Composting made easy

Environmental Justice Discussion Group 2021

Environmental Justice Discussion Group 2021

Education has always been a part of our business. This was surprising to us at first, but it became clear that if we were going to persuade anyone to use our service, we needed to educate them on why our planet needs us to compost. These days we do a lot of educating through our monthly blog on the topics of composting, zero waste and other areas of sustainability.

After the George Floyd uprisings, many book groups popped up focused on reading and discussing books on racism/anti-racism and reading books by authors of color, but we were not aware of one that focused on environmental justice/racism.

So, we decided to start our own discussion group. We’ll use both books and films as a springboard for discussion. We’ve already made our selections for the entire year. Collective Resource Compost will be the host. Librarian and Racial Equity Advocate Lesley Williams will be our facilitator. We’ll view the films and read the books on our own time. We’ll meet on zoom on the second Thursday evening of the months of February through November 2021 from 7:00-8:30 pm central standard time. (Those dates are Feb. 11, Mar. 11, Apr. 8, May 13, June 10, July 8, Aug. 12, Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11. )

Our selection for the first discussion on February 11 is the documentary Cooked: Survival by Zipcode. It tells the story of the tragic 1995 Chicago heat wave, the most traumatic in U.S. history, in which 739 citizens died over the course of just a single week, most of them poor, elderly, and African American.

Our selection for the meetings on March 11 and April 8 is the nonfiction book A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind. It is described as a “powerful and indispensable book” on the devastating consequences of environmental racism—and what we can do to remedy its toxic effects on marginalized communities.

Everyone is welcome but space is limited. To register for the first discussion on February 11 and receive detailed information on ways to obtain all of this year’s selections, email Mary Beth Schaye at 

Host a Pumpkin Smash: Halloween Fun That’s Good for the Planet

Host a Pumpkin Smash: Halloween Fun That’s Good for the Planet

Are you looking for a fun fall activity that also happens to be good for the planet?

Host a pumpkin smash!

Halloween is likely to be a bit less fun this year, so why not give the kids something new and exciting to look forward to? And honestly, I’m sure there are some adults who’d also enjoy a little smashing.

Pumpkins are compostable! Imagine if just a fraction of them were composted, how good that would be for the planet.

Just like pumpkins, these pumpkin smashing events can come in all different sizes. This could be something you do on just your block.

If you’re already a customer, we can deliver extra containers that week. Our 32-gallon totes work best for this.

If you’re not yet a customer, now would be a great time to start!

Our friends at SCARCE have a guide you can download to help you in your planning.

Weighing the pumpkins before you smash and reporting the data back to us will help us quantify our collective impact.

These are priced just like other zero waste events, so to get started with the planning, fill out the form on our website, click the box that says  “I want to schedule a Zero Waste Event. Tell me how.” and write “Pumpkin Smash” in the comments.

Happy smashing!

Events, Events, Zero Waste Events!

Events, Events, Zero Waste Events!

Events have been the theme of the late summer and fall for us here at Collective Resource Compost. In August, we helped to manage the waste streams for the Village of Skokie at their annual Backlot Bash. In September, we helped out at Emerge, the event formerly known as Winnetka Music Fest and at the Taste of Evanston, a lovely fundraiser put on by Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club.

Each of these events had food vendors and I made this joke that we should create an award for the greenest food vendor, like the awards they have at art fairs. We didn’t do that in real life, but there’s no reason we couldn’t do that right here, right now.

Best of Show for Skokie’s Backlot Bash goes to Tamales Express! And here’s why: so much of what they normally serve in is compostable. They serve mango and elote on wooden skewers. They serve tamales in corn husks and paper boats. They have a brick and mortar operation at 4747 N. Damen, Chicago but can also be found at farmers’ markets around the city and suburbs.

Best of Show for Winnetka’s Emerge goes to Soul & Smoke! Okay, there might be a little bit of nepotism going on here because Soul & Smoke is located in our hometown of Evanston and they compost through us in their kitchen. But look how cute their logo looks on a compostable paper clamshell! If these awards were serious, we would have gone around and talked to all of the food vendors about the operations in their kitchens to see if any of the others also composted in their kitchens.

Best of Show for Taste of Evanston goes to Event Hosts Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club! Whenever we will be present diverting food scraps from an event, varying degrees of effort ranging from suggesting to demanding are put into seeing that the food vendors serve in compostable serveware. Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club solved this problem by purchasing compostable products to ensure that the majority of the vendors used all compostable products! It really makes our work so much more gratifying when we are able to divert more of the event’s waste from a landfill. Extra points for having Evanston’s Mobile Water Station onsite to keep everyone hydrated without using a ton of single-use plastic water bottles. Did you know that anyone in Evanston can rent this station that comes filled with 200 gallons of potable water from the Evanston Water Treatment Plant?

Zero waste events are near and dear to my heart because my desire to have one at my daughter’s school is what led me to Erlene Howard and her newborn company Collective Resource in 2010.

Our ideas about how they can be managed and what they look like is always evolving. I used to be so into finding the coolest compostable products. I still really love palm leaf plates. For the centerpieces for my daughter Etta’s Bat Mitzvah, back in 2013, I used one of the bigger square plates and placed four apples and pears in different color combinations on them for a minimalist, modern, zero waste and dare I say kick-ass solution. Now, I think reusables are the way to go. (Technically, we did reuse those palm leaf plates since they didn’t get dirty and we ate all of the apples and pears.) It all gets trickier the bigger the event is, but considering reusables is an important part of the planning. Almost any size event could use reusable, washable metal cutlery.

I like to Google “zero waste” every once in a while and see if anything new comes up. I discovered a virtual Zero Waste Series at the library in Frankfort, Illinois. On October 13th, they’ll be doing a program on food waste and composting. You can learn more and sign up here

Tomorrow, I’m going to be attending a program in the series focused on this ecological footprint calculator. I’ve never used this particular one but it asks you a series of questions to help you determine how many Earths would be needed to support your current lifestyle. I want to believe that it’s just one for me but going through the questions quickly has me at three. That’s two too many!

A lot can be learned by asking the questions: Can I do this differently? Can I do this better?

Environmental Justice Discussion Group Fall Update

Environmental Justice Discussion Group Fall Update

Education has always been a part of our business. This was surprising to us at first, but it became clear that if we were going to persuade anyone to use our service, we needed to educate them on why our planet needs us to compost. These days we do a lot of educating through our monthly blog on the topics of composting, zero waste and other areas of sustainability.

After the George Floyd uprisings, many book groups popped up focused on reading and discussing books on racism/anti-racism and reading books by authors of color, but we were not aware of one that focused on environmental justice/racism.

So, we decided to start our own.

We’ve used both books and films as a springboard for discussion. Collective Resource Compost is the host and librarian Lesley Williams is our facilitator. We view the films and read the books on our own time. We began meeting on Zoom on the second Thursday evening of the month beginning in February and continuing through November 2021 from 7:00-8:30 pm central standard time.

We began our discussion group with what could be described as a soft opening. We were concerned at first, that if we had too many participants, the discussions would be unwieldy. So, we did not do a huge public push to let everyone know about it. We’re ready to do that now. Please share with individuals or in your communities. If this is the first time you’re hearing about the group, we’re happy to share the titles of the selections we’ve discussed thus far. 

Our last two discussions will be on the topic of waste.

The selection for our October 14th meeting is a documentary titled Death by Design. Consumers love—and live on—their smartphones, tablets and laptops. A cascade of new devices pours endlessly into the market, promising even better communication, non-stop entertainment and instant information. The numbers are staggering. In 2016 when this film was created, it was predicted that by 2020, four billion people would have a personal computer and five billion would own a mobile phone. But this revolution has a dark side, hidden from most consumers. In an investigation that spans the globe, filmmaker Sue Williams investigates the underbelly of the electronics industry and reveals how even the smallest devices have deadly environmental and health costs. From the intensely secretive factories in China, to a ravaged New York community and the high-tech corridors of Silicon Valley, the film tells a story of environmental degradation, of health tragedies, and the fast-approaching tipping point between consumerism and sustainability.

You can watch the trailer here and view the documentary for free on Tubi.

The selection for our November 11th discussion is a book called Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago, written by David Naguib Pellow. The book chronicles how and why the waste industry—including dumping, incineration, landfills, recycling, and all of the pollution and hazards that come along with it—disproportionately impacts minority and lower-income communities in Chicago and throughout the U.S.

We hope you’ll join us.

Register for either or both discussions here: Please use the drop-down menu to select your date. If you plan to attend both discussions, you’ll need to register separately for each.

Route Density, Climate Change and Asking for Help

Route Density, Climate Change and Asking for Help

Collective Resource did okay through the first wave of this pandemic. The government loans helped. Our residential customer list actually grew as more people were working and schooling at home. But now, we could use some help.

With our focus on education and advocacy, we are falling a little short on marketing and sales and there are few opportunities for us to be out in public talking about our service. Have you heard about the Rule of Seven in marketing? That customers need to hear your message seven times before they’ll buy? If that is really true, it’s remarkable that we have any business at all!

So we’re asking for your help. If you’re happy with our service, and it solves a problem for you, help us market it. (The biggest, most important problem it solves is that diverting our food waste is something we all can do to combat climate change.) We are all influencers. Think about who listens to you. Is it family members or neighbors? Think about what you read and whether or not you can submit your own recommendations. Is it Facebook or Nextdoor or a newsletter you receive from your faith community or school? Maybe it’s a group text you have with your friends.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure works. I recently learned about the concept of norm matching. It is just a different term for the word conforming, but it has completely captured my imagination! If you google it, it comes up on a lot of weight loss blogs, because we humans tend to norm match when we are eating out with other humans. It’s a way that we socialize and get along. You order a drink, I order a drink. You order an appetizer, I order an appetizer. (My mom used to do this thing where I’d order something and she’d say, that sounds good, I’ll have that too, but that was because she didn’t want to have to put on her reading glasses.)

So what does all this have to do with food scrap diversion? If you compost, I consider whether I should also be composting. And the more I relate to you and your values, the more likely I am going to want to match you by doing what you do or buying what you buy.

Route Density

Route density is something we’re striving for. As much as we like expanding our service area to include new towns and neighborhoods, having more customers in the areas we already service is actually better for our business and better for the planet. It’s better to have more customers in a smaller area than to have the same number of customers in a bigger area.

That’s why we are so excited when we are awarded a franchise agreement. Franchise agreements equal route density. And if you somehow missed this, we have franchise agreements with Evanston, Skokie and Morton Grove. If the cost was what was holding your peers back, it might help to know that the cost is lower in towns that have franchise agreements.

Climate Change

When we were on vacation last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with a new report on climate change. Spoiler alert: it’s not good news. But truly, why would it be? We have not dramatically changed our behavior and policies and that’s what we need to do.

This report reminds me of the 1979 film The China Syndrome, whose plot points turn on a near disaster at a nuclear power plant. The character that Jack Lemmon played, of the shift supervisor at the plant that was near meltdown, could not communicate the danger in language that an average person could understand. This IPCC report is like that. Even the headlines seem wordy and unclear.

My boyfriend broke his wrist and is wearing a cast. Everyone asks him about it and after hearing him tell the story a hundred times, I implored him to figure out a shorter way. I suggested a haiku.

Because I love to define things: a haiku is a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world. It can also be a poem written in English in that same form. 

Perfect! Climate change is about the natural world. Here’s my haiku version of the IPCC report:

Earth is changing fast
We must change faster or we
Will not be long here.

I can’t really end this blog post here. This level of bleakness is not really my general modus operandi. I’m reminded of the end of The Climate Reality Project’s slideshow: Can we change? Will we change? Must we change? (The answers are all yes.) If you’d like to read a longer-than-a-haiku synopsis of the IPCC report, there is a good one here on The Climate Reality Project’s blog.

To Drive or Not To Drive

To Drive or Not To Drive

I’m reading a book called Divorce Your Car. I didn’t seek it out or find it in a free library. I found it on my boyfriend’s bookshelf. The idea of driving less appeals to both of us.

I skipped over the first half of the book that describes how we became so dependent on automobiles. I was more interested in reading stories about how people had downsized their driving. There are separate chapters on walking, biking and transit riding. All of it is very interesting to me.

The book has me thinking about the 15-minute city, a residential urban concept in which all city residents are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their homes. The concept was popularized by Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, France who was in turn inspired by the work of French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno. It has been described as a “return to a local way of life.” 15-minute cities are built from a series of 15-minute neighborhoods, also known as complete communities or walkable neighborhoods.

I’m visiting one of my daughters who is in college in Oberlin, Ohio. It’s a boring 5-hour car drive from Chicago. I’ve made the drive several times, but never on my own. I decided to take an Amtrak train. It was not an easy decision. The train times were terrible. I did it anyway.

College towns do a really good job of getting close to being 15-minute cities. It makes sense since most students don’t have cars. I don’t often think of it in these terms but Evanston, where I live, is a college town being home to Northwestern University. So which came first? The chicken or the egg? Did it grow to be more of a walkable city because of that?

Environmental Justice

I’m grateful to have developed more of an environmental justice viewpoint. I attribute that to the Environmental Justice Discussion Group that we started this year and our excellent facilitator Lesley Williams, who month-after-month, asks us the hard questions. If she were here, I think she’d be asking if all of the neighborhoods in Evanston meet the criteria for being a 15-minute city? The answer? No. The reason? Most likely racism.


The word convenience has gone from a positive word to a negative word in my mind. I think its steady downfall began eleven years ago when I learned about commercial composting and zero waste events. Disposables are more convenient. Driving is more convenient. But are either more desirable? Do they add to our quality of life or subtract from it?

Meatless Mondays analogy

In my slideshow presentations, I talk about how picking one day a week to not eat meat is an easy way to ease off of eating animal products, to combat climate change. The Meatless Monday website is a great resource for that. In the Divorce Your Car book, Katie Alvord talks about this cool exercise called The Circle Game: How to Reduce Your Driving, devised by John Schubert while working at EcoTeams in Bend, Oregon. It’s a fun way to help you analyze your car usage. (I wanted you to be able to cut-and-paste the directions for the game, in case that would be helpful to you. I have to credit another blogger Joe George of Urban Simplicity, who pointed me in the direction of this link. You can read his blog here but unfortunately the app he references for doing this exercise electronically is no longer linked.) Essentially, you find your location on a map and using a compass, draw a circle that is a two-mile radius. You mark the places that you generally visit in a two-week period. After you’ve done that, you pick one of the places to which you’d ordinarily drive and walk or bike instead. After you’ve incorporated that change, you pick another, and so on.

I don’t know how to draw a circle on Google Maps but I got a general idea of what my two-mile radius is just by plugging in a few addresses.

I know that if I’m used to driving somewhere, I may have convinced myself that I couldn’t possibly walk or bike there. I also just realized that because I upgraded from a one-speed fold-up bike to a bike that has internal gears, that I have expanded my comfortable biking range. It may be more than two miles, maybe closer to three or four.

Transportation Time Audit

Another exercise in Divorce Your Car that intrigued me involved doing a Transportation Time Audit. You may find that, in some instances, driving does not actually save you time. In this exercise, you pick a trip that is a mile or less from your home and time it door-to-door. First by driving, then by walking. You do not have to take the exact same route. Even if the trips take the same amount of time, walking is better for your health.

I recently read Unsheltered, a novel written by Barbara Kingsolver. One of the characters, Tig short for Antigone, the daughter of the main character, had spent time in Cuba and described what is a state-sanctioned form of hitchhiking, wherein you check in with the yellow man or El Amarillo, named for the color of his uniform, tell him your destination and he secures you a ride. Apparently, the practice is not fictional. Certain government-owned vehicles are required to stop and pick up passengers. In the novel, it is represented as a way of sharing resources, a practice that is better for the environment. In further reading on the topic, it seems that it is in response to struggles with the upkeep on the transit system perhaps exacerbated by the U.S. embargo. Author Dave Eggers wrote an amusing piece on this practice for Time magazine in 1999.

I wondered how I might apply the concept to my life. I can’t say that I’ve completely figured that one out yet. I’m not going to be picking up hitchhikers anytime soon but switching my thinking to the idea that a full car is better than a nearly empty car is a good first step.

My travel time back from Oberlin was pretty long.  Nine hours and 15 minutes, door-to-door to be exact. It included many legs: a 20-minute car ride from Oberlin to the train station in Elyria; the Amtrak train ride from Elyria to Union Station in Chicago; a walk from Union Station to Ogilvie Transportation Center to catch a Metra commuter train; a Metra ride from Chicago to Evanston; and the final leg, the walk home. 

On the Amtrak leg of my trip, I rode in one of the coach cars. It was a good break from the white, suburban, middle-class bubble that I live in. I realized that driving would have been like watching a movie alone on my laptop but riding the train was like being in the movie.

About Our Blog, Greener Living Inspirations

About Our Blog, Greener Living Inspirations

We started this blog back in December of 2018 with some helpful tips on how to wrap your holiday gifts in a more ecologically minded way. At first it was just content added to the reminder emails. After a few months, we realized that a lot of people didn’t open and read their reminder emails. For many, just seeing the subject line is reminder enough. Then we decided that perhaps the information should live on our website, so we began linking the reminder email to our website. After months of sending them this way, we still had many customers saying, “I didn’t know you had a blog!” So very recently, we began sending it as a separate email, mid-month. This has been a little confusing to some people, particularly to new customers, and we apologize for that. We hope that this explanatory blog post will clear up any questions you have.

Here is our process. Mary Beth, that’s me, writes them. Sometimes as a group the communications team brainstorms a topic. More often than not, the topic is some area of environmentalism that I’m currently thinking about. We are trying, over time, to touch on a lot of different topics that are adjacent to composting and zero waste.

Though we don’t necessarily stick to one topic per post, the topics from the last six months, going backward in time, have included water, the circular economy, green funeral options, extended producer responsibility, nature as inspiration, the Green New Deal and climate fiction.

Before publication, Mary Beth goes over the blog post with Erlene and not everything makes the cut. We try not to bring politics into it, although some of the environmental legislation that we support veers into that territory.

Also in the blog space on our website are other, what we call non-blog blogposts, for lack of a better word. These include info on our Environmental Justice Discussion Group, info on this past spring’s finished compost gift-back, our winter restaurant raffle, stuff like that, that Customer Service can link to in their one-on-one communications with customers.

When we’re initially talking to potential customers, we talk about why it’s important to compost. Here’s why we write this blog. We’re trying to take what we learn and pass it along to our customers. We’re not trying to get you to buy certain things. We may add links to make it easier for you to learn more, but those are not affiliate links. We do not benefit from you clicking nor track if you do click. We’re just curating.

If you decide that you really would not like to receive the blog post emails, please just email us and let us know. If you click “unsubscribe” on the email, it will interfere with all the other important information you receive from us like schedule changes for holiday pickups and swap-out reminders.

As we celebrate our company’s 11th birthday and head into our 12th year, we’re musing that some things have changed but one thing that has remained constant is our need and desire to educate.