A Lighter Shade of Green

Living an environmentally friendly life can seem daunting, even intimidating, but it doesn't have to be.

By Sherry Greenfield | Posted on 07.15.14 – Feature

It’s oh-so-easy to talk the talk when it comes to being environmentally friendly. Bumper stickers, Facebook groups, perhaps even an impassioned letter to the editor.—they can all make you feel good, But walking the walk is another matter. Do people really back up the rhetoric with sweat equity, creativity and maybe even a little sacrifice?

Meet Karin Tome. The Brunswick mayor composts food scraps, buys products in recyclable packaging, collects and stores rain water, and limits showers to five minutes—all part of an eco friendly lifestyle that might seem radical to some and responsible to others. For Tome, “environmentally friendly” is not a casual phase or something to dabble in; it’s a life-long commitment that’s part of her daily routine.

“I’ve always respected our natural environment,” Tome says. “As a child, I loved playing in the woods, river, creeks and fields. After high school, I went to college to study forestry, switching my degree slightly to wildlife biology. … My entire life, therefore, has been one of stewardship to our natural environment.”

Living green is a choice many people like Tome are making. They see it as helping the environment, as well as potentially saving money. But for those who have yet to take the plunge, living green can seem overwhelming. The question is where to start? Tome’s advice is to start small with simple changes that are easy to make. “Compost food scraps,” she says. “Actively use less water. Not only does this help the environment, but it saves money. Use water from rain barrels for watering your garden and plants. Reuse whenever possible and try not to buy one-time use products. Buy products that will last. Recycle and buy recyclable materials and try to throw out as little as possible in your trash.”

Recycling

For Frederick County residents, recycling is one of the easiest first steps to take. Already, more than 75,600 single-family households in the county participate in the voluntary curbside recycling program, says Annmarie Creamer, recycling outreach program coordinator for the county’s Department of Solid Waste Management. Last year, the county collected a total of 19,906.94 tons of recyclables.

“The critical first step toward waste reduction is simply to realize that too much trash is actually a problem,” Creamer says. “Our waste disposal system is so efficient and effective, it’s easy not to think about waste at all—which is why Marylanders average about seven pounds of waste produced per day, per person.”

Creamer recommends to first make sure you know what is and isn’t recyclable. “There will be more room in a cart for recyclables if space isn’t wasted on items that are actually trash,” she says. Go to www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/WhatsRecyclable? for a complete list.

Creamer also suggests having bins situated around the house to make it easier to recycle, as opposed to throwing things in the trash. “Keep labeled recycle bins next to every trash container,” she says. Residents can also upsize their recycling cart from the standard medium 65-gallon to the larger 95-gallon model, at no additional charge. To order the larger model, go to www.LearnMoreRecycleBetter.org or call 301-600-2960.

In addition to recycling, people need to rethink how they look at trash. “Try to avoid things that aren’t needed and products that are not sustainable, such as single-use disposable products, things with excessive packaging,” she says. “Buy items in bulk to decrease packaging waste. Look for durable, long-lasting goods rather than the models that may need disposal sooner.”

Also, keep an inventory of food in the refrigerator and pantry to avoid waste.” According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), food waste is the single largest component of waste being land-filled or incinerated in the United States, about 35 million tons per year,” Creamer says.

Finally, reuse items when possible. “Carry reusable tote bags, cups and mugs wherever you go,” Creamer says. “Look for items that promote reuse rather than disposal, such as rechargeable batteries, electric razors, cloth wipes, etc. When items are no longer needed, consider whether they could be donated to a local organization, such as Goodwill, the Habitat [for Humanity] ReStore, the Frederick Rescue Mission or Purple Heart.” For more information on reducing waste, visit www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/Precycle.

Composting

The backyard of Jim and Teresa Gallion’s home in Walkersville is a habitat for birds and butterflies. But hidden away is an enclosed bin and fenced area piled with grass, leaves and yard clippings. It’s the Gallions’ compost pile. When the compost is ready, the Gallions will spread the mixture throughout the many flowerbeds and gardens that flourish in their quarter-acre property.

It’s a passion and way of life for the Gallions. “It simply takes a commitment by the person to do it,” Jim Gallion says. “It’s a matter of taking two steps to the trash bin, as opposed to 20 steps to the compost pile. It’s doing something for the environment.”

Composting food and yard waste not only reduces the amount of trash entering the landfill, it’s also an inexpensive way to create fertilizer for flower gardens. The Frederick County Office of Recycling suggests starting a compost pile outside in a shaded area. The location should be easy to access from the kitchen and have good drainage and available water.

Only certain materials can be placed in the pile, including fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves, grass, lint, flowers, plants, horse and cow manure, shredded paper, cardboard, paper towels, napkins, and tissues. (To avoid rodent problems, food scraps buried in the pile should be topped with yard clippings.) Items such as meats, dairy products, oil, grease, pet waste, fish scraps, bones, diseased plants and cooked vegetables should not be placed in a backyard compost pile. The pile should be turned with a pitchfork every two to three weeks. Compost is ready for use when the raw materials are no longer visible, the color is dark brown and it has an earthy smell.

If building your own compost pile seems daunting, the Frederick County Department of Solid Waste Management sells GEOBIN composters. The adjustable holding bin is used to hold both yard and food waste. It holds more than 14 bushels of compostable materials and is ventilated for maximum efficiency. GEOBINS can be purchased for $20 at the department’s administrative offices at 9031 Reichs Ford Road from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For further inspiration, each spring the department holds a series of free classes on the art and science of composting. The classes help participants create a simple composting system for their household, budget and schedule. For more information, call 301-600-7405. Finally, worm composting is another method of recycling food waste into rich, dark, earth-smelling soil. The great advantage is that it can be done indoors or outdoors. In this process, called vermicomposting, worms are placed in a bin lined with bedding material, such as newspaper. Then, food scraps are added and the worms go to work, processing the waste into dark, rich soil. “I brought my compost worms to work the first week I started,” Mayor Tome says. “They’re in my office and get fed some of the food scraps that we routinely collect at City Hall now.”

Conserving Energy

Environmentalists continue to advocate the importance of conserving energy, reducing pollution by limiting the use of fossil fuels, as a critical component in protecting the environment.

Janice Wiles, a board member of Friends of Frederick County, a group that works to protect the environment and advocates for Smart Growth, says conducting an energy audit of your home is the first step to conserving energy.

“Evaluate how much energy you are using and see if there is a renewable resource you could be using to supply it,” Wiles says. “It is more environmentally friendly to derive your power from renewable energy sources—wind, solar, geothermal—that do not emit greenhouse gases. Coal and natural gas are non-renewable and their extraction is destructive of our natural resource base and their use emits greenhouse gases that trap heat in our atmosphere.”

Purchasing locally grown food is another easy way to conserve energy, while keeping the proceeds in Frederick County. “The more locally grown food the less imported from elsewhere … the less demand for petroleum-dependent transportation of goods,” Wiles says. “If you grow some of your own food, you can reduce your own trips to the grocery store. If you don’t have a yard, you can get wooden palates for free or cheap from some big box stores, line with plastic, fill with soil and grow some food on your porch.”

There are many simple ways to limit energy consumption. “You can conserve energy by using energy efficient appliances, minimize use of the air conditioner and heat, line dry your sheets and clothes, use power strips and turn them off when not in use to avoid vampire energy loss,” Wiles says “You can drive less, walk more, car pool and ride your bike more.”

On the Job

At Circle of Life Cooperative Preschool in Frederick, three and four-year-olds are taught the importance of green living and its benefits to the environment. For this commitment, the preschool, along with Life Technologies, won Frederick County’s 2013 Business Waste Reduction and Recycling award, created to acknowledge the efforts that businesses are taking to reduce their impact on local landfills. Applicants were judged on their efforts to implement or expand inventive and successful recycling and waste reduction strategies. In total, 18 local businesses and organizations have been honored since the county’s Department of Solid Waste Management started the program in 2009.

“Part of the philosophy of the preschool is that we need to be good stewards of the environment,” says Mari Grider, administrative director for Circle of Life. “We try to utilize everything that we can.” For example, all communication and information for parents is done electronically, as opposed to paper, two rain barrels and a compost pile are located onsite to help feed the garden, all dishes and cups are made of tempered glass, all products purchased are reusable and environmentally safe, and lights are always turned off when leaving the classroom.

In Brunswick, Beans in the Belfry Meeting Place & Café is another business taking similar steps. “We actually use stainless steel silverware and china,” says co-owner Hanna Politis. “We do use paper napkins, but we have china mugs and we recycle our glass bottles.” Politis says the decision not to use Styrofoam and plastic silverware was a conscious choice. “It’s no extra work. We prefer to operate this way, because it gives you a better dining experience. We do not want to be part of the disposal culture.”

Mayor Tome has not only instituted environmentally friendly measures throughout Brunswick, promoting behavior seen at Beans in the Belfry, but she has also brought her green lifestyle to City Hall. “We will be installing a rain barrel for use in watering plants around City Hall,” she says. “We use LED lights, when possible, now. We installed programmable thermostats for all HVAC use and we will only use Energy Star appliances. We actively try to keep lights off when possible. We buy recycled and or reused products when available. We scan documents and use a shared system now instead of creating duplicate copies of paper. We stopped using taxpayer money to buy bottled water.”

Finally, the county’s Department of Solid Waste Management offers a discounted rate for commercial recyclables brought to their facilities, Creamer says. The cash tipping fee for recyclables is $25 per ton, compared to $69 per ton for non-recyclable trash. “Because of this, many local businesses have discovered that implementing a recycling program can actually lower overall disposal costs,” she says.