Upstream: Changing the Throw Away Culture

Day 255 – So what is Upstream? Good question.

“Upstream® was founded in 2003 as a public-interest, non-profit organization by a group of Zero Waste activists in the US and Canada. While working together in the 1990s, these leaders felt too many environmental groups were only focused on “downstream” or “end of pipe” solutions like recycling and composting. But they knew we can’t recycle or compost our way to a sustainable future. We have to work “upstream” to redesign the systems generating all the waste in the first place.” – Upstream

Upstream is working to create a world where you will find:

  1. Everyone dining out at restaurants is eating off real plates and cutlery, and drinking from real cups.
  2. To-go coffee is served in reusable cups loaned from a reuse service providing clean, sanitized cups to coffee shops.
  3. Restaurants, grocery stores and delis use services that provide them with clean, sanitized reusable to-go containers for prepared food, takeout and delivery.
  4. At the ballpark, everyone is drinking beer out of real cups. And touch-free soda fountains dispense drinks in reusable cups after you put in your credit card.
  5. You can order groceries, cleaning and personal care products delivered in reusable containers in a reusable box tote.
  6. Tens of thousands of people are employed throughout the area in delivery, pick-up, cleaning, stocking and logistics.
  7. Litter and solid waste costs are down and community pride is up.
  8. None of these innovations required you to bring your own anything. People got tired of single-use waste. And entrepreneurs said we can do it without single-use, and we can do it better.
  9. Community leaders and policymakers worked to create the conditions for this thriving reuse economy. Then the big companies saw this was the future, and everyone started doing it.

Upstream exists to push the idea of reuse. They offer resources for businesses and individuals to make the changes needed to move away from single-use.

Explore the Learning Hub created for activists, educators, policymakers, business leaders and changemakers – like you – to get the information you need to engage and support your community.

Join the movement today!

Tomorrow, multifamily recycling resources.

Back to School Tips

Day 229 – On Day 151, I wrote about GotSneakers, a FREE sneaker recycling program for individual sellers and organizations of all types and sizes. I have partnered with GotSneakers to resell, donate or recycle the sneakers we collect during the Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup.

GotSneakers sent out a newsletter that listed a number of great suggestions to ensure a more sustainable school year.

  1. Reuse What You Can: Reusing items helps to avoid polluting the environment and eliminate unnecessary costs.  See which items from last year can be reused like pencil sharpeners, pens, erasers, and pencil cases.
  2. Look for Items Made from Recycled Materials: For the items you need to purchase new, look for brands the promote sustainability through the use of recycled materials.  Even better if the products you buy have certifications such as Green Seal, Safer Choice, and the Forest Stewardship Council.
  3. Prepare Zero Waste Lunches: Stock up on reusable containers, water bottles, and lunch boxes to help make zero waste lunches! There are many products that help to keep your child’s lunch fresh and make sure it doesn’t get squished.
  4. Refresh Your Child’s Closet Sustainably: Let’s face it, most kids love showing off their latest outfits — especially on the first day of school.  While taking the time to research brands that are eco-friendly, make sure you are recycling your family’s clothing.

Lastly, did you know that it can take between 30-40 years for sneakers to fully decompose in landfills?  GotSneakers has a solution – send your footwear to them where they will make sure it gets recycled or reused. You can also drop off your sneakers at the monthly Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup.

Consider starting your school year with a school wide sneaker drive fundraiser.

Tomorrow,  questions about recycling nail polish.

World’s First Second-Hand Mall

Day 227 – Imagine a mall full of stores offering merchandise that is all second-hand. Aisles and shelves full of items given up by their original owners, but still in good condition and ready to be useful for someone else. The U.S. has stores, like Goodwill, that offer second-hand items for the fraction of their original cost. However, in Sweden, they have created an entire mall dedicated to keeping reusable items out of the landfill.

In Eskilstuna, Sweden, a one-of-kind shopping experience is happening at ReTuna. Not only are they selling second-hand merchandise, but also upcyled items, as well. Filled with 14 second-hand shops, a conference space, and an eco-friendly cafe, ReTuna is a shopping space, but also a place of education and inspiration. It houses a design school, where students learn how to incorporate recycled materials into their designs. There are also art installations (made from recycled materials) which fill the space between the boutiques and cafe. Shops in the mall offer fashion, children’s goods, technology and more.

What makes ReTuna different is that it’s located next to the local recycling center, where the goods to be repurposed are collected. The collection station, Returen, receives, sorts through and distributes the goods to the appropriate stores inside the mall according to the assortment description in every shop’s business plan. The shop then sorts through the goods again, and repairs and upcycles things, prices them and puts them up for sale.

In 2018, Retuna sold second-goods worth $1.3 million. If Sweden can do it, there is no reason why this business model couldn’t work everywhere. It’s not only good for business, but it’s good for the planet!

To watch a video about ReTuna, click HERE.

Tomorrow, recycling your mattress just got easier.

The Report on Chicago’s Waste

Day 222 – This past July, Chicago released a 64 page Waste Strategy report on existing waste conditions in the city. As I read through the document I made some notes that I found worth sharing.

  1. In 2020, the City of Chicago generated 4.13 million tons of materials. That includes waste from residents, institutional, commercial and industrial.
  2. 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.
  3. High contamination rates strain recycling equipment and lessen the value of recycled commodities.
  4. 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.
  5. Private companies and high-density residential buildings are not required to report their rates for garbage collection service.
  6. While some service areas show relatively consistent performance over time, there is a general trend of declining performance across all areas (relating to recycling).
  7. CPS manages waste and recycling services for 642 schools.
  8. Increased material diversion through reuse and recycling has potential to create more jobs than would be created through disposal.
  9. 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.
  10. The study found that slightly over a quarter of material placed in Blue Cart bins is unrecyclable contamination, including recyclable materials in plastic bags.
  11. Making cans from recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy and generates 90 percent less green house gas emissions than virgin stock.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMS MATTER

Here’s a list of things the city offers that you might not know about.

  1. 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.
  2. Yard waste collection is available to Chicago residents through the 311-request program.
  3. Composting is available through commercial composting companies, Illinois Food Scrap Coalition and Zero Waste Chicago.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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.

  1. Reframe Chicago’s materials as resources, instead of waste.
  2. Identify opportunities to include goal setting, metrics, and data sharing to demonstrate progress and increase transparency.
  3. Equip consumers with the education and tolls needed to drive innovation in evolving waste systems.
  4. Increase transparency in the process and build trust among Chicago’s residents more efficiently.
  5. Shift the cultural norms towards circularity and away from traditional disposal models.
  6. Maintaining clear and consistent messaging around recycling contamination.
  7. Developing a directory of participating retail take-back options for e-waste and household hazardous waste in Chicago.
  8. 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.

Tomorrow, sustainable school bag options.

Digs with Dignity: Helping people exiting homelessness

Day 219Digs with Dignity is an organization that works with local social agencies to help individuals and families exiting homelessness by providing them furnishings and much needed household items.

Here’s how they do what they do:

  1. They collect gently used home furnishings from the community and store them in their warehouse.
  2. They work with Chicago-based social workers to identify a family transitioning out of homelessness.
  3. They work with the family (or individual) and get to know what their likes and dislikes are, so they can better find the furnishings that will make their new space feel like home.
  4. They design the space from top to bottom with the help of volunteers and their designer.
  5. They identify which pieces from the warehouse will bring the design to life. Everything that they receive from donors is either used, fixed, or recycled.
  6. Then, with the help of movers and volunteers, they load up a moving truck and get to work — welcoming the family into their newly furnished home in a matter of hours.

Digs for Dignity helped their first family on October 25, 2019, and in 2020, serviced 21 additional families. They are actively building out their network of partners and supporters and have goals to fill the homes and provide support for 40 families in 2021.

The Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup started collecting metal-based cookware and bakeware, as part of the Calphalon Cooking Tools Recycling Program through TerraCycle. We started accepting items during our July popup and received many pots and pans in very good condition. So, we will be donating any and all pots, pans and bakeware that we receive in good condition to Digs with Dignity.

If you would like to make a donation and there are many ways you can do that, just click HERE.

There’s no better feeling than being a part of making someone’s house feel like a home.

Tomorrow, a place to recycle your old cooking oil.

Green & Grumpy: Your Guide to Sustainable Living

Day 218Green and Grumpy is a website with a great deal of information. They cover topics like recycling, climate change, yard and garden, reduce and reuse, green products and much more. Their tagline reads, “It ain’t easy being green. Practical sustainable living ideas for real, imperfect people.” And that’s why it’s such a great resource. They don’t expect you to do everything perfectly. They realize that people want to help the environment, but are not always sure how to do it. They give practical, useful information that people can use in their day to day lives. Information that will direct them to the best practices for a more environmentally friendly way of life.

Their articles include subjects like:

Do I Need to Rinse Recyclables?

Yes, recycling is broken. It’s still worth doing.

Biodegradable vs. Compostable – What the difference?

How to Waste Less Food

Can I Recycle Tea Tins, Coffee Cans and Cookie Tins?

I hope my daily posts on ways to save the planet are helpful, but I do think having more places to find information is important. The easier it is to understand how to live a more sustainable life, the easier it is to implement the changes needed to be successful in reaching your goals.

Tomorrow, an organization helping furnish homes for people exiting homelessness.

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.