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Reduce Waste

Looking North on Grove Avenue

Zero Waste! Can we really do it? Well, according to second law thermodynamics, no. However, there are many cheap and painless ways to reduce waste.

This section will expound upon the first two elements of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra, with the third also mentioned when appropriate. These tips a courtesy of Jessica Jones, a previous resident of Washington Grove.

green maple leaf


Bringing Down Mail Mountain

  • Reduce the number of catalogues you receive. Inside of each catalogue-usually on the order page-there is a phone number or address with instructions on how to remove your name from their mailing list. Putting your name on a general “Do Not Mail” list is not sufficient, as it will not stop catalogues from any vendor with whom you have ever done business. For more information on how to remove your name from myriad mailing lists and reduce junk mail, go to the following web site:
  • Receive your bills and statements electronically. Nearly all utilities, banks and insurance companies provide this option, because it saves them money. Check your paper statements for instructions on converting to electronic bill receipt and payment, or go to each vendor’s web site.
  • Unwanted mail can be included with your Montgomery County curbside paper recycling, so please do not leave it at the post office! If you have concerns about privacy, shred your mail before adding it to the recycling bin. Remember, all of the following types of paper products can be recycled: newspapers and inserts, corrugated cardboard, cereal and other boxes, telephone books, computer and office paper, paperback and hardcover books (although I recommend you donate or “freecycle” these), magazines, catalogs, shredded paper, envelopes and boxes with plastic windows, and all other clean and dry paper.

The Holidays

The holidays can be a time of joy and massive waste. Here are some gifts you can give to the planet this season.

  • “Wrap” gifts in reusable grocery bags. Trader Joes, for example, sells brightly colored, inexpensive reusable bags. Be sure to tell the recipients that the bags can be used when they go shopping. Set a good example by using the bags yourself.
  • If you prefer a more traditional wrapping, make sure that the paper is recyclable. You can even make your own from 100% post-consumer craft paper and some rubber stamps. Decorate your packages with cloth ribbons that can be saved and reused next year or for other projects. BONUS: Cloth ribbons look prettier than the throw away kind.
  • Minimize use of paper plates, cups, and napkins when hosting holiday parties. This goes for disposable plastic utensils too. These items can not be recycled, so reducing their use is especially important. Consider renting tableware for a large gathering. If you simply must rely on single-use items, check out this site (www.gaiam.com) for compostable party-ware, and be sure to add them to your compost heap afterwards (they won’t compost in the land fill). Not composting? Get a free bin from the Montgomery County transfer station.
  • Avoid single-serving and individually wrapped products. For drinks, buy them in recyclable containers instead of juice boxes. Buy food in the largest containers that are practical, and send home excess with guests-in reusable containers of course-or donate it to a food kitchen. Make sure the food kitchen accepts home-cooked food, or it will just end up in the trash anyway.

Paper or Plastic?

The greenest answer to this age old question is “neither”.

  • Bring re-usable bags every time you shop. Now that you have given and received gifts wrapped in re-usable bags, use them. Canvas bags or sturdy paper bags can be used many times. Keep a bag of bags next to your door so that you have them handy when you go shopping. Minimize the extra bags you accumulate during shopping. Items such as apples oranges and bananas don’t need to be placed in separate bags; mixed baby lettuce leaves probably do.
  • What’s best if you forget to bring your bags? In a head to head comparison, plastic bags win by a narrow margin over paper bags. Surprised? See https://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/cheap/20041215a1.asp for one such comparison. If you do use plastic bags, be sure to collect them and bring them back to the store for recycling; remove all paper receipts from the bags first. Paper bags can be re-used or included with your normal recycling. However, no matter how conscientious you are about recycling the bags, both single-use paper and plastic lose by a mile to the re-usable option.

Bring a Reusable Cup

If you buy a cup of coffee every day, Monday through Friday, in a disposable cup, you are generating about 17 pounds of needless waste per year. This calculation does not include the materials and energy required to manufacture the cup, or ship it to the point of use. If you buy two cups per day, well, you can do the math. This is a simple one.

  • Bring a reusable cup with you every time you buy coffee or tea. Many coffee shops and convenience stores (e.g. 7-11) will fill any size cup for a small cost, less than you would pay if you use their cup. This is because often the biggest cost associated with your cup of coffee is the disposable cup!
  • While you’re at it, bring a reusable cup whenever you are getting cold drinks. The waste generated at picnics and community events (e.g. the chili dinner) can be greatly reduced if attendees bring their own reusable cups for cold drinks rather than those drinks being distributed in single serving bottles, drink boxes, or disposable cups. Reusable plastic cups such as “stadium cups” work very well for this.


House Cleaning

Spring cleaning time is almost upon us, a season when our thoughts turn to … rampant paper towel use. In the last decade, single use household cleaning items have proliferated at an alarming rate. There is no doubt that products such as bleach wipes, glass wipes, and the seemingly ubiquitous “swiffer” lines are very appealing, especially when marketed in an atmosphere of microbe and allergen phobia. There is very little evidence that they get your house cleaner, safer or healthier than it would be if you cleaned it in the manner of previous generations. So let me now state the obvious.

  • Use rags. Flannel rags work just as well as disposable dust wipes for dusting. Lint-free rags are great for cleaning glass. Tough rags work better on countertops, bathroom surfaces and even floors than any of their paper competitors. Attach a cloth rag to the pole extender meant for disposable wipes, and you will have all of the convenience without the waste. Concerned about germs? Wash your rags in very hot water (one of the only times I will recommend this).
  • Hide your paper towels. Occasionally, there may still be jobs for which only a paper towel will do. Keep them in you hall closet or someplace where they are NOT within easy reach.
  • Use safe food handling techniques. Go to https://www.fsis.usda.gov for recommendations and fact sheets. You will see that these do not require the use of paper towels or bleach wipes.
  • Fun fact! Vacuuming increases the number of dust mites in your carpet. Shampooing your carpet causes a dust mite population explosion. If you are allergic to dust mites, get rid of your carpets.

Check out the following simple recipes

  • Tub and sink cleaner: Baking soda, liquid soap. Sprinkle baking soda on the porcelain fixtures and rub with wet rag. Add a little of the liquid Murphy’s soap to the rag for more cleaning power. Rinse well to avoid leaving a hazy film.
  • Window and mirror cleaner: White vinegar, water. Put 1/4 cup of white vinegar in the spray bottle and fill to the top with water. Spray on the surface. Rub with a lint-free rag. For outdoor windows, use a sponge and wash with warm water with a few drops of liquid Murphy’s or castile soap in it. Rinse well and squeegee dry.
  • Linoleum floor cleaner: White vinegar, water. Mop with a mixture of 1/2 cup vinegar in a bucket (pail) of warm water. The vinegar odor will go away shortly after the floor dries.
  • Toilet bowl cleaner: Baking soda, liquid soap. Sprinkle baking soda inside the bowl as you would any scouring powder. Add a couple drops of soap in also. Scrub with a toilet bowl brush and finish outside surfaces with a rag sprinkled with baking soda.
  • All purpose cleaner for spots on woodwork, tile and linoleum: Murphy’s liquid soap. Add a few drops of liquid soap to a wet washcloth and rub surface briskly.


Automobiles are one of the most obvious sources of carbon emissions and other forms of pollution. Ideally everyone will increase their use of public transportation and/or purchase ultra-efficient, zero- or low-emission vehicles (hybrid, electric, flex-fuel etc.). What can you do in the meantime to get the best gas mileage from the car you have?

  • Drive sensibly and observe the speed limit: Aggressive driving wastes gas (it feels good to say that). It can lower your gas mileage by up to 33%. While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 is like paying an additional 20 cents per gallon for gas. Sensible driving is also safer.
  • Remove excess weight: Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2%.
  • Avoid excess idling: Idling gets 0 MPG. In addition, idling on hot days increases local ozone and significantly decreases the air quality in the immediate vicinity. NEVER sit in an idling car with the air conditioning running while watching your kid’s soccer practice.
  • Keep you car in good shape: Keeping your engine properly tuned, replacing air filters on a regular basis, and using the correct grade of engine oil can save around 15% in gasoline usage. Also make sure to keep your tires properly inflated, which will both maintain your maximum MPG and help the tires last longer.
  • Finally, keep track of you car’s average MPG. A sudden decrease in fuel efficiency may give you a heads up to potential problem before the check engine light comes on. Plus, you will find out how well these tips actually work.
  • Sources: https://www.fueleconomy.gov


We have already had two ozone alert days this year, and it is only June. What is an ozone alert or “action” day and what can you do about it … other than avoid breathing outside? An Ozone Action Day may be called by your State or local air quality agency when ozone levels are forecast to reach unhealthy levels, and the “Air Quality Index” or AQI is above 100 (higher AQIs mean worse air quality). The action levels are Orange (AQI 101-150), Red (AQI 151-200), and Purple (AQI 201-300). At the higher levels, everyone should limit outdoor exertion. At lower levels, the ozone is mainly a danger to children and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.

Ozone can increase the susceptibility of the lungs to infections, allergens, and other air pollutants. Medical studies have shown that ozone damages lung tissue and complete recovery may take several days after exposure has ended. To help improve the air on Ozone Action Days, follow these tips:

  • Conserve electricity and set your air conditioner at a higher temperature.
  • Choose a cleaner commute-share a ride to work or use public transportation. The Ride-On buses are free on Code Red days. Lobby your local officials to make Ride-On free on Code Orange days as well. They are in Virginia.
  • Defer use of gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment. Don’t mow your lawn.
  • Refuel cars and trucks after dusk.
  • Combine errands and reduce trips.
  • Limit engine idling. Again, no idling at soccer practice and no drive-throughs.
  • Use household, workshop, and garden chemicals in ways that keep evaporation to a minimum, or don’t use them at all when poor air quality is forecast. Source: https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/tvweather/airnow_mapping.pdf

Think Global, Buy Local

The choices you make in the food you purchase can have a big impact on your personal contribution to the carbon load. Fortunately for us, there are a wide variety of foods that are grown and produced in this area. By taking advantage of this, you can do yourself and the planet a favor. Food production generates carbon in two ways: 1) the carbon produced in GROWING the food, generally in the form of fertilizers and fuel for equipment, and 2) the carbon produced in TRANSPORTING the food to market.

Many people have tried to address the former issue by buying organic produce which eschews petroleum based fertilizers. However, buying organic produce that was grown in New Zealand, or California, or some other distant place results in a huge carbon burden from transportation. The solution is to buy locally whenever possible. During the summer and fall, it is possible to purchase nearly 100% of your fruits and vegetables from Maryland farmers. This may mean that you forgo pineapples and bananas, but you can feast on apples, plums, peaches and a wide variety of vegetables. If you are a bit more ambitious, you can preserve tomatoes and other locally grown produce for consumption in the winter and spring. In addition, milk, butter, cheese, eggs and meat are available all year round from local farmers that maintain many organic practices. Save your purchase of tropical and other non-local produce for times of the year when there are no local options.

Another advantage of buying locally is the preservation of our region’s rich agricultural heritage. If you want to keep local farms alive, buy from them. Also, if you have questions or concerns about farming practices, you can speak directly with the people who grow your food. Finally, the food is fresh and tastes great!

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