Green City Living

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Moving Box Madness

Almost immediately after our wedding, and then our honeymoon, K and I packed up our tiny apartment and said goodbye to our first place together.

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I was pretty sad about it because I get emotionally attached to things and places. There were so many good memories in that apartment!

What was even sadder though was the amount of waste that could have been if I had not been conscious of it the entire moving process.

The Boxes

We had some boxes saved in the basement from the previous move and purchased many, many more to pack up our belongings. On top of those boxes, we had tons of boxes from all of the registry items that we could finally fit into our apartment.

Just so many boxes.  Everywhere!

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Just a small sample of the amount of boxes

Luckily, I was able to give away pretty much all of the moving boxes for them to be reused again. I gave some to my mom to pack up all those lanterns for our wedding, I posted some on Craigslist and gave some to a friend who was moving shortly after us.

The Plastic Bags

What was worse than the boxes, was the plastic packaging! As we opened new small appliances from our registry the amount of plastic bags just piled up to the point where I filled an entire gigantic bag with them.

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Recyclable plastic bags can be brought to your local grocery store and usually are not accepted in curbside recycling because the bags get caught in recycling machinery. So I just saved all the little bags until I filled up a big one and kept it in my car until I went to the grocery store next.

The Bubble Wrap

On top of the boxes and the plastic bags was the bubble wrap. So much if it. I have given some away, but still have plenty that I have posted on Buy Nothing Facebook groups. There have been a few leads, but no follow-ups so far. Any readers need some bubble wrap?!

While we usually purchase furniture pieces secondhand (we already bought a desk from Craigslist), we did get some new pieces that reminded me of why I hate ordering stuff.

For instance, our new bed frame was delivered 2 days early when K was out of town and was for some reason put down this unfinished set of stairs in the front of our apartment. It was so heavy that I couldn’t get it out alone and had to call in reinforcements. Thanks, Amazon.

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At least the bed frame came early because our new mattress didn’t show up at all. Through countless calls and legitimate hours on the phone with UPS, we ended up having to pick up our mattress from the customer pickup center. Not ideal.

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As destroyed as the box was, fortunately, the mattress itself was okay. Ugh, eye roll.

I am so glad that we are basically done with finding pieces we were missing for our new apartment. The boxes, the plastic, the styrofoam, it was just so overwhelming.

If you aren’t convinced yet, read Buzzfeed’s recent piece, “The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping.” I for one am not a Prime member and happily accept the standard shipping.

Wedding Food Waste: How Much Did We Collect?

As you may know, one of my wedding vendors was a compost collection service.

Which is totally not normal and really awesome. 

Healthy Soil Compost, the company that has come to my apartment every month for the past 2 years to pick up my 5-gallon bucket, got to be a part of my wedding day.

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Working with my caterers, food waste was collected in larger rollaway totes, rather than my usual 5-gallon bucket. Scraps were collected in the kitchen, as well as out in the reception space.

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Me, in my wedding dress, and one of the Healthy Soil Compost containers.

Having the opportunity to support my values on my wedding day was extremely important to me. When else do you get to craft an event that is truly all about you and what you believe in?

139 pounds of organic material

At the end of the night, Healthy Soil had collected 139 pounds of organic material that would have otherwise gone straight into a landfill.

10 pounds of finished compost

Our 139 pounds of organic material (aka tacos) will produce 10 pounds of finished compost to go back into the earth and grow more goodies.

100 pounds of GHG

This entire process saved 100 pounds of greenhouse gas carbon emissions from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Small changes can make a difference. Now, go compost for your next event!

The Oops Tag

I have been “recycling” in Chicago for over two years now and the other day finally saw something I had only heard of on the internet…

The Oops Tag.

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First of all, I say recycling in quotes because I do not fully believe that even half of what I have diligently cleaned and separated makes it to a recycling facility.

But anyway, these oops tags were rolled out by the Department of Streets and Sanitation last summer in an effort to educate Chicagoans about what can and cannot go in the blue bin.

The tag is supposed to be marked with what contaminant was found in the blue bin but looks like that did not happen in the above case.

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These blue bins were obviously not mine, but of a neighbor’s down the street. I noticed the tags as I walked through the alley, but I did not snoop in the bins to see what the issue was to warrant the tags.

While Chicago’s recycling rate is the pits, I am not sure these tags will do much to combat that. Now that I live in a building with an alley, people’s blue bins are much more accessible and people toss stuff in other people’s bins all the time. So controlling what happens in your bin is kind of difficult.

 

I Think I Finally Won

I think it happened.

It is finally over (maybe).

RedPlum coupons have not been on my doorstep the past 3 Tuesdays. The first Tuesday it was not there, I figured it to be a fluke. The second Tuesday, I got more hopeful. And the third Tuesday, made me feel triumphant!

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Victory!

This was not an easy victory, as I highlighted previously multiple times. It came at a price of being so consistently persistent that I vowed to tweet at the Chicago Tribune every week until it stopped showing up on my doorstep. Something no other sane Chicagoan would put themselves through.

I started on this journey back in January and tracked every piece of it.

  • January 9: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 9: Emailed insideshopper@chicagotribune.com to have our address removed
  • January 9: Received automated email response “Thank you for contacting the Chicago Tribune Inside Shopper department – your email is important to us. Please expect a response within 24 hours.”
  • January 10: Did not hear back in 24 hours.
  • January 11: A Twitter follower suggested using an online form to unsubscribe. I filled out the form.
  • January 16: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 23: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 30: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 6: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 13: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 20: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 22: Called the number listed to be removed and was told it would take 2-3 weeks.
  • February 27: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 6: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 13: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 20: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 20: Called again to be removed and asked if it would take 2-3 weeks, they said no.
  • March 26: Direct messaged RedPlum on Twitter
  • March 27: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 27: RedPlum responded to my Twitter message, saying: “Thank you. Your address was removed from our distribution list on 1/12/18. We are contacting the Chicago Tribune, who handles delivery in your area, to make them aware of the delivery error.”
  • April 3: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 10: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune. This time, they told me they would tell the delivery people that I have already called multiple times.

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  • April 17: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 17: Received a reply to my tweet from a Chicago Tribune digital editor

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  • April 19: Got a voicemail from Chicago Tribune customer service referencing my tweets. When I called back it was just the same number I had been calling for weeks. I asked for the representative who had left the voicemail (Lillian), the person on the phone could not get her.
  • April 24: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 25: Got another call from Lillian about my tweets. She asked for my address again (I have literally given it to them 25 times by now). She did inquire if I was the owner of the building because technically if RedPlum is being delivered to a building with multiple units, it is the owner who would have to go through this horrendous process. I assured her that no, I was not the owner, no one in my building wants it, and there was no way the owner would slave away at this. Lillian said she would follow up with the distributor and to allow 1-2 weeks for service to stop.
  • May 1: Did not receive
  • May 8: Did not receive
  • May 15: Did not receive

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So maybe, just maybe, I have won the battle with RedPlum and InsideShopper. I did not want to get too excited the first week it didn’t show, but I am hoping 3 weeks in a row means this has finally come to an end.

Thank goodness I succeeded because we are about to move! Fingers crossed our new building doesn’t get it or I am going to have to start all over. At least my current neighbors can thank me for ridding them of such unnecessary waste!

Earth Day Digging

It’s finally not freezing here in Chicago and for the first time, it felt like spring on Sunday/Earth Day.

Despite the lack of green currently growing, I joined a volunteer event with My Block My Hood My City and Heartland Alliance to get their urban garden ready for planting in the East Garfield Park neighborhood.

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Over 200 people showed up! My group was set to weeding the beds and then filling them in with fresh compost.

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We got to dig, pull, rake, and shovel for a couple hours, getting the ground ready for planting.

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All the fresh vegetables produced from the garden go to benefit local food pantries and feed families all across Chicago.

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Overall, it was a great afternoon spent outside, in a new neighborhood, helping feed others in my city.

What did you do for Earth Day?

Who is Bea Johnson?

While most people involved in reducing their waste have heard of her, most of my friends and family who read this blog have no idea who Bea Johnson is.

Well, Bea Johnson, of Zero Waste Home, started the whole Fit-My-Entire-Family’s-Annual-Waste-in-A-Mason-Jar trend.

That’s right.

Her family of four can fit all the waste that they produce annually in one jar.

 

This is her family’s waste for 2017. Source: https://zerowastehome.com/about/bea/

The reason I am bringing her up is because I had the opportunity to hear her speak on Monday at the Shedd Aquarium thanks to an event put on by my buds over at Zero Waste Chicago.

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I have not been to the Shedd in ages, mostly because I am terrified of fish and only like free museums, but they are super involved in conservation through their Great Lakes Action Days and plastic waste reduction through their Shedd the Straw campaign.

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The evening started out with an action expo of numerous local organizations and businesses striving to reduce their waste. I knew most of the organizations in some way or another and got to see a lot of familiar faces.

I did get to pick up some low-waste powder laundry detergent from Meliora Cleaning Products, which I am super excited to test out. That’s a post for another day.

After the expo, we filed into the auditorium to hear Bea speak about living without waste.

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Bea’s journey to a zero waste lifestyle started in 2006 when her family first moved to be closer to town and it’s walkability. She outlined her failures with making her own cosmetics, shampoo, and even toilet paper.

She and her family follow the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Rot, which I have posted about before.

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Her family refuses what they do not need and say no to single-use plastics, promotional freebies, junk mail, business cards, and more.

Then they reduce what they actually need. One thing that she said really struck me, “Once we pass our comfort level, anything beyond that becomes excess.” That is absolutely true. She has 4 kitchen cooking utensils, uses only white vinegar and Castille soap to clean, and her entire wardrobe can fit in a carry-on suitcase.

The family approaches reuse by swapping out disposables for reusable alternatives, which means glass jars for food, an old pillowcase for bread, and buying secondhand.  Everything they buy is from a thrift store or from E-Bay for super specific purchase you can’t easily find.

After that, they recycle what they cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. Contrary to what people believe, living a zero-waste lifestyle encourages you to recycle less. Whatever is left is composted, or rot.

Overall,  Bea Johnson finds the best benefit of her lifestyle is the simplicity, which is something I can get behind. Although I understand and support her lifestyle, I know that for some people, it is just not attainable, which is totally fine.

You may never be able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a jar and that’s okay (I know I won’t). Every small step or implementation of one of the R’s is a step in the right direction.

 

 

I advise you to learn more about Bea and Zero Waste Home. It is really interesting. And with that, I leave you with these two pieces from Monday:

“When you live with less you have more time to do what is important to you.”

“It’s a life based on being instead of having.”