An Inside Look at S.C.A.R.C.E.

Day 169 – On Day 48, I wrote about SCARCE ( School & Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education). They have been around for 31 years and are making a difference in their community and countless others in the state of Illinois and beyond.

The tour started in the area designated for teachers and non-profits. There was an amazing collection of text books, workbooks, reading books and supplies for the classroom. Teachers can take a box supplied by SCARCE and fill it up with the items they need. Each box only costs $5.

We then moved on to area where they accept all their donations. I have been on the other side of the door, dropping off items collected at the Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup. It was interesting to see how they handled such a large volume of donations. The main ingredients to their success are volunteers and major organizational skills. There is a place for every item they receive. If they don’t have a place, they will look for one. If they don’t accept an item you are looking to part with, they will help you find where that item can go. If it exists, SCARCE will most likely know about it.

Next to the donation drop-off area, is a section of the building that absolutely blew my mind. I was not impressed by the actual space, but by what SCARCE was preventing from entering the landfill. Huge boxes of brand new books, box after box. Books that would have been tossed out because they were not purchased at Target or Walmart (or similar stores). Thankfully, one of the companies responsible for taking back books that were not bought, decided that it would be better to donate the books than it would be to throw them out. To think, this is a normal practice, carried out by countless other companies. Now, some of those books will make it into the hands of kids that need them most.

We were shown a room where they film their educational webinars and podcast. It was then on to a large room, where they conduct their onsite educational programs. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, they have not had a chance to really use the space. However, with restrictions lifting, they are excited to start inviting back groups. Students, mom groups, scout troops and various other organizations can learn about a variety of environmental topics during the classes. Everything from renewable energy, importance of rain barrels, effects of erosion, composting and recycling are covered, along with so much more!

The last stop was the scarce-ly used books and records section. The public is welcome to peruse this area, for LP records, CDs/DVDs, and YA/adult fiction and non-fiction books. The collection is quite expansive.

It’s crazy to think that there are not more organizations in the state or even the country like SCARCE. They get donations from all over the country and even outside the country. As Beverly (staff member and daughter of the founder of SCARCE, Kay McKeen) said during the tour, “What we do here is not rocket science. This could be replicated around the country and the world.”

Thankfully, SCARCE exists and continues to make the world a better place. As they stress in their message to all the people they help and educate, “If everyone did a little to help the environment, then it would add up to be a very significant difference.”

Tomorrow, environmentally friendly bug spray.

Sustainable Phone Cases

Day 164 – Our household was in need of a couple new phone cases. There were numerous options for environmentally friendly phone cases. We decided to go with Pela.

Here are a few of the reasons we decided to purchase Pela phone cases.

  1. Their cases are 100% compostable. They will completely break down in 3 to 6 months, in proper composting conditions.
  2. They are Climate Neutral Certified. They offset and reduce all of their greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. They are a certified B-Corporation. B-Corporations have met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
  4. They are a member of 1% for the Planet. They take 1% of their profits and donate to environmental organizations.
  5. Pela’s 360 program will take your old phone case (from another brand) for FREE to recycle or upcycle it for you and if it’s an old Pela case, they’ll upcycle it into a new Pela product or compost it for you.
  6. Pela offers a Screen Protection Guarantee Policy on almost all of their phone cases.

Pela also has Habitat, which offers a line of plastic free personal hygiene products. They also created Lomi, a countertop composter. Pela has a line of plastic free pet care products called Barxby. They also have a line of compostable sunglasses and blue light glasses, Pela Vision.

If you end up switching to a more sustainable phone case and the company does not offer to recycle your old case, be sure to check out TerraCycle’s PopSockets Recycling Program. Through this program you can recycle phone cases. You can also drop off your old phone cases at the Northcenter Neighborhood Association’s Recycle Popup. Our next popup is on June 19th.

We look forward to the arrival of our new environmentally friendly phone cases. They should be arriving any day!

Tomorrow, our first farmer’s market experience.

National Learn About Composting Day

Day 149 – I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I hear someone has started to compost. A friend, my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law have all started composting at home using commercial composting. They have made the decision to reduce their carbon footprint by diverting food from the landfill and helping create nutrient rich soil, instead.

Today is National Learn About Composting Day! I have spent the last 6 months telling anyone who wants to listen, how awesome it has been to compost our food scraps and many other nonfood items. On Day 2, way back on January 2nd, I posted about how my family started composting using a commercial composter. I wrote about the ease of the entire process and how it’s not as labor intensive as composting at home. Now, if creating an at home compost pile is up your alley, I highly encourage you to go for it. However, if you’re like me, the simpler the better and commercial composting is the answer!

  1. We spend the week filling our bucket with our food scraps. We have a smaller receptacle on the counter that collects our scraps on a daily basis. Once, the smaller bin is filled, it is dumped in the 5 gallon bucket provided by WasteNot Compost (for $10 a week). The 5 gallon bucket is kept in the basement, where it is nice and cool.
  2. On Thursday mornings (the day assigned to us) the bucket goes out on the front porch. WasteNot picks up the bucket and leaves us a clean and sanitized, empty bucket.
  3. No liners are needed, in either the countertop bin or the 5 gallon bucket.
  4. Not only can all of your food waste go into the bin, but so can napkins, paper towels, wood toothpicks, popsicle sticks (wooden), pizza boxes, compostable wrappers, and soiled paper products.

The United States discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 80 billion pounds, every year. That’s estimated to be 30-40% of the entire U.S. food supply. While these numbers seem difficult to comprehend and the situation seems out of control. We, the consumers, can help. We can decrease the greenhouse gases emitted from food waste, by keeping our scraps out of the landfill. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the production of wasted food in the United States is equivalent to the greenhouse emissions of 37 million cars.

There is no doubt that food waste is a global problem and it’s going to take consumers (produce 43% of food waste), restaurants, grocery stores, food service companies (40%), farms (16%) and manufacturers (2%) to work together to first, reduce our food waste and secondly, keep it out of landfills.

So, on this National Learn About Composting Day, take a little time to consider either starting your own compost pile or check out the numerous composting companies that will be happy to do all the work for you.

  1. WasteNot Compost – north side of Chicago
  2. Collective Resource Compost – Chicago and suburbs
  3. Healthy Soil Compost – south side of Chicago
  4. The Urban Canopy – Chicago and suburbs
  5. Northshore Composting – North Shore (Chicago suburbs)
  6. Block Bins – Chicago and suburbs – A great option for entire blocks to chip in on one bin!

What are you waiting for?

Tomorrow, sustainable options in footwear.

Wrapping Paper: Help the trees out

Day 120 – It is estimated that Americans spend around $7 billion on wrapping paper each year. An estimated 30 million trees are cut down just to produce gift wrap, and it’s difficult to recycle due to the dyes used. The ones made with plastic or foil can not be recycled at all.

So, how are we supposed to wrap gifts in an environmentally friendly way?

Thankfully, there are a few options:

  1. The trusty and very reusable gift bag is always a nice option.
  2. Wrapping in a cloth, using the Furoshiki method can be very stylish.
  3. Kraft paper may not look too festive, but it is highly recyclable. It gets the job done, by concealing the surprise.
  4. Newspaper gift wrap has always been an option for centuries. The comics have always been a favorite choice. I purchased wrapping paper from Wrappily. They use newspaper presses to create festive gift wrap that is 100% recyclable newsprint. Even the packaging that the wrapping paper comes in is compostable. The paper I ordered was reversible and ended up in our compost after the birthday boy opened his gifts.
  5. Reusable gift boxes are easy and festive.
  6. Another option is using wrapping paper made from recycled paper. There are plenty of companies offering this option and an easy internet search should point you in the right direction. There are numerous options on Etsy.

So, on this 149th Arbor Day, let’s think about saving the trees and finding alternatives to wrapping paper. Avoiding giving gifts to your loved ones in unrecyclable wrapping paper, is a gift in itself.

Tomorrow, recycling old candles.

Commercial Composting: The solution to your food waste problem

Day 118 – I truly believe most people try to be responsible with food and avoid wasting as much as they can. However, there are situations that come along that make it impossible to save all the food we purchase. The occasional piece of produce that gets overlooked and goes bad. The new recipe that no one liked and did not eat. The leftovers that sat in the refrigerator and eventually became a science project. It’s hard to completely avoid throwing something out each week. Thankfully, there are options to turn that food waste into something beneficial.

I have talked to people with strong feelings about composting. Some of those people love composting, while others are disgusted by the idea. Some love the task of turning their own food waste into soil, rich in nutrients. While others, can’t imagine working with worms. So, for those people, just the word, “composting”, turns them off. Well, I’m here to say, don’t be afraid. Commercial composting is for everyone not wanting or just not ready to take on home composting.

On Day 2, I shared my family’s experience with commercial composting and how easy it is and how infrequently we need to take our garbage out. The process is also, affordable and unbelievably rewarding. Just knowing our food waste is not ending up in a landfill, doing nothing more than taking up space and producing harmful greenhouse gases, is enough to put a smile on my face. To date, my family has diverted 105 pounds of food waste from the landfill in the last 5 months. And if that wasn’t enough, I found out a few weeks ago that my household was eligible to receive a 40 pound bag of soil, at no addition charge, from our commercial composting company, WasteNot Compost.

This past weekend, I picked up my bag of soil, in what can only be described as one of the easiest processes that I have been a part of. I drove up, opened my trunk and the bag of soil was placed in my car. All I had to do was give my name. I have never been one to get excited about gardening, but I can honestly say, I am looking forward to planting my garden this season.

If there is only one thing you do after reading my daily blog posts, composting is at the top of the list. Diverting food waste from the landfill is crucial to improving the state of our planet. It is something we should all be doing.

So, on this Stop Food Waste Day, stop throwing away food and start creating a healthier planet.

Tomorrow, reducing water use on rainy days.

Earth Day: Celebrating today and everyday

Day 112 – Earth Day is 51 years old, today! Now more than ever, we need to prioritize our commitment to the planet and learn to celebrate Earth Day, everyday. We need to take action, whether it be large or small, on a daily basis. It is going to take a group effort to make the changes that are desperately needed to improve our current situation.

EARTHDAY.ORG has created a list of 51 Ways to Restore Our Earth. I picked my favorite 15 tips (See what I did there?). Well, it’s actually 13, with two of my own tips.

  1. Enjoy spending time outside? Support the Great Global Cleanup and pick up trash while enjoying your outdoor activities. It is a great way to save that plastic bottle cap from the landfill while you are on your morning walk!
  2. Plastic pollution is one of the most important environmental problems that we face today. Calculate your personal plastic consumption, then use our tips to help break free from single-use plastics! 
  3. With the Global Earth Challenge app, anyone can be a citizen scientist! Through a mobile app, this initiative helps monitor and mitigate threats to environmental and human health. Download today and collect environmental data near you! 
  4. Fight food waste by composting! Learn how you can make a difference right in your own backyard.
  5. A Billion Acts of Green are happening across the planet. From students in classrooms to organizers in their communities to officials in government there are ways for anyone of any background to make a difference. Add your act of green.
  6. Help protect pollinators by pledging to go pesticide-free! We need pollinators to ensure the persistence of our crop yields and ensure healthy sustainable ecosystems now and in the future. Sign our pledge to limit the use of harmful pesticides in your garden.
  7. Save the butterflies and bees! Help contribute to meaningful scientific research on pollinator populations through the Global Earth Challenge mobile application. It’s as easy as snapping a picture.
  8. Let’s teach our kids how to steward the Earth! Sign the petition calling on governments to take bold action on universal climate and environmental literacy for our school kids.
  9. Buy local food to reduce the distance from farm to fork. Buy straight from the farm, frequent your local farmers’ market, or join a local food co-op.
  10. Avoid single-use plastic items, and if possible buy products in glass or paper. Glass products are easily reused and paper is a much friendlier product to the environment. 
  11. Practice sustainable fashion! Donate your old clothes and home goods instead of throwing them out. When you need something, consider buying used items. Used does not always mean unfashionable! 
  12. Always read labels! Use environmentally-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products to avoid  washing toxic chemicals down the drain! 
  13. Be a part of the change. Change your diet to fight climate change! Try participating in meatless Mondays! Check out some plant-based recipes. 
  14. Start collecting items for future Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycling Popups.
  15. Be sure to check out 365 Ways to Save the Planet. There are still 253 more days to go!

To read more tips, be sure to check out the entire list.

No matter how you decide to celebrate, make sure you are not doing it alone. Encourage others to join in and work together to better our planet.

Tomorrow, giving you the lowdown on the DEA’s prescription drug collection.

Green Inventions Changing the World

Day 76 – Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I can’t think about St. Patrick’s day without thinking about the color green. So, it made perfect sense to write about green inventions that are improving the environment and the lives of so many.

Cleaning Up the Ocean

System 001/B, THE OCEAN CLEANUP

In 2013, an 18 year old, dutch engineering student named Boyan Slat, designed the Oceanic Cleanup Array. The design consisted of floating barriers that passively collected trash while anchored to the ocean floor. Today, Boyan Slat is the CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. The mission is simple, “The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. To achieve this objective, we have to work on a combination of closing the source and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean and doesn’t go away by itself. This goal means we plan to put ourselves out of business – once we have completed this project, our work is done.” Their floating systems are designed to capture plastics ranging from small pieces just millimeters in size, up to large debris, including massive discarded fishing nets. After fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean, combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup projects will be able to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

Ink Derived from Carbon Emissions

Graviky began as an MIT Media Lab experiment, when they hacked together a tool to capture soot from a burning candle and used the closest available solvents, vodka and vegetable oil, to produce a rough version of what is now AIR–INK®. They have gone on to create a device that attaches to a car’s muffler to trap pollutant particles that normally escape through the tailpipe. This collected residue can then be sent in to be processed into ink to produce a line of “Air Ink” pens, packaging ink and silk screen ink.

Solar Rooftop Cargo Container

Yakima’s new CBX Solar rooftop cargo box is topped with durable Sunflare solar panels. The cargo container is equipped with two USB ports and can power your campsite on an overnight trip or keep your devices charged, without having to use your car battery. You can charge phones, tablets, camping lanterns and action cameras.

A Straw that Changes Dirty Water to Clean Water

It started with an idea back in 1994 of a simple filtering system. By 2005 it became the award winning LifeStraw, which transforms dirty water into safe drinking water. For every product purchased, a child in need receives safe water for an entire year. The LifeStraw has provided clean drinking water to people around the world.

Eco Friendly 6-pack Ring

The E6PR is compostable, biodegradable and can hold cans. It is the first eco-friendly six-pack ring made from fiber by-product and other compostable materials, designed to replace plastic rings. Many beverage companies have joined the movement. So, be on the look out at your local grocery stores.

So, on this St. Patrick’s Day let’s celebrate everything green, not just the shamrocks and leprechauns.

Tomorrow, Zero Waste Boxes to help you on your journey to zero waste living.

Help Save the Polar Bears by Fighting Climate Change

Day 58 – Today is International Polar Bear Day! Those absolutely majestic arctic creatures that are endangered of extinction because of global warming.

“Every winter, Arctic sea ice grows around the pole, its frozen tendrils threading along northern coasts. Right now sea ice has just passed its peak coverage for the year, and will begin to shrink with the coming of spring. It’s a crucial time for polar bears, whose food supply is inextricably linked to sea ice. And in recent decades, sea ice has been shrinking faster than ever. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2019 has the seventh-lowest sea ice cover in the Arctic since they began collecting satellite data 40 years ago.” – National Geographic

Global warming is that gargantuan problem that seems impossible to tackle, absolutely absurd to comprehend and inconceivable to think that any of us could actually help the situation. But what if I told you, you could make a difference in your everyday life? And that the choices you make on a daily basis could help the polar bears?

Some of these suggestions have been mentioned in past posts. They are practical, easy and do not require much effort. If they are followed on a regular basis, they could have a huge impact on decreasing global warming.

  1. Waste less food. Composting and/or making sure you eat your leftovers, can make a huge impact on the amount of food you throw away.
  2. Eat less factory-farmed red meat. As mentioned on Day 15, reducing the amount of red meat in your diet can reduce greenhouse gases.
  3. Consume less energy and water. On Day 10, I shared a list of ways to reduce your energy and water use.
  4. Shop local. Not only are you putting dollars into your community, but you are reducing carbon emissions. By shopping local goods do not need to be shipped to you.
  5. Support non-profits fighting global warming. Your donation dollars can help initiatives and movements to help improve our planet.
  6. Recycle and purchase recycled material. On Day 26, I write about purchasing recycled toilet paper. There are countless options when looking for products made from recycled material.
  7. Find alternatives to single use plastic. Whether if it’s reusable produce bags or reusable storage bags, finding alternatives to single use plastics is become easier every day.
  8. Try to use your car less. Walking and biking are great options, along with public transportation.
  9. Consume less and waste less. Sometimes you just have to say no and realize that there are things you just don’t need.
  10. Open a dialogue and find common ground on the subject. The more we talk about global warming, the more people will understand and want to help.

Click HERE to read about 101 ways to fight climate change.

So, skip the cheeseburger, ride a bike, purchase recycled toilet paper, or shop at a local farmers market. All these decisions can reduce greenhouse gases and give those polar bears a fighting chance.

Tomorrow, our love-hate relationship with clothes.

Skip the Straw Day

Day 57 “In 2017, a group of teenage activists called the Coral Keepers established National Skip the Straw Day to recur every fourth Friday in February. Amid frequent and intense conversations about the state of the planet and the potentially fatal effects of plastic waste for creatures in the world’s largest oceans, these high school students from Whitehall, Michigan decided to establish the day in order to educate others about the many biodegradable alternatives to these small but potent cylindrical sippers.”NationalToday.com

It is estimated that American use about 500 million plastic straws (of all kinds) every day. It takes around 200 years for those straws to decompose. So, the big question is, why do we need straws? We survived just fine without straws before their invention in 1888. I bet, we could do just fine without them, once more.

For those that cannot imagine a life without their beloved straw there are alternatives to the single use plastic option.

Image borrowed from TheMighty.com
  1. Glass straws
  2. Stainless Steel straws
  3. Silicone straws
  4. Reusable plastic straws
  5. Bamboo straws
  6. Paper straws
  7. Compostable straws

The kids love using their stainless steel and silicone straws for smoothies and shakes. However, for my McDonald Coke drinking family member, no eco friendly straw could replace his plastic straw. Until, I found Phade, a compostable straw that looks and feels a lot like plastic. I finally found an environmentally friendly straw that pleased my toughest critic. The used straws go right into our compost bin.

So, be sure to skip the single use plastic straw today and everyday!

Tomorrow, celebrating polar bears!

My 1% for the Planet Contributions

Canadian Geese use the Chicago River as a runway.

Day 53 – Back on Day 43, I wrote about 1% for the Planet and their mission to connect businesses and individuals with non-profit organizations protecting the planet and making a difference in the world. In my post I stated that I had joined the movement and signed up to be an individual member. I thought I would share what organizations I have chosen to support this year. It was not easy to pick from such an impressive list of non-profits. I choose six organizations that connected to me on a personal level.

Gateway to the Great Outdoors

“Gateway to the Great Outdoors (GGO) was developed to provide low-income students across the US equitable access to comprehensive environmental education. By combining STEAM instruction with outdoor learning, GGO enhances the quality of health, science literacy, and environmental stewardship for children who would otherwise be excluded from this transformative experience. GGO presents children an opportunity to see, hear, taste, and touch a more fascinating world than the one they’ve grown accustomed to.”

Being a former teacher, this organization appealed to me because I know how powerful education is and how important positive personal experiences can have on a child. My fondest memories of being a teacher were the field trips I took my students on. Being able to expose them to activities that they might not have otherwise experienced was extremely rewarding.

Feeding America

“In a country that wastes billions of pounds of food each year, it’s almost shocking that anyone in America goes hungry. Yet every day, there are millions of children and adults who do not get the meals they need to thrive. We work to get nourishing food – from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers – to people in need. At the same time, we also seek to help the people we serve to build a path to a brighter, food-secure future.”

The pandemic has opened my eyes to the amount of food my family consumes. I have always known that they eat a lot, but having them home 24/7 has made me more aware on just how much. The pandemic has also made me even more thankful that my family has a sufficient, if not at times, an abundant amount of food to feed them. I can’t imagine how terrifying it is not knowing where your next meal will come from or if there will be enough food to feed your family.

Alliance for the Great Lakes

“The Alliance for the Great Lakes is a nonpartisan nonprofit working across the region to protect our most precious resource: the fresh, clean, and natural waters of the Great Lakes. The Alliance for the Great Lakes connects and empowers people to advocate, give back, and take action to protect the lakes.”

I have spent my whole life enjoying Lake Michigan. As a kid my family would go to West Beach in Indiana during the summer and spend hours playing in the waves and sand. As a young adult, I was introduced to Pentwater, Michigan. A place where the waters of the lake look so pristine and the sunsets are extraordinary. Today, I have the pleasure of living near the lake and enjoying the beauty and endless picture perfect opportunities it offers.

Openlands

“Since our founding in 1963 as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, Openlands has been at the forefront of the urban conservation movement. As one of the first organizations in the United States to address environmental issues within a metropolitan region, we have focused on people as much as nature. Over 50 years later, Openlands remains committed to urban conservation in the greater Chicago region. Openlands’ emphasis on people, places, and policy is the framework and driving factor of the organization.”

I am the happiest when I am out in nature with my camera. Documenting the beauty that is all around us brings me immense joy. Living in a big city has not prevented me from enjoying nature on a daily basis and I am extremely thankful for those that protect these areas.

Friends of the Chicago River

“Since 1979, Friends has been working to improve the health of the Chicago River system for the benefit of people, plants and animals; and by doing so, has laid the foundation for the river to be a beautiful, continuous, and easily accessible corridor of open space in the Chicago region.”

I have enjoyed the Chicago River for years. Living just a couple blocks from the North Branch, I have gone on countless trips to the river to photograph wildlife. I have also strolled along the Riverwalk and photographed the breathtaking cityscape. The river has provided a unique beauty to Chicago that many cities do not have the pleasure of having.

Urban Growers Collective

“Urban Growers Collective (UGC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that was co-founded  by Laurell Sims and Erika Allen in the fall of 2017. Our approach is to demonstrate the development of community-based food systems and to support communities in developing systems of their own where food is grown, prepared, and distributed within the community itself. Working closely with more than 33 community partners, our goal is to build economic opportunity for youth while mitigating food insecurity and limited access to high quality, affordable, and nutritionally-dense food. We operate eight urban farms on 11 acres of land, predominantly located on Chicago’s South Side. These farms are production-oriented but also offer opportunities for staff-led education, training, leadership development, and food distribution.  Each farm utilizes organic growing methods, intensive growing practices, and year-round production strategies to best maximize growing space.”

Since, my family started composting I have become more aware of the amount of food we waste. Since we collect all the food that would normally be thrown in the trash and place it in a bin to be composted, I get to see how much we collect. It’s nice to know that now that food is being composted and not left to sit in a landfill. It makes me sad to think about the amount of food we did not rescue. Composting has given me a new appreciation for food and where it comes from, how it is grown and who benefits from growing it and/or making it.

I hope this post has introduced you to some organizations that you might not have heard about before. I also hope that you consider supporting these organizations or finding ones that resonate with you. We might not have the time and energy to roll up our sleeves and get a little dirty fighting for a cause, but there are people out there already in the fight. All they need is some support and that’s where we can step in.

Tomorrow, toothpaste, with or without the tube.