Earth Day Do’s
Ten ways to help our planet and your purse
On the village Earth, we have many neighbors. As Earth Day turns 44 on April 22 — Bay Weekly’s 21st birthday— we propose 10 bright ideas to make our time in Chesapeake Country more Earth-friendly and our future more sustainable.
Some you can do in your home; others will take the will of cities and counties, with you behind them pushing. Bringing them home is a job for each of us, and the more of us there are, the better results we’ll get. To think globally and act locally this Earth Day, start here.
1. Eat Local
The local foods movement is making this bright idea easy to adopt. Buying food at a local farmers market … partnering with a CSA … joining a community garden … planting a backyard garden … or keeping your own chickens: There are plenty of ways to reduce the distance your meals must travel from farm to fork.
Maryland has a rich farming history, and farmers markets can be found across the state in spring and summer months. Miss the spread in winter? Try making jams and jellies, sauces and canning veggies this year.
Participate in community gardens. Check out organizations like Grow Annapolis, which has a community garden right by City Dock.
Feeling more adventurous? Consider raising chickens. You can try out backyard chickens before committing full-time: www.rentacoop.com or, more locally, www.MichelesOrganicHomesteading.com.
Chickens give you more than eggs. They are living composters, glad to eat many of your table scraps. They also eat weeds and bugs, allowing you to keep a pesticide- and herbicide-free yard. Then, after they eat all your garden pests, they spread all-natural fertilizer for you.
2. Compost Food Waste
We Americans generated 36 million tons of food waste in 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A scant five percent was composted, turning waste into value.
Howard County is taking steps to turn this statistic on its head. Almost a quarter of the trash Howard sends to landfills is compostable, which is why our neighbor county created its Food Scrap Collection Program.
A six-month pilot program diverted about 3.9 tons of food and yard waste from county landfills — 23 percent of residential trash. Now, Food Scrap Collection is being rolled out county-wide. Participating households receive a dedicated food scrap bin that is emptied each week on the regular recycling day.
The Food Scrap Collection Program’s smart design adds no more trucks to the waste fleet. A graphic on top the cart makes it easy for citizens, too, illustrating what can be composted — like fruits and veggies, bread products, coffee grounds and paper products — and what can’t — like meats, dairy and pet waste.
Composting works for Howard County by reducing disposal costs. It works twofold for the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and turning waste into rich soil amendments that can replace chemical fertilizers.
Howard County is Maryland’s only jurisdiction smart enough to collect and compost food waste. Don’t live in Howard but want to compost? Check local farms to see if they will take your food scraps or set up a small-scale composting operation in your own back yard. Or take this good idea to city — or county — hall.
3. Give Up Polystyrene
In New York City, food will no longer be packaged in polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam. The Big Apple is the largest city in the U.S. to ban the never-degrading foodware. Until the ban, the city’s 8.3 million people threw away 23,000 tons of the foam. The ban — passed unanimously by the City Council in December 2013 — will outlaw foam coffee cups, packing peanuts and takeout containers, plus thousands of other polystyrene products.
Keeping foam out of landfills makes an enormous difference. Compared to plastic containers that may break down in about 100 years, foam sits in landfills for at least 500 years and may never truly break down. If it ends up in the water, it will break into smaller and smaller pieces that can harm wildlife.
New York has given the foam industry one year to prove that polystyrene can be recycled. If not, the ban takes effect. Several cities have passed similar bans, including San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Amherst, Massachusetts.
Polystyrene foam comes from petroleum and natural gas byproducts. Making 10,000 foam cups requires 4,748 gallons of water and releases 680 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Paper cups are not much better. One solution: bring your own. Find an organization, team or image you love and sport it on your own reusable cup or mug. A second step: Order your take-out meals from restaurants that use no polystyrene containers.
4. Give Clothes a Second, Third or Fourth Life
What happens to your outgrown or outmoded clothes? Pass them forward.
For good quality clothes, passing them on to a friend or someone in need can give them a new lease on life. To get in the sorting habit, try facing all your hangers one way. When you wear a garment, face its hanger the other way. At the end of the year, consider parting with any clothes you did not wear, consigning or donating them to a local charity.
What about clothes that are stained, full of holes or hopelessly out of date? If your first inclination is trashing them, think again. Textiles like cotton, denim, wool and linen can be recycled as wiping cloths, rags, insulation, car seat stuffing, building materials, upholstery or even paper. Buttons and zippers can also be reused, leaving very little left at the end of the process.
The city of San Francisco is working to make textile recycling easy for residents. New textile collection bins will be located at apartment complexes and busy locations. Clothes are picked up by Goodwill; any not fit for sale will be recycled into building insulation or used to make new clothes. Textile recycling is one step the city is taking to reach its zero waste goal by 2020.
Maryland does not yet have curbside textile recycling, but some counties like Calvert, Harford and Montgomery have a place for textiles at recycling centers. Many charities that take clothing donations also recycle whatever they cannot sell or give away.
5. Unite to Fight Trash
Events like the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, coordinated by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, bring communities together to help their local environment. Since the first one in 1989, the Potomac River cleanup has engaged more than 124,000 volunteers and removed 6.5 million pounds of trash from our Nation’s River. The cleanup is also part of a larger Trash-Free Potomac Watershed Initiative that seeks to tackle the river’s litter problem. Trash not only chokes waterways and wildlife, but it is unsightly and can present public health problems.
This year 14,400 plastic bags and 73,700 drink containers were collected at 168 cleanup sites. This mess highlights the broader need for stopping trash before it starts with measures like the plastic bag ban in Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., and the proposed bottle bill.
Start in your community, on your roads or waterway. Then join forces with an organization like the Alice Ferguson Foundation — or your local Riverkeeper — to fight trash with policy.
6. Go Green from the Ground Up
We’ve learned the long list of things we can do inside our homes to reduce energy and water usage. But what we do outside can be just as important. Installing green roofs, cultivating rain gardens, laying permeable pavement and planting trees can help the environment by reducing stormwater runoff, cleaning the air and mitigating local temperatures.
These same techniques — collectively called green infrastructure — can improve our cities by boosting property values, beautifying neighborhoods and creating green jobs. Green infrastructure on private and commercial buildings can also improve health and satisfaction for residents and employees. Whether added to existing buildings or incorporated into new ones, these techniques make a difference.
Stormwater management is an ongoing challenge in Chesapeake Country. Maryland’s innovative stormwater fee helps fund such programs. Depending on where you live, green infrastructure choices you make at home may reduce your fees.
Ensuring a clean, productive Chesapeake Bay for future generations depends on our willingness to develop and pay for innovative solutions.
7. Replace Gas Power with Leg Power
Cycling has grown increasingly popular around the world as an alternative to driving cars, and cities are embracing new ways to encourage a cycling culture. Cycling not only cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions from cars but also provides great exercise, a reprieve from traffic and built-in outdoors time.
In our backyard, Washington’s Capital Bikeshare program has brought bicycles to neighborhoods across the District, Arlington, Alexandria, and Montgomery County. Residents and visitors can check out one of the 2,500 bicycles distributed at more than 300 stations. When they’re done, the can return it to the nearest station.
Across the pond, London is building bicycle superhighways, blue bike lanes alongside car lanes. Four such highways are open, with eight more expected by 2015. For safety, bike lanes are separated from motor lanes, and there will be cyclist-only traffic signals to help bikers safely cross busy intersections. Improved cycling conditions are expected to increase cycling in London by 400 percent by 2025.
Maryland, Anne Arundel County and Annapolis have bicycling master plans to help more cyclists take to the roads more safely. Learn about the state plan at www.mdot.maryland.gov/bikewalkplan and the Anne Arundel plan at http://bikeaaa.org/resources/bike-master-plans.
Support the movement from behind the wheel by giving bikers your patience and keeping your distance — at least three feet is the law.
8. Teach the Kids