Day 278 – There is a new exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center that is addressing the waste problem and stressing the importance of a circular economy. The Future Fossils: SUM exhibit was created by Chicago artist, Lan Tuazon.
“Tuazon presents her sculptures alongside new work by Sungho Bae, Rachel Kaching Tang, Ruth Levy, Michelle Nordmeyer, Kate Poulos, and Anirudh Singh, who use rematerialization techniques in their art-making process. Partners in this exhibition are two companies in sustainable solutions: Biomason and WaterBrick, International. Their products demonstrate leading innovations with BioLITH, bacteria-cultivated tiles and WaterBrick, container-bricks that need never enter the waste stream. Beyond presenting a design model for environmentally conscious homes, Tuazon’s installation is a test site for material recovery and invention. Exactly how much of the waste we produce can be reabsorbed into the built environment? Building future needs with materials that have a past is the intention here; however, minimizing harm to the living world begins with refusing a throwaway society.” – Hyde Park Art Center
Lan Tuazon helps us take a closer look at our relationship with waste and helps us understand that even when we throw something away, it is not truly gone. Most of the time, those same items stay with us for lifetimes to come.
In 2020, the City of Chicago generated 4.13 million tons of materials. That includes waste from residents, institutional, commercial and industrial.
Annually, approximately 40,000 to 44,000 tons of yard waste are generated from low density residential structures in Chicago, but very little has been collected through 311 pickup requests.
High contamination rates strain recycling equipment and lessen the value of recycled commodities.
From 2015 to 2020, there was an average of over 75,000 tons of materials collected each month; an average of 9 percent of which was diverted from landfills.
Private companies and high-density residential buildings are not required to report their rates for garbage collection service.
While some service areas show relatively consistent performance over time, there is a general trend of declining performance across all areas (relating to recycling).
CPS manages waste and recycling services for 642 schools.
Increased material diversion through reuse and recycling has potential to create more jobs than would be created through disposal.
The Illinois Commodity/Waste Generation and Characterization Study Update published in 2015 calculated the market value of recyclable materials, including subcategories of paper, plastic, glass, and metal, that were ending up in landfills. The study found that the value of these materials was more than $360 million.
The study found that slightly over a quarter of material placed in Blue Cart bins is unrecyclable contamination, including recyclable materials in plastic bags.
Making cans from recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy and generates 90 percent less green house gas emissions than virgin stock.
In 2004, there were eight active landfills in the region, and as of 2020, there are only four. These four landfills had an average life expectancy of 12.4 years as of January 2020. There are no active landfills in Chicago or Cook County.
In addition to landfills in Illinois, Chicago’s waste is disposed across state lines in Indiana. In 2019, over 2.6 million tons of waste generated in Cook County (including the city of Chicago) were sent to six landfill locations in Indiana.
On average, each Chicago resident generates a little over 3 pounds of waste per day at home, or a little under 3,000 pounds of waste per year for each Chicago household.
COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMS MATTER.
Here’s a list of things the city offers that you might not know about.
Since 2014, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in partnership with Seven Generations Ahead and Lakeshore Recycling Systems, has been expanding a commercial composting pilot program to reduce organic waste, improve purchasing, and provide waste diversion education to CPS students, faculty, and staff. The program has expanded to 14 CPS schools and (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic conditions) resulted in over 2,500 pounds of materials diverted from landfills every day.
Yard waste collection is available to Chicago residents through the 311-request program.
Composting is available through commercial composting companies, Illinois Food Scrap Coalition and Zero Waste Chicago.
In 2020, the Chicago Department of Public Health and Department of Streets and Sanitation introduced a pilot program offering rotating e-waste drop off service at district sanitation offices.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (in partnership with the Chicago Police Department) provides for pharmaceutical disposal at police stations across the city. In addition, there are secure drop off sites located at hospital centers, select pharmacies, and at water reclamation plants managed by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD).
Foam packaging and food service containers are not accepted in Blue Cart bins or City drop off locations. Dart Container Corporation offers free drop off collection at 7575 S. Kostner Avenue for all polystyrene foam except for packing peanuts, which can often be reused for shipping.
Shredded paper is not accepted in Blue Cart bins because it clings to and contaminates other items and does not respond to recycling equipment like whole paper. The City, Aldermen, and other organizations sponsor events for personal document shredding and collection (or collection of pre-shredded paper) for residents.
Flexible plastic film, including plastic bags and common packing materials, can become tangled and damage recycling equipment, and is not accepted in Blue Cart bins. Recyclables placed in Blue Carts should also not be bagged. This material can be recycled if collected separately, and several Chicago grocery stores and businesses host collection sites for plastic film. A list of participating businesses by zip code can be found at PlasticFilmRecycling.org
Chicago Public Libraries have hosted innovative Repair Cafes and other programs to better manage Chicago’s materials.
Here’s some ideas of how the city wants to reduce our waste.
Reframe Chicago’s materials as resources, instead of waste.
Identify opportunities to include goal setting, metrics, and data sharing to demonstrate progress and increase transparency.
Equip consumers with the education and tolls needed to drive innovation in evolving waste systems.
Increase transparency in the process and build trust among Chicago’s residents more efficiently.
Shift the cultural norms towards circularity and away from traditional disposal models.
Maintaining clear and consistent messaging around recycling contamination.
Developing a directory of participating retail take-back options for e-waste and household hazardous waste in Chicago.
Establishing a revenue-sharing partnership with a textile recycling company for collection of clothes, shoes, and other textiles otherwise ending up in landfills.
Chicago has a long way to go when it comes to sustainability. However, I do believe we have the potential to become better and even become a leader on the ways a large city addresses waste, reuse, recycling, and building a circular economy. It won’t be easy and it will take residents, commercial business, industrial corporations and institutions to help improve our current conditions.
Day 185 – More times than not the news about the state of the environment can be rather depressing. It does seem like an uphill battle. Thankfully, more and more companies are making changes to be more environmentally friendly. Many have started with their packaging choices.
Eco packaging can come in a variety of forms:
Made from post consumer recycled (PCR) material – PCR is created by consumers after a product has reached the end of its use. The benefit of using post-consumer content is it reuses refuse in the manufacture of goods, preventing items from ending up in the landfill or needing to rely on raw materials.
Compostable material – Compostable products are made from renewable resources such as corn or bamboo. Compostable products need the proper conditions to breakdown. A commercial compost facility is a place where the perfect balance of heat, moisture, and oxygen is created to break down organic and plant-based materials. Without this perfect ecosystem, compostable products don’t break down. If compostable products are disposed of in the trash, which is what people commonly do, they won’t break down.
Recyclable material – Cardboard, paper, aluminum and glass are all more easily recycled than plastic.
Biodegradable material – If something is biodegradable, then, given the right conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria, it will eventually break down to its basic components and blend back in with the earth. Ideally, but not always, these substances degrade without leaving any toxins behind. Some companies are beginning to use plant based packaging made of things like cornstarch, mushroom, sugarcane and coconut.
Reusable packaging – Reusable packaging is packaging that can be used over and over again. Reusable packaging is key to a successful circular economy.
Kellogg’s – Kellogg’s already uses recyclable cardboard boxes for all of its cereal, and as part of their zero-deforestation pledge, most of these boxes are made from recycled carton board.
Lush – Lush makes handmade cosmetics using natural ingredients. Where possible, they use no packaging at all. For products that do require packaging, Lush uses sustainable, recycled materials for 90% of all packaging. Lush pots and packaging materials can also be recycled, composted or reused.
Colgate – Toothpaste tubes are usually made of a mix of materials that make them impossible to recycle. The company has been able to use high-density polyethylene to make a tube that can be recycled (much like milk cartons) but is also compatible with Colgate’s high-speed production equipment. The tube can even be ground up to be used to make something else.
Don Maslow Coffee – t’s using Elevate Packaging’s compostable films which are durable, yet moisture and oxygen resistant. As a result, every element of its coffee bags, including the seals, can be composted removing a huge amount of plastic from waste streams.
Alter Eco – Chocolate company Alter Eco has created wrappers, which are now fully compostable and non-toxic. The company spent three years developing the new material to ensure it protects the products as well as traditional packaging. It can be composted in industrial facilities but will also biodegrade if it ended up in the normal streams. Alter Eco has also created fully compostable stand-up pouches for its quinoa products.
Alima Pure – The certified B Corp sells its makeup in refillable compacts. So, when you’re done with your foundation (for example) just pop it out of the compact, then buy a refill magnetic pan filled with your desired new foundation and pop it in. Alima Pure is also proud to be carbon neutral and a member of 1% for the Planet.
Plaine Products – Plaine Products makes bath and body products packaged in aluminum bottles and eco-friendly shipping cartons. Plaine Products offers a refill program where you can send your bottle back to be refilled with product again and again, so you can save money and cut down on waste.
Who Gives a Crap – Their products are 100% plastic free and have options made from 100% recycled paper or 100% bamboo. Additionally, 50% of profits are donated to help build toilets for communities in need around the world.
No Evil Foods – No Evil Foods sells a variety of small-batch, plant-based meat alternatives using sustainable ingredients. The brand’s innovative packaging uses fully compostable materials printed with plant-based ink.
Environmentally friendly packaging is out there, you just need to look for it. We also need to encourage more companies to use it.
Tomorrow, coming out of the pandemic and realizing that goingback to “normal” is not an option.
Day 172 – On Day 96, I wrote about the circular economy. However, I believe this topic deserves more attention. So, I’m writing again about the importance of a circular economy and what needs to be done to achieve one.
Sadly, 62% of consumers say that they are unfamiliar with the term “circular economy”. To better understand a circular economy, we need to understand a linear economy. In the linear economy, resources are extracted and turned into products that are disposed of at the end of their useful life. Many think that a circular economy is the same thing as recycling. Though, recycling is important, a circular economy involves so much more.
“The circular economy promotes the use of as many biodegradable materials as possible in the manufacture of products -biological nutrients- so they can get back to nature without causing environmental damage at the end of their useful life. When it is not possible to use eco-friendly materials -technical nutrients: electronics, hardware, batteries… – the aim is to facilitate a simple uncoupling to give them a new life by reintroducing them into the production cycle and compose a new piece. When this is not possible, it will be recycled in a respectful way with the environment.” – ActiveSustainability.com
In order for a circular economy to work, we need companies in critical sectors to improve their processes to make an impact.
The Built Environment: Provide green renovation and the upgrade of buildings; improve building material recycling infrastructure.
Plastics: Provide innovative alternatives and recycled packaging; improve the collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure.
Fashion: Create rental and resale business models for clothing; improve the collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure.
Food: Support farmer transition to regenerative agriculture; support food surplus and by-production collection and redistribution.
Consumers will also need to take action to support a circular economy.
Buy less. Don’t just buy less stuff, buy less electricity; less house; fewer, smaller cars. Take only what you need.
Buy better. When you shop, buy the best quality you can afford or buy secondhand. Prioritize quality over quantity.
Use what you buy more. It’s not about how long something sits in your closet or garage before you pass it on. It’s about making full use of the resources you consume. Wear out your clothes, repair household items and refresh instead of replacing dated décor. And when you can’t get any more use out of an item, recycle it whenever possible.
Shifting to the circular economy would change the trajectory of our climate crisis and growing economic instability. Now is the moment to invest in a circular economy model. If everyone embraces this opportunity, the next generations will be able to enjoy the economic, environmental and societal benefits of sustainable living.
Tomorrow, reasons why we should be protecting the rainforests.
Day 151 – On Day 62, I gave a list of options to donate or recycle your shoes. Well today, I have another option for you. This one can bring you a little extra cash.
“At GotSneakers, we’re making it socially and financially rewarding to contribute to a circular economy with our FREE sneaker recycling programs for individual sellers and organizations of all types and sizes. When you join our sneaker recycling community, you will be making a global impact AND you will earn money for every pair of sneakers you contribute.” – GotSneakers
If your an individual seller, hosting a fundraiser, or part of a retail program, GotSneakers can fit your needs. Signup is easy and FREE. Just let GotSneakers know how many bags you need and if you need more they will send more. Once your bags arrive, fill them up with your sneakers (only sneakers), seal the bags and drop them off at either UPS or FedEx. Your prepaid postage will specify as to which service you will need to use.
All sneakers collected are recirculated to people who want quality, reusable footwear at affordable prices or repurposed into new surfaces such as playgrounds and tracks. Each pair will be professionally evaluated by GotSneakers’ trained staff, to determine the quality, style, and brand of each pair of footwear. You can check out the compensation chart HERE.
Day 96 – You find that your shampoo bottle is just about empty. So, you take it to your local store and refill the same bottle. No need to toss the old bottle and buy a new one.
You order takeout from your favorite restaurant and your food is given in reusable containers. When you bring back the containers, you get back the deposit that was paid when the order was placed. Those containers are then sanitized and used again for another order.
These two scenarios are examples of a circular economy. The circular economy is a closed loop system where the focus is on eliminating waste by reusing, recycling and refurbishment of equipment, products, machinery and infrastructure for a longer duration. Currently, only 9% of the world’s economy is circular. It’s calculated that the opportunity to profit from the conversion of the remaining 91% sits around $4.5 trillion.
A circular economy is based on three principles:
Design out waste and pollution
Keep products and materials in use
Regenerate natural systems
A circular economy is not only good for the planet, but it is also beneficial to the companies implementing the system and for the consumers. Reusing resources is much more cost effective than creating them from scratch. As a result, production prices are reduced, so that the sale price is also lowered, thereby benefiting the consumer.
The days of the linear economy needs to come to an end. The planet can no longer withstand more waste. We have reached a threshold and changes need to be made. As consumers, we need to demand the use of a circular economy.
Loop is one example of companies that are using the circular economy system to bring grocery and household items to consumers. By offering their clients reusable containers, there is no waste produced from consuming these products.
So, what is preventing us from becoming a 100% circular economy?
Sadly, the answer is, us. Our behavior and attitude toward this type of economy needs to change. We need to stop buying new and tossing our unwanted items into the trash.
There are five actions that will help consumers to choose products and services that are better for the environment and, at the same time, provide monetary savings and an increased quality of life: (outlined by ECO Soluciones)
Promote energy savings as well as the efficiency, durability and recyclability of products.
Improve the enforcement of existing RULES on guarantees and tackle false “green claims.”
Support an increasing focus on “buying green” by governments and public bodies.
Improve reliable and adequate consumer information.
Increase the demand of products and services that are supportive of the circular economy, which will create new business opportunities.
The time is now! Help close the loop. Help save the planet.
Tomorrow, the effects of shipping our trash around the world.
Day 74 – When I started to pay closer attention to the products I was purchasing and how they affected the environment, I started noticing certain labels on products. Some I had seen before, but others were new to me. I wanted to make sure others were aware of these labels and the importance they bring when choosing the things you eat, products you clean with, the clothes you wear, and everything in between. As we learned on Day 17, there are plenty of people out there that want to greenwash us and make us believe their product is environmentally friendly. Here’s a list of 20 labels you can trust.
Certified B Corporation – I wrote a post about Certified B Corporations back on Day 16. In that post, I explain how the Certified B Corporation label shows the consumer that the business they are purchasing from or working with has met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are building a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Climate Neutral Certified – It’s the standard earned by companies that offset and reduce all of their greenhouse gas emissions. Companies will measure all of the carbon emissions from making and delivering products and services to customers. They will then purchase carbon credits to completely offset their carbon footprint by funding a mix of projects, like reforestation or renewable energy. The final step is to develop and implement a plan to reduce future emissions.
1% for the Planet – On Day 43, I wrote about how 1% for the Planet was created. On Day 53, I wrote about how I joined 1% for the Planet as an individual member and I listed the organizations I am planning to support this year. 1% for the Planet exists to help companies and individuals partner with highly vetted environmental groups. This partnership allows companies and individuals to donate money and time (through volunteering) to organizations that are helping to preserve and protect the planet.
BLUESIGN – BLUESIGN represents the vision and mindset of responsible and sustainable manufacturing of textile consumer products. BLUESIGN traces each textile’s path along the manufacturing process, making improvements at every stage from factory floor to finished product. BLUESIGN changes the environmental impact of textiles for good. As a solution provider and knowledge broker, BLUESIGN acts as an independent verifier to secure trust and transparency. Currently, there are not too many clothing brands that have this certification. Numerous outdoor clothing brands carry the BLUESIGN label.
Leaping Bunny – Eight national animal protection groups have banded together to form the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). The CCIC promotes a single comprehensive standard and an internationally recognized Leaping Bunny Logo to notify consumers that the products they are purchasing have not harmed any animals during production. They work with companies to help make shopping for animal-friendly products easier and more trustworthy.
Cradle to Cradle – Cradle to Cradle Certified™ is a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy. Product designers, manufacturers and brands around the world rely on the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard as a transformative pathway for designing and making products with a positive impact on people and planet. From fragrances to flooring, t-shirts and jeans to water bottles and window treatments, thousands of products are Cradle to Cradle Certified. What’s more, a growing number of brands, organizations and standards also recognize Cradle to Cradle Certified as a preferred product standard for responsible purchasing decisions.
USDA Organic – Organic is a labeling term found on products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. The National Organic Program – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service – enforces the organic regulations, ensuring the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal. In order to use the USDA Organic Seal, the final product must follow strict production, handling and labeling standards and go through the organic certification process. The standards address a variety of factors such as soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.
Fair Trade Certified – When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified seal, you can be sure it meets rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. That means: Safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainable livelihoods and community development funds. A choice for Fair Trade Certified™ goods is a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment.
Non-GMOProject – The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization offering rigorous product verification and trustworthy education that empowers people to care for themselves, the planet, and future generations. The Non-GMO label allows consumers to know that the food they are purchasing has not been genetically modified. They also encourage a non-GMO seed supply, which supports the restoration of traditional seed breeding and the right of farmers to save and plant their own seeds and grow varieties of their choice.
Green Seal– Green Seal’s rigorous standards for health, sustainability and product performance have driven permanent shifts in the marketplace. With thousands of certified products, services and spaces from the world’s leading companies, the Green Seal certification mark is a universal symbol that a product or service meets the highest benchmark of health and environmental leadership.
ENERGY STAR -ENERGY STAR is the trusted, government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. The ENERGY STAR label was established to: reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy; and make it easy for consumers to identify and purchase energy-efficient products that offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features, and comfort.
Certified Humane Raised and Handled – Certified Humane® is a registered 501(c) 3 nonprofit certification organization, operating internationally and dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices. When you see the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® logo you can be assured that the food products have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment.
Blue Fish Label – The Blue Fish Label is only placed on seafood from fisheries that meet the Marine Stewardship Council’s strict standard for sustainability. It’s their way of making sure you know that your seafood purchase is good for the oceans because it’s wild, sustainable, and traceable back to a certified fishery.
WaterSense – WaterSense, a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is both a label for water-efficient products and a resource for helping you save water. The WaterSense label makes it simple to find water-efficient products, new homes, and programs that meet EPA’s criteria for efficiency and performance. WaterSense-labeled products and services are certified to use at least 20 percent less water, save energy, and perform as well as or better than regular models.
Made Safe – MADE SAFE® is a program of Nontoxic Certified, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. They provide America’s first comprehensive human health and ecosystem-focused certification for nontoxic products across store aisles, from baby to personal care to household and beyond. Their goal is to change the way products are made in this country to ultimately eliminate the use of toxic chemicals altogether. The MADE SAFE (Made With Safe Ingredients) seal literally means that a product is made with safe ingredients, without toxic chemicals known to harm our health.
Rainforest Alliance – The Rainforest Alliance seal promotes collective action for people and nature. It amplifies and reinforces the beneficial impacts of responsible choices, from farms and forests all the way to the supermarket check-out. The seal allows you to recognize and choose products that contribute toward a better future for people and planet. The seal means that the certified product or ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental.
Compact By Design – Amazon created Compact by Design to identify products that, while they may not always look very different, have a more efficient design. With the removal of excess air and water, products require less packaging and become more efficient to ship. At scale, these small differences in product size and weight lead to significant carbon emission reductions.
ECOLOGO – ECOLOGO® Certified products, services and packaging are certified for reduced environmental impact. ECOLOGO Certifications are voluntary, multiattribute, life cycle-based environmental certifications that indicate a product has undergone rigorous scientific testing, exhaustive auditing or both, to prove its compliance with stringent, third-party, environmental performance standards. These standards set metrics for a wide variety of criteria in some or all of the following categories: materials, energy, manufacturing and operations, health and environment, product performance and use, and product stewardship and innovation.
The Forest Stewardship Council – FSC labels can be found on millions of products around the world – from toilet rolls to your favorite book, to that milk carton in your fridge, and other food products. By choosing products with FSC labels, you are helping to take care of the world’s forests. Each label provides information about the origin of the materials used to make the finished and labeled product.
Textile Exchange – The Textile Exchange provides both the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) and Global Recycled Standard (GRS). Both are international, voluntary standards that set requirements for third-party certification of recycled input and chain of custody. The shared goal of the standards is to increase the use of recycled materials. They verify recycled content in products and provide consumers with a tool to make informed decisions.
It’s not always easy to identify an Earth friendly product. It’s nice to know that there are people out there taking the guess work out of being environmentally responsible.
Day 27 – On January 27, 1888, National Geographic was founded in Washington D.C. Its purpose was for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”
As a kid, I had a subscription to National Geographic. Sadly, I was not a big reader and spent most of my time looking at all the beautiful pictures. I dreamed of working for National Geographic one day. I figured I would probably have to be a photographer, because I was not the best writer.
Fast forward 35 years, I’m still dreaming of being a National Geographic photographer and I’m still enjoying the National Geographic magazine. The only difference, I’m reading a few more articles now. And it’s those articles that have given me a glimpse into the vast world around me. Giving me a window into places and people, I may never have a chance to see for myself.
National Geographic has also been a wonderful resource in my journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. They have covered every topic imaginable when it comes to having a more environment friendly way of living.