Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

Summer Recycling To-Do List July 25, 2013

My closets have been a little more difficult to close lately. I have to do a delicate dance of stuffing things in and closing the door super quickly. When opening a closet, I anticipate anything tumbling out and inuring me, or a curious cat. I need to do some purging this summer, and I’m starting with some recyclables that have been piling up.These aren’t cans and newspapers; it’s those I’m-not-sure-what-to-do-with-but-I’m-sure-these-can-be-recycled items. So, they sit in the closet. And sit. And sit. Until finally, I get motivated enough to figure out what to do with them. Sometimes there’s a second stage of sitting in my car for potentially months as well, but I’m determined to skip over this step this time.

It’s a mixed blessing to live in a small apartment with very limited storage. There’s no way to just forget about things and let them pile up in a garage, basement or attic. We use most everything we have, and there’s a place for everything. Or at least that’s how it should be. For, well, months or even years now (hard to admit) I’ve let a few things go ignored. It’s time to free up a little closet space and find a good home for these items. So I’ve made a list (you know how I love lists):

1. CDs — These are burning blunders, unneeded how-to instructions, promotional CDs, etc. My go-to reuse of these as coasters isn’t cutting it anymore (although it’s still a great idea), and I’m hoping I can recycle them. Awhile back I heard about a scrap metal recycling facility that accepts CDs and DVDs, so I’ll be looking into that shortly.


2. Batteries — This one is easy and a no-brainer. Any household hazardous waste facility will take these, and I even know where it is! So it’s just a matter of remembering, and coordinating with their odd hours.

3. Corks — Ok, we have a lot of corks. Like a ton. Like so many that I’m worried an intervention will be staged after friends and family see this photo. But the truth is, this is several years worth of corks. I think these go back as long as we’ve been in our current apartment, which is more than five years. So that’s not too bad, right? I could try to do a cork craft project or reuse them creatively, but if my goal right now is purging, that’s what I should do. Besides, there’s always more where these came from.

Corks, with aforementioned curious cat.

Corks, with aforementioned curious cat.

4. Plastic bags — Now these haven’t been piling up for years; unfortunately there’s just too much to be able to do this. Even with using durable grocery bags and produce bags and otherwise trying to avoid plastic, that pesky plastic piles up. It’s the pasta packaging, the bread bags, etc. that are hard to avoid. Added to my summer list is a drop-off at my local grocery store’s plastic bag recycling bin.

5. Caps — A few years ago I was so excited to find out about Aveda’s cap recycling program. Not sure why, but they discontinued the program. The problem is, I haven’t stopped saving the caps. There may not be a happy ending for this, but I’m going to see if there’s any hope for all of those caps or if they’ll have to be (sigh) trashed.

caps 7-13

6. Ink cartridges — I have a nice little (messy) bag full of several printer ink cartridges. My usual drop-off of choice is Office Depot, where they give you a gift card (I think $3) for recycling cartridges there. I plan to stop by and see if they’re still running this program, and pick up some recycled paper while I’m there.

Ok, I think that will do for now. I know I (and my closets) will feel great to finally deal with all of this stuff!


Big Green Bellies April 29, 2013

I love strolling through the streets of downtown Chicago—you never know what you might see. But when winter rolls in, those walks become far and few between. It’s not too fun to be outside at all, let alone go on a leisurely stroll. But, earlier this winter the combination of cabin fever and a fairly mild day (despite piles of slush and gloomy gray skies) spurred me to put on my most toughest boots and warmest coat, and head out for a few errands on foot. It turned out to be a great time, partly because there were enough distractions to keep me from throwing in the towel and jumping in the first taxi home. It seemed like on almost every block I noticed something new (doughnut shop!), interesting (creative wintertime flower boxes) or beautiful (endless architectural details). I managed to get my errands done, feeling like I really embraced the day and the weather, as opposed to just trying to get through another hard winter day.

One of the great things about walking is stumbling across the unexpected. Things you wouldn’t notice if you were zooming by in a car. One day last summer—ahhh, summer—I noticed some new garbage bins downtown that were a complete surprise. I know, how can garbage bins be interesting in the slightest? Well, for one thing, these were combo recycling/garbage bins, which I thought was pretty cool since previously it was impossible to find a public recycling bin downtown and I would have to carry my recyclables home with me like a big green geek. But the really unusual thing that caught my attention was that they were solar compactors. At first I didn’t even really understand what that meant. After looking into it, I found out that there’s a sensor in the can that signals when the garbage reaches a point where it needs to be compacted, enabling the container to hold a great deal more garbage.

solar compactor

It turns out the city installed several hundred Big Belly solar garbage compactors around town with the intent of not only being able to collect recyclables along with garbage, but to cut down the number of garbage pickups. This is a really forward-thinking green move, and I’m proud of the city for making this change. I couldn’t find any stats for Chicago at this point, but in one year Philadelphia was able to go from 17 collections a week to just five and save $900,000. That means less greenhouse gas emissions and fuel use by garbage trucks, not to mention increased recycling. Since the garbage cans have pull-open doors* like mailboxes, they contain the garbage better than open cans, reducing litter. Not too shabby. Makes me wonder what I’ll see on my next walk…

solar compactor side

*My only concern is the fact that you have to pull the handle to put garbage in. That means you have to touch something I don’t think most of us really want to touch. As time goes by and the cans get dirtier, will people avoid using them? Will littering actually increase? I hope this isn’t too much of a deterrent, but even I’m a bit wary. I’ll be using the compactors, but along with a healthy supply of hand sanitizer.


Beautiful green thing #8 November 8, 2010

Since it’s been so long since I last posted (no, this blog is not dead!), I thought it would be best to crank up the blog again with a beautiful green thing. Ever since the Gulf oil disaster, I’ve been generally in an eco-funk, feeling pretty down on the state of our world. But when I find out about something like the Windowfarms Project, it turns things around for me just enough that I remember the ability of the human mind to come up with innovative solutions, and the nature of humans to form community and work toward good.

The Windowfarms Project started out as a couple of women who wanted to grow food in their tiny NYC apartments. They came up with a way to grow food in an apartment window with hydroponics and used plastic bottles. The system worked, and they started sharing it with others while also creating a community where people could improve upon the system and continue to make it better. Just one year after posting the instructions on how to build a windowfarm, 13,000 people have downloaded them and are participating in their online community.

It might seem like a small thing to do–grow a little food in your home–but that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Instead of waiting around for industry to move forward with urban agriculture efforts like large-scale vertical farming, the Windowfarms Project pioneers moved forward themselves. They took some steps to live healthier and lighter on the planet, and with the power of the Internet and community, grew an idea into a worldwide movement that helps get local, fresh produce to urban dwellers.


Cap recycling, revisited May 10, 2010

Filed under: plastic,recycling — isgreeneasy @ 5:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

Last February I wrote a post about a new plastic cap recycling program Aveda started, and ever since then I’ve been saving my caps. It’s a little shocking how many caps have accumulated–

A year's worth of plastic caps

A year’s worth of plastic caps

I thought about counting them, but without rubber gloves I didn’t really want to mess with it. But there were a bunch. It felt satisfying to take them in for recycling rather than throwing them out, but it also made me think about how much plastic we still use, and how I can work on changing that. There are so many things that come in plastic bottles! I’m still going to work on it, but meanwhile I’ll keep on saving those caps.

Oh and yes, I did make an unplanned purchase of lipstick while I was at the Aveda store. How could I resist?


No Impact Experiment, part 5: Energy March 16, 2010

Filed under: energy,sustainability — isgreeneasy @ 1:02 pm
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Since I’m not up for setting up my own Little House on the Prairie in downtown Chicago, I was a little scared of this week’s challenge of cutting down my energy usage. I’m just not into going to sleep when it gets dark, washing my clothes grape-stomping style or unplugging the fridge, which are some of the things recommended by the No Impact Project. I was however interested in examining what I actually could do to alter my energy habits, and maybe make some subtle changes.

The manual directed me to visit every room in my home and write down everything that uses energy, and then to put a star next to the things I would use during the week. Then I was to determine which of those starred items I could “eliminate or mitigate”. One interesting thing I noticed right away was that out of everything I listed (except for our second bedroom/office that we don’t regularly use), I use pretty much everything that requires energy–from the lamps and TV in the living room to the stove and espresso machine in the kitchen to the clock radio and blow dryer in the bathroom. Now I don’t consider myself an energy hog–I turn off lights when I leave a room–but it was interesting to think about how much I rely on the electrics and electronics at my fingertips.

Ok, so what changes could I make? Here’s what I did:

  • I solely used the toaster oven and left the oven off all week. I’ve always sworn by my toaster oven, but when you think about how much less energy it uses and how often you really can use it, it’s a must for every kitchen.
  • I turned off the laptop. Yep, I had gotten in the habit of just leaving it on for hours, and even leaving it on overnight, so I shut down and turned off the powerstrip.
  • I took the stairs more. Now I live on the 11th floor so I didn’t do this at home (I know, so lazy!) but I did take the stairs other places as much as I could.
  • I turned down the heat. I felt like we already kept the heat pretty low, but I turned it down a smidge anyway. (It helped that we’ve had a little burst of almost-springlike weather, even though it’s still mostly been in the 40s.)
  • I tried out a recommendation in the manual to put your pasta into the water before it boils, and by letting them heat up together, the pasta cooks quicker. It worked just fine and saved a couple of minutes of stovetop time.

So did I really eliminate anything? No. But was I able to mitigate anything? Yes, several things, some of which felt very minor, but that’s what a lot of this is for me: taking small steps that hopefully add up to something meaningful, while not having to take such extreme steps as “going off the grid”. If I go camping, I’ll go off the grid. Otherwise, I’d still like to use my curling iron, thank you very much.


Beautiful Green Thing #7 March 2, 2010

Filed under: beautiful green things,Green Foodie — isgreeneasy @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,

To go along with the food theme of my last post, here’s a lovely little animated video that highlights the beauty of local food. A project for the 100 Mile Diet Society, the narrator visits several local food producers (as well as her own garden) to learn about and appreciate the ingredients she’s using to make a simple meal of pasta and salad in Vancouver, BC. It’s an adorable video with charming animation, but most importantly it shows the benefits and the connections that can be made when using local ingredients, getting to know who produces the food and sharing that beauty through a family meal.


No Impact Experiment, part 4: Food February 17, 2010

My fourth week of examining my impact was all about food. This week was the highlight so far, as I’m all about food–shopping, finding recipes, cooking, etc. Food is one of my great joys in life, so I didn’t mind giving my food choices a little more thought! The No Impact manual primarily stressed being a locavore, which is something I love to do, but can be a challenge in the middle of winter in anywhere except California. It can also be a stress on the wallet, even though I know supporting local businesses and farms is an important thing to do.

So, for this week I decided to visit (or re-visit) some great local outlets in the city and try to do all of my shopping that way. I started out going to a spot I love, Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand. This great little shop is full of local (within 250 miles), seasonal produce, as well as stuff like milk, jam, bread and spices. I managed to pick up several things, including some veggies and herbs.

Some of the selection at the Downtown Farmstand

Some of the selection at the Downtown Farmstand

No shortage of treats at the Farmstand

No shortage of treats at the Farmstand

What's in season

What’s in season

My next outing was to the Green Grocer, a store not too far from home that I always wish I visited more often. It’s a small shop, but has a great array of local and organic items. The staff is so welcoming there–it’s actually the first store where the owner introduced herself the first time I was there! I bought some local flour there that I’m really excited to try out.

Although I had been to the new French Market several times, I hadn’t done much actual shopping there. It’s only two blocks from home and it’s really a great resource I can be using more. So, I walked over and ended up with a beautiful array of produce.

What fun! I also finally went to the city’s new and only food co-op, the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, which I’m a member of but hadn’t been to since it opened a couple of months ago. I was very impressed–it was actually a bit crowded, but that’s a good thing. I bought a few things from their great bulk section. During the same outing I checked out the Logan Square Farmers Market, but the selection was pretty small so I left empty-handed. I look forward to going again in the spring though!

Meanwhile, I started looking into joining a CSA this year, which is something I’ve done before but missed out on last year. I’m determined to sign up for a CSA this year–it’s so much fun to open up the box each week and start figuring out what to do with some of the more unusual items!

I also decided that we can be eating vegetarian a little more often, so the goal is to go from eating vegetarian 1/4 of the time to closer to 1/2 of the time. So far so good; I made a really yummy West African Peanut Soup and a spicy veggie chili.

As you can tell, doing this whole local thing took a fair amount of time and energy, but is it worth it? I think most of the time, yes. If it’s reducing my “foodprint,” that’s a big thing. Can I be exclusively a locavore? Not quite. But can I be a part-locavore? Definitely.

A few tools that I’m using:
The Eat Well Guide — great resource for finding local and sustainable food sources
NRDC seasonal food tool — tells you what foods are in season in your state
Seafood Watch regional guide — helps you stay informed about what types of seafood are more sustainable
Local Harvest CSA locator — find a CSA in your area