Taking Care of Our Planet
Practicing good stewardship can start with the three Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Writer: Carol Harvet
Some families may have noticed their trash piling up faster due to spending more time at home during the pandemic. With the news focusing on coronavirus numbers increasing and stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the pandemic hopefully also brought an eco-conscious awareness and a desire to think about the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle.
REDUCING YOUR FOOTPRINT
The Allens, who live on a one-acre sustainable, organic-practice farm in St. Mary’s County, are a couple who everyone can aspire to be like when it comes to living an environmentally sensitive lifestyle.
“We need to first reduce consumption. It might be easier to not acquire all the ‘stuff’ that has to be disposed of somewhere at some point,” Christina Allen says.
The Allens think the first R, reduce, is often overlooked and both agree that people should think before making a purchase and consider packaging, how long it will last, or whether the item can be borrowed or rented instead.
“The oceans and our lands are swimming in plastics and our wastes,” Christina says. Refusing plastic bags, takeout cutlery and packaging is a huge part of reducing waste, she says.
Her husband Frank, president of the Patuxent-Tidewater Land Trust, says, “My interest is making the environment cleaner and the community a nicer place to live.”
Instead of using a vehicle, they both bike and walk when they can, which reduces emissions while also provides exercise. Frank, who says he is passionate about saving land from development, walks the talk.
The PTLT (ptlt.org) has protected over 5,500 acres of Southern Maryland land that is held in perpetuity with conservation easements.
On their farm, Christina has made an art out of composting, reusing much of their daily by-products for fertilizer or feed. She uses 16-foot cattle panels, which can be bought at a livestock supply store like Stauffer’s Produce & Greenhouses in Loveville.
The Allens compost brown matter — leaves, tea leaves, coffee grounds, clean newspaper or cardboard, and manure from livestock, and green matter — weeds, kitchen peelings and vegetable waste.
She recommends homeowners start small and compost their waste to fertilize around scrubs, gardens and flowerbeds.
EASY ACCESS RECYCLING
All three Southern Maryland counties offer residents recycling at several locations throughout each county.
St. Mary’s County (stmarysmd.com) has six convenience centers with single-stream recycling that allows both paper and plastic to be discarded together.
“It’s relatively easy,” says Nick Zurkan, solid waste and recycling manager, who explains that recycled trash such as bottles, food cans and magazines should not be in a plastic bag, but simply dumped altogether. St. Mary’s also provides oyster shell recovery and yard waste disposal for branches, trees and storm debris.
“We have a vendor that grinds it up to fine mulch, and it’s free as is to residents,” Zurkan says.
In Calvert County (calvertcountymd.gov), residents can recycle items at six convenience centers, but must separate paper products from plastics, cans and glass. The county’s website provides an online recycling guide. In June 2019, Lusby’s Appeal Convenience Center opened with a state-of-the-art one-way traffic flow design that allows quick drop-offs for trash disposal and recycling for more than a dozen vehicles at once.
Charles County’s Environmental Resources Division webpage provides the “Waste Wizard,” where one can type in the name of an item and it will tell you how to recycle or dispose of it.
In densely populated areas, Charles offers curbside recycling to over 47,500 homes (charlescountymd.gov). Eight convenience centers across the county provide sites to recycle products and yard debris as well as electronic items, used motor oil and antifreeze as do all three counties. A unique waste-sorting game on its website “What Goes Where?” is a learning tool for adults and kids.
CREATING TREASURES FROM TRASH
In Solomons, Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center (annmariegarden.org) patrons create a menagerie of artwork made from recycled materials.
“We have a whole artLAB used to recycle and reuse. It’s beads, old jewelry, caps, cups, you really can make art out of anything,” says Helen Lindsey, volunteer coordinator.
The nonprofit hosts events such as Bad Art Night and Antique and Flea, where artists facilitate workshops that make art from recycled materials or refurbish old furniture, says naturalist Helen Burch.
Annmarie Garden sends emails to its Friends organization requesting certain materials such as bottle caps or toilet paper rolls and gives budding artists ideas of what to create from them in their artLAB. Some of AMG’s annual events were canceled in 2020 and the artLAB has been closed due to the pandemic, but they have held some social-distanced activities and plan more this spring.
Burch led a plastic grocery bag recycling effort collecting them for Trex, which makes composite decking from the bags.
“It was like 500 pounds; I filled my truck up six times,” Burch says, adding, “We try to be environmentally minded.”
TEACHING ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP
Surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, Maryland has included environmental curriculum in its schools for decades.
The Green School designation recognizes schools for using resources to educate students and staff on environmental changes in Maryland, using environmental practices in building and landscape design, and demonstrating how to maintain these practices. The goals are aligned with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, according to the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.
Currently, 33% of Maryland schools are certified green, but Southern Maryland schools exceed the average. Calvert has 25, St. Mary’s with 17, and Charles has 15 green schools.
Beginning in July 2020, funds from the Maryland Green of Act of 2019 are working to increase green schools to 50%, provide transportation so students can access nature and fund more green school programs.
Calvert County Public Schools recognized the importance of “greening” their schools in the early 1990s when educators created CHESPAX, an environmental education program.
“We were certainly pioneers in the green school movement in the state of Maryland and still have a stellar track record being the first county in the state of Maryland to have all of our K-12 schools certified as green,” says Sheila Stevens, Green School specialist, who grew up on a farm in Calvert. The county is now on track to be the first county to have all K-12 schools reach the sustainable status through MAEOE, she adds.
Students participate in environmental projects like stenciling storm drains, planting trees, creating rain gardens and barrels, and picking up school yard litter. Huntingtown High School students grow bay grasses on campus and then plant those bay grasses on the shoreline of the bay. And Calvert’s fifth-graders have been studying oysters for a few years and collecting data on water quality in places such as Fishing Creek in Chesapeake Beach, Stevens says.
Linda Subdal, who has been a CHESPAX teacher since 1991, says students learn about the importance of the three Rs in a second-grade Help Save the Earth program. Once students learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle they can take action that same evening by setting up a recycling area in their home.
“Many times, it is the students that become excited about the three Rs and encourage their parents to do more recycling,” Subdal says.
“I feel that environmental education empowers students to know that they can make a difference in what is happening in their community and the world. The critical and creative thinking skills that students learn through their experiences can be transferred to their future occupations,” she says.
Living near the bay with many parks and preserved lands gives one an opportunity to explore and enjoy outdoor recreation.
Hopefully, a connection to the land and water will instill the importance of taking care of the environment. Making a conscious effort to reduce, reuse and recycle will help allow future generations to share in the area’s natural beauty. •
COMPOSTING AT HOME
Charles County (charlescountymd.gov) reminds citizens that composting is a practical and economical way to handle yard waste and food waste. The county estimates that 20% of household waste is organic compostable material that can be kept out of the landfill.
St. Mary’s (stmarysmd.com) offers 10 steps to follow, and says that yard and food waste make up 30% of the solid waste stream in the U.S.
Calvert (calvertcountymd.gov) urges its residents to build their own compost piles. It’s a way to save money, save resources, improve your soil and reduce your impact on the environment. Adding compost to a garden provides soil with diverse nutrients and microorganisms that improve plant growth. You can add vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, garden waste, grass clippings, leaves, sawdust, twigs, tissue paper, eggshells, hair and cotton to name a few.
Christina Allen of Allen’s Heirloom Homestead in St. Mary’s offers these tips:
For the average family with a lawn, a simple black plastic circle made for composting right on the ground is cheapest and easiest. Just fill it up with green matter (weeds, kitchen peelings and vegetable waste), brown matter (leaves, tea leaves, coffee grounds, clean newspaper or cardboard, and/or manure from livestock if you have some), and some handfuls of soil, and water (if it gets too dry).
The simplest way is to have one of these unobtrusive circles for adding material and one “cooking” for a year. Think of it as layers of lasagna and alternate as needed green or brown matter on hand.
When it’s done, just pull up the circle and shovel out the rich compost for adding around flower beds and garden. If there is larger material that has not composted, add it to the one that is now “cooking.” Put the empty circle in a new spot and start a new one adding fresh material.
“I don’t turn over the compost or stir it up; I have a few going and just give it plenty of time,” she says. “It’s easier. Earthworms can come right up from the ground and do the work for you!” One thing to note, she says, do not use lawn clippings or garden waste (green matter) if you use any pesticides or herbicides.