C3

Laid Off and Pushing On

Last week I had a very surprising phone call. My position at a tech company had been eliminated due to some company reorganizing and I was suddenly out of a job.

It took me the rest of the afternoon to come to terms that I would not be receiving a paycheck or insurance anymore, and that was really my only concern. I did not love my job and to be honest, I did not really care about what I was doing. This was just an in-between job.

Having gone to school to study environmental management and sustainable development, I always knew I wanted my passion to also be my career. Since graduating, I have bounced around a bit from Indiana to Washington DC, but being back in Chicago has not brought me much luck in the job hunt.

While I started working for that tech company, I did my best to exercise my passion outside of my work day. This meant volunteering on a non-profit associate board, Delta Emerging Leaders and applying for Chicago Conservation Corps, which I blogged about many times here, here, and here. On top of that, I did some beach clean ups too.

All while I was working for my lack-luster job and volunteering, I was  also always on the look out for an open sustainably related position. So now I am still looking and still applying, but I am not going to settle.

I already had a passion-less job. This next job, whatever it may end up being, is going to make a difference and help create quantifiable and beneficial change. I believe that life is too short to be spending so much time in a job that does not fill you with joy and really makes you think. Overall, I refuse to give up. The topics I write about on this blog are what I want to do with my life, and I feel lucky to have found my calling. I know my dream job is out there.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

C3 Week 4: Waste

Obviously, I was very interested in this class topic since it covered waste and the point of this blog is to not be so wasteful!

First of all, why should we care about waste?

  • it does not go “away”
  • litter is ugly
  • sanitation
  • water quality is diminished
  • climate change due to more methane from landfills
  • these are just a few reasons!

waste pyramid

We have all learned about the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but there are more important steps that need to be included as well. The conversation we usually have starts with recycle, when we really should be starting at the top with refuse. If we refuse something, it cannot become waste in the first place. Zero-wasters are very familiar with this part of the pyramid! So refuse those plastic bags and straws, for they will never go away!

Chicago throws away 7.3 million tons of trash annually.

In 2009, the city conducted a waste characterization study, where our trash was sorted into 81 different categories.

The top three items by weight were:

  1. Paper (29.5%)
  2. Organics (29%)
  3. Plastic (12.5%)

All of these things can be recycled or composted, not sent to a landfill!

We have a big issue with recycling in this city if you have not noticed from my posts on my experience of trying to get a recycling cart.

The biggest issues we discussed in class are access, expense, contamination, and education.

Access

As I discussed here, residential buildings with 4 units or less have access to the city recycling service. Larger, multi-unit buildings, on the other hand, use a private hauler. So depending on what type of building you live in, your recycling rules may be different.

Expense

We do not pay to recycle our materials, unlike the tipping fee required to dump one ton of trash into a landfill. So the City is actually saving money when every ton of recyclables does not go into a landfill. Last year, the City saved $4.5 million.

In Illinois, It is cheap to dump into a landfill compared to other states. New York, for instance, is running out of landfill space and thus charges much more per ton.

Contamination

In addition to the list of what should be recycled, there are also a lot of items that do not belong in our blue carts. Here is where you can recycle common things that are not allowed:

Education

There are different messages for different audiences, especially if they use city recycling or not. Language is also an issue, but for the most part, there is a lack of staff to help implement. Maybe they need to hire someone like me!

Additional Recycling Resources:

 

 

C3 Week 3: Water

The topic of water has always been something I was interested in. Back in 4th grade, our class did a unit on Chicago history. While my classmates chose to do projects on Marshall Fields and the Sears Tower (I will never refer to it as Willis Tower), I did my project on Lake Michigan.

Naturally, I was very excited about a class entirely on water and the information did not disappoint!

Our first presenter was from the City of Chicago Department of Water Management. If you do not know the history of Chicago’s water system and its use of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, it is pretty darn cool. (At least I think so!)

The Chicago River naturally flows into Lake Michigan. After decades of sewage being dumped into the River, the water intake structures needed to be extended to pull in water that was not contaminated farther out in the Lake.

lake michigan

In 1867, the first tunnel was constructed 2 miles out into the Lake. The water intake crib was built on shore then floated out the 2 miles and sunk to the bottom with bricks. The intake tunnels were constructed 60 feet below the Lake level and began from both the crib and the shore to meet in the middle. Amazingly there was an only 7-inch difference between the two when they met. That is a phenomenal feat for that time!

The Chicago Pumping Station and Water Tower were built in 1869, survived the Chicago Fire of 1871, and are still in service today!

With all the sewage flowing into Lake Michigan from the Chicago River, it was decided to reverse its flow towards the Mississippi River. Construction  of channels started in 1895 to reverse the flow of the Chicago River and were finished in 1900.

lake michigan3

Speaking of the Chicago River, our second presenter was from the Friends of the Chicago River. This nonprofit is dedicated to improving and protecting the Chicago River system for people, plants, and animals.

When Chicago’s water system was constructed, it combined both our stormwater and wastewater sewers. The system works fine when there has not been a lot of precipitation (and by a lot I only mean 0.3 inches of rainfall).

CSO dry

Add that bit of rainfall and a combined sewer overflow (CSO) can happen, sending untreated sewage into the Chicago River.

CSO wet

On days where there is a major rain event with the potential to overwhelm our sewers and flush harmful waste into the river, Friends will declare an Overflow Action Day. These events call for citizens to reduce the amount of water that will head into the sewer system.

Take the Overflow Action Day Pledge and sign up for the CSO Notification System from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to learn more about when CSOs occur! You can also visit istheresewageinthechicagoriver.com for updates on whether or not sewage has been released into the river.

It is super gross and not something you would think about until you are personally affected by a CSO, which I have! While living in DC, I was participating in the Nation’s Triathlon. It rained a lot the night before, causing a CSO, and the swim portion of the race to be cancelled. You can read more about this experience when I blogged for the EPA here.

I loved learning about the history of Chicago’s water, but I am equally excited to cover waste in our next class!

 

 

 

C3 Week 2: Energy

Last week our class discussed energy topics with a number of players from around Chicago and the state.

We heard from:

Our climate specialist discussed the climate of Chicago and how that may change over time. For instance, Chicago may be 4.4 Degrees to 4.7 Degrees warmer by mid-century and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are likely as well.

You can learn more about what Chicago plans to do by reading Chicago’s Climate Action Plan.

The class also got the chance to explore the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum‘s new exhibit “Weather to Climate: Our Changing World.” It was pretty neat and hands on. There was a game that let you calculate how much CO2 you put into the atmosphere each day!

Citizen’s Utility Board is a non-profit that represents the interests of Illinois ratepayers.

CUB30Logo

Source: CUB

They help individuals with their bills, conduct consumer education events and are advocates for energy efficiency and demand response programs.

Many utility bills are confusing, so we got an explanation of our electric bills and then the benefits of a smart grid.

After that, we discussed ComEd’s free home energy assessment that can provide free energy-saving products for your home. The products included programmable thermostats, ENERGY STAR certified CFLs, smart power trips, WaterSense certified shower heads, faucet aerators, and hot water pipe insulation.

Since the majority of us in C3 are not homeowners, we also discussed how to approach your landlord about taking part in this program. Basically, you need to explain all the benefits and mention a million times that it is FREE!

Finally, CDOT is in charge of building and maintaining our transportation network. It may seem random that we were talking about transportation in our energy class, but the goal was to talk about active forms of transportation that help reduce our reliance on cars and therefore energy.

The City of Chicago has some pretty impressive transportation goals:

  • 5% of all trips under 5 miles will be taken by bicycle
  • All Chicago residents will live within .5 miles of a bikeway
  • Reduce pedestrian and bicycle crash injuries, each by 5% within 5 years

We then talked about Chicago’s bike share system, Divvy, which is ideal for short trips and commutes. So far Divvy has 475 stations and 4,760 bikes. While I have not ridden a Divvy bike yet, I did ride the bike share in DC occasionally. I have my own bike, but I see plenty of people out riding Divvy on the streets and many bike lanes.

divvy

Source: Divvy Bikes