By Katie Keogh
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The average Baltimore County resident produces 4.4 pounds of garbage each day, up from 3.7 pounds in 1980, according to the county’s Department of Public Works.
Much of that waste – between 1,300 and 1,400 tons of it per day – ends up in the Eastern Sanitary Landfill Solid Waste Management Facility in White Marsh, 250 acres of composting areas, recycling centers and landfills.
With Earth Day being recognized last week and climate change taking center stage in rallies across the country today, county officials are hoping that local residents will do more to recycle their trash as a way to save money and help the environment.
Crew Chief Justin Fronzoli, who has been working at the facility for 14 years, says that because American society is so wasteful and has a disregard for recycling regulations, a majority of the trash that is disposed in the landfill could get reused or recycled if it were not for human error.
“When people throw their trash away and you open the bags, you can find stuff that could have been recycled,” Franzoli said. “Then it just doesn’t get recycled. We are a very wasteful society. There is a lot of stuff that doesn’t have to be thrown away. It is amazing how much stuff that comes in here that is still useable.”
The pollution that this amount of waste has created in landfills, oceans, and local neighborhoods has spiked an increase in initiatives that are being implemented or proposed to minimize the amount of waste that Baltimore County residents produce on a daily basis.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed a Zero Waste Plan, which entails a 25-year-program to completely eliminate disposal of solid waste and wastewater in Maryland by the year of 2040.
Local organizations, such as the youth-led program Baltimore Beyond Plastic, is trying to limit the amount of Styrofoam and plastic that gets disposed into the ecosystem each year.
Not only do plastic products affect animals, but it affects the health of humans and the number of tourists who visit Baltimore City, according to Baltimore Beyond Plastic’s website.
Andrea Calderón, the youth sustainability coordinator at the Baltimore Office of Sustainability, said her job is to teach young people how to be better protectors of the planet.
“I coach students,” Calderón said. “It’s generally how I think about myself. I coach young advocates on how to do it [reach out to community] effectively.”
Calderón also oversees the High School Youth Environmental Interns who work on different initiatives and organizations to protect the environment.
“The internship program is intended to help student leaders develop their sustainability advocacy strengths,” Calderón said.
Calderon trains her interns on how to successfully facilitate meetings, give them an overview on community organizing, and how to reach out to community in a successful matter.
Two interns that Calderón works closely with are Mercedes Thompson and Claire Wayner, the co-founders of Baltimore Beyond Plastic. Thompson and Wayner are students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and founded the program in 2016.
Calderon said Thompson worked with her organization to put together a youth summit on April 2 that drew more than 100 students from various organizations around Maryland and focused on environmental justice.
While these organizations and initiatives are a positive step to a more efficient future, measures can be taken in the daily lives of Baltimore County residents to ensure that the ecosystem is maintained in a healthy and cleanly matter, Calderón said.
Calderón suggests that people unplug their electronic devices at home before they leave for the day as one method for citizens to become more energy efficient.
“Energy Vampires is a huge issue, so things that are taking energy when you’re not even using them” is a bad thing, Calderón said. “If you leave your cell phone charger plugged into the wall it’s still consuming energy and pulling energy from the grid even though it’s not really charging anything. So a reduction in that would lead to a pretty significant reduction in fossil fuel use and consumption.”
For Fronzoli, his recommendation to live a more efficient and sustainable lifestyle is to recycle and try to reuse and reduce the amount of throwaway items that are used on a daily basis.
“When people have kids, they’ll buy the first kid a bunch of stuff – then get rid of it as they get older and then they’ll have another kid and buy the same stuff over again,” Fronzoli said. “It’s amazing when you see how much people throw away.”
Jeanette Garcia Polasky, a communication specialist with the county government, said that of the 328,621 tons of trash that the county collected last year, only 86,048 tons was recycled, meaning only 26 percent of the total trash collected was recycled.
Polasky hopes that this number will increase in the future to better the environment and also to save money.
“In 2015, we recycled 54,310 tons and because we did that we saved $3.4 million in trash disposal costs because it’s cheaper to recycle stuff than to pay $64 a ton to put it in a landfill,” Polasky said.