recycling

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.”

 

 

 

 

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:

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.

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.

recycling8

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.

recycling9

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.

 

Your Single-Use Water Bottle Probably Isn’t Recycled & If It Is, It’s Not Helping

Once a single-serve plastic water bottle is consumed it does not just disappear when it is tossed into a garbage can.

 

plastic-bottles-mini

Source: Treehugger

 

Of the 80 million single-serve bottles of water consumed daily, 30 million end up in landfills. That stat is old data as of 2009. As of 2018, I can assure that it is much much more.

If those > than 30 million bottles do not make their final resting place in a landfill, they could either be incinerated or become a disturbance in natural ecosystems. I see them all the time!

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be so reliant on bottled water, but we are.

We are wasting valuable space in landfills by filling it with bottles that are perfectly recyclable.  While not purchasing bottled water is the best option, recycling the bottles is the second best option because it reduces demand for landfill space.

Unfortunately, it does not help reduce the demand for oil because bottlers are not using recycling content anyway (Royte, 2008). Ironically, it is cheaper for bottlers to use virgin PET than recycled PET.

Great…

In an effort to combat criticism of high environmental and energy costs, some companies have turned to a new approach. The new approach, called ‘lightweighting,’ reduces the cost of production, the energy required for shipping, and the mass of plastic in landfills (Gleick, 2010).

These are the new eco-friendly water bottles with the flimsier plastic and smaller shape.

Regrettably, lightweighting does not increase recycling rates or reduce the number of bottles in landfills (Gleick, 2010). It definitely does not decrease the amount of bottles American purchase; it only helps them feel less guilty about it.

A Zero Waste Super Bowl?

I don’t really care about the Super Bowl.

Commercials are good and I generally enjoy eating the food associated with a Super Bowl party.

But you know what really gets me pumped about a Super Bowl? Waste reduction! This year will attempt to divert 90% of the stadium’s waste.

Which is awesome!

Back in the day, while interning at the U.S. EPA, I had the chance to interview the NFL’s Environmental Program Director about that year’s Super Bowl. It was a really neat experience.

Check out the post below.


Science Wednesday: A Sustainable Super Bowl XLVI

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Marguerite Huber

On Sunday, February 5th 2012, thousands of people descended upon Indianapolis, Indiana to watch Super Bowl XLVI. While millions watched the game, they were probably unaware of the sustainability actions that were put forth at Lucas Oil Stadium.

I spoke with NFL Environmental Program Director, Jack Groh, about what his job entails. He describes his job as incorporating environmental principles into sporting events, all the while making good business decisions. In the 18 years Groh has been with the NFL, they have kept expanding their sustainability actions, moving from just solid waste recycling to green energy seven years ago.

This year the NFL will be offsetting the energy for the stadium with Renewable Energy Credits for an entire month! “We are renting the stadium for a month, so we believe we are responsible for our tenancy,” states Groh. In addition to the stadium, the program will be offsetting the city’s convention center and four major hotels. That’s an estimated total offset of 15,000 megawatt hours.

“Every year there is something new and exciting. We want to push the envelope and look for new impacts and strategies,” Groh proclaims. For example, diverting waste from landfills by promoting recycling and reuse, collecting extra prepared food for donations for soup kitchens, donating building and decorative materials to local organizations, and reducing the impact of greenhouse gases from Super Bowl activities. My favorite is the 2,012 Trees program, which will help plant 2,012 trees in Indianapolis to help offset environmental impacts.

What I found most interesting from talking with Mr. Groh was that he does not spend a lot of time with publicity, which is why many of you may have never heard of this program. “People are amazed that we have been doing this for two decades. We don’t do it to create an image or green presence in the media, but do it because it’s the right thing and a really smart way to run things. Our goal is make the Super Bowl as green as we possibly can make it.” Groh admitted.

Sustainability and sports is a growing trend, even if it is not seen on the surface of our favorite sporting events. I am excited to see how professional leagues will mold the core of their existence into a new form of competition that is not just for teams, but for the professional leagues themselves. With sustainability, everybody wins!

Paper: Compost or Recycle?

A while ago, a friend asked me which was better, composting paper or recycling it.

the funnies

That is a really good question that required me to do a bit of research.

And the answer is that it depends.

Paper is not infinitely recyclable (unlike glass), it’s fibers eventually degrade in quality after being recycled 5-7 times. Printer and office paper require strong fibers, so its fibers have only been recycled a couple times. Newspaper, wrapping paper, and tissue paper, on the other hand, can use lower quality fibers.

Here is what should be recycled and what should be composted and in what situation:

Recycle

  • Glossy magazines, advertisements, and catalogs (these are more likely to contain toxic additives you won’t want in our compost if you are using it to grow produce)
  • Office paper
  • Sticky notes

In general, paper that is of higher quality should be recycled so that it can be used again, thus saving resources compared to virgin paper production.

Compost

  • Paper products that are soiled with food waste, like napkins, paper towels, and paper plates (they can’t be recycled anyway)
  • Newspaper
  • Tissues
  • Brown paper bags with food stains from takeout
  • Greasy pizza box
  • Shredded paper (even if it is shredded office paper, it cannot be recycled)

As for composting, it is better to add lower quality paper that is less likely to be recycled. In addition, adding paper is good for the health of your compost pile, helps keep it from being smelly, and absorbs water.

Unfortunately, some paper products can’t be recycled or composted and have to be reused or ultimately end up in the trash can.

Landfill

  • Plastic coated paper products like coffee cups
  • Glittery, glossy, and metallic wrapping paper
  • Glittery tissue paper

So there you go!

There are some other things to remember though.

  1. When buying paper products, opt for post-consumer recycled content to save as many trees as possible. There needs to be a demand for it!
  2. Soley composting high-quality paper keeps those good fibers from the production stream, meaning there is less recycled paper to work with, also meaning more virgin resources being used.

 

Resources

Most Loved Posts of 2017

It’s been a good year (at least for Waste Not Want Not).

I got engaged and the love showed for any of my wedding themed posts because the top three posts of 2017 were all wedding related.

1.) Finally Found Our Venue: Updated

 

2.) Introducing Waste Not Want Not Wedding

bridesmaids

3.)Finally Found Our Venue

latin rhythms

But don’t worry, there was still love for posts that didn’t have anything to do with my upcoming nuptials.

4.) Where Does that Water Go When It Rains A Lot? 

 

MWRD2

McCook Reservoir

 

5.) How to Be a Craigslist Boss: Part 1

craigslist

6.) Who Needs Cotton Balls?

cotton rounds

7.) Meal Kit Market Means More Waste

blue-apron1

8.) A Recycling Conspiracy

conspiracy

9.) A Recycling Conspiracy Solved

bluecart3

10.) 10 Most Overlooked Ways to Reduce Waste: Part 1

10 most overlooked ways to reduce waste.p1 (1)

And there you have it! The Top Ten Waste Not Want Not posts of 2017! Can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring!

An Audit of Our Recycling

Yeah, our recycling in Chicago is pretty much the pits.

I am pretty skeptical that anything we put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled, and that is why many people don’t even bother. I totally get that.

But recycling is a habit that I don’t plan on breaking.

We have a legitimate recycling bin in our house and it was one of my most favorite Christmas gifts. That’s right, I wanted and received a recycling bin for Christmas a number of years ago! I feel no shame!

recycling audit3

Our bin gets filled up every week or so, depending on what is going on. When it is full, I take it downstairs and dump it into the recycling tote sans bag like you’re supposed to.

Since I basically recycle on autopilot, I wanted to actually pay attention to what is in my recycling bin by taking an audit of what’s inside. 

Below is probably about a week’s worth of recycling. 

recycling audit1

 We have:

  • 1 dishwasher detergent bottle
  • 1 cardboard beer caddy
  • 4 glass bottles
  • 1 aluminum can
  • 2 plastic salad containers
  • 3 cardboard boxes
  • 1 plastic bottle
  • 1 aluminum takeout container
  • 1 milk carton
  • 3 paper bags
  • 1 pile of junk mail, envelopes, newspaper and paper

That’s not too bad. We can definitely do a better job of buying plastic-free lettuce, and we usually get milk in returnable glass bottles. 

Each week is different and I am going to start noticing what goes into my bin more and see where I can make changes.

Up next, a waste audit! Yup, going to go through the garbage. Stay tuned! 

Inspiration

This blog does not get an unreal amount of traffic.

My page views are not off the charts.

And I am totally okay with that.

That’s because I love hearing from friends and family (and those on the internet) about what they have learned from my blog. It makes all of it worth it.

I have had friends in Washington reach out about recycling questions. I have had family friends in Maryland send me food waste articles. Followers now know what to do with their old running shoes, their old Apple products, and their old jeans.

 

I had a friend from DC message me the following:

“I love following your blog and seeing all that you do to help the environment. It really inspires me to do little things to do my part. I realized how awesome cloth napkins are for EVERYDAY!”

So much excitement about cloth napkins!

compost bucket7

Another friend has started composting, like real composting in her backyard. I am so proud!

Just being able to make one small difference is really what this blog adventure is all about.

So thank you.