Mission: To Save The Earth

Environmentalists Urge More Recycling

April 21, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Knowing they've recycled tons of cans, bottles and papers since the last Earth Day ought to make those who pitched in very proud. But thehard work and changes of habit are just beginning, say environmentalactivists who worry about the planet's future.

"We've done the easy things," said Maureen M. Rice, an Eldersburg housewife and mother of two young children who often lectures and gives classes on things such as natural-yard care.

"Now we have to teach people things they don't want to know. Theydon't mind being told not to fertilize their lawns. That's almost a relief. But they don't really want to be told 'Don't put your paint cans in the garbage can,' or 'Don't put your children's sandwiches in plastic Baggies.' "

Nothing baffles an environmentalist as much aswatching someone line up plastic bags full of grass clippings that will take up landfill space instead of fertilizing the lawn they came from.

That activity tells environmentalists that despite strides made since Earth Day 1990, they need to recruit more neighbors in the fight to preserve the Earth. But while preparing to celebrate the scheduled 21st anniversary of Earth Day yesterday at Piney Run Park, Mount Airy and elsewhere in the county, activists noted progress.

Rice said two neighbors have resisted their habitual spraying of fruit trees and chemical fertilizing of lawns. One even started a compost heap.

Melinda Byrd, administrator of the park's nature center, said recycling bins fill up weekly even in the winter at Piney Run, and summer nature camps have long waiting lists.

But Rice doesn't expectmuch to come of a talk she gave to a mother's group about cloth diapers, even after she told them how it takes 20 trees to keep a child in disposables for two years. Also, she said, no one knows if Pampers degrade in landfills.

"There's a lot of resistance to that," Rice said of the mothers' reaction to cloth diapers. "They said, 'Some of us just don't like to get our hands dirty.' I told them to use gloves, but I don't think any of them are going to."

"If people knew theEarth was dying -- if they really got . . . that's what's going on, things would change tomorrow," said James L. Thomas of Taneytown, chairman of the Recycling Committee.

The group was appointed by commissioners and for two years was led mostly by county staff. But a few months ago, citizens on the board, such as Thomas, have taken a more active role in urging the county to compost and recycle beyond the state-mandated 15 percent by 1994, and to create less waste overall.

The county now is recycling 6 percent of its waste -- twice as much as one year ago.

"In some ways, as conservative a county as it is,there's a hell of an awareness," Thomas said. Because environmental issues usually are linked to liberal politics, he said, "I think it'sgreat people can see past the labels."

Carroll Earth Care sprang from Byrd and volunteers planning the huge Earth Day celebration for 1990.

Chairwoman Deborah Portney, who lives just outside Manchester, said she wants consumers to let manufacturers and retailers know they want less unnecessary packaging to peel and tear from their purchases.

"It's great to have a group like Carroll Earth Care," Portney said. "But I think a lot of little voices makes more of a difference."

She said Carroll Earth Care would like the county to establisha curbside recycling plan, especially for businesses and large institutions such as schools.

Yard waste makes up about 15 percent to 20 percent of the solid waste stream. Director of Natural Resources Protection James E. Slater Jr. said he will work on drafting an ordinance to keep such reusable organic material out of Carroll County's landfills.

"I would love to see curbside pickup" for recyclable and compostable material, Rice said. "But I'll agree with anyone that the logistics are a bear. You've got a lot of private haulers who travel enormous distances."

Slater himself is evidence that county government has become more environmentally aware, he said. The County Commissioners created his department and job just last May.

During the first Earth Day in 1970, Slater was an engineering student at the Johns Hopkins University. He remembers going to The Mall in Washington to hear speeches by activists.

"The speeches were more esoteric, more philosophical. There's been a shift from the philosophical to thepractical. We're realizing there are solutions to the problems, and we're working on those solutions," he said.

"We have to work on the kids, so they don't grow up with bad habits," he said. And because of the publicity generated by Earth Day 1990, "Every school kid knowswhat Earth Day is now."

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