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!

COP26: The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference

COP26: The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference

I was asked to summarize what the results of COP26 were. Let me begin by explaining what it was: A two-week summit of world leaders, climate activists, scientists, educators, indigenous leaders, and youth from around the world, on the topic of climate change. Given that, you’d think that the C stood for climate but really COP stands for Conference of the Parties, in this case, the parties being 197 nations that in 1992 agreed to a new environmental pact: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The 26th annual meeting took place the first two weeks of November in Glasgow, Scotland. Not only did President Biden attend but Governor Pritzker also attended. A couple of local celebs—Rachel Rosner, President of Citizens’ Greener Evanston (CGE) and Program Coordinator of It’s Our Future (IOF) and Lily Aaron, ETHS student, Evanston Sunrise Hub Coordinator and CGE Board member—were also there with IOF, a program of Oak Park-based Seven Generations Ahead. More about this program later in this blog post.

Rachel suggested that I listen to the podcast How To Save A Planet episode named We Go Inside the COP26 Climate Talks. I think it is a good wrap-up but I have to admit that I was a little put off by the humor, since climate change is such a serious subject. While I understand why they want to lighten up the subject, I personally find it very upsetting and, frankly, hard to write about. I appreciate the value of trying to distill and disseminate, though. I found this report made by Axios to be valuable to listen to as well.

The How To Save A Planet reporter Rachel Waldholz described COP as “… a climate-themed trade show, a giant rolling protest, series of TED Talks or a SXSW-style festival all rolled up into a UN meeting.”

Keep 1.5 Alive

This was a slogan or battle cry at the conference. What this means is holding the rise in temperature on the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic consequences. We are currently at 1.1. For any non-scientists who may be reading this, a 1.5 degree Celsius rise is equivalent to a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit rise. These are small numbers with enormous consequences. This article on KQED’s website does a good job of expanding on why to not cross this line and how to not. Anyone who has read a blog post of mine knows that I love the English language. So many good options! The resources I was reading and listening to in my research prompted me to compare and contrast catastrophic versus cataclysmic. They both came up a lot. Catastrophic: involving or causing sudden great damage or suffering. Cataclysmic: relating to or denoting a violent natural event. See above, very upsetting.

Down and Out

One area of the agreement that was disappointing to many is that the language around the future of coal plants was watered down. From phase out to phase down. And the three top producers—China, India, and the U.S.—did not make this pledge. The final language in the Glasgow Climate Pact is that countries “phase out unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” This language is notable in that this was the first time in the 26 years of meetings that fossil fuels had been called out as the primary source of global warming. If you were able to pause to read the article I linked above, you’ll understand that many stakeholders believe that it’s absolutely necessary to phase out coal plants to keep 1.5 alive. Of local interest is that Illinois Governor Pritzker has committed to phasing out all of the coal plants in Illinois: all investor-owned coal plants by 2030 and coal-fired power plants owned by municipalities by 2045. I wonder how many other states have made this kind of commitment?


141 countries agreed to end deforestation by 2030. So it seems that politicians are beginning to understand the power of trees. Apparently, there was a pledge made in 2014 to end deforestation that was not upheld. Our job is to urge our leaders to stay true to these pledges.


Sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones who talk about methane. That appears to be changing. The Global Methane Pledge was announced at COP26, and several countries signed onto it in anticipation of the summit. The total number of countries is up to 110. The pledge now includes six of the world’s 10 biggest methane emitters: the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Mexico. We sometimes use this pie chart in presentations to illustrate why landfilling food scraps is not the right choice. I could write an entire blog post about this chart. The solution that I’m hearing the most talk about recently is the fixing of leaks in petroleum and natural gas systems.

Environmental Justice

There is a fund for adaptation, the Green Climate Fund, that richer countries are supposed to be paying into for poorer countries. This fund is to aid countries that will be hit hardest by climate change to do what they can to prepare and rebuild. The leaders of these poorer countries are imploring the leaders of the richer countries to keep their promises. The U.S. had pledged $3 billion for this fund and has only delivered a third of that to date. The former administration made no contributions to it in the last four years.

It’s Our Future

It’s Our Future is a project that will equip young leaders in Oak Park/River Forest to advocate for climate change solutions that benefit all members of our community. Rachel told me that the youth she accompanied to Glasgow were thrilled to be with like-minded people from all over the world. They worked with Oak Park-based One Earth Collective that puts on the excellent One Earth Film Festival to live stream a conversation with some of the youth from countries that will be most impacted by climate change. You can watch it at this link.

If you’d like to support the work of It’s Our Future, you can do that by donating to Seven Generations Ahead. If you’d like to support the One Earth Film Festival, you can do that through their parent organization One Earth Collective. If you know any high schoolers in Chicagoland who are interested in climate change activism and would like help in getting their voices heard, there is room in the program for more members.

I hope that you’ll be able to read, listen to and watch the links I’ve provided. I know that it doesn’t sound like good news, but the fact that they meet every year is encouraging to me and means that progress is made. And just to show that I don’t completely lack a sense of humor, check out this webcomic that shows A Timeline of Earth’s Average Temperature Since the Last Ice Age Glaciation.

We Were The Lucky Ones

We Were The Lucky Ones

It’s unusual that I would be writing about the loss of companion animals for two consecutive months but Collective Resource Compost’s working cat Lucky has punched the clock for his final shift and deserves his own blogpost.

I’m going to back up and tell you how we came to have a working cat at our garage, before I tell you what he meant to both our employees who work there, as well as the employees of neighboring businesses.

In the fall of 2017, our former garage manager, Tomas Minotas, had the idea to get a couple of cats to help with rodent control. Tomas and his wife Igna, both cat owners and cat lovers, found a local shelter that had a program and brought Lucky and Benjamin the Grey home to the garage. Both of them were really shy at the beginning. They lived together there for two years.  Benjamin was so shy that when he disappeared, it took a few days for the garage crew to notice. Lucky became the company’s mascot.

Our morning garage manager, Chris Lowery, had felt a connection to Lucky from even before he was hired. On the day of his interview with Erlene, he was let into the garage early by another employee, and while waiting for her to arrive, Lucky hopped onto his lap. He stayed there through the entire interview and Chris is convinced that Lucky helped him get the job.

All of these sweet remembrances come from our bucket washing and compost collection crew and their managers.

Lucky would always follow one of our newer drivers, Brian Keeler, around the garage until he got on his truck and when he returned from doing his route, Lucky would be there to help direct him into his parking spot. Brian also marveled that Lucky would just appear out of nowhere. Lucky took his job seriously and was often patrolling his territory but also had a good work/life balance, always taking the time to hang out with fellow employees and resting when needed.

Jeremy Barrows, our hiring, training and staffing coordinator, described Lucky as his best work buddy, meaning no offense to his human coworkers. It was apparent how fond Jeremy was of Lucky by the many beautiful photos he took of him, including the ones here.

Building Community

We talk a lot about building community through sustainability here at Collective Resource Compost. Lucky built community for our garage crew with the neighboring businesses. All of the employees tried hard to keep him indoors but Lucky had other ideas and would not be contained. He divided his time among Sam, Mark and Ziggy at Ridgeway Auto, Ned at Allied Seals and our garage crew. Chris credits Lucky for the relationships that he enjoys with these men. Lucky went to every business, caught mice, lounged and endeared himself to everyone. Sam calls Lucky the only cat he ever liked and would put bird videos from Youtube on his computer screen for Lucky to attack. A friend of Sam’s had had a stroke and almost every work morning he’d visit Lucky at the garage to get inspiration for the day. 

Jeremy described him as independent but not aloof. And though he spent time at the other businesses, he knew that our garage was his home. He’ll be sorely missed.

More places to donate

I heard from more than one of our sweet customers in response to last month’s blog post with both condolences for my dear departed dog and suggestions for other places to donate pet things. This one is located in Skokie: Community Animal Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E.™), a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization with a mission to serve the communities of Chicago’s North Shore by fostering and supporting healthy, positive relationships between people and companion animals. If you want to donate goods, check out their wishlist here:

For unopened pet food, they also have dropboxes at three Pet Supplies Plus stores in Evanston, Morton Grove and Lincolnwood.

Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) where Lucky and Ben were found has donation needs that you can find here on their website.

There’s also a Facebook group called Dog Dibs Chicago that might be helpful.

If you’d like to learn more about working cats, Tree House Humane Society has a great description of their Cats At Work program here on their website.

Letting Go

Letting Go

These blogposts always relate to some area of sustainability, not just composting.

I debated whether or not I should write about my dog dying. Honestly, it happened so recently that it’s all I can think about and I think writing about it could be therapeutic. Here is another thing that has been surprisingly therapeutic: mindfully rehoming all of her food, treats and supplements.

I have to back up and tell you this story. We used to have a lovely cleaning person named Chrystyna. She had a dog named Fluffy. Actually, she had a series of dogs named Fluffy, which we thought was hilarious. Anyway, every time she came to our house to clean, she brought a treat for our dog Izze and she made sure that Izze knew that the treat was from Fluffy.

My daughter Etta came home to be part of saying goodbye to Izze and when she went back to school, I asked if she wanted the leftover liver treats to give to her housemate’s dog Paint. She is carrying on the tradition of letting Paint know that they are from Izze. Etta is delighted by how jazzed Paint is about these treats.


I started by offering some consumables to my next-door neighbors for their senior dog—some kibble with glucosamine to help the joints and some greenies for dental health—which they graciously accepted. Then I began investigating what our local shelter, Evanston Animal Shelter, would accept. I was super surprised that they will take open bags of food if you have the original bag!

I wrote about the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy Pyramid last October in a blog post called Feeding Hungry People. The action that follows feeding hungry people is feeding animals.

While looking on Evanston Animal Shelter’s website, I learned a little about their efforts to help people feed their pets, programs that effectively help to feed hungry people by helping them feed their companion animals. Our composting customer Nina Kavin of Dear Evanston wrote a story about the shelter’s related and lovely custodial program.  

I can understand, sort of, the urge to put all of the painful reminders into a garbage bag and throw them all out and be done with it. But as my daughter Clara likes to say: have you met me?! There’s no way I could do that. We had to compost a large amount of kibble because we, unfortunately, did not have the original bag. That was my version of throwing it all away.

Keep shelters in mind if you are moving and have cleaning supplies to donate because they always need those too.

The WasteShed comes to Evanston

Did you hear that The WasteShed is opening a second location in Evanston? They are taking over the north room of Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse (ERW). Their missions align so perfectly.  You may recall reading about ERW because they are one of the hosts of our food scrap dropoff programs.

The WasteShed is an organization that lives at the intersection of crafting and sustainability. I bet you didn’t think that was possible!

Here’s how they describe themselves: “The WasteShed is a creative reuse center in Chicago. We collect reusable art and school materials that would otherwise be thrown away and make them available to teachers, artists and anyone who needs them at low cost.”

When I was downsizing, I brought a ton of stuff to The WasteShed’s Chicago location in Humboldt Park. Not literally a ton, although like us, this is their unit of measure for measuring their diversion rates.

They are planning a November 2021 opening. We can hardly wait.

Environmental Justice Discussion Group

We’re winding down on the first year of our discussion group. It has been enlightening, challenging, inspiring, sobering, discomfiting, heartbreaking. Was it everything we’d hoped for? It was a lot of what we hoped for. We chose the right facilitator, Lesley Williams. She provided the challenges and we really appreciated that about her. We may have even given her a glimmer of hope that the readings and discussions have opened people’s eyes a bit to the wider implications of environmental justice. Honestly, we would have liked to have had more diversity in the demographics of the participants, though we did get some. We’re excited to begin planning the next year of selections. 

8,000 Tons & Counting!

8,000 Tons & Counting!

We’re delighted to announce that we have reached another diversion milestone: 8000 tons! It’s a little hard to imagine that amount of food scraps, isn’t it?

In the first six months that Erlene was hauling buckets of food scraps in her Toyota Camry, she averaged about 77 pounds a week. This week our crew hauled 50,000 pounds! 

Because tons are kind of hard to visualize, we used this nifty calculator to try to help you understand how very much that is. It’s about 3/10ths as heavy as the Statue of Liberty, and equivalent in weight to 70 blue whales, 158 million golf balls or 6.6 billion jelly beans.

We are so grateful to our composting community and our hardworking crew and staff. This last 1000 tons took us 11 months to accomplish. Let’s see if we can’t make it to 9000 tons sooner than that. On your mark, get set, divert!

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?