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.

 

The Christmas Tree Shopping dilemma

The Christmas Tree Shopping dilemma

Every year at this time we scope out whats being said about real vs. artificial Christmas trees, and while Green Frederick leans towards buying a re-plantable LOCAL real Christmas tree, there are considerations.

Take a look at Earth 911’s assessment here, with some key excerpts below:

Artificial Tree Pros:

  • Reuseability
  • Cost effectiveness

Artificial Tree Cons:

Artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. In addition, many older varieties may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process.

Despite their PVC contents, artificial trees are nonrecyclable and nonbiodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for

An artificial tree from the authors living room.

centuries after disposal. An artificial tree will last on average five to seven years, meaning you’ll eventually have to dispose of it, and many secondhand stores will not accept them. There’s also no guarantee the LED lights will last the whole time you own it, and they can’t be removed and replaced like with a real tree.

Decorating a tree from Dreamland Christmas Tree farm, Jefferson, MD

Furthermore, approximately 85 percent of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are imported from  China, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), adding to their overall environmental footprint.

Approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in North America each year, according to the U.S. EPA. Luckily, about 93 percent of those trees are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs.

Real Christmas Tree Cons:

  • Cost: Spending $40-$70 every year is not a cheap alternative.
  • Landfilling/incineration: if not recycled into mulch/compost, real trees add to our global disposal burden.

Other considerations from Earth911:

Real Christmas trees, they are farmed as agricultural products, meaning repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers may be used throughout their lifetime.

Emmitsburg Nuns Prioritize People AND the Planet

Three cheers to the North County Daughters of Charity!

They combined their order’s mission of serving the disadvantaged with their goal of stewardship of the earth—all in one project, the Seton Center.

The Seton Center, a community center providing job training and preparation, dental services, a secondhand store and community meeting space among other services, opened its new building this year as a sustainable project featuring:
*permeable pavers
*solar panels
*energy conservation measures
*low-flow toilets and other water conservation resources

The building houses eight office where 11 staff members work, as well as space for social services and job training agencies who need a meeting place in the North County to meet.

Permeable pavers are made of porous material and drain rainwater quickly after it hits the parking lot, feeding it into the ground rather than washing into storm sewers.

Sister Martha and the staff can continuously monitor energy useage (or lack thereof!) in these meters.

 

The Seton Center encourages employees and patrons to bring reuseable bottles that can be filled easily at the fountain.

The Center began in 1969 at its building outside of town—a building that was only supposed to last 10 years, but lasted until 2017. A new center was needed to replace the deteriorating steel structure, and the order decided to use a piece of the property originally left to them in 1809 by Elizabeth Ann Seton, rather than go through an annexation process on the old county land.
They decided from the get-go to go green.

“Its in the mission of the daughters of Charity to care for the earth,” said Sister Martha Beaudoin, executive director of the Seton Center. The religious order around the world is 16000 strong, with presence in 93 countries, and is known for projects such as digging wells and working on clean water. “This project goes with what the sisters have done in the other countries.”

The sisters have also watched the sustainability achievements of Mayor Don Briggs and the Emmitsburg town staff, and wanted to get on board with their own facility!

They instructed Morgan-Keller, the general contractor, and their architect, Scott Bowen of Washington County, to find cost-effective, sustainable solutions, and felt that they did good work in bringing the building in on budget with its sustainable elements.
And its working – Sister Martha says even with the larger (13,000 square foot), and differently shaped building, “The electric bill used to be $1,300 a month; now its $800 a month!”

Natural light and low-energy lighting filters into the Seton Center’s new store.

State Tree Nursery Now Accepting Orders

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is now accepting online orders for shrub and tree seedlings from the John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery for the spring 2019 planting season.

The nursery offers more than 50 species of shrubs and trees for large-scale plantings on private land to meet a wide variety of conservation, environmental and reforestation needs. It also offers 20 different “pollinator friendly” options.

A minimum order of 25 seedlings per species is required, and supplies are limited. 

Nursery customers are mostly individual landowners. Shrub and tree plantings provide both economic and environmental benefits, including cleaner air, energy conservation, filtering and retaining water and essential habitat for wildlife.

click here for more info.