chicago

A Place for Personal Care Products

Unlike some people in the zero waste world, I have not rid my life of all store-bought personal care products. I do still like to use toothpaste…

So does my husband, so anyway here we are.

A while back I heard that clean beauty store, Credo has partnered with TerraCycle to take back personal care and beauty items for recycling.

I have been buying makeup from Credo for a while, long before they opened a physical store here in Chicago. While their products are free of a bunch of nasty chemicals, they don’t do so well on the packaging front.

So when I learned you could bring in your empties (and earn rewards points will doing so!) I started to hoard our floss containers under the bathroom sink. Not going to lie, I have also dug stuff out of the bathroom trash!

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The bag slowly accumulated deodorant, toothpaste, floss, old makeup, hair gel containers, a lotion bottle and much more.

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Over the weekend I took my haul into Credo on Damen and asked what they do and do not accept. Turns out basically anything except nail polish, perfume bottles, and hair spray.

So I did have to take my hair spray back home with me and I am still trying to figure out what to do with it. Did you know aerosol cans can explode if crushed when they are not completely empty?! Mine must not be empty because it still makes noise when I press the nozzle.

All in all, I am happy to have a little more space under the bathroom sink and for my old toothpaste tubes to be properly disposed of.

Behind the Scenes at Meliora Cleaning Products

What does Meliora mean?

It means better (in Latin) and it means knowing what ingredients are in your cleaning products.

Earlier this week, I attended my first Chicago Women in Green event held at Melioria Cleaning Products.

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Available Meliora products.

For over a year now, I have been using their unscented powdered laundry detergent that comes in a cardboard canister and is made right here in Chicago.

Before making the switch from our standard Method free and clear detergent, I asked K how he would feel about it. He didn’t care as long as the clothes got clean. And they did, so we have been using it ever since.

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Founder, Kate Jakubas, lead us through the factory.

So I was thrilled to go behind the scenes, learn about their factory and manufacturing process, and see where the products I purchase are made.

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Look soap!

They list every ingredient in their products, are a certified B-Corp, avoid synthetic fragrances, use plastic, glass, and cardboard wherever possible, and even repurpose berry boxes from Costco throughout the factory!

 

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We got to take home a “mystery” bar of soap made up of the ends and beginnings of different scents. No waste here!

On top of Meliora laundry detergent, I also use their all-purpose home cleaner that comes in a little tub and all you have to do is mix it in a spray bottle with water! I love not having to continually purchase a new plastic bottle of cleaner every time one runs out. All I have to do is keep refilling.

While on our visit, I was able to purchase their new solid dishwashing soap. Yay to no more plastic bottles sitting on my counter! In the future, Meliora will hopefully come out with a plastic-free dishwasher detergent, but right now they are still working on the formula.

If you are in Chicagoland, their laundry detergent can be purchased in bulk at the Dill Pickle Co-op and Sugar Beet Food Co-Op, but you can also purchase refills in paper bags. You can find their products in a handful of stores and on Amazon.

Now excuse me while I go clean!

I was not compensated for my review of Meliora Cleaning Products, I just happen to really like them! 

Does Chicago Require Grocery Stores to Provide Plastic Bag Recycling?

It all started the other week.

I had two bags full of all types of plastic bags and plastic film, which I take to recycle when one of the bags underneath the sink starts to overflow. I was stopping at Whole Foods for a different reason and brought my bags of bags along with me inside.

Now, I don’t usually shop at Whole Foods and was not sure where their plastic bag recycling was. At most grocery stores, it is by the door. I looked around and did not see anything, so I walked over to the customer service desk and waited until an employee could help me. When it was my turn I asked where the plastic bag recycling was and in the most joyous tone, the employee responded that they did NOT have plastic bag recycling, and then he turned to help someone else.

Stunned, I turned around and walked out of Whole Foods, completely forgetting what I had actually gone in there for.

In the car, I sat and tweeted at Whole Foods. I got no response. I was pretty peeved and wondered a whole bunch of things like:

How could a store that touts its amazing environmental stewardship not provide recycling? It sells items wrapped in plastic, should they not provide a proper way to dispose of it? 

Don’t all grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling? Jewel-Osco does, so does Target.

I was so confused, so I started looking more into it.

Plastic grocery bags and most any kind of plastic film, like bread bags or the plastic shrink wrap around toilet paper, cannot be recycled in Chicago’s blue bins. They get wrapped up in the machinery and cause a whole big mess. Learn more about that here and here.

According to the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Chicago Recycling Guide: A-Z, “plastic shopping bags can be recycled at grocery stores, pharmacy’s and many big-box retailers.”

plastic bag recycling

And then further down it says “All Chicago grocery stores are required to accept plastic shopping bags for recycling. Bags from other stores are also accepted.”

shopping bag recycling

There seems to be some disconnect. Obviously, not all grocery stores, pharmacy’s and big-box retailers offer plastic bag recycling given my own personal experience.

So I started sleuthing…

To figure out where you can bring plastic bags/film, you could use Earth911‘s Where to Recycle tool. When I search “plastic bags” based on my zip code I get Jewel, Kohls, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Lowes, and JCPenny (and that was only from 5  of the 11 pages of results). Mariano’s, where I usually bring my plastic bags is, amazingly, not listed.

You could also use Plastic Film Recycling. This search brought up Jewel, Target, Mariano’s, Walmart, Kohls, and 17 pages of results for my zip code.

But Whole Foods is not listed in either repository. Why?

I did some more digging into the Municipal Code of Chicago and found under Title 7 Health and Safety, the Chapter 7-30 Plastic Bag and Film Plastic Recycling Ordinance. The Code states that if a store does not provide plastic bags to customers, it does not have to provide recycling for them (based on my basic understanding of the code).

According to the Code:

   (j)   “Store” shall mean a retail or wholesale establishment, other than a food service establishment, where twenty-five percent (25%) or more of gross sales include prescription or non-prescription medicines and/or any cooked or uncooked article of food, drink, confection or condiment used for or intended to be used for human consumption off the premises, is stored, sold, prepared, cooked or offered for sale at retail such as candy manufacturers, confectioneries, fish markets, fruit and vegetable markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, meat markets, nut stores, dressed poultry markets or retail bakeries, bakery outlets or any similar place and provides plastic carryout bags to consumers in which to place these products.

It turns out Whole Foods does not actually provide plastic bags to their customers, thus exempting them. I would not know that Whole Foods does not give out plastic bags because I do not shop there and even if I did, I bring my own reusable bags. Go figure!

So to answer the question stated in the title of this blog post, yes, Chicago does require grocery stores to provide plastic bag recycling as long as it fits within the definition of a “store.”

 

 

 

 

What Will Happen to Chicago’s Worm Farm?

For the past three or so years, almost every banana peel, eggshell or orange rind that came out of our household has made its way to one urban worm breeding farm to become compost via our composting service Healthy Soil Compost.

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The remnants of tonight’s dinner end up in our bucket.

That worm farm is Nature’s Little Recyclers. They take my food waste and turn it into worm castings to be added back to the soil as a rich growing medium, they create local jobs, and save quite literally tons of food waste from landfills.

I owe them a lot.

Unfortunately, as with anyone trying to save the world, a few barriers are standing in their way.

Right now that barrier is the City of Chicago, who is shutting down Nature’s Little Recyclers last location due to lack of a permit and cease-and-desist orders. The laws in this city are not made for small business composters.

So Nature’s Little Recyclers started a petition to tell the Chicago City Council and the mayor to make it easy to compost in the city. Since the petition started 2 weeks ago, it has received over 4,400 signatures.

So if you compost in the city or support updating our laws to accommodate urban composting please sign the petition here.

Learn more about the situation with recent news coverage:

ICYMI: Nothing Really Decomposes in a Landfill

Have you been greenwashed into thinking that a compostable bowl is a better choice because once you toss it, it will decompose in a landfill?

Or have you patted yourself on the back for buying those biodegradable/compostable trash bags?

Or have you shrugged it off that it’s fine to throw a banana peel into the garbage because its organic material and will break down?

I hate to break it to you, but that is

not really how landfills work.

In graduate school, our class had the opportunity to tour a nearby landfill and recycling center and let me tell you, it was very depressing.

I will never forget seeing all the things the people of southern Indiana tossed into their garbage cans, being pushed and packed by bulldozers.

And the smell! Phew! Unbelievable!

Anyway, that stuff Hoosiers tossed that day about 6 years ago is still probably sitting around, just as the day it was tightly packed into the Earth.

I am not going to get into all the undesirable aspects of landfills, such as methane production and groundwater leaching, but the best non-super jargony explanation I could find came from this article on livescience.com:

“Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it, according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association. But garbage in a landfill does decompose, albeit slowly and in a sealed, oxygen-free environment. Because of the lack of oxygen, bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous if allowed to collect underground. It is also a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming.”

-Molika Ashford, “What Happens Inside a Landfill

Organic materials need oxygen to biodegrade and landfills lack oxygen when they are tightly packed and sealed. In this same graduate class, we discussed instances of landfill “archeologists” who have found hot dogs and guacamole still intact and years old newspapers completely legible. See more here, here, and here.

It all goes back to the notion that this is no “away.”

Throwing something away, be it a piece of plastic from Amazon packaging, your jeans with a hole in them, a banana peel, a piece of junk mail, an extra metal thing from your IKEA furniture assembly, to that piece of IKEA furniture itself, they will all live on in the depths of landfills scattered across the country. 

And those landfills are getting full.

For instance, Chicago’s garbage is trucked 100 miles outside of the city to 2 landfills in Illinois and 2 landfills in Indiana. Watch this video from WTTW for a comprehensive look as to what happens to Chicago’s garbage once it is put out in the alley. According to the Illinois EPA, at the state’s current rate of garbage collection, Illinois will run out of space for garbage in the next 20 years.

So let’s keep stuff out of the landfill that doesn’t belong. 

Recycle that plastic Amazon packaging in the proper place, or better yet, ask Amazon and other companies to reduce their packaging. You can email Amazon customer service and request that orders for your account come with less packaging. The environmental impacts of Amazon could be a whole blog post in itself.

Fix your jeans with a hole in them or find textile recycling in your area.

Compost that banana.

Recycle that junk mail and call the company to have your address removed.

Don’t buy cheap particle board furniture from IKEA, instead, quality pieces are abundantly available secondhand.

So next time you go to the garbage can just take a second to think before you toss.

 

 

 

How Facebook Can Help With Secondhand Shopping

My love for Craigslist has not waned, but I have found a new place to add to my arsenal for buying items I need and selling items that don’t “spark joy.”

It came about when I started to sell our wedding decorations post-wedding. I posted lanterns and table numbers to Craigslist but heard that Facebook Marketplace was now the place to buy and sell. So, I tried it out.

In terms of selling, it is pretty easy. Just post your item and buyers can reply via Facebook Messenger. You can mark items as pending and then as sold once you have completed the transaction, providing a rating to your buyer. The downside is that Marketplace provides an “Ask for Details” button that automatically messages the seller asking if the item is available. From my experience, buyers like to use that button A LOT. I mean, if it is still posted, and not marked as pending, it is still available…

Buyers can also send customized messages about items and save items to come back to later. You can search specific areas, within a certain radius, as well as by category.

I cross posted all of my wedding decor on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. I got the most responses to my items from Marketplace, and that’s where the majority of my sales came from. Seller beware though, while I did get more responses, the responses were a lot of unnecessary questions, beyond asking about its availability. People asked where I was located, if they could only buy specific items of the lot, and what dimensions where. All this information had already been included in the post’s details.

In addition to Marketplace, I have joined a number of community selling groups on Facebook, like Chicago, Buy, Hustle, and Trade, and Wedding & Party Recyclers Group.  I also am apart of a neighborhood group, so it is likely there is a group near where you live too.

Another group I am a member of on Facebook is the Chicago Buy Nothing group, where members post items that are available for someone else to take, or where members post items they are searching for. I posted moving boxes and supplies after we moved this summer and was glad someone else could use those items.

moving boxes

I was just glad these boxes didn’t end up in the landfill.

The downside of using Facebook and Craigslist, of course, is having to field questions and coordinate with buyers when you could just drop your unwanted items off at Goodwill or Salvation Army.

I see myself adding Marketplace to my repository of places to search for items I am looking for locally. The opportunity to be able to pick up a sought after item from a neighbor down the street, for less than it would cost new, is a win-win for me.

Have you used Marketplace? What are your thoughts? Do you have any other apps or sites that you swear by?

Disclaimer: This post is not in any way affiliated with or sponsored by Facebook. 

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.

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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!

 

 

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.

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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.