How Recycling Really Works

Emily and I walked into the community room at the C. Burr Artz Library on a hot, Thursday evening. To my surprise, the room was packed. The crowd ranged from many different age groups, but the majority being an older crowd with their bags of recyclables to ask questions about. I rejoiced in the free reusable bags offered and we readily took our seats in the first row.

When Annmarie Creamer stood in the front of the room, off the bat, you could tell this was going to be an interesting talk. Annmarie gives off a witty and charismatic vibe that while I expected a couple angry citizens to be at the talk, it seemed to be a very relaxed environment overall. Before Annmarie started working for the County in 2008 as a Recycling Outreach Program Analyst, her “prior adventure” was working as a professional gardener with degrees (yes, degrees!) in environmental studies, educational leadership and horticulture!

As the talk began, I started to formulate my own basic questions. When did the County start recycling? Why can’t we have weekly recycling? How many trucks do we even have? To my surprise, Frederick County started recycling in 1991! For less than 30 years, our recycling program has been existent.  It made me wonder how many tons of recycled matter did we let rot in our over capacity landfill. It was a scary image I pushed away.

Today, there are 80,000 households in the County that will have that blue bin outside their house waiting for recycling day. With so many people recycling nowadays, I’m sure I’m not the only person who would love a weekly recycling schedule. What seems like an easy goal to accomplish, the problem of weekly recycling goes a lot farther than I anticipated. Frederick County does not have their own recycling trucks or County employees to physically pick up those blue bins. Those blue recycling trucks you see are contracted by the County to collect our trash. There are 10 trucks (on a good day, 12) available for the entire County with about 1-3 drivers per truck. For weekly recycling, the contracted company would need to double the amount of trucks and workers to collect our recycling, which is a lot more money than Frederick County is willing to shell out. Members of the audience begin to ask questions about what can and cannot be recycled and I even learned that clam shells cannot be recycled! What would lead to another long discussion on the different types of plastics that are recyclable, we move on to the rest of the conversation.

Once our recycling gets picked up, it is taken to Frederick County’s transfer station where it will be transported to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Elkridge, Howard County. MRF is a private business, not a government facility, owned by Waste Management Recycle America. We had the chance to watch a short video on how recyclables get sorted, which was quite interesting. Once the transfer station is done sorting our recycling into plastics, paper, metal, etc, it will be sold to industries where they will reuse those recycled materials and BAM! Recycling at its finest. Most importantly, this is where economics comes into play. I think we tend to forget that recycling is a business, not just a government responsibility. The sorting center makes the rules of what is and what isn’t accepted due to the market.

As we get more into the economics of recycling, I hear Sweet Caroline in the background as Alive @ 5 continues to go on. I find it a little humorous as I’m sure I’m not the only one who hears the music in the background. So back to the serious question being posed. Why is the recycling market in crisis? It’s because no one wants our trash anymore. China was the main buyer in recycled goods and has stopped purchasing not only our trash, but many other countries around the world. Why is that? Well to put it into simple terms: We are horrible at recycling. We send China “contaminated” recycled goods meaning there’s a lot of unrecyclable or dirty recycled products (ex. Greasy pizza boxes) that costs a lot of money to try and separate. Aside from our poor recycling habits, China has a lot of issues such as land or environmental issues they’d like to address domestically rather than continue to put money into trash.

So what now? I want to say that the simple answer is to start recycling properly, but alas, there is more that comes into play such as politics, government funding, and the market. In my opinion, I believe it’s important that we begin pouring funds into our own domestic recycling infrastructures rather than send it overseas.

Visit Recycling in Frederick County’s Facebook page for more up to date news on recycling. Link: https://www.facebook.com/FrederickRecycles/?ref=br_rs

About the author: Vanessa Moreno, a recent graduate from the University of Maryland with a degree in geography and sustainability with the hopes of becoming an urban planner one day.

The Coffee Makers Funeral

The other day I heard a man brag about giving a worn-out coffee maker a ‘Viking funeral’.  For those who are not familiar with the Vikings, they would set their dead on a boat and light them on fire.  Then they would sail off to Viking heaven. Back then, of course, everything was biodegradable.

The man bragging about this is in his mid-thirties.  He has grown up spending the majority of his leisure time at the beach fishing and boating.  But like so many people, he only

sees the surface of things.  He doesn’t think about or maybe doesn’t want to think about what lies beneath, to see the consequences of his actions.

In this case, what he sees is a creative way to dispose of a no longer working coffee maker and a cool story to tell his friends.  But if he looked a little deeper, he would see the harm that he is doing by adding to the overwhelming collection of trash that already litters the sea floor.  He would see the marine life that will eventually eat the microplastics that is the future of this coffee maker, but he doesn’t. He was raised in a culture that is told to ‘get the most out of life’ and ‘do what makes you happy’.  “Enjoy the ride and do not think about anyone or anything else.”

Does he understand or even care that someday the ocean that he takes such joy in will no longer have fish in it or be so dirty you cannot swim safely in it? Or how about the food shortage that the lack of fish will cause?  Of course, one coffee maker will not produce these side effects.  It is the countless people not looking deeper to see the future consequence of their actions and not taking responsibility for them.

After all, he recycles.  He has solar panels. Which he brags about how he can fool the system in to giving him more credits from his utility company.  But that is another story. He is doing his part to help the environment, isn’t he? Is he?

This man just had his first child.  A little girl, with beautiful big eyes.  I wonder if he thinks about what type of world he is leaving her.

Do you think about the type world you are leaving your children?  I do. All the time.

Leann lives and works in Frederick and is passionate about cleaning the earth and sustainable energy.

Paris to Pittsburgh: a Review!

Leann Nizzardi contributed this blog after the showing of Paris to Pittsburgh by the Multi-Faith Alliance of Climate Stewards at Middletown United Methodist Church.

So last evening my daughter and I went to a showing of Paris to Pittsburgh. This is a new National Geographic documentary. I always find them fun and interesting. This one was about the current state of climate change and what Americans are doing about it. Kind of sounds like a downer. After all the negative stuff you hear in the media. But this was anything but!

About 40 people attended the June MACS showing of Paris to Pittsburgh!

Since the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement at a national level. Communities, large and small, have stepped into the void. Cities like Pittsburgh, PA have taken it upon themselves to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s standard with renewable energy. The movie highlighted the many communities across the country in which solar and wind energy is quickly becoming the primary source of electricity.

There was also talk about widespread residential farming called ‘fleet farming’ to cut down on the emissions generated by log haul trucks.

The one thing that I took away from the experience is that Frederick, MD is not alone. There are so many communities doing their part. I got a real sense of hope and community. A willingness and need to share our best practices with other communities and learn from their best practices.

Check out the movie for yourself sometime. Better yet, watch it with your friend and family and share some ideas afterwards.

Leann lives and works in Frederick and is passionate about cleaning the earth and sustainable energy.

The Anthropology of Roadside Trash

green frederick trash

Linda shares her trash capture from Memorial Day weekend!

For a year now I have been routinely cleaning up litter along a two -mile stretch of Harmony Road, sometimes with the help of family and friends. We adopted it as part of Green Frederick’s mission to serve the community.

Its a bucolic setting, winding along the stream valley of the mighty but Little Catoctin Creek which meanders through the Myersville area. Even with the work that I’m doing, as I bend over time and time again I have time to reflect about what I find along the way.

Here are some observations:
1) Roadside Character Analysis. Every roadside takes on the personality of the people that use it. While that may seem a statement of the obvious, it becomes really granular when you’re picking up the detritus that “normal” people feel compelled to throw out their windows. I’ve done litter cleanups for years with Scout troops and volunteer groups, and the things we find have a different theme every time.

2) The Lunch Bunch. The most intriguing thing about Harmony Road between MD 17 and US 40 is the “lunchroom” trash. I’ve never seen so many zip-lock bags in a litter pickup project before! It’s as if a school bus full of children emptied their lunch boxes out the window every day—but it goes on year-round (even when school is out!)

This is noticeable because, since I regularly clean the same stretch of the road several times a year, the same trash returns. Every time, somewhere along the road I find plastic ziplock baggies with empty wraps from crackers, crusts of sandwiches, balled up napkins; trays from lunchables. I also find small one-serve milk bottles, water bottles, and juices; I find banana peels and apple cores (which I leave to decay). Whoever is eating and discarding these lunches packs very similar meals to what I grew up learning was a traditional lunch-sandwich, fruit and Cookie/cracker treat with a drink.

3) Throw Your Vices Out the Window. Like everywhere, people have their share of vices in the vicinity of Harmony Road. The bag I carry for recyclables is inevitably filled and weighting me down with Coors lite, Miller and Budweiser bottles (as well as a variety of smashed can beers) far before my trash bag is; and the number of empty Pall Mall, Native Spirit and Marlboro cigarette packs I’ve picked up has been in the dozens.

4) Car Parts Galore. The highway produces a lot of plastic and metal trash. Interstate 70 crosses over my section of Harmony Road (see the video for a good look), and along the  quarter mile on either side of it I usually find discarded pieces of rug, floor mats, sections of black plastic that I assume are pieces of bumpers (that I always hope are not the result of accidents above) as well as scraps of aluminum and some type of faux metal that is actually plastic treated to appear metallic.

5) Odd Stuff. Though I don’t find a lot of them, three items of significance I found are striking. I’ve separately found two drivers licenses; and an envelope with a paycheck (all of which I returned to the owners).

I don’t have a way at my home to weigh the trash and recyclables, so it is difficult to estimate what I’ve collected; the Frederick County Highway Department, which runs the program, is unfortunately not very responsive when I write to them to pick up bags I’ve left along the roadside, so for most of the year I’ve simply brought them home and deposited them in my own trash and recycling bin. I would guesstimate I’ve brought home 10 bags of trash and 15 bags of recyclables over the year.

Its an interesting psychological experience. In other circumstances — probably because I’d had my Girl Scout troop with me–people would stop to thank us for cleaning the road. I haven’t yet had that in the past year; more normally, people look at me as if I’m nuts or slightly touched.

However, it IS making an impact. In past litter pickups we routinely speculate that seeing litter pickup encourages people to litter more because they assume someone is taking care of it for them. However, except for my lunch-eating friends and the people who want to dump signs of their vices on the side of the road, I have seen less trash since I am regularly monitoring my stretch of Harmony Road, and thats an encouraging thing–both for the environment and for my opinion of human nature!

Resources: Frederick County Adopt-A-Road program

State of Maryland Adopt-A-Road program 

Plogging (picking up trash while jogging)

 

School Composting and Waste Sorting Data

Joe Richardson of Bar-T Mountainside Ranch (a directory member!) and member of the @Frederick Compost Workgroup recently presented data from a number of waste sorts and composting efforts he coordinated at schools in Frederick County. He presented the data to the Frederick County Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) as well as Frederick County Public Schools representatives. Students, teachers and parents from Sugarloaf/Urbana Elementary and Brunswick High School who have worked on the project also attended and gave their perspective.

The presentation is here for your enjoyment and information; click on the graphic below!

 Presentation for SWAC – FINAL

“There’s a new ‘JOHN’ in town”

David Myers checks it out–no smell!!! — in the composting toilet.

If you poop, add a scoop. If you pee, let it be.

Months later, top-dress the brown spots in your lawn.

I interviewed David Myers of Build-Rite Construction LLC/Myers Barn Shop, and RN, a customer of his, about the Sun-Mar Composting Toilet. And the statements above are about the long and the short of it.

Myers is a Sun-Mar dealer, and has sold composting units in the region for the past 3 years. Due to their lack of impact on the environment– there is nothing to flush, no leachate to treat–the toilets can be installed anywhere, but they are still considered an oddity for local permitting departments because the National Building Code, requiring a conventional septic. However, per application the local counties are giving it some attention.

A year prior to finding Sun-Mar, RN had purchased and installed another brand of composting toilet that only meets the performance standard of the National Sanitation Foundation (Sun-Mar composting toilets are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation) but it proved to have odors and did not compost completely. So he went to a Mother Earth News show with his family and his young daughter spotted Myers’ Sun-Mar display. “Buy one!” his daughter urged him.

 

And since his small home did not provide room for the large composting toilet system, he chose the self-contained unit. Based on his bad experience with the other brand and looking at the show model at Myers’ office, he decided to buy a Sun-Mar unit. “We wanted something simple, that worked, with no environmental impact,” he says.

 

All Sun-Mar toilets are designed so that air is constantly being drawn in and up the vent stack providing odor-free operation; some have an electrical fan and heating element that dries out the compost material quickly; others use natural draft to do the job. The human waste (the nitrogen portion of the composting process) mixes with the Sun-Mar organic carbon bulk material — “it contains hemp straw and peat moss as well as other components, though people have tried to make up their own version it doesn’t work very well,” Myers says. Turn the drum regularly for six rotations, where the carbon and nitrogen stock that make up compost are mixed; only adding a scoop of the bulking mix at each bowel movement (add a scoop when you poop!) The carbon/nitrogen mix drops into a holding tray at the foot of the toilet, which is emptied 4-6 times per year in an average 4 person household.

 

“The smell is non-existent,” RN says.

 

Myers says he added Sun-Mar composting toilets to his offering of storage buildings, cabins, garages, and basement remodels because it is an affordable option when access to plumbing and electricity is difficult to access. We also have Sun-Mar units designed for the whole house where the toilet looks more like a traditional toilet with the composting taking place below the floor of the home. The units range from $1,500 – $3,000.