The Comeback of Water Fountains (and the going-away of plastic water bottles)

The marketing campaigns by bottled water companies have won the hearts and minds of Americans during the past few decades.

So imagine that now, as we wean ourselves off the single-use bottle, xx of which are thrown away each hour, we now have to create publicity campaigns to convince people to use public water again.

It’s happening–I heard about it most recently at the 2019 Green Sports Summit when a soldier turned corporate marketing executive turned public affairs expert talked about the campaign in Philadelphia going on right now. After Philadelphia Water Department surveys found that 40% of the population was drinking bottled water instead of city tap water, they began a campaign, Drink Philly Tap. The campaign began last spring and is aimed at getting pledges from 15,000 city residents to migrate to tap water from bottled water. They have installed a “water bar” at City Hall, chosen 60 community leaders as “ambassadors” for city water, and are in the midst of a large publicity campaign.

Their goal is to decrease usage of water bottles.Their research showed that the messaging was not around reducing waste; the messaging also needed to be around trust of their own water system.

Remember, Philadelphia is a historic and industrial city, in the mode of Flint, MI,  where residents had good reason to distrust their water system. While Philadelphians did not have a similar calamity (in Flint, it is estimated 100,000 residents were affected), the research of Perfecto Sanchez’s Journey One (a human resources social engagement impact company) ( found that residents opted for bottled water because they had a vague feeling that it was cleaner than city water. (Photo, left; the author heard Perfecto speak at the Green Sports Summit in Philadephia).

So their campaign is all around the trustworthiness of city water.

Here in Frederick County’s schools, the research has been done as a result of Maryland HB270 passed in 2017, which required testing of all school water systems. Facilities Director Laura Olsen says that stands true for all 931 of the water fountains in the county’s schools. The number of these is set by building and health codes in place at the time of construction; typically, she says,  it is at least one in every major corridor and also large gathering areas such as gym and cafeteria.

FCPS is not waging a war on single-use water bottles, though the number of water fountains has increased in the past few years giving students more access to non-bottled water. Its a school-by-school policy as to use of water bottles, and some schools, like Oakdale High School, which placed bottle filling water fountains like this one in their hallways, have gone to great lengths to make water-bottle fillers available to their students and staff.

You know, it really hasn’t been that long in the history of mankind that the plastic water bottle became ubiquitous–just three decades, in reality. Perrier first began marketing bottled water in 1977. Let’s hope the campaign to turn away from single-service plastic water bottles goes faster.

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.

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 Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

grocery storyI walked in the C. Burr Artz Library expecting a large crowd gathered in the community room. There were a couple of tables set up, chairs lined in their rows, and an elderly crowd making
chit chat as we were waiting for Jon Steinham to begin his discussion on his new book: AGrocery Story. Once we all gathered at our seats, the lights dimmed and Steinham took his
place behind the podium.

The talk began with Steinham thanking his sponsors and the various co-ops he visited along his trip from Canada to most of the East Coast. Before starting his book tour through North America, Steinham worked in radio and television as a journalist and was a former elected director of Kootenay Co-Op from 2006 to 2016.

Jon Steinman

The important question that comes into play is, how and where do we get our food? It’s not something we really think about in our day-to-day lives, but Steinham took this question into a much deeper thought. Today, we have left our food in the hands of corporate giants such as Wal-mart, that shape price perception on food prices, our environment, health, and local economy.

Why have we left this enormous responsibility to the private sector? With only a handful of corporations running the grocery store market, collusion and fixed pricing can occur along with monopolies leaving local grocery stores little room to fend for themselves. This issue was first seen in the early 1900s, but there were efforts to combat this with legislation and people actively shopping at independent retailers. Once we hit the 1980s during the Reagan Administration, one can see the drastic and rapid increase of corporate grocery stores due to lax regulations in trade.

This is where the co-op comes into play! While looking into alternative grocery stores, Steinham not only discussed co-ops, he brought up stores such as MOMs and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, natural grocery stores are not free from the hands of corporate money; Amazon recently purchased Whole Foods.

As organic and local food started becoming more popular among our growing and environmentally aware population, you can now walk into any store and see aisles of these foods. “Local” was no longer local as they were once advertised. Grocery stores could label something as local, but actually produced 200 or more miles away. The value and meaning of local and organic was slowly diminishing.

Co-ops generally adhere to an upstanding value of good, healthy, and local food/ wellness products. When Jon Steinham was working at Kootenay, the board of directors coinedthe term, “TRUE local” foods meaning that those were produced 0-150 miles away. Not only do co-ops support local farmers, they stimulate the local economy. With the head office located in your town/city, big decisions are made by people who live in the community, not by a headquarters located out of state. This cotnributes to economic development when co-ops use local legal services, construction companies, etc. to keep business running. In my opinion, co-ops follow the public sector model in a way. Not only are they run by community members (and not by a major corporation), they act as community centers for wellness classes and workshops.

Also a fun fact, co-ops are three times more likely to give back to the community by donations and investing in the economy, Steinman said.. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Vanessa at the Common Market, which sponsored Steinman’s talk.

When I attended college at the University of Maryland, I lived in a co-op called CHUM (Co-Op Housing of the University of Maryland) so I am very familiar with how co-ops generally run.

I love the idea of grocery store co-ops, but the issue that still boggles my mind is: How can we
make this food affordable for EVERYONE to purchase? A member of the audience asked Steinham this question and he admitted that it is a tough issue to address. You are paying a higher price to support your local farmer and have that food readily organic, but that doesn’t appeal to every person. There are some co-ops that offer discounts if you are at the lower end of the income scale, but aside from that, prices are going to be a little higher. I hope that one day we can address this issue as it would be amazing if one day everyone could buy from a co-op and stop supporting these corporate giants.

Author: Vanessa Moreno, urban planning and sustainability enthusiast while always trying tofind the best place to support my local grocery store. This is her first blog post!

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

Have You Read the Green New Deal?

What do you think would happen if the Green New Deal resolution was passed by the House, the Senate and then signed by the president?

Nothing would happen.

The Green New Deal resolution does not mandate any action. It is aspirational. It is a listing of aspects of our society that the authors feel need change. I believe it is intended to be a guide to further legislation. In that respect it is similar to the New Deal under President Roosevelt in the 1930s. Also, it should be considered with an emphasis on its “New Deal” aspect because it is not just an environmental resolution. Just like the fixing of the economy in the ’30s was to be accomplished by building bridges, roads, etc. this new New Deal aims at repairing aspects of our economy that are having a deleterious effect on our environment.

Before I read the Resolution I had heard that it contained provisions requiring the end of the use of fossil fuels for electric generation by 2030. I thought that was ridiculous. In actuality, there is no such thing in the Resolution. There is also no requirement that we all become vegans to prevent cow flatulence, which one “commentator” asserted.
There are a lot of commentators making similar assertions about and refutations of scary things that are just not in the document.

Personally, I do not agree with the entire Resolution but it is so much more interesting to talk about it after reading it. Read it yourself. Find it here If you skip most of the first page it is only about 2000 words and will take about 5 minutes.

 
Ellis Burruss is a longtime Frederick County advocate for environmental causes and common sense change. He lives in Brunswick.

Note from Green Frederick:
Here is another assessment of the Green New Deal from the Sierra Club of Maryland.