Author: mkhuber

Compost 2018

2018 has been a good year for us and bringing our food scraps back to the soil in the form of compost. Last year, in 2017, we collected over 215 pounds.

This year, we collected 227 pounds! And that was just from our home 5-gallon bucket!

Not only did we continue using Healthy Soil Compost for our monthly pick up service, but we also used them to compost at our wedding in June.

Our wedding and our 145 guests kept 139 pounds of organic material out of the landfill, which produced 10 pounds of finished compost and 100 pounds of greenhouse gas carbon emissions.

Also, just recently, I finally asked my place of employment why we had compostable plates/cups/bowls, but nowhere to compost to them. They are currently reaching out to compost pick up services around the city.

work compost

So that’s it for 2018!

Since we have started collecting in July of 2016, we have kept over 504 pounds of organic materials from the fate of the landfill. Which is really amazing when you think about it.

Ending the year on a high note!

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A Christmas Miracle: Our Water Isn’t Full of That Much Lead

About 5 months ago, I tested our apartment’s water for lead and then patiently waited for the results.

leadkit5

I definitely did not expect it to be a quick turnaround, but I was curious as to when I might hear back, so I called 311, Chicago’s information line. They let me know that I shouldn’t hear any official results from the Chicago Department of Water Management unless our lead levels were above the limit.

And I didn’t hear anything.

That is until Saturday when I saw a letter from the Department in our mailbox. Naturally, I freaked out since I was told I wouldn’t hear from them unless it was bad news. I quickly ripped open the envelope and pulled out a letter providing our lead results.

They ended up being under the U.S. EPA’s action level for lead, which is 15 μg/L or parts per billion.

Our first draw, done after our water had not been used for over 6 hours, was recorded at 3.3 μg/L. The second was taken 3 minutes afterward and recorded at 10.0 μg/L, and the third at 5 minutes recorded 5.0 μg/L.

I found the last two draws odd since what makes the most sense is for your initial draw to be the highest and your sequential draws be lower given that the water has been flushing through the pipes. No idea.

Besides that, the rest of the letter just explains where Chicago’s water comes from, that it doesn’t leave the water treatment plants with any detectable lead in it, the health effects of lead, common lead sources, and steps to reduce lead exposure.

While I was waiting for my results, I had reached out to my landlord to find out if he knew if our services lines had been replaced semi-recently. He knew the previous owner did a gut rehab of our building, but could not be for sure if our lines were replaced.

So we aren’t totally poisoning ourselves everytime we drink from the tap, but I am still slightly concerned. My next step now is to look into a filter specifically for lead using Environmental Working Group’s Tapwater Database.

Does anyone have any suggestions of water filters they have tried? Let me know!

I Finally Asked

I have been at my current job for almost a year and a half and work in a large office building in downtown Chicago.

Since then, I have always wondered why my office had compostable plates, bowls, and cups, but nowhere to compost them.

I never used those things while at work. I have my own cup and plate that I reuse, but there are PLENTY of people that use those compostable materials and I don’t doubt that they think its fine because they are compostable.

But they aren’t.

Because they are being tossed into the trash can.

Which goes to the landfill.

Where nothing decomposes.

I had originally tried to work up the courage to shake up the wasteful office culture like 11 months ago and unfortunately never followed through.

Now many months later, I finally worked up the courage to ask the facilities department why they provided these materials to their employees, but not the proper way to dispose of them. I also offered to provide any assistance in picking a composting service. After reviewing my email a million times, I took a deep breath and clicked send.

Later that day, I ran into our facilities manager in the hallway and he excitedly told me how glad he was that I had emailed him. Apparently, the original plan was for the office to get the compostable materials and then set up composting, but it fell to the wayside. There wasn’t someone to champion it! Hey, hey, that’s me! I told him I have used two different composting services in Chicago and he urged me to send over their details and contact information. I expertly pulled together the resources and sent them over.

So the ball is rolling! And I am proud of myself for finally doing it.

I plan to follow up soon to see if the contact ever occurred. I will keep you updated!

 

 

What I’ve Read Recently

I have been on a library kick lately.

So much so that I went into my Amazon list and removed all the books on my wishlist and added them to my “For Later” shelf in my Chicago Public Library account.

While basically zero of my books have been cozy-up-by-the-fire-and-finish-in-one-day-books, they have all been really enlightening and I read them on the bus commuting to work.

Here’s what I have been reading. Have you read any of these?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By: Michael Pollan

omnivores dilemma

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. His absorbing narrative takes us from Iowa cornfields to food-science laboratories, from feedlots and fast-food restaurants to organic farms and hunting grounds, always emphasizing our dynamic coevolutionary relationship with the handful of plant and animal species we depend on.” – Michaelpollan.com

What I learned:

  • Next time you eat a chicken nugget really think about the taste. Does it actually taste like chicken?
  • Organic agriculture is almost as bad as conventional agriculture
  • Buying local is better for everyone involved

Dress with Sense

By: Christina Dean

Dress with Sense

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“This four-chapter guide will cater to your appetite to have a more conscious dress sense and will take you through how you can:

BUY better and make more responsible choices when hitting the shops

WEAR your clothes more creatively, and rescue hidden treasures from the depths of your wardrobe.

CARE for your clothes by learning better more environmentally friendly ways to wash

DISPOSE of them by swapping, gifting, donating or recycling – anything but throwing them in the trash!” – redress.com

What I learned:

  • Take care of your clothes
  • I need to learn how to sew more than a button or fix a hole
  • Avoid low-quality clothes, go for high-quality and then make it work for you
  • If your clothes don’t fit, take them to the tailor! I have a skirt and dress pants with the tailor right now

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

By: Florence Williams

the nature fix

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to groves of eucalyptus in California, Williams investigates the science at the confluence of environment, mood, health, and creativity. Delving into completely new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.”- florencewilliams.com

What I learned:

  • Take the more scenic route to work, its better for you even if it is longer
  • Listen to some nature sounds, birdsong preferably
  • Basically living in the city is terrible for you

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste

By: Bea Johnson

zero waste home

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“In Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson shares the story of how she simplified her life by reducing her waste. Today, Bea, her husband, Scott, and their two young sons produce just one quart of garbage a year, and their overall quality of life has changed for the better: they now have more time together, they’ve cut their annual spending by a remarkable 40 percent, and they are healthier than they’ve ever been.” – zerowastehome.com

What I learned:

  • The zero waste queen didn’t start this lifestyle until later in life, so that means it’s never too late to start
  • Lots of good resources and recipes

Life Without Plastic: The Practice Step-by-step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep your Family and the Planet Healthy

By: Chantal Plamondon

life without plastic

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy strives to create more awareness about BPA-based products, polystyrene and other single-use plastics, and provides readers with ideas for safe, reusable and affordable alternatives. By removing plastic from your home, you can reduce your environmental footprint, minimize threats to wildlife, support local businesses and live a healthier, simpler life.” – lifewithoutplastic.com

What I learned:

  • I really don’t like reading about all the ways plastic can kill us
  • That’s it so far, I just started this one!

Other books on my radar:

  • Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, by Daniel Goleman
  • The More of Less: FInding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, by Joshua Becker
  • Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, by Susan Strasser
  • Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and A Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver

Batteries Can Be Tossed

I often get asked what to do with stuff.

What do I do with plastic bags since they can’t go in the recycling blue bin? Where do I take pillows? And sheets and towels? Textiles that can’t be used? Salvation Army or Goodwill?

Recently my dad asked me if he has to recycle alkaline batteries, and not long afterward, a friend texted me the very same question.

batteries

Back in the day, your regular TV remote battery couldn’t be put into the municipal trash because they contained harmful mercury that could leach into waterways. Nowadays, batteries do not contain mercury, which is good.

In Chicago, alkaline batteries are accepted in the garbage cart, while rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste due to nickel cadmium and must be recycled accordingly.

These batteries can now safely go in the trash/landfill, which isn’t necessarily that great.

Yes, they can be thrown out (like a lot of things), but you can also go one extra step and find a place that recycles them. You can look up where to recycle your batteries here, and for the most part, it is going to depend on where you live and what your town or city collects.

So check it out and do something with that pile of dead batteries in your junk drawer.

Resources:

Kayak for Conservation in the Chicago River

Months ago, I signed up to be a citizen scientist with the Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program, and on Saturday, I finally got to be one!

We met near Chicago’s Goose Island for a quick discussion about paddling and what we would be looking out for.

kayak1

Before I knew it, myself and about 10 other citizen scientists, slid into the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River with a representative from the Shedd and one from Urban Rivers. 

kayak2

We visited Shedd’s River Island and Urban River’s floating islands to do some wildlife monitoring. We jotted down the date, temperature, and weather conditions and were then each assigned wildlife to look out for along the vegetation.

kayak3

I had the chance to monitor pollinators, which meant we sat for 2 minutes and counted the number of pollinators that flew by. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a breezy day so many of the pollinators were hunkered down.

Other volunteers checked fish traps and counted turtles – which we saw 4 of!

kayak4

This data will help scientist learn more about restoring the ecology of the Chicago River and other urban rivers. Shedd’s River Island is only a few months old, while Urban River’s island was installed last year (remember, I helped put them together!), providing a great opportunity to compare their productivity over time.

Even though Shedd’s River Island is relatively young, the vegetation was growing nice and tall due to all the nutrients the plants pull from the river.

kayak5

It was an amazing opportunity to get to see the very islands I helped plant become fruitful homes to river wildlife. It also was my first time kayaking on the river and admittedly it was actually really nice.

Sure, there was a bunch of trash mingling along the sides of the seawall, but there were birds flying overhead, bugs buzzing, and turtles sunbathing.

It felt like progress to me.

Going Back to The Way We Used to Shave

After nearly 15 years of using disposable razors and a couple years of waxing, I finally bought a menacing looking, old man, old-school safety razor.

safetyrazor1

I was a tad overwhelmed with the information available on the internet and wanted to speak to a real person in a physical store about all of my questions and concerns. So I turned to the resources at Zero Waste Chicago on where to shop for personal care products in the city.

I visited the downtown Merz Apothecary location and asked for help with the safety razors. Right away, I was given the employee’s undivided attention and he answered all my questions! What type of safety razor is good for a woman? What kind of blades do I get? If my husband also got a safety razor could we use the same type of blade? How often do I change the blade? How do I care for it? And on and on.

safetyrazor2

I ended up with a Merkur long handled razor. The longer handles are better for women and shaving legs, but even when the employee handed it to me, it didn’t seem that long at all. Being able to physically hold the razor and feel how it felt in my hand before purchasing it was invaluable.

As for the blades, the employee provided me with 2 different types that are good for first-time safety razor users. I have only tried one so far, but he suggested switching the blades out after 4-5 uses. While you can’t just toss the used razors in the recycling bin (safety hazard!), you can collect them in a “blade bank” such as a little jar, tin, or pill bottle. After enough blades have been collected, it can be thrown away or specially recycled depending on where you live.

safetyrazor3

I was pretty scared the first time I used it, but I watched a few YouTube videos and got in the tub. I didn’t immediately start bleeding and thought that was a good start. Now that I have been using the razor for a couple weeks I am happy to report that I have not cut myself once.

Pros:

  • Ideally, if I take care of my razor, which is made of steel, it should last forever
  • The blades are SO CHEAP
  • Since only one blade is running over your skin, there is less irritation, bumps, and ingrown hairs

Cons:

  • It takes a bit longer and requires a bit more attention
  • You need to disassemble your razor and let it dry after every use otherwise it will rust
  • Can be difficult to fly with (I have heard different things about not packing the blades in your carryon or being upfront with security about it, or just buying new razors wherever you land, or people using their old disposable razors when they travel instead to avoid that)

safetyrazor4

So far it has been going well, but there are a couple things to keep in mind when switching from a 5 blade lotion covered pink plastic disposable razor.

Things to Remember:

  • Hold the razor at a 20-30 degree angle
  • Do not apply pressure
  • Use short strokes
  • Be careful around knees, ankles, and shins
  • Rinse your blade after each stroke

Have you used a safety razor? Any thoughts or suggestions? Let me know!

**I was not in anyway compensated by Merz Apothecary or Merkur for my review

Testing Our Water for Lead

If you live in an old building in Chicago have you ever wondered if your water service lines are made of lead?

Good news is that you can test it for free with a water quality test kit from the Chicago Department of Water Management.

I requested my free kit about 2 months ago and it finally arrived on my doorstep not too long ago. I had originally requested one for my previous apartment building, but it did not arrive in time before we moved out (if it arrived at all).

leadkit1

Testing our water was easy peasy. All I had to do was follow the instructions and put the box back out on the porch for pickup.

leadkit2

Before testing, you cannot run water for at least 6 hours. This allows your water to settle in the pipes and will give a more accurate reading. So no toilet flushing, showering, laundry, nothing. I completed the test right when I got home from work or you can do it in the morning after waking up.

 

leadkit4

There were three different sample bottles to fill while the sink was flushing. One for when you immediately turn on the tap, one for three minutes later, and one for five minutes since turning on the tap.

leadkit5

I then filled out a form marking the dates and times the samples were taken and any additional information about our building. I didn’t know when our pipes were last replaced, but I was able to put down that our building is 130 years old.

After that, I packed the bottles back up in the box, scheduled a pickup, and then set it back out on my doorstep.

leadkit6

I will be contacted by the Department of Water Quality with the results via phone or email and the results will be provided to the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, as well as posted here.

So our results are TBD and I will let you know when I hear back! If you are interested in testing your water quality, fill out this form.

Salvation Army Vs. Goodwill

When we clean out our closets, move, are making way for new things, or are deciding which items in our lives “spark joy,” there is bound to become a donation bag.

It may be the giveaway pile or donate box, whatever you call it, it has to go somewhere.

The old books you’ve already read can be handed off to a friend looking for a new summer read, sold on Craigslist, or posted on the many Buy Nothing Project groups for someone else to enjoy.

More often than not though, with our busy lives, it becomes just too much work to try and find a new home for your items and coordinate a time to have it picked up. So the items get dropped off at a donation center because you want the stuff out of your house NOW.

Recently, I was asked which was a better place to donate your pre-loved items, Goodwill or Salvation Army? I didn’t have a clear answer, so obviously this became a good blog topic.

Salvation Army

According to their mission statement, “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

They work to meet all sorts of human needs from helping disaster survivors and stopping domestic abuse, to combating addiction and assisting the unemployed. Learn more about what they do here.

Donating clothing and goods to The Salvation Army helps fund addiction rehabilitation programs. You can donate at their Family Stores and drop-off locations or schedule a free pickup. We had The Salvation Army come to pick up our couch once. It was nice that they could take care of that.

According to CNN, the Salvation Army spends 82% of donations on aid and you can check out Salvation Army’s sustainable development goals here.

Goodwill Industries International

Goodwill is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is “to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” They seek to help all job seekers and in 2017, Goodwill helped more than 288,000 people find employment.

Donating your items to Goodwill helps create job opportunities by funding job training and services and they also claim it keeps billions of pounds of textiles and clothing from meeting their end in the landfill. You can calculate the impact of your donation on their website which is pretty cool. For instance, if I donate 5 shirts, that provides 31 minutes of on-the-job training.

But is that what really happens? This Huffington Post article does a good job of explaining what happens to your clothes when you drop them off at Goodwill. In reality, after the good stuff has been picked out and the unusable has become rags, the rest gets shipped overseas. I was not able to find anything that directly explained what they did with stuff when it didn’t sell, but here is a blog about their sustainability initiative.

What’s the Verdict?

It is up to you! Both are keeping materials from the landfill and helping others in the process. I am sure there are parts of each that some may not agree with, but both are better options than tossing your clothes in the garbage. To avoid having to go through all your clothes and donating every few months, be conscious of your purchases and only buy what you actually need, buy secondhand, or attend a clothing swap.

What are your thoughts?

When You Get Mail for 6 People Who Don’t Live in Your Apartment

Life in the city means people move a lot.

When you move into a new place, you eventually get mail addressed to the previous tenant. Usually, it is just a catalog or a flyer, not a big deal, those can be tossed in the recycling bin (or you can call and remove your address from their mailing list and keep a big spreadsheet of what companies you contacted and when to make sure you don’t ever receive another Soft Surroundings catalog again…but that’s just me).

One way to combat this on your own end is to fill out an official change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service. That will make sure all of your mail gets to you and not the new tenants of your old abode.

Please, spare them from having to do what’s next.

Since being in our new place about 6 weeks, we have received tons of the previous tenant’s mail, and it is not just the person who lived in our unit last. I counted 6 different names on the below pieces of mail.

Old tenant's mail

These important pieces of mail, such as bank and retirement savings, cannot just be tossed in the recycling bin since that is actually a crime, so DON’T DO THAT.

But what do you do if six different people who don’t live in your unit, let alone your building, are getting mail at your address?

First, keep everything, besides the junk flyers or anything addressed to “So and So or Current Resident.” Those can be recycled, or do as I do and keep the Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons. Then, use a permanent marker and write on each piece:

“Return to Sender, Not at This Address”

Now put them back in the mail to be dealt with. So far, I have only received an Architectural Digest back in the mail, so I am going to try again.

See below for some other tips and tricks, such as marking out barcodes, to keep someone else’s mail from crowding your mailbox when all you are looking forward to is a card from your mom.