Outdoors & Yard
68. Use starter fluid alternatives.
Using a metal cylinder charcoal chimney starter or an electric charcoal lighter is better for air quality than using starter fluid. Starter fluid is a mixture of highly flammable, volatile chemicals including butane, propane, and diethyl ether. When combustion occurs, the fumes are released into the atmosphere and breathed in by people around the grill. Health effects can include loss of vision, severe throat and esophagus pain, vomiting, dizziness, and breathing difficulties (source).
69. Reduce light waste and pollution emitted by outdoor lighting.
The best way to reduce outdoor light waste and pollution is to turn off lights when not in use, reduce your number of outdoor lights, or install motion sensors. For the lighting that you need, you can reduce glare by positioning adjustable lights downward, reduce spillover by installing fully shielded lights, and reduce sky glow by installing fixtures that have the light bulb tucked into the luminary housing. Ineffective lighting creates nuisances and safety hazards for the community, drivers, and aviators. In addition, wildlife can experience disorientation from excess illumination and are attracted to or repulsed by glare, which affects foraging, reproduction, communication, and other critical behaviors (source: Ecological Light Pollution. Front Ecol Environ 2004; 2(4): 191–198). To learn more, watch this light waste and pollution video.
70. De-chlorinate your swimming pool before discharging the water.
Chlorinated water can cause serious harm to surrounding waterways by killing aquatic life. Pool water can be de-chlorinated by uncovering your pool, halting the addition of chlorine for about 10 days, and testing for chlorine before discharging. You can also chemically de-chlorinate your pool. When pool water is discharged, it should enter the sanitary sewer system, not the stormwater system (source). Click for instructions on proper de-chlorination and discharge techniques.
71. Use a carwash instead of washing your car at home.
Washing your car at home rather than taking it to a car wash can actually be much more harmful to the environment. Washing a car at home tends to use 80 to 140 gallons of water, as compared to a commercial car wash which uses about 45 gallons (source). Many car washes even have water recycling systems which significantly reduce their water usage. If you do wash your car at home, minimize harmful effects by using phosphate-free soap and washing your car on the grass rather than the driveway. Phosphate is a nutrient that can run directly into drainage inlets connecting to the Chesapeake Bay, resulting in algal blooms and low dissolved oxygen (source). Washing your car in the grass helps to minimize run-off of gasoline, oil, and exhaust fumes from your car.
72. Pick up litter in your neighborhood.
Not only is litter unpleasant to the eye, it also degrades water quality and endangers wildlife. Recycle the materials you pick up when possible, and ask your family, friends, and neighbors not to litter.
73. Report illicit discharges and water quality problems in your neighborhood.
The EPA defines an illicit discharge as anything discharged into a storm drain system that is not composed entirely of stormwater. Exceptions to this rule include water from fire fighting activities and discharges by facilities under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Unlike wastewater which is treated before release, illicit discharges enter surface waters without any treatment, often containing pathogens, nutrients, surfactants, and toxic pollutants (source). If you spot an illicit discharge in your community, report it by calling the Frederick County Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources at 301.600.1413. If the situation is an emergency, call 911.
Check your own property for potential run-off issues. Make sure that all wastewater leaving your property enters either the sanitary sewer or your septic system. Rainwater is the only type of water that should enter your storm drains or run off of your property.
74. Manage mosquitoes using natural methods.
There are several preventative measures that you can take to manage mosquitoes and prevent the spread of West Nile Virus. Make sure that there is no standing water in your yard. Turn buckets, kiddie pools, garbage cans, flower pots, old tires, and other containers upside down so that rain water does not collect. Keep garbage and recycling bins covered to prevent the collection of stagnant water and scrub the insides if you suspect mosquito eggs were laid. If you have a bird feeder, inspect it often for larvae.
Bats and certain bird species such as the Baltimore Oriole, bluebirds, chickadees, “gnatcatchers”, catbirds, cardinals, and other songbirds feed predominantly on flying insects. Bats are especially good at eating mosquitoes because they are nocturnal, and mosquitoes are most active in the evening hours (source: Dr. Kevin Omland Ph.D., Associate Professor at UMBC). Build a bird house or a bat house to encourage nesting of these helpful creatures. Click for tips on building a bird house or bat house.
75. Remove invasive plants from your property.
Invasive plant species, also known as non-native, exotic, or alien species, are plants that were introduced to the region from other parts of the world. While some introduced species are not harmful, others cause serious damage to native ecosystems, agriculture, and industries. Harmful invasive plants out-compete native plants for light, space, water, and nutrients, causing many native species to become endangered. And, since native wildlife has evolved to eat native plants, wildlife often cannot feed on invasive plant species. Some invasive plant species of Maryland include the Tree of Heaven, Norway Maple, Japanese Stiltgrass, Mile-a Minute Vine, Purple Loosestrife, and Japanese Honeysuckle (source). Learn more from our Tips for Green Leaders Native Plants Fact Sheet.
Invasive plant species can be very difficult to eradicate. The best practices for invasive plant removal vary between manual removal, chemical treatment, and a combination of both depending on the plant, extent of growth, and available means. Click for more information on invasive species from the Maryland Invasive Species Council, the Maryland Cooperative Extension, or DNR.
76. Reduce your use of deicing chemicals or use an environmentally-friendly alternative.
Road salt, or sodium chloride, can be harmful to the environment when it washes off of roads, sidewalks, and driveways into surrounding land and waterways (source). In order to reduce your use of deicing chemicals, clear as much snow as possible by hand, use only the amount of deicing chemical instructed, or try an environmentally-friendly alternative.
77. Use a push reel or electric mower instead of a gas-powered mower, or refrain from mowing sections of your lawn.
Gas-powered lawn mowers consume gas, emit pollutants, and generate greenhouse gases. A gas-powered lawn mower emits as many pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same period of time. Or put another way, mowing your lawn with a typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower for one hour produces the same amount of harmful emissions as driving a car 340 miles! Americans use 800 million gallons of gas each year just to mow their lawns (source, source).
The EPA recommends the use of push reel mowers because they do not consume fossil fuels or emit greenhouse gasses. If you do use a power mower, use an electric mower with mulching capabilities to reduce grass clippings (source).
The best alternative to using a gas-powered mower is to not mow your lawn at all! Consider replacing all or a section of your lawn with native plants. See action 79 for more information.
78. Refrain from using pesticides on your lawn and gardens.
Exposure to pesticides may contribute to cancer, endocrine disruption, and other human health risks (source). Pesticides can actually kill beneficial insects and soil organisms that help plants grow; they can also harm wildlife (source).
Instead of using synthetic pesticides, consider an organic alternative or refrain from pesticide use completely. Before resorting to any type of pest management, identify the pest, whether it is actually harmful, and the degree of harm that it is causing. When trying any pesticide, start with spot treatments, rather than spraying the whole lawn or garden, and see if it works before using more of it. Try an alternative to synthetic pesticides, such as natural store bought products, homemade recipes, and techniques that don’t use any chemicals, like planting marigolds to ward off nematodes or leaving a dish of flat beer outside to kill slugs (source: Household Hints & Handy Tips by Reader’s Digest). Learn more from our Tips for Green Leaders Lawn Maintenance Fact Sheet. Click for a pest control guide from Extremely Green or the University of Maryland Extension. Or watch this organic gardening video.
Have a specific pest question? Ask the experts at the University of Maryland Extension.
79. Reduce turf grass. Replace 20% or more of your grass lawn with native plants.
Traditional grass lawns compete for space with native habitat, reduce rainwater absorption, contribute grass trimmings to landfills, and often require harmful chemicals, gas or electricity-consuming machines, and money to maintain. Over 50 million acres of land in the U.S. are covered by turf grass, and 30% of the water consumed on the east coast is used for watering lawns (source)! A section of your grass lawn can be converted to nitrogen-fixing plants, native plants, moss, ground cover, clover, flower and shrub beds, or rain gardens. You can even attract bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators by planting native wildflowers. Pollination promotes biodiversity which reduces occurrences of genetic defects and diseases in plants. Click for more information on lawn alternatives. Learn more from our Tips for Green Leaders Lawn Maintenance Fact Sheet.
Neighborhood Green is a Frederick County program that provides local homeowners
with educational tools, such as workshops and expert advice, to help them convert
their lawns into native plant and wildlife havens. For more information, contact the
Frederick County Community Restoration Coordinator at 301.600.1741. Check out our Tips for Green Leaders Neighborhood Green Fact Sheet.
80. Plant native trees and shrubs on your property.
Every tree that you plant removes about 48 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year upon reaching maturity (source), in addition to providing shade, habitat for wildlife, soil stabilization, and water filtration. Native trees and plants require less water and maintenance because they are adapted to the region’s climate, and they provide better food and habitat for native wildlife. Learn more from our Tips for Green Leaders Native Plants Fact Sheet.
To learn more about the native trees and plants suitable for your property, check out the Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping guide, the Marylanders Plant Trees guide, or the Wildflower Center guide. Click to get a $25 coupon for native trees.
For discounted native plants, check out an Audubon Society of Central Maryland
Native Plant Sale or a Maryland Native Plant Society Native Plant Sale.
See action 79 for information about Neighborhood Green, a program that can help you plant native trees on your property.
81. Redirect your rooftop run-off.
When stormwater flows directly from your roof to impervious surfaces such as your driveway, sidewalk, or street, it enters stormwater drains and eventually surface waters such as streams and rivers. During large storm events, the influx of polluted water from impervious surfaces to natural waterways can harm aquatic ecosystems. “Rooftop Disconnection” simply means redirecting the water that flows from your roof’s gutters to your lawn or other pervious surface. This will allow the stormwater to soak into the ground rather than being carried directly to surface waters.
82. Install a rain garden on your property.
Rain gardens are plots of land containing amended soil and native plants that collect water flowing from impervious surfaces and allow it to slowly percolate into the ground. Rain gardens help to filter out pollutants, regenerate ground water, and lessen the load of pollutant-filled water on streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. Learn more from our Tips for Green Leaders Rain Gardens Fact Sheet. For more information on rain gardens, check out the Rain Gardens Across Maryland guide, Ecoscaping guide, RainScaping.org, Low Impact Development Center guide, or this rain garden video.
83. Install a green roof.
A green roof consists of a layer of soil and plants on a roof that filter and absorb rain water, rather than allowing it to run off of an impervious surface and contribute to storm water run-off. In addition to reducing impervious surface, green roofs also act as insulation for the home, keeping the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Buildings must fit certain requirements to be appropriate for a green roof.
84. Replace impermeable surfaces with permeable pavement.
In the US alone, an estimated quarter of a million acres are covered by impervious surfaces such as roads and sidewalks (source). Impervious surfaces contribute to storm water run-off, which pollutes local waterways and prevents the regeneration of ground water. Permeable alternatives to traditional pavement include porous concrete, porous asphalt, plastic grid systems, reinforced turf, block pavers, and gravel.
85. Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat or Backyard Buffer on your property.
The National Wildlife Federation’s program for creating wildlife habitats in residential backyards, schools, campuses, commercial properties, and communities has resulted in the creation of almost 140,000 Certified Wildlife Habitat sites in the country. The requirements for a Certified Wildlife Habitat are the provision of food, water, cover, and a place for wildlife to raise young.
Residents who have a stream, lake, pond, or other waterway on or adjacent to their property are eligible for participation in the Department of Natural Resource’s Backyard Buffers program. By signing up, you can receive 25 free native trees and shrubs. The removal of natural riparian buffers has been a large contributor to nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Riparian buffers are ecosystems lining waterways that help to hold together soil and remove nutrients and other pollutants from stormwater. For more information, call the Frederick program coordinator at 301.791.4010.
86. Have your septic system pumped every 3-5 years.
A properly working septic system delivers wastewater to the soil where it is filtered before reaching groundwater. However, a malfunctioning septic system can be a health threat and degrade the quality of groundwater and nearby surface waters. A septic system must be pumped by a licensed septic contractor every three to five years to remove solid waste and grease (source). Click for more tips on proper septic system maintenance.
87. Upgrade your septic system to increase nitrogen removal.
Traditional septic systems do not remove nitrogen from wastewater. Leaking septic tanks are a major contribution to nitrogen nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. An outdated septic system can be upgraded to a new Pretreatment System which reduces nitrogen by at least 50% and often extends the life of the drainage field.
Residents living within 1,000 feet of tidal waters may be eligible to receive funding for a septic system upgrade through the Bay Restoration Fund. To learn more contact Frederick County’s program contact, the Canaan Valley Institute, at 304.940.3443.
88. Test your soil and pledge to use the test results to better manage fertilizer application in your lawn and garden.
Soil tests can be useful for a number of reasons when trying to decrease your household’s environmental impact. Overuse of lawn fertilizers is a large contributor to nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Testing your soil can help you determine whether or not you need to fertilize your lawn, and how much fertilizer is appropriate to use. A soil test can also help you to design a rain garden, vegetable garden, xeriscape, tree planting, or other landscaping feature and warn you of dangerous contaminants such as heavy metals. Click for more information on soil testing. Learn more about maintaining your lawn from our Tips for Green Leaders Lawn Maintenance Fact Sheet.
You can also use a soil test as an indicator of how much progress you have made in your yard at home. Compare results from soil tests completed before and after the implementation of outdoor Green Actions to see how much your yard has improved.
89. Refrain from using fertilizers on your lawn and gardens.
The overuse of lawn fertilizers is a large contributor to nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Excess nutrient loading, or eutrophication, can cause algae blooms, leading to low dissolved oxygen and high water turbidity, or cloudy water. Excessive use of fertilizers can also damage beneficial soil life that helps plants grow. Learn more about proper fertilizer use and lawn maintenance from our Tips for Green Leaders Lawn Maintenance Fact Sheet.Click for more information from the EPA GreenScapes program or University of Maryland Extension. Or check out this GreenScapes video.
90. Become a Master Gardener or a Master Composter.
The mission of the Master Gardener program provided by the University of Maryland Cooperative extension is to “educate Maryland residents about safe, effective and sustainable horticultural practices that build healthy gardens, landscapes and communities.”
As a Master Composter, you can improve composting techniques and use the knowledge learned from courses about water quality, nutrient management, soil conservation, and recycling towards your own household and to help others.
Check out the Frederick County Master Gardeners site for more information about gardeners and activities in Frederick.
Total “Outdoors & Yard” Green Points: