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 mbschaye@collectiveresource.us 

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!

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.

Convenience

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.

Water

Water

What comes to mind when you think of water? Do you think about being at the beach and gazing at the water? Or do you think about being in the water, either swimming in it or bathing or showering in it? Maybe you think of water in terms of precipitation. Does rain really affect you because you depend upon it? Do you grow food, either on a large or small scale?

I probably gave it away by the image I chose to go with this blogpost, but I think about drinking water. I recently used the program Noom to shed some of my pandemic pounds and the first thing I focused on was meeting my water goal. I foolishly thought that drinking enough water was something that I was already good at, because unlike other people, I actually like the taste of water. I was wrong. I was drinking only half of what I should! I needed a plan and the plan I came up with was to set an alarm for every hour-and-a-half and drink 8 ounces when it went off. It’s amazing how great I feel when I do this.

I think that most people are like me and assume their drinking water is safe. I’ve never had my water tested. I use a Brita water filter because I live in an apartment and don’t have as much control over my pipes as I might if I owned my home. I don’t even know if I need it. I do know that Brita filters filter out lead. Have any of our Chicago readers had their water tested for lead? Did you know that free water quality test kits are available through the Department of Water Management?

Water Conservation

There are two ideas that most people think of when considering water conservation: taking shorter showers and turning off the water when brushing their teeth. Yes, those are good ideas! Reduce and reuse apply to water, as well. But if you take a step back, there is so much water conservation in reducing in all areas of consumption, not just water consumption. An enormous amount of water is used in the production of clothing, for example. The fashion industry uses one tenth of all water used industrially.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

I remember when I was introduced to Debra Shore. It was her first time running for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. We had a mutual friend who knew her through her work with Chicago Wilderness and I went to a campaigning event at the mutual friend’s house. Debra won that election and every one since. She does a fantastic job of distilling the facts down to a place where someone like me, who does not work in the water space, can understand the issues.

In this WTTW news story, she is quoted along with State Representative for Illinois District 17, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, who sponsored the Pharmaceutical Recovery Act (HB4888). If you don’t have time to read the whole article, the gist is that it used to be common practice to flush unused medications but it has been identified that environmentally speaking, that’s not a great idea. Keeping them in your cabinet can lead to misuse leading to overdoses and even deaths. The bill hopes to expand collection and task pharmaceutical companies with the cost burden.

There’s not much we can do about the pharmaceuticals that enter the water through our bodies but we can certainly support pharmaceutical companies being mandated to have extended producer responsibility in taking back the products they produce.

I’m sorry to say that that bill did not pass in its current form, but because Representative Gong-Gershowitz is my state rep, I know that this is something she is going to keep fighting for. While we wait for it to be resurrected, did you know that many communities that are in our service area have places where you can drop off unused or expired prescriptions? 

I was going to provide links to all of them but they are very easy to find on municipal websites. The collection boxes are usually located at police or fire stations and generally they want you to black out personal information from the labels. Just like recycling and composting rules, you’re going to want to look at what they’ll take. I was surprised that a lot of the programs will also take pet prescriptions.

I think that the perfect place for these to be collected is at the pharmacies where they are purchased. I wonder if they will also collect empty pill bottles, but I’m trying to stay focused on drinking water here.

Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Sustainability School Board Committee

In 2019, three students at ETHS, Louise Bond, Mia Houseworth and Sarika Waikar started a sustainability school board committee. The committee is made up of students, staff and faculty and community members. I am one of the community members on this committee. I’m feeling a little wistful because these three students graduate this year. The committee will endure but we’re sad to see these leaders go. No surprise that I’m part of the waste subcommittee. One sustainable change we’ve made at the high school is to replace the plastic water bottles in the vending machines with an aluminum bottle brand called Open Water.  In my search for a photo of the product, I learned that Open Water is a woman-owned startup headquartered in the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport. Love it!

We’re excited about this switch because it’s a way to reduce the single-use plastic at the school and increase recycling since aluminum is the dream material for recycling. If you look at the link under Open Water you’ll learn that aluminum is recycled twice as much as other beverage containers. These bottles can be easily refilled at the water stations around the school. Of course, we will continue to encourage students and staff to bring their own refillable water bottles if they have them.

The weather has suddenly turned hotter and now I am thinking about heading to the beach to gaze at the water. I’ll be sure to bring some drinking water with me.

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.

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 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. Future dates are May 13, June 10, July 8, Aug. 12, Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11.

Our selection for our discussion on May 13 is the documentary The True Cost. Our previous selections were focused on environmental racism in Chicago and the United States. This documentary illuminates international environmental injustices. It spells out the always bad, sometimes tragic, fallout from the fast fashion industry.

For several months this summer into fall, we’ll be reading essays from Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural World, edited by Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy. The introduction and 17 essays in Colors of Nature movingly address the question, “What is the earth to people of color?” Exploring history, displacement, return, and relationship to place, these writers show that the ways Americans have impacted nature are inseparable from racism and inequities in economic and political power. Featured contributors include Jamaica Kincaid, bell hooks, Francisco X. Alarcon, Yusef Komunyakaa, Diane Glancy, and others.

The book is split into four sections. We’ll be discussing the first section, Return, on June 10, the second section, Witness, on July 8, the third section, Encounter, on August 12 and the final section, Praise, on September 9. Join us for all of the sections or pick one that resonates with you.

Everyone is welcome but space is limited. To register for any of the discussions and receive detailed information on ways to obtain all of this year’s selections, email Mary Beth Schaye at mbschaye@collectiveresource.us

Circularity: Restorative and Regenerative

Circularity: Restorative and Regenerative

April has become Earth Month and the week that includes Earth Day, April 22nd, has become Earth Week. We are heading into this week as I sit down to write. Very soon thereafter, May 2nd–8th, 2021, is a week that does not get quite as much attention around the world: International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW). This year, an organization in which Collective Resource Compost is deeply involved, Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC), is creating an online Lunch & Learn Series to celebrate it. This year’s theme, Grow, Eat…COMPOST…Repeat, empowers us to recognize and promote the importance of composting and the use of compost in growing healthier food, supporting healthier soils and, ultimately, creating a more just and sustainable world. You can register here to attend.

I love this year’s theme and not just because it fits in well with my blogpost theme of circularity.

Before today, I had not heard of a woman named Ellen MacArthur. It was only in my research on how exactly I’d approach introducing you to the topic of circularity and the circular economy that her name and the name of her eponymous foundation kept coming up. Their mission is to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. At the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, they develop and promote the idea of a circular economy. They work with, and inspire, business, academia, policymakers, and institutions to mobilize systems solutions at scale, globally.

They had me at inspire. I’m so excited about the treasure trove of information that lives on this website that I want the world to go away while I dig into it. But first, let’s start with a definition. A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. It’s a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. Sometimes when trying to wrap your mind around a concept, it’s helpful to think about its opposite. In this case, a linear economy. It goes like this: take, make, use, dispose, pollute. Two pieces of bad news: it’s not sustainable and it’s how most industries operate worldwide, at least since the Industrial Revolution.

In a circular economy, it goes like this: make, use, reuse, remake, recycle. If you watch this short video Explaining the Circular Economy and How Society Can Re-think Progress | Animated Video Essay, you’ll get a good idea of the concept.

The Giving Tree by Amy O. Woodbury

The part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website that is most applicable to what we do here at Collective Resource Compost is a resource called Food and the Circular Economy. Look for the carrots. Coincidence? I think not. If you have time, I’d definitely look at the two sections that precede it: What is the Circular Economy? and The Circular Economy in Detail.

I was taking a walk with a friend recently and we were discussing trees and art. I was telling her about this painting I own that I love but that I intensely dislike its title, The Giving Tree, because it was named after the book by Shel Silverstein with the same title. In this conversation, we discovered that we both disliked the book. For those who are not familiar with the book, it’s about this tree that gives and gives and a boy/man who takes and takes. Someone who likes the book would likely describe it differently.

To me, it sounds a lot like the linear economy.

*Main image © Copyright 2021 Ellen MacArthur Foundation