Composting made easy

Break Free From Plastic

Break Free From Plastic

Because I’m a zero waste consultant, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about waste reduction: asking myself how I can personally reduce waste and how I can help and inspire others to do the same. Actually it might be the other way around, because I think so much about waste reduction, I became a zero waste consultant.

I watched a webinar last month called Regional Approaches to Fuel Local Circular Economies: Great Lakes Region. You’re going to be hearing the term circular economy more and I hope that it is something you will learn more about on your own. It is the opposite of the linear economy that has created our throwaway culture.

I had two takeaways from that webinar. The first speaker was the CEO of an organization called the Council of the Great Lakes Region. He told us that 80 percent of the litter that is found on the shorelines of the Great Lakes is one type. Can you guess? Plastic.

The next speaker showed two side-by-side charts. One chart showed the type of materials that we were asking recycling facilities to manage when they were first built. The other chart was what we’d like them to recycle now. They were vastly different and the more recent chart had a lot of different examples of one particular material. Can you guess what it was? Plastic.

Hearing both of these things underscored what I already knew, which is that we need to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic. We can’t rely on recycling because plastic is difficult to recycle.

A small convenience like using plastic bags can have so many bigger and unintended inconveniences. Plastic is a petroleum product, so there are problems from extraction to disposal. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute documentary that does a great job of explaining the hazards of a linear economy. The Story of Plastic is a very recent feature-length follow-up to it. I watched it just last night, to see if there was anything in it that I wanted to add to this blogpost. The multi-national companies that profit from the production of plastic want us to believe that the problem is not the production of plastic but the disposal of it. Because they see the writing on the wall from the surge in renewable energy and electric cars, they are building up their infrastructure to produce even more plastic, with no plan for its disposal and no responsibility for it either. I encourage you to watch the movie, but if you can’t, here is the legislation to support: ending fossil fuel subsidies, banning single-use plastic and extending producer responsibility.

Because we’re privileged, we have not been adversely affected by the disposal of plastic like other less fortunate communities around the globe.

I saw a recent copy of Consumer Reports with this cover story: How to Eat Less Plastic. Because we’re interacting with plastic every day, it is now in our bodies. On average, we consume a credit card’s worth of plastic weekly—through the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. I find that terrifying.

My suggestion is that you start small but think big. Make yesterday the last day you said yes to a plastic bag but also support a plastic bag ban the next time it comes up.  From the Consumer Reports article, I learned about some interesting national legislation that was introduced in the house in January: The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, HR 5845. Please support it!

Living a plastic-free life

One of the things you can do to reduce plastic is to compost your food scraps. The connection is not obvious so I’ll explain that. When you compost your food scraps, you’re separating your organic waste from your inorganic waste like plastic. When you do that, you can get a better handle on the kinds of plastic waste that you need to begin eliminating. Then eliminate them one-by-one.

This is the fun part. It’s best to use things until they wear out, but while that’s happening, you can scheme about what its non-plastic replacement might be. My next purchase is going to be a safety razor. I just learned about this new-to-me brand called OUI the People that has a Black woman founder and CEO and sells a safety razor made for women. That checks a lot of boxes for me.

Package Free Shop in Brooklyn, New York is a great place to find plastic alternatives online. They opened their store and launched their website on April 22, 2017. I get bamboo dental floss from them that comes in a pretty glass container.

A local woman-owned company, that is part of Chicago Market’s community, is Zefiro Waste. I just got a bamboo toilet brush from them.

You may be reading this some other month but as I write, we are in the middle of Plastic Free July, a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Here’s a little secret though, you can kick off your own plastic free campaign in any month.

I’m kind of a life-hack-tip-junkie. (I may have just coined that term.) I was kind of thrilled when Redfin asked us to contribute one to their blog: 17 Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home.

If after doing these 17 things you want more ideas, Beth Terry at the website My Plastic Free Life has 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life. Yowza!

My original title for this post was Breaking Up With Plastic but watching the documentary last night, made me aware of another website, hashtag and global movement with which to become involved: #breakfreefromplastic

You could assume that I have personally eliminated all single-use plastic, but I’m still working on it too. It’s a hard but worthwhile pursuit. Zero waste is a game that I play, and like the lottery, you have to play to win. I win some days and lose some days but I play every day. Join me!

Addressing Environmental Racism

Addressing Environmental Racism

These past few weeks almost everyone has had a response to the events that led to recent marches and protests decrying racism.

Collective Resource Compost stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and grieves with the rest of the nation the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and so many others. We are committed to addressing systemic racism and systemic bias at Collective Resource Compost and in our work with other businesses and organizations.

This is a time of reflection, for us to look inward to determine how we need to act outward.

It is clear that inaction has contributed to the problem. We, at Collective Resource Compost, have been thinking about what actions we can take to address the problem. Education has always been an important part of our mission. It began with educating on composting and zero waste and has since broadened to other areas of sustainability.

You may or may not have heard of the term, “environmental racism”. Here is one definition: Environmental racism is a concept in the environmental justice movement, which developed in the United States throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The term is used to describe environmental injustice that occurs within a racialized context both in practice and policy. In the United States, environmental racism criticizes inequalities between urban and exurban areas after white flight. Internationally, environmental racism can refer to the effects of the global waste trade, like the negative health impact of the export of electronic waste to China from developed countries.

We feel that it is time for us to not only educate ourselves further on the topic but to pass on what we’ve learned to our customers. Our hope is that education will lead to action.

We are most interested in the local implications of this in Chicago, Chicagoland and Illinois. As always, we have to thank our sustainability community for helping us educate.

Illinois Environmental Council sends out Action Alerts that are also listed on their website. Some of these actions come in the form of signing petitions like this current action to prevent a known polluter from relocating to a predominantly Black and Brown community.

Our composting customers Faith in Place and Elevate Energy also do a good job of making sure that the voices of Black and Brown communities are heard.

I like this diverse selection of book recommendations from their staff on Faith in Place’s website.

Elevate Energy has begun a 5-part series of podcasts called Climate Changemakers that profile community leaders working on environmental justice issues. The series is available to listen on their website.

They are also holding Town Hall Roundtables on Zoom and YouTube. I attended one this week and my takeaway was that we should continue to let our representatives know that we support CEJA, the Clean Energy Jobs Act which promotes jobs, equity and economic opportunity, especially in communities of color.

If you don’t know your state legislators, you can find their info here.  Citizens’ Utility Board has an easy interface for contacting your reps on bills like this one. I am lucky in that my representatives support green initiatives. Do you have friends or relatives who live in other parts of the state who might be interested in contacting their representatives? If you want to learn more about the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act, click here.

We will continue to follow the lead of these organizations and pass on what we learn.

Thank you to The Plant for making us aware of this guide to Non-Optical Allyship. It is a great place to start, if you are finding yourself unsure of what you can do or where to start.

We have an idea brewing. We want to host an environmental justice book and movie discussion group. None of us have done anything like this before so we’ll be learning as we go along. Here is how we think it will go. The discussions will take place on Zoom. We may go chapter by chapter with the books. We’ll be sure to pick books that have an audiobook option. For the movies, we’d all see the movies on our own, but meet up on Zoom to discuss them.

Right now we’re just trying to gauge interest. Would you be interested in participating? Do you have any books or documentaries that you have been meaning to read or watch but have not yet and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss them with others? 

Slow Food Chicago has a list on their website of books, movies and podcasts called Equity, Inclusion and Justice: Read, Watch, Listen. A lot of their recommendations, not surprisingly, highlight inequities in farming and food, but not all. Go take a look.

We look forward to learning and growing together.

Building Community Around Sustainability

Building Community Around Sustainability

I could say that lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of building community and that would be true. Honestly, it’s something I think about all of the time, particularly building community around sustainability.

Being able to communicate is key in building community. In fact, the words themselves share the same root. How do we build community without being able to communicate in-person?

In her nonfiction book Big Magic, writer Elizabeth Gilbert encourages readers to follow their curiosity. Lately I’ve been following my curiosity by following different hashtags on Instagram. It’s slightly more fun than following people because there is wider variety in the posts. There are so many instagrammers posting about zero waste. Some of them I’ve met in-person but most of them I haven’t, but hope to someday.

Right now, as I’m writing this post, the hashtag #zerowaste has 5.2 million posts! That’s really heartening, isn’t it? It’s fun to think that I contributed some of those.

Illinois Environmental Council (IEC)

Illinois Environmental Council does really good work to further environmental legislation in Illinois. Since 1975, they’ve been bringing together the Illinois environmental community to influence decision makers and ensure clean air, clean water and healthy communities. In one of her recent blog posts, Executive Director Jen Walling wrote something that really struck me. She was answering a question she’d been asked over and over in public appearances: What can I do to help save the planet? She has four related answers. The three that I expected were: Get to know your lawmakers, Get to know your advocates and Take Action. The one that struck me was: Get to know your neighbors.

Here is her reasoning: Not only is knowing your neighbors one of the most important factors in determining whether you’ll survive a catastrophic weather event, it may end up being an incredibly important factor in whether we can pass laws that will reduce carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe. That’s because relationships are everything in politics and organizing. If your lawmaker won’t meet with you, knowing your neighbors is a good way to find someone in your community that may know your lawmaker or may be there to help in an election if your lawmaker isn’t voting the right way on environmental issues.

Neighbor Totes

Maybe you’ve already seen it on our website. We are rolling out a new program called Neighbor Totes. We created this program for a lot of reasons: to make it easier for people who live alone to compost, to make it less expensive for those who can’t afford a personal bucket and to give people a reason to get to know their neighbors through sustainability.

I promise you that we thought of this name before we read Jen’s blog post!

We also had faith communities in mind when we conceived of it. Because faith communities typically gather regularly at a house of worship, it’s a natural fit for members to drop off their food scraps to a place they’re already going. It’s still possible for faith communities to host Neighbor Totes in different locations, at homes instead of the house of worship.

Neighbor Totes are also being used at multi-unit buildings like condos, co-ops and apartment buildings.

We want you to get creative about who could share a tote. Maybe you’re not exactly neighbors but your kids were all in the same preschool class or you all met in a yoga class. You get the idea.

Greenwashing

Have you heard the term greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact. It is a deceitful advertising gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands. This definition comes from this article on the subject. The Federal Trade Commission has what they call Green Guides or Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, for guidance on environmental claims that can or cannot be made. There is a section on compostable claims.

Greenwashing makes it hard for the consumer because it makes it harder to understand if what you’re buying is truly compostable. It makes it hard for haulers like us because we’re supposed to guide you in knowing what you can or cannot compost. It makes it hard for the composting facilities because they have to deal with the contamination, the waste hauling term for when the wrong thing ends up in the wrong place. Though on some days, we want them to just deal with and figure out how to effectively compost all that we want to send their way, they need to be able to create a good finished compost product in order to sell it and stay in business.

We’ve always relied on the guidance of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Their third party certification program ensures that products and packaging displaying the BPI logo have been independently tested and verified according to scientifically based standards.

They have an interesting section on composting on their website. In it, they state that generally speaking, most composters would like the material they allow into their facilities to break down in fewer than 80 days.

PLA plastic, the compostable kind, is not actually breaking down that quickly at commercial composting sites in Chicagoland. This is posing the same kind of problem as contamination does.

Evolving

Customer service manager Chris Allender came up with the perfect word to describe what needs to happen: an evolution. In the same way that you have learned to waste less food by composting, an evolution needs to happen in our relationship and use of single-use plastic, even if they’re labeled compostable. 

We can guarantee that every food scrap you give us gets composted, but we can no longer guarantee that all of the compostable plastic you give us is being fully composted. We’d like you to begin thinking about how you could eliminate PLA plastic from your waste stream. We will continue to take these until we get a little more clarity from our compost facility partners.

Compostable paper products that bear the BPI logo do not seem to have the same problems, so if you feel like the next step in your evolution still includes disposables, look for compostable products that fall into this category.

The best scenario is to do something we instinctively know already: reduce and reuse. The easiest switch-up is using metal utensils instead of plastic. I recently read that no virus can survive the dishwasher, so if you don’t have enough forks, maybe you could borrow some from your neighbors!

Soil Loves Compost

Soil Loves Compost

May 3rd through 9th is International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW). Celebrated annually, the week is designed to promote the benefits of composting and compost for effective resource management, soil health and plant growth.

ICAW is normally a time when the benefits of composting are promoted through a variety of community activities. These are, however, anything but normal times, and our collective efforts to flatten the curve mean that we are all staying at home to keep our communities safe.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t promote composting to our friends, neighbors, and beyond. As we shelter in place, physically confined to a smaller world, our communities have paradoxically expanded via the digital world. Living online has gone from distraction to necessity as Facetime, messaging apps and social media become our only connection to friends both near and far.

This year’s ICAW theme is Soil Loves Compost. If you are active on social media like Instagram, you can post a picture of you and your family composting or using finished compost. Make sure to hashtag #soillovescompost. That way, you can go global without leaving your house! Please tag @collectiveresource in your posts as well. We love hearing from you but we also love seeing you online!

Two of our municipal partners have joined the effort as well. Mayor Steve Hagerty of Evanston and Mayor George Van Dusen of Skokie signed proclamations for this year’s International Compost Awareness Week.

VIDEO: Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty recognizes International Compost Awareness Week and acknowledges everyone in Evanston, including Collective Resource, that makes the city a leader in composting practices.

We may be keeping our physical distance from each other this spring, but we are still together as a composting community!