tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for and reduc­ing our waste stream? There’s detailed infor­ma­tion about the facil­ity at http://www.howardcountymd.gov/pilotcompost.htm. For infor­ma­tion about home com­post­ing please visit http://www.howardcountymd.gov/composting.htm. County res­i­dents can receive a fee com­post bin and get how-to advice from Mas­ter Gar­den­ers at the com­post­ing demon­stra­tions. The 2013 sched­ule is listed on the webpage.

Thanks for read­ing and happy com­post­ing!
Laura A.T. Miller

May 2013

Going Green: College Student Edition

Image from http://www.americanconsumernews.com/2009/02/the-cost-of-clutter.html

Image from http://www.americanconsumernews.com/2009/02/the-cost-of-clutter.html

This blog was writ­ten by for­mer Office of Envi­ron­men­tal Sus­tain­abil­ity intern Mar­gette Bourne. Thanks, Mar­gette for your blog and all your work at OES!


Col­lege. The word brings thoughts of free­dom, crammed dorms, par­ties, and all-nighters in the library. When I accepted my offer to the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, these were the kinds of things I was think­ing about. Mov­ing from the rou­tine of high school and liv­ing at home to the mas­sive scope of a state uni­ver­sity cam­pus, I did not ini­tially think of how such a change would alter the ways I attempted to live an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Liv­ing on cam­pus gives stu­dents many oppor­tu­ni­ties to reduce their impact on the Earth, but also many ways to aggra­vate envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. For starters, liv­ing on a cam­pus means not hav­ing a car. I, along with the vast amount of other car-less stu­dents, was sav­ing energy every­day by sim­ply not hav­ing to drive to school. While Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land is a large cam­pus and many stu­dents took it upon them­selves to buy mopeds to tra­verse from class to class, most stu­dents either walk or bike. Not only was I get­ting exer­cise every­day from walk­ing all over the 1,250 acre cam­pus, I was sav­ing lots of energy.

The din­ing hall can be a trap for stu­dents to make envi­ron­men­tally poor deci­sions. While the din­ing hall offers reusable dish­ware, there are also the piles of car­ry­out mate­ri­als from to-go cups and trays to plas­tic uten­sils. These can be con­ve­nient, but they also cre­ate a pile of exces­sive waste. I don’t always stay in the din­ing hall to eat, but it seems waste­ful to me to take car­ry­out mate­ri­als every time. So, I resorted to bring­ing my own Tup­per­ware and uten­sils with me; I would ask the din­ing staff to put my food in the con­tain­ers I brought, which I would eat with my reusable uten­sils, cloth nap­kin, and reusable water bot­tle. Yes, I would receive some weird looks and encounter some con­fused work­ers, but I knew it was worth it.

Live-green chal­lenges did not end in the din­ing hall. Nowa­days, many class mate­ri­als can be found elec­tron­i­cally. To avoid cre­at­ing unnec­es­sary waste, I tried read­ing from my lap­top screen for arti­cles and read­ings that were placed online. It wasn’t always easy, but I saved hun­dreds of sheets of paper by doing so. If I had to print some­thing, I would choose to print pages front and back to save paper.

Also, there were the usual prac­tices of turn­ing off all the lights when leav­ing my room, recy­cling all the paper and plas­tics pos­si­ble, and unplug­ging unused elec­tron­ics. Some of these tips many seem obvi­ous, but not every­one knows how great an impact these small changes can make. Whether doing some­thing as sim­ple as turn­ing off the lights when you leave a room or some­thing as great as con­vert­ing to sus­tain­able energy sources, stu­dents, col­lege cam­puses, and every­one alike can pro­mote envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. The Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land won America’s Green­est Cam­pus Con­test in 2009 and has a stu­dent body that is actively push­ing for clean energy on cam­pus. It goes to show that peo­ple can come to together, by doing small and great actions alike, to make an envi­ron­men­tal difference.

~Mar­gette Bourne, OES Intern

August 2012


Reduction 101

Recy­cling has become a cen­ter­piece of the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment, and it should be. As a pro­fes­sional in this field over the past 15 years, I have had count­less peo­ple approach me about their recy­cling habits – excited to share the lat­est item they have added to the recy­cling stream, or how much they have reduced their waste stream, etc.

The gen­eral pub­lic has come a long way since the first Earth Day almost 42 years ago. The vast major­ity of res­i­dents in Howard County are now con­scious of the waste and recy­cling being gen­er­ated in their homes. From my per­spec­tive, how­ever, the empha­sis often seems to be on reduc­ing waste that exits the home, as opposed to mak­ing attempts to reduce waste on the front end. What are you talk­ing about, Laura?

An easy go-to exam­ple would be some­thing like juices or other drinks that come in both con­cen­trated and ready-to-drink pack­ages. When we pack lunch for our daugh­ter, I get out one of her four cups and fill it with juice (admit­tedly half water and half juice). This was actu­ally some­thing that I started just because we had cups in the house and juice in the house and I had to send *some­thing* for her to drink. We have been doing this for years, but it was only the other night that I really rec­og­nized how much waste we were reduc­ing by not send­ing indi­vid­ual serv­ing juice boxes for her lunch.

Maybe the reduc­tion mes­sage isn’t com­ing across strongly enough? It seems that recy­cling is so much at the fore­front of everyone’s minds that it is almost sec­ond nature, but reduc­ing waste at the source involves a bit more brain power.

Are you ready Howard County? Are you ready to take the next step and think about your pur­chas­ing prac­tices and how that impacts your waste and recy­cling generation?

The options are (excuse the pun) at your dis­posal… it is up to you to decide how you can reduce the waste that comes in to your home. Here, I’ll help you a little:

• Buy prod­ucts made with recy­cled con­tent.
• Rent, share or bor­row items not used fre­quently.
• Buy con­cen­trates or items in bulk.
• Obtain gen­tly used items on Craigslist and Freecy­cle, or at a sec­ond­hand shop.
• Buy durable and reusable prod­ucts. Try to stay away from dis­pos­able items.
• Buy food and other items with as lit­tle as pack­ag­ing as pos­si­ble; request that retail­ers stock items with less pack­ag­ing.
• When shop­ping, bring reusable bags.

Be the pio­neer and spread the reduc­tion mes­sage (at the same time you reuse and recy­cle every­thing you can )!

Laura A.T. Miller

April 2012

Still Littering After All These Years

Yes­ter­day, on my way home from work the dri­ver of the car in front of me rolled down her win­dow and threw a candy wrap­per onto the street. I just do not under­stand that men­tal­ity. I mean, who did she think was going to pick up that wrap­per? I won­der, while prepar­ing din­ner does she toss the empty pasta box out the kitchen win­dow? Or, while get­ting the mail does she pitch her unwanted junk mail onto her lawn? I would assume that like most folks she keeps her prop­erty neat and clean, but thinks noth­ing of lit­ter­ing our pub­lic spaces. Just who are those peo­ple who toss whole bags of fast food rem­nants, soda cans, 12-packs of empty beer cans, ash­trays, or any assort­ment of unwanted trash onto our roads, lawns and stream banks? Truth is they are neigh­bors, friends, and fel­low county res­i­dents. Few will admit to this prac­tice, but the sheer vol­ume of mate­r­ial seen along the road­way is proof enough that too many peo­ple find this an accept­able method of dis­posal. This is not a new phe­nom­e­non. His­tory is repeat­ing itself. Who can for­get the nos­tal­gic 1960’s image of the Native Amer­i­can shed­ding a tear as lit­ter is thrown along the high­way? That mas­ter­ful cam­paign led to a sig­nif­i­cant drop in lit­ter­ing for a period of time. Unfor­tu­nately, it seems the behav­ior change that mes­sage prompted has slowly been lost over the last 50 years.

For the record, trash deposited in pub­lic spaces does not mirac­u­lously dis­ap­pear. There are no stealthy gnomes who run around after hours and col­lect all this garbage. Nope, it is a dif­fer­ent group of friends, neigh­bors and county res­i­dents who vol­un­teer their time pick­ing up the trash left by oth­ers. In addi­tion, local gov­ern­ment and pri­vate busi­nesses spend mil­lions of dol­lars each year to pick up trash. Despite the best efforts of these groups, trash con­tin­ues to clog gut­ters and stor­mdrains, and when assisted by rain ends up in our streams, rivers, and har­bors. Take a walk down any stream val­ley and see the trash that has accu­mu­lated. Bet­ter yet, check out Baltimore’s Inner Har­bor or Ana­cos­tia in SE Wash­ing­ton after a storm. Six tons of trash are removed from Inner Har­bor every two weeks. A por­tion of that har­bor trash makes its way from Howard County. Sur­vey after sur­vey con­cludes that the local pop­u­la­tion wants to improve the Bay ecosys­tem, yet as a soci­ety we con­tinue to have trash lit­ter­ing our streams and the Bay. Some­thing is wrong with this picture.

The mag­ni­tude of the trash prob­lem has prompted the Mary­land Depart­ment of the Envi­ron­ment to reg­u­late trash as a Bay pol­lu­tant. Howard County may soon be required to estab­lish a trash mit­i­ga­tion pro­gram as part of our Munic­i­pal Stormwa­ter Per­mit (MS4). With all the Bay related work that will be nec­es­sary to man­age uncon­trolled runoff, limit nutri­ents, and restore stream habi­tat it seems a shame to have to spend time and money address­ing lit­ter. This is a sim­ple prob­lem to solve if every­one acts respon­si­bly and dis­poses of their trash prop­erly. Sev­eral neigh­bor­ing juris­dic­tions have recently insti­tuted a bag fee in an attempt to limit the amount of trash find­ing its way to our streets and streams. They report that in 2009, vol­un­teers picked up 41,000 plas­tic bags dur­ing a regional water­shed cleanup! These com­mu­ni­ties are quick to point out that the bag fee was not imple­mented as a rev­enue source but instead to estab­lish a behav­ior change. The fee must be work­ing because the num­ber of bags pur­chased dropped by 50% in the first few months.

The irre­spon­si­ble behav­ior of some folks who toss trash in pub­lic areas has a neg­a­tive impact on our local ecol­ogy. Thanks to cit­i­zen groups like the Pat­ap­sco Val­ley Her­itage Green­ways, and Alliance for the Bay; and gov­ern­ment spon­sored pro­grams like Adopt a Road, and 20 Minute Cleanup; our com­mu­nity tries to stay ahead of the mount­ing road­side lit­ter prob­lem that quickly becomes a water­way pol­lu­tant problem.

Unfor­tu­nately, the good deeds of oth­ers can­not keep up with the vol­ume of trash in pub­lic areas and we may soon be required to insti­tute stronger and more costly pro­grams to reduce the trash in our water­ways. We have a con­sid­er­able amount of work to do in the Bay water­shed to improve water qual­ity and it seems a shame to spend time and money on deal­ing with trash. To quote another aging cam­paign, “Give a hoot, don’t pol­lute.” This is an easy one. Let’s make it happen.

Jim Cald­well
Jan­u­ary 2012

Green Tip

Check your tire pressure.Increase your gas mileage by keeping your tires properly inflated.