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 firstname.lastname@example.org
From February 2021 to November 2022, Collective Resource Compost hosted a monthly Environmental Justice Discussion Group. You rightly might be asking yourself why a food scrap hauler would do that. The answer is that we are more than just that. Though we are a for-profit business, we have always been mission-based, and part of our mission is to “build community around sustainability.” It turns out, sustainability has a shadow side.
We wanted to shine a light on environmental injustices around the world, and in a safe space, discover and discuss our culpability. Our facilitator Lesley Williams guided us through it all.
Though our official monthly discussions have ended, our environmental justice work has not. It is our intention to use our social media channels to continue to share resources on this subject. We welcome you to inform us of any resources or opportunities to learn that you come across that we could share with our community. We’d like to share our past selections in the hope that if you haven’t yet, you will watch or read some or all of them and have your own discussions.
In our first year, we alternated between documentaries and nonfiction books.
February documentary, Cooked: Survival by Zip Code March and April book, nonfiction, A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind,by Harriet A. Washington May documentary, The True Cost June, July, August and September book of essays, Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural World,edited by Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy October documentary, Death by Design November book, nonfiction, Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago, by David Naguib Pellow
In our second year, we mixed it up a bit and added a lecture, speculative fiction, an audio-only story, a podcast, poetry and a feature film, while still including some nonfiction books and a documentary.
February documentary, 13th and lecture, Critical Environmental Justice, speaker David Naguib Pellow March short stories, speculative fiction, Kabu-Kabu: “Spider the Artist” and “The Popular Mechanic” audio-only story: “Poison Fish” by Nnedi Okorafor April documentary, The Sacrifice Zone: Life in an Industrial Wasteland May book, nonfiction, Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger, by Julie Sze June podcast, Agents of Change: Cielo Sharkus on how engineering can bolster environmental justice July poetry, selections from Poetry & Environmental Justice, joint project of Poetry Society of America and Greenpeace USA August documentary, television series, The New Environmentalists September feature film, Avatar October book, nonfiction, As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker November 2022, documentary, Landfillharmonic
In 2022, we began each discussion with this Land Acknowledgement: We begin by acknowledging and extending gratitude to First Nations ancestors of the land we are on. The Chicago area is a territory that belongs to the Peoria, Potawatomi, Miami & Sioux people. We offer thanks and ask forgiveness to the people of this land. Traditional knowledge, governance, cultural practices and lives were lost in order for our people to settle here. We commit to repairing the damages of colonization in the ways we are able to. Through relationship-building and direct political engagement in solidarity with Indigenous peoples across the country, we now call the United States.
Over twelve years ago, before Collective Resource Compost was born, Evanston had this program for repurposing 65-gallon garbage cans that had been made holey by squirrels. By taking off the wheels, drilling more holes into them and stenciling compost on the sides, they transformed them into compost bins. I had one of these in my backyard. One fall, I put our spent jack-o’-lantern into it. Because I had begun composting through CRC, I kind of forgot about that pumpkin. Months later, I wondered what had happened to it. Had it partially composted or was it still pretty intact? I opened up the bin and much to my surprise, it had completely biodegraded! My first thought was that someone, either human or animal, had taken it, but there really wasn’t any evidence of that. From that point forward, I started calling composting magic.
Pumpkins are mostly water, like watermelons, except we don’t think of them this way because they don’t have water in their name. I think we should start calling them watersquashes. Who’s with me?
I love eating pumpkins but I really hate carving them. I just don’t think it’s safe. Add children into the mix and it seems like a recipe for disaster. I seem to be in the minority.
I got curious about how the whole pumpkin carving tradition got started. Apparently, we have the Irish to thank for it. This is very funny to me because I am mostly Irish. But it wasn’t just pumpkins that were carved. Sometimes it was root vegetables like turnips. The Wikipedia page for jack-o’lanterns is pretty amusing with photos of a creepy mummy-like plaster cast of a turnip jack-o’lantern, an actual turnip jack-o’lantern and a pumpkin carved to look like Wikipedia’s logo.
I had this vague memory that Illinois produced more pumpkins than any other state. This was confirmed by the USDA website. In 2021, Illinois had more than twice the pumpkin-growing acreage as the rest of the big producers. The other states are California, Indiana, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia.
This is all a lead-up to encourage you to compost all of those pumpkins. There are so many different ways.
Our friends at Go Green Winnetka and Illinois Food Scrap Coalition created and distributed this article explaining how A Smashed Pumpkin is Better than a Rotted One. You can read it on Go Green Winnetka’s website or download a colorful one-pager here.
Pumpkin Smashes are really having their moment. Our friends at SCARCE, a gem of an organization that we are lucky to have in Illinois, headed by Kay McKeen, have been ahead of the curve on the pumpkin composting front. They have hosted Pumpkin Smashes beginning in 2014! They have a section on their website devoted to them which includes a database with a map of the smashes that have been registered with them and a guide for how to host one.
A lot of park districts and public works departments are hosting events. I love the creativity that went into Park Ridge’s Pumpkin Smash and Bash. Participants roll their pumpkins down a sledding hill, smash them and then catapult them into a pile.
Low-key Pumpkin Composting
If you have just one or two pumpkins you can leave them with your bucket or tote and we’ll compost them free-of-charge. We like to encourage customers to gather their pumpkins in a box or bag to make things easier for our drivers. If they have other pumpkins out on display that should not be picked up, they should find a way to make that extra clear for the driver. And of course, this can happen whenever you want to add them to your regular pickup.
So what do Pumpkin Smashes and Pickleball have in common? Besides the obvious same first letter? Pickleball is also having a moment! And it’s about time, since I hear that it was invented in 1965. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman of a certain age but I just keep hearing about it. My best friend’s mom plays it. My synagogue’s cantor plays it. My boss’s wife plays it. I’ve been seeing yard signs about pickleball lessons and I don’t think I’m hallucinating. There’s even a USA Pickleball Association. They might be slightly biased but they describe the game as fun, social and friendly. The association helps organize tournaments and Evanston’s McGaw YMCA has its first-ever coming up on two Sundays this November.
All this got me wondering about how it compared with the game of squash. And, as it often does, the internet provided. An article from May 2021 describes Squickleball, a curious combo of squash and pickleball that was invented by members of Montreal’s Atwater Club to adhere to public health regulations during the pandemic. Funny! I wasn’t expecting that.
It’s back-to-school time and even if no one in your household is actually going back to school, it always feels like a reboot time of year. Our friends at Seven Generations Ahead have created this flyer to give you ideas about ways to up your lunch game from disposable to reusable. They suggest that you “Turn a Wasteful Lunch into a Zero Waste Lunch”. Share it with your school administrators or PTAs if you haven’t already received something like it in your child’s backpack or virtual backpack.
Budget versus Investment
You may already have some containers you could reuse that don’t look exactly like the ones in the flyer. I like how our friends at Chicago zero waste store Eco & The Flamingo phrase it: budget versus investment. You may not need to necessarily buy anything new to cut out some of your waste.
Ask in your Buy Nothing groups if you want a new lunchbox, particularly if you’re not picky about what color or style it is.
It’s been a while since I’ve needed to pack a school lunch so I popped onto Mighty Nest’s website to look around at what’s new. Here’s what I found when I searched for lunch on their website. Lots of cool stuff!
I’ve never heard of an avocado sock. It keeps your avocado from getting bruised and aids ripening. That’s hilarious! I wish I’d thought of that. I might have to knit myself one or make one from a holey wool sock. It looks like the fruit buddy is a similar product with a cuter name and a face and ears.
Sometimes I don’t get it together to pack myself a lunch. Where do you go for a sustainable lunch? Below are a couple of our favorites.
Farmers Fridge is based in Chicago. I vividly remember the Good Food Festival where I met the founder Luke Saunders and learned about his new company. They have what they call smart fridges where you can buy one of their mason-jar-style salads as easily as you could buy a candy bar. They originally placed them in 7-11 stores. I loved that because they were a very healthy alternative to the other food offerings there.
The fridges are in both public and private places. Whenever I discover one at a new location, it’s like running into an old friend. I most recently discovered that there is one at Robert Crown Community Center in Evanston. That discovery made me ridiculously happy because I was there charging my car in the parking lot.
They compost at their prep kitchen in Chicago. Though their jars are plastic, I find they are good containers for making my own mason-jar-style salads.
When you’re making your own salads, you can put the dressing in the bottom of the jar. (I understand why Farmers Fridge needs to put their dressing in a small plastic container, I just don’t love it.) The layering basically goes like this: dressing, sturdy vegetables that can hold up to hanging out in the dressing, other stuff maybe a protein like beans or chicken, with lettuce and other greens up top.
Farmers Fridge provides compostable kraft paper boats in the side of their fridges, as well as compostable plastic cutlery. But you don’t need those because you’ve brought your own bamboo set, right?
I really like Bamboo To-Go Ware. I’ve been recommending them for years. I only recently learned that ChicoBag and To-Go Ware are owned by the same company. Makes sense since their missions, to eliminate single-use plastic usage, are so aligned. It can be empowering to whip out your own cutlery. Practice saying this: “No thanks. I brought my own.”
We compost for the sweetgreen restaurant in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago and they’ve just opened another in Evanston. I’m counting 15 locations in Chicagoland. They’re doing good work on both a micro and macro level. They use compostable paper bowls and lids. They cook from scratch and they are committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2027. You can read more about their carbon commitment here on their website. I’m a fan of the Shroomami warm bowl. It’s labeled as “low carbon” in the area on the menu where calories, protein, carbs and fat are also listed. That made me curious. Apparently the Shroomami is part of a low carbon collection that also includes Crispy Rice Bowl, Guacamole Greens, and Super Green Goddess. They have a carbon footprint that is less than the average American meal.
When I emailed their customer service to ensure that their bowls did not use PFAS, I got a super speedy response. They are indeed PFAS-free and I like that their bowl lids are also paper.
I know that a lot of people like to eat yogurt on-the-go. If you’re flexible on the type you’d be willing to eat, I’d recommend Oui yogurt both for the quality and because it comes in cute little glass jars. That’s not exactly new news, but I discovered recently that you can buy lids for them. On their website they sell plastic lids in either blue or clear. But other places, there are wood and bamboo lids of all descriptions. These aromatic cedar ones look very beautiful and probably smell good too. Some, maybe all, come with a silicone gasket. There are kits for turning them into a windowsill planter. There are even crochet covers for the jars themselves. It’s like I’ve encountered an alternate universe where all you need is Oui yogurt jars to accomplish anything. I’d use them to store crunchy bits to add to my mason-jar-style salad.
We need a better word for leftovers. Something more positive that celebrates them. I tried finding one but the synonyms are even worse, trust me. Preserving a little bit of dinner for lunch saves both time and energy. It’s a weight loss technique, when eating in restaurants to pack up half of your dinner immediately. I’m not necessarily advocating dieting here, I’m just thinking that in my own experience there have been times when the leftovers didn’t seem like enough to bother packing up. I never feel that way now. I have containers of all sizes in my car, even tiny ones for sauces and a small silicone spatula for getting every morsel off the plate or bowl.
Too Good To Go
Have you downloaded this app yet? This is how they describe themselves: “Too Good To Go is a service with a mobile application that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have surplus unsold food.” They are aiming to reduce food waste by facilitating the sale of unsold food to consumers who are flexible enough to take what is offered at a reduced cost. It bears repeating that reducing food waste is one of Project Drawdown’s top suggestions for drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and mitigating climate change. More impactful, dare I say, than composting. But the two, along with eating a plant-rich diet are a potent trifecta.
I just looked up the definition of this word. And the second definition actually brought tears to my eyes: able to be upheld or defended. It is my fervent hope that we are able to uphold and defend our beautiful planet and all of its inhabitants.
Thank you to our customer Sasha (whose official title is Sasha Adkins, PhD, MPH, Advanced Lecturer in Environmental Health at the School of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago) for educating us on the PFAS problem and alerting us to this news article from Massachusetts that prompted us to take more action on this problem.
PFAS are highly toxic fluorinated chemicals and are present in many household items. They have been referred to as forever chemicals in that they never break down and never go away. This article from the Environmental Working Group does a great job of explaining the PFAS problem.
We’re going to be making another adjustment to what items we’ll take and we want you to know why. We are most concerned with the items that technically can be composted but might contain PFAS. Though the term has been overused since COVID-19 rocked our worlds, we are doing this out of an abundance of caution. We hope that you will join us in realizing that the inconvenience that this might cause you is worth it in the long run.
We want you to begin looking for alternatives to these items: microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes that are not brown cardboard, coated dental floss and any food service items that resist grease.
Thanks for helping us to continue to be part of the solution.
A number of years ago I read this book called Scarcity, written by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Interestingly, I’m finding three different cover designs with three different subtitles: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Your Life, Why Having Too Little Means So Much and The True Cost of Not Having Enough. It instantly became one of my top five favorite non-fiction books. I’m always interested in why we do what we do. I observe contradictory behaviors in myself and others and want to know why. The concept presented in the book is pretty simple: if you’ve experienced scarcity, particularly when you were young, it’s hard to break free from thinking that you ever have enough. This could be a reason that some of us struggle to achieve zero waste. On some level, having more makes us feel better even though wasting makes us feel bad. The authors explore scarcity in many areas including money, time and food.
We get a strong message through advertising that buying more things will also buy us happiness, that the answer is to always be adding. But we may have gotten a different message from our parents.
Having both been born in 1924, my parents grew up during The Great Depression. The difference between them was that my father was from a less-affluent immigrant family and my mother’s family had more time here in the United States to build their wealth before the depression hit. My Dad really did not have much growing up. This made him hold on to what he was able to buy. He tended to buy quantity over quality and it was very difficult for him to get rid of things. As I am writing this, I wonder if there was something visually satisfying for him to see a lot of clothes in his closet.
To keep our household in balance, my mom was always subtracting, always giving things away to charities. I didn’t like it, probably because I’m more like my Dad. This came up recently because my brother was visiting my apartment and asked if this light-up globe I use as a nightlight had been his. I said, “No, Mom gave away the globe.” If I’m being honest, it’s the only thing she ever gave away that I actually wanted and she gave away thousands of items over the years. And what do you know? The universe provided me with another one. I didn’t even need to buy it. My mother-in-law was giving it away.
It’s much easier for us to add than subtract. I recently read the suggestion on a decluttering or minimalist blog that instead of removing items one-by-one from a room, it’s easier to remove everything and just add some items back in. That way we’re adding, not subtracting and this is somehow easier for us to do. It’s called reverse decluttering. I have gotten more careful about adding to my possessions because I know how hard it is for me to get rid of things.
Joshua Becker has a website and blog called Becoming Minimalist. I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan but I’m open to some of what he writes. In his intro, he has this sentence that spoke to me: My belongings were not adding value to my life. Instead, they were subtracting from it. He often has guest bloggers which I appreciate because they have their own things to say. Most of them are women.
Joshua talks about wearing a uniform of sorts: black v-neck t-shirt, pants, black shoes. I’ve noticed this about him because a lot of his pics and videos are from the waist up. There are several successful men who come to mind who wear or wore a uniform of their own choosing—Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg—but where are the women? Diane Keaton and Ellen DeGeneres come close, but isn’t it interesting that their styles incorporate menswear?
I considered having a capsule wardrobe but all of the ones I’ve seen have been so boring. Lots of solid colors and I like to wear prints. Some of the videos I’ve watched have sold me on the idea of not having one. The fewer items you have means that some of the outfits are real clunkers. But I do notice that with each season I have my favorite pieces of clothing that I wear over and over. Joshua gives acknowledgement to his success at paring down his wardrobe to another blogger Courtney Carver, who created Project 333—a personal challenge of wearing only 33 articles of clothing for a period of 3 months. She wrote a book about it. You can find more of her wisdom at Be More With Less.
In one of his blog posts, Joshua mentions the Pareto principle, that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The principle applies to lots of situations like getting dressed in the morning. I believe that I wear 20% of my clothes 80% of the time. But he really had my attention when he posited that less variety in meals leads to less food waste. I’m a variety-is-the-spice-of-life kinda gal but as I said earlier, I’m open. The post is called You Eat Less Variety Than You Think. Embrace It. And check out the comments because there is a lot to chew on there too. (I’m sorry, I just pun naturally.) It doesn’t mean that you can’t mix it up and try new recipes.
I’m sure that I’ve mentioned Anne-Marie Bonneau, who is known as the Zero-Waste Chef. She had a post on Facebook recently that had me thinking. She was saying that cooking with fewer ingredients simplifies her life. In this particular blog post, she is singing the praises of wheat berries because they can be used in so many different ways. They can even be a replacement for gum which you may or may not know contains plastic.
I’m going to close with the question that I’ve been asking myself lately: What have you subtracted that has added value to your life? And would subtracting more add even more?