Composting made easy

9000 Tons of Resources Recovered!

9000 Tons of Resources Recovered!

We’re delighted to announce that we have reached another diversion milestone: 9,000 tons! That’s a whole lot of carrot tops, pizza boxes, eggshells, chicken bones, Chinet plates, etcetera, etcetera.

In the first six months that founder/owner Erlene was hauling buckets of food scraps in her Toyota Camry, she averaged about 77 pounds a week. Our crew is routinely averaging 30+ tons a week! That’s over 60,000 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. 9,000 tons is about 1/3 as heavy as the Statue of Liberty, 1500 times as heavy as an elephant and 6 million times as heavy as a human brain.

We are so grateful to our composting community, our staff and particularly our hardworking crew who lifted all of this. It took us 11 months to go from 7,000 to 8,000, but only 8 months to go from 8,000 to 9,000! It’s catching on people. Keep spreading the word and separating the scraps!

Block Parties and Reclaiming the Street

Block Parties and Reclaiming the Street

Block parties are so fun. I have nothing but happy associations with them. When I was growing up in a cul-de-sac in the northwest Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, we had really memorable 4th of July block parties. And the block that I raised my daughters on in Evanston was another great place. I knew all of my neighbors but block parties were a nice way to gather some of the less social ones.

There is something old-fashioned about them. They don’t have to create a lot of waste. No one is traveling all that far, so do you really have to use disposable everything? Of course, the answer is no. If everyone brought enough reusable everything for their families and guests, there would be very little waste.

Bring a Bucket

If you are already one of our customers, instead of bringing a shared dish, offer to bring a shared compost bucket for the watermelon rinds and corn cobs and other food scraps. An extra bucket is just $5.50. You could order a 32-gallon tote if your block party is really well-attended. Just make sure to order it about a week in advance.

If you do choose to use disposables, use uncoated paper plates and no matter what, go the reusable route and use metal forks. I have my own mismatched set of these that I bring to parties. My latest idea is to lay them out and take a photo. That way I know how many I should end up with and which styles were mine. Fun fact: there’s actually a term for this kind of photography. It’s called knolling or flat-lay photography. There is something really pleasing about this type of photography where everything is at perfect right angles to each other. I first learned it had a name in this article by my friend Monica in Communication Arts magazine. I really love the photographs in this article on medium.com about the history of knolling.

Educate your neighbors

A block party provides a perfect opportunity to educate your neighbors on the different composting options. Maybe they’ve seen our orange bucket appear on your porch for swapout but don’t really know what it’s all about. If you are intrigued with the idea of sharing one of our Neighbor Totes with your friends, relatives and/or neighbors, this would be an excellent opportunity to do so. You could even send this link to our website that describes our Neighbor Totes program to everyone before the party so they’d know what you were talking about.

We’ve added waste station signs to our website that you can print out here.

Taste Before You Waste

One way to reduce waste is to make a sign that suggests taking a little and trying it instead of loading up your plate with something that might be too spicy or too bland for you. Usually it’s the kids who make this mistake but sometimes distracted adults take a little too much too. Resist the urge to provide disposable tasting spoons. It’s just more waste. If you do feel that you have to provide disposable plates, purchase the luncheon size because a smaller plate also means less waste.

Back in 2019, our then-employee Phoenix Heller wrote this blogpost: Make Your Summer Even Greener by Going Zero Waste! It has some great tips. If you want to do a deeper dive into the topic, check it out. 

Reclaim The Streets

I googled block party and learned that historically some have had a link to activism. Blocking off the street to vehicular traffic, as a way to reclaim public space from automobiles and consumerism. It’s really kind of fun to read Wikipedia’s entry for block party. I loved learning that in some instances DJs would tap into streetlights to provide power for their sound systems. I am not recommending that, I just find it admirably resourceful.

Paperless Post

I think of Paperless Post as the upscale Evite. They recently made us aware that they have a blogpost called Why sustainability matters in event planning that maybe you’d like to check out, as well. And just so you know, this blog, Greener Living Inspirations, is not in the affiliate link business. We’re just educating and letting you know about the resources we’ve come across.

But enough reading, get up from your computer and go enjoy the sunshine while you can!

Composting Just Got Easier for Park Ridge

Composting Just Got Easier for Park Ridge

On May 1st, 2022, Collective Resource Compost entered into a franchise agreement with the City of Park Ridge to make composting more accessible.

This agreement lowers the cost of our service as reflected in these prices: Weekly Basic Bucket service is $27 and biweekly service (every other week) is $20.50 per month. You can save with annual or quarterly payments.

You may have noticed that we’ve added the option of a more frequent weekly swapout.

You could use our 5-gallon buckets to divert the food scraps from your individual household or compost communally with friends, relatives or neighbors using our 32-gallon Neighbor Totes. Restaurants, organizations, schools, and businesses are encouraged to divert their food scraps too.

All of this info can be found here on our website.

We’ve had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Park Ridge and have enjoyed helping the city meet its sustainability goals. In 2017, Go Green Park Ridge (GGPR), under the leadership of Amy Bartucci, worked with us to get enough customers so we could expand our service area to include Park Ridge. We’ve spoken at Green Drinks, tabled with GGPR at the farmers market and Community Health Fair and tabled at several One Earth Film Festival events.

We’re excited to be deepening our relationship to Park Ridge.

Soil, Not Dirt

Soil, Not Dirt

I have a friend, Julia, who is a landscape designer and when COVID struck, everyone had to pivot including me. In-person events were canceled indefinitely, so when she graciously asked if I wanted to work with her, helping to create and maintain gardens using native plants, I accepted. One of the many things she’s taught me is that the organic matter that covers our planet is soil, not dirt. I’ve been doing my best to teach everyone else.

Soil: the upper layer of earth in which plants grow, a black or dark brown material typically consisting of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles.

Dirt: a substance, such as mud or dust, that soils someone or something.

I agree that calling soil “dirt” sullies it.

Earth

Here’s another word that is often substituted for soil.

Earth: the substance of the land surface; soil.

I think that it’s kind of funny that we call the soil on our planet earth. I wonder if on Mars, the Martians called their dusty red soil mars. But honestly, whoever thought of that was thinking in very limited terms. Earth isn’t just the ground we walk on, it’s everything, us included.

I am just beginning to read a book called Cows Save the Planet and Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth.

In the introduction, there is an alarming statistic. The writer wrote that our food is not as nutritious as it used to be. She said that when the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was coined, only one apple was required to stay healthy. Today you’d need to eat four or five to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals. Our food is not as nutritious because the soil is not as nutrient-rich. I’m hoping this book moves from alarming to inspiring soon.

It’s not my goal to alarm you. I was not surprised that our food is less nutritious. I was a little surprised at how much less. But, we can get back to one apple a day, by diverting our food scraps through composting, and recover those nutrients for our soil and ultimately us.

I learned, as I was searching the internet for a good link to the book, that not only does the publisher Chelsea Green Publishing have a lot of titles about soil amending and food growing but they are also employee-owned.

Dirt Balls

I usually start writing this blog, then take a break and come back to it a few days later. Sometimes this means that other topics are introduced into it, but it’s also fun when related items pop up. I have a neighbor, Tom, an older man, who gives me copies of Archaeology magazine when he is finished with them. The magazine he gave me today was opened to a page that had a photo of a round, brown object. My first thought was cookie? Nope. My second: loaf of bread? Wrong again. (Do you notice how food-focused I am?) This is the caption: A ball made of compacted earth may have been a memento that was taken home from a pilgrimage to a sacred shrine in the Holy Land. Love it!

This particular article was about The Galloway Hoard, found in a region of southwestern Scotland. It was buried treasure discovered eight years ago and dates to about 900 AD during the Viking Age.

Though there were many more conventionally valuable items in this treasure trove: silver arm bands used as currency, an ornate silver cross, a gold bird pin, decorative jars and vessels, the principal curator cataloging the items said that his favorites were “the dirt balls.” I need to talk to that man.

Artificial Soil

I explained to my neighbor Tom that I was writing about soil this month and he asked if I’d heard of terra preta, an artificial soil invented by ancient South Americans. What? No! (I have this feeling that I’m going to be adding “talk to Tom” to my blog routine.)

I was intrigued by the term “artificial soil”. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Was it like turf grass? It turns out that it’s not exactly artificial, it’s anthropogenic. That’s a word that we usually associate with global warming but it just means man-made.

Terra preta consists of charcoal residues, tiny pottery shards, organic matter such as plant residues, animal feces, fish and animal bones, and other material; and of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and manganese.

It’s unclear if terra preta was made on-purpose. Maybe it wasn’t at first, but aren’t a lot of great discoveries made accidentally?

One of the cool things about this terra preta is that it was originally made in 450 BC through 950 AD and the soil is still more fertile there now! I imagine those pre-Columbian South American farmers looking into their crystal ball at us in 2022 AD and being appalled at how we’re squandering our soil. And we’re supposedly the more evolved ones!

Terra preta is reminding me of the modern-day equivalent biochar. I’m just beginning to learn about it. It’s like charcoal but it’s different in that it is intended as a soil amendment, not as a fuel. It’s made by burning wood or organic matter. Ideally, biochar is made in a way that captures the energy created in the burning for another purpose.

Sometimes biochar is combined with compost to amend soil. Like composting, it can be done on a smaller or bigger scale. It’s another way to recover resources and sequester carbon and it increases the nutrients in the plants grown in it.

Project Drawdown, the world’s leading resource for climate solutions, has good synopses if you’d like to learn more about biochar and composting.

Don’t Give Up

Some students at Northwestern University hosted an Environmental Justice Teach-In on Earth Day that I was fortunate to attend. One of the speakers was a Puerto Rican-born, Minneapolis-based artist/activist Ricardo Levins Morales, who said something with tears in his eyes that really stuck with me. He has this dream, vision, manifestation and that is that in the future he pictures a group of people around a ritual fire thanking their ancestors, us, for not giving up.

Examining Our Consumption

Examining Our Consumption

To be clear, I’m talking about this definition of consumption: the using up of a resource, not this definition: a wasting disease, especially pulmonary tuberculosis. Although maybe we industrialized countries do have a wasting disease that we have not yet labeled as such.

I’m writing this directly following our Environmental Justice Discussion Group discussion of the documentary The Sacrifice Zone: Life in an Industrial Wasteland. The Ironbound district of Newark, New Jersey, is one of the most toxic neighborhoods in the country. Maria Lopez-Nuñez, a Honduran-American resident there, is waging a war for environmental justice. She is part of the Ironbound Community Corporation, one of the most effective environmental justice organizations in the country. The Sacrifice Zone follows Maria as she leads a group of environmental justice fighters determined to break the cycle of poor communities of color serving as dumping grounds for our consumer society. The film is available to rent for $4 on Vimeo on Demand. It is quite eye-opening and is just a 35-minute time investment.

In our discussion, we talked about our buying habits, our consumption, because this neighborhood is home to the Port of New York and New Jersey, the busiest port on the US East Coast.

We would not wittingly make it harder for others to breathe or to shorten their lives, but our consumptive actions are doing just that. I find that pretty sobering.

I learned this phrase “hard empathy” recently. The kind of empathy you feel for someone in a situation that you yourself have not been in. It can be more difficult to imagine how someone else would feel in those situations.

This is something you can practice. I learned how from a TEDtalk by Jane McGonigal, a game designer and futurist. At around 12:50 in the TEDtalk, she describes an exercise in which you go to any news source and find a story that is outside your frame of reference and try to imagine how it would feel to be in that situation. (If you are hooked into the Family Action Network (FAN) interviews, her name might sound familiar, as she was just interviewed in April 2022. Watch that interview on YouTube here.)

I applied this concept to some of the situations described in the documentary. There is one scene when a young man is outside being interviewed and it’s nearly impossible to record him because airplanes are constantly flying overhead. I tried to think of situations when I could not be heard and how frustrating that had been.

But, I digress. What if we consumed less? Would our lives be worse? Would we be sad?

I’ve read so much evidence to the contrary, that having fewer possessions actually makes us happier. (I’m presuming that anyone reading this has their basic needs met.)

If you were tasked to consume less, where would you start? This is a tricky one for me. I guess I’d look at the areas in which I’m wasting as a clue to a first step. I thought of something! I buy my deodorant through a subscription and I just got one delivered though I’m not even close to running out. I know that sounds kind of crazy but it is a paste that comes in a little glass jar and I can’t just walk into a Walgreens and grab one. I just canceled the subscription and asked them for ideas for where to buy it locally. This would be ideal. It might cost a bit more that way but shopping locally means that those businesses will be able to stay in business.

Speaking of which, we are so happy to be part of the cover story of the Spring 2022 sustainability-focused edition of Our Evanston, a Retail Community Magazine. Here is a digital copy of that issue. Editor Ande Breunig started a facebook group in 2020, in response to the pandemic and a concern for the local businesses, called Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios that became a place for locals to both ask for suggestions for sourcing locally and give glowing reviews to their favorites. Owners are also welcomed to post about their offerings. The overwhelmingly positive response to that group gave Ande the idea to create Our Evanston, published quarterly, beginning in 2021. You can find it for free in Evanston shops.

I know that I’ve put this ecological footprint calculator in a blog post before but I just can’t get over the fact that I would need two Earths because of my lifestyle. ME? Two Earths?! I was happy to be able to update one of my answers to reflect that my energy is coming from a renewable source because my community solar subscription is online. What would I need to do to get it down to only one Earth, I wonder? I think the fact that I live alone is really messing with my score.

Some of the questions in the calculator are about food choices. Based on those questions I decided to sign up for a CSA again this season. 80 percent of our produce will be grown within two miles of our home! I just need to get creative about all of the Swiss chard that is in my future.

I live in Evanston and my employer Erlene and I participate in a waste subcommittee of the Climate Action Resilience Plan (CARP) Implementation Committee. (It’s a mouthful.) We recently did some visioning that has me imagining how the concept of local could be further implemented. Particularly how waste could and maybe should be managed more locally. In Evanston we have nine wards. Could you imagine if each ward had to deal with its own waste? I would imagine that we’d all waste less if we had to deal with it onsite, so to speak. Right now there aren’t even ward offices, something I really don’t understand. I think it’d be valuable to not only have offices but for alderpersons to have office hours like professors do.

I don’t personally use Twitter but I absolutely love this tweet by Mary Annaïse Heglar: “The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions.” Mary and her friend Amy Westervelt have a podcast called Hot Take that I’m really looking forward to listening to. I’m hoping to hear more inspiring thoughts.

I think this article about how to store fruits and vegetables is on topic. Sometimes it’s not that we’ve bought too much produce, it’s that we’ve stored it incorrectly and it’s gone bad because of it. The official title of this guide on EcoWatch website is How to Store 31 Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Less Food Waste.

There are a lot of unusual tips in this guide, but my favorite tip is storing celery in aluminum foil. What?! I’m definitely going to try that one.