Disposable plastic water bottles are one of the most common forms of litter, and the plastic bottle industry consumes a huge amount of energy and resources. Instead of using disposable bottles, take a travel coffee mug to cafes and a reusable bottle to the gym, to work, on walks, and on drives. There are several options for water bottle materials, including glass, aluminum, and plastic. If you choose plastic, make sure that it is BPA-free. BPA (bisphenol a) is a potentially harmful organic compound that can leach from certain plastics. Many containers provide information on their product’s BPA content.
To learn more about the impacts of drinking bottled water, watch “The Story of Bottled Water” or this Ecobold video.
2. Use tap water instead of purchasing bottled water.
Many people believe that bottled water is safer than tap water. In reality, tap water is more tightly regulated than bottled water. When you take into account the additional trash problems that disposable plastic bottles create and the resources required to produce them, tap water is the obvious environmentally-friendly choice. You can even buy a water filter that fits on your tap or a filtering pitcher if you want to improve the taste of your tap water. Check out this useful comparison on water filter types.
3. Shop with reusable bags.
Each year, the United States consumes about 100 billion plastic bags made from approximately 12,000,000 barrels of oil (source). Most of these bags end up in landfills or in the environment, causing pollution and endangering wildlife. Reusable bags can cut back on this waste. To help yourself remember to take them to the store, try leaving a few in your car or by your front door. If you have plastic bags to get rid of, stuff them in one or more bags and tie them up. Then drop them in your recycling bin or the plastic bag recycling bins provided by many local grocery stores. For more information, check out the trailer for “Bag It,” a movie about the harmful effects of plastic on the environment.
4. Use reusable dishes, utensils, and/or napkins.
Avoid using disposable dishes, utensils, and napkins. Instead, use reusable dishes at home, wash and reuse cloth napkins, pick up a set of washable items to keep at work, and purchase reusable containers to store food in the refrigerator. Going to a potluck or picnic? Take a set of your own dishes, utensils, and reusable containers rather than using disposable products. You can even consider investing in some reusable glass containers for leftovers, which are safer for microwaving and dishwashing repeatedly. Set a good example for kids by packing them “Waste Free Lunches.”
5. Reduce packaging waste by buying goods in bulk.
Pre-packaged items generate a lot of waste and are often more expensive than buying in bulk. Take a moment to search for “sustainable packaging” with your web browser. You will find tips for avoiding items like plastic-wrapped bananas, individually wrapped prunes, and beverages in Styrofoam containers. Take the same approach when purchasing food for packed lunches. Instead of buying a pack of mini chip bags, buy a single large bag and put a portion into a small reusable container for each lunch. Buying in bulk and buying products that use recyclable, recycled, and biodegradable packaging can reduce the amount of material going into landfills. But make sure to only buy items in bulk that you will actually use before they go bad. Overbuying can lead to increased food waste.
6. Dispose of cooking grease properly.
Instead of pouring your grease down the drain, collect it in a glass or metal container. Use caution as grease can be very hot. This method of cleaning your pots and pans prevents grease from clogging your pipes and lessens the load on the wastewater system. When the container is full, throw it away or scoop out the solid grease and recycle the container. You can even use leftover animal fat for seasoning cast iron pots or for cooking, as a replacement for butter.
7. Use wrapping paper alternatives.
Alternatives to wrapping paper include the Sunday comics, reused tin boxes, a reusable canvas bag, or a handkerchief. The Japanese furoshiki is a popular wrapping cloth that is frequently used in Eastern Asia to decorate presents. Reusable baking dishes and flower pots are also eco-forward alternatives to traditional gift-wrapping. Check out some more creative ideas for wrapping paper alternatives.
8. Reduce paper mail by using a junk mail opt-out service.
To reduce your junk mail, check out the junk mail opt-out services 41pounds.org or Catalog Choice.
9. Dispose of cigarette butts properly, if applicable.
Cigarette filters are made of a fibrous material called cellulose acetate that takes many years to decompose. Cigarettes that are flicked on the ground or flushed down a drain are eventually carried to the Chesapeake Bay by storm drains and wastewater systems. This “marine debris” is harmful to many plants and animals in the environment. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup reports, cigarette butts are the most common form of ocean debris. In 2007, cigarette filters, cigar tips, and tobacco packaging accounted for 38% of the marine debris collected worldwide (source).
10. Use cloth, hybrid, organic, or chlorine-free diapers or feminine products.
Approximately 27.4 billion disposable diapers are thrown away in the United States each year, and the average woman disposes of 300 lbs of feminine products in a lifetime. Disposable diapers and feminine products contain toxic materials that endanger consumers and the environment (source, source). Cloth products are the most environmentally-friendly, as they can be washed and reused. If you prefer a disposable product, consider using hybrid or bleach-free disposable diapers or organic feminine products. Hybrid diapers are cloth exteriors with a disposable liner. Read more about the pros and cons of diaper choices and feminine product choices.
11. Pledge to dispose of pet waste properly.
When pet waste is left on the ground, rain water can wash it into storm drains and surface waters, contributing to nutrient pollution of local waterways. Nutrient pollution often leads to algae blooms and decreased oxygen concentration, which harm aquatic plant and animal species.
Remember to take a bag with you to pick up your pet’s waste when you go for a walk. Leave some bags in your purse, car, or by the front door to help you remember. While pet waste can be thrown away with the trash, it adds unnecessary volume to landfills, uses plastic bags, and causes problems for trash collectors. The most environmentally friendly options are flushing the pet waste down the toilet, burying it away from food crops, or using an outdoor pet waste composter. Check out these purchasable pet waste composters.
12. Minimize stockpiling of excess paint.
In order to cut down on paint stockpiling, donate unwanted usable paint, properly dispose of outdated paint, and be sure to buy only the paint that you absolutely need. To properly store paint, close it tightly and write down the date that you opened it. Donate unwanted paint in usable condition to friends or charity organizations. Unopened paint cans can be donated at the Frederick Habitat for Humanity ReStore at 622 North Market Street, Frederick.
Unwanted paint must be dried before being disposed of at a landfill or in the trash. To dry paint, add paint hardener available at home improvement stores or add a clumping agent such as sand, mulch, or kitty litter and allow to air dry in a well-ventilated area (source). Read more about proper paint disposal.
13. Properly dispose of used fluorescent light bulbs.
Incorrect disposal of CFL bulbs and fluorescent tubes can result in mercury being released into the environment. The Common Market in Frederick and chains such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s, IKEA, and MOM’s Organic Market provide free CFL recycling to customers.
In addition, fluorescent bulbs can be disposed of at free Frederick County Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Days held at 5370 Public Safety Place, Frederick. For more information on drop-off days, call 301.600.1848.
Make sure to follow instructions for proper clean-up if you break a fluorescent bulb.
14. Recycle using curbside pick-up or recycling center drop-off.
The average American produces about 4.5 pounds of trash each day, adding up to 1.5 tons each year. Though 75% of this waste is recyclable, only 30% is recycled (source). Many common trash items can be recycled, including paper, cardboard, glass, and appropriate plastics. But, some of these items cannot be included with curbside collection, such as snack food bags, plastic wrapping material, Styrofoam, PVC, and plastics without a recycling code.
Some Frederick County renters are not eligible for curbside pick-up recycling. Recyclable items can also be dropped off at the Frederick recycling center at 9031 Reich’s Ford Road open Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. For a full guide to Frederick County recycling, check out “A Citizen’s Guide to Waste Management in Frederick County.” Click to read a list of common recycling mistakes.
Click here to sign up for the Frederick County recycling newsletter, request a free recycling bin for curbside pick-up, or upgrade your recycling bin to a larger size.
Create a recycling routine in your home in order to educate and prepare the next generation of recyclers. You can even borrow a recycling education kit for homeschooling, classrooms, scout groups, and youth groups.
15. Recycle specialty items, such as tires and electronics.
Some specialty items cannot be included with your single stream curbside collection due to material make-up, or safety issues. The Frederick recycling center at 9031 Reich’s Ford Road accepts oversized rigid plastics, flexible foam, appliances, air conditioners, scrap metal, automotive materials, yard waste, antifreeze, car batteries, and motor oil Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Exceptions include electronics and tires which must be brought into the main landfill entrance or other specialty recycling centers.
The Department of Solid Waste Management hosts free Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Days each year for Frederick County residents at 5370 Public Safety Place, Frederick. Hazardous waste drop-off items include: medicines, fuels, solvents, pesticides, mercury thermometers, and more. For more information on drop-off days, call 301.600.1848. For a full guide to Frederick County recycling, check out “A Citizen’s Guide to Waste Management in Frederick County.”
Electronics can be recycled at chain stores such as Best Buy, hhgregg, Office Depot, and Staples. Select computer manufacturers and cell phone stores also accept electronics for recycling. Check out this video to learn about why you should recycle electronics.
Check out Earth911 for additional Maryland locations for specialty recycling, or call 1.800.CLEANUP.
16. Donate and purchase used items, participate in swapping, and/or borrow items.
Approximately 12 million tons of textile wastes, including used clothing, shoes, blankets, and more, are generated each year in the United States (source). You can reduce the contribution of used, but perfectly usable, items to landfills by donating and purchasing used items, swapping, and borrowing whenever possible. Visit a local thrift or consignment shop to find used items like books, clothes, furniture, and toys that are inexpensive compared to new purchases. Check out online and printed resources such as newspaper classifieds for specific items.
17. Use salvaged, recycled, or renewable materials for home improvement projects.
Why use building materials made from virgin materials when you can choose salvaged, recycled, or renewable materials, often for less money? Many second chance building material stores have salvaged and discontinued, never used items, such as appliances, mirrors, cabinets, furniture, sinks, lumber, paint, lighting, windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, and more. Local and regional second chance non-profits include Habitat for Humanity Restore, The Loading Dock, Community Forklift, and Second Chance.
Products made from recycled materials, such as recycled bottle carpeting and recycled glass countertops, can help reduce the flow of waste into landfills. The use of renewable resources for home improvement can also alleviate the demand for nonrenewable products, such as rare woods and vinyl flooring. Some renewable materials include bamboo and cork flooring.
18. Compost at least 50% of your kitchen and yard waste.
Composting is a beneficial way to use kitchen and yard waste that would otherwise contribute to a landfill. Instead, your nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps and grass trimmings mixed with sources of carbon, such as dead leaves and paper bags, can be turned into rich soil in a compost pile. Finished compost can then be used to enrich your garden soil (source). Learn more from our Tips for Green Leaders Composting Fact Sheet. Click for composting instructions from Frederick County or instructions from the EPA. Or check out check out a howdini video or an EPA GreenScapes video on composting.
Attend a composting workshop with the Frederick County Department of Solid Waste Management. To register for a workshop, contact the Frederick County Recycling Outreach Coordinator at 301.600.7405. The Department also sells compost bins for $20 available for pick-up from 9031 Reichs Ford Road.
Learn about compost bin types, including home-made bins and purchasable bins.
Interested in composting, but don’t have a lot of outdoor space? Vermiculture, or vermicomposting, is a method of composting that uses worms to break down organic waste. Kept in a small bin indoors, the worms produce castings, a rich fertilizer for house and garden plants. Bins can be home-made or purchased. To learn more, check out this Worm Composting 101 video or How to Make a Worm Bin video.
You also have the option of leaving newly cut grass on the yard after mowing as a type of composting. Known as “grasscycling,” this practice allows nutrients to be absorbed back into the soil so that your yard can stay healthy.
Total “Waste Management” Green Points:
Any views or opinions presented in online resources included above are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Frederick County Government or Green Homes Challenge program funders.
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