Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

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.

 

Whole Foods, you had me at the first sample May 25, 2009

Filed under: Green Chicago,Green Foodie,green shopping — isgreeneasy @ 6:40 pm
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There’s a new Whole Foods in town, and it’s bigger, more enticing and more fun than any Whole Foods I’ve ever been in. It’s the new Lincoln Park Whole Foods, and I had the chance to go to their sneak preview party last week. I gawked at the store while munching on way too many (in quantity and variety) samples–it was like a foodie Disneyland!

Whole Foods definitely knows what they’re doing, and how to suck my dollars from my wallet as quickly as I can say “organic vegan gluten-free faux barbeque”. Fortunately at the sneak preview nothing was for sale, so I worked my way through the sushi, mushroom tamales, organic sangria, curry ice cream, chilli pepper truffles, Goose Island brews and deep dish pizza. I know, sounds like a bit much, but what can I say? Gladly, my stomach made it through just fine. Plus, I was glad to know my donation went to Common Threads.

If you dare, it’s definitely worth visiting this store. I’ve already been back twice! I need to take it easy on the Whole Foods shopping though; I’m so easily manipulated by the good-smelling, fun music-playing, great-looking natural foods mecca!

Salad bar extraordinaire

Salad bar extraordinaire

Bulk foods section includes a DIY trail mix station

Bulk foods section includes a DIY trail mix station

Cheese anyone?

Cheese anyone?

Really? A bar with Goose Island on tap.

Really? A bar with Goose Island on tap.

View from the parking lot level

View from the parking lot level

 

Grounds for Change March 12, 2009

A day of nothing but tasting, smelling and talking about coffee? I’m in! Yes, I like my java. I was feeling caffeinated just walking into the room of Coffee Fest, a coffee trade show recently held at Navy Pier. It was open only to coffee industry people, so with media credentials hanging on my neck, I felt especially cool as I made my way in to mingle with all the hip baristas.

Coffee is an enormous industry; it’s the world’s second most valuable traded commodity. What goes along with that is a lot of environmental and social impact along every step of the process, from bean to cup. Poor conditions for workers, farmers being taken advantage of, degradation of the land and the waste created by disposable cups are among the many issues involved in coffee production. And don’t forget about the quantities of water and energy used. Until recent years I doubt that most of us thought about all of these things, but today it’s hard to not be aware of concepts like fair trade, shade-grown, organic and bringing your own cup.

The growing awareness and demand for more responsible coffee was apparent everywhere I looked at Coffee Fest: it seemed like almost every coffee company at the event had something to say about direct trade, sustainability and organic coffee, or compostable cups and even more natural and organic syrups and pastries.

The folks from Eco Products had a great display of their plant-based cups that look like plastic or paper but are actually compostable. They even had straws, stirrers, cup sleeves and a brand new cup lid. So cool!

Eco Products

Eco Products

Eco Products cups and lids

Eco Products cups and lids

One of my favorite stops of the day was at Cupcoat Expressions. They had a really eye-catching display of paperboard cup sleeves (how did it become a necessity to have one of those things on your coffee cup?) on the floor equalling the number of cup sleeves the average person uses each year.

Display of paperboard sleeves used in a year by one person

Display of paperboard sleeves used in a year by one person

Cupcoats are reusable cup sleeves made out of fabric–cotton, bamboo or even jute. They come in a ton of styles, from basic solid colors to a ridiculous (in a good way) pink fuzzy option. They were nice enough to give me a cupcoat and I have since been carrying it around in my purse. (So far it’s been like getting into the habit of using reusable shopping bags: I keep forgetting. I know I shouldn’t be using paper cups anyway, but I’ve already admitted I’m not perfect.)

Cup coats made from natural materials

Cup coats made from natural materials

While the barista competition echoed from across the hall, I spoke to people about their efforts to create relationships with coffee farmers, establish values and guidelines in how they conduct business and carry out environmental audits in their facilities. Companies like Zingerman’s, Intelligentsia and PT’s emphasized their values of quality and sustainability. They personally know who grows their coffee, and they want us to as well.

Intelligentsia baristas making their fabulous coffee

Intelligentsia baristas making their fabulous coffee

I have to throw in here that I was a little distressed by all the trash I saw piling up everywhere. Disposable sample containers, plastic bottles and paper handouts–almost all of which did not need to be garbage–added up fast. This was a typical garbage can by early afternoon:

Unnecessary garbage

Unnecessary garbage

After making my way through every square inch of the show (I took it easy on the espresso shots) I felt encouraged about the direction coffee, or at least specialty coffee, is going. But, although these companies are heading in the right direction (and some have been leading the ground-breaking way), many were still selling traditional coffee. Then, it’s up to the retailers and consumers to decide whether they want to pay higher prices for the more responsible option. And of course the coffee giants, whose coffee makes up the majority of the coffee consumed in the world, aren’t as evolved and will need some nudging to change.

This is where we come in: We need to put our dollars toward reponsible coffee and help turn the industry into a much healthier one for all of us coffee lovers. And ditto for tea. I’ve been buying organic coffee for awhile now, but I’m going to make sure it’s also fair trade. It might hurt a bit to spend more, but I really believe that after thinking about how huge the coffee industry is, and how much impact we could make by making smart choices, it’s a no brainer to get the good coffee. I’m pretty sure it’s going to taste better too, plus I can wake up with a lighter conscience.

 

Beautiful Green Thing #2 March 3, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Garfield Park Conservatory for the first time and attended their “Sweet Saturdays” event. What fun! While enjoying the surroundings, I walked around and stopped at stations positioned throughout the garden where volunteers would talk about, show examples of and share samples of sweets that grow right there. I sampled multiple forms of chocolate, candied ginger, honey, coffee, and cinnamon candy. Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree? Vanilla comes from an orchid plant? Who knew? This event was such a great way to draw connections among the things that we eat and where they come from. And I realized I still have much more to learn.

The conservatory was far more impressive in size and variety of plants than I expected, and I enjoyed my brief time out of winter and into this fantasy world of green. I was thrilled to see glass lily pads in the pond by artist Dale Chihuly. It was peaceful, warm and lush. This is my beautiful green thing of the week.

View across the conservatory

View across the conservatory

waterfall

waterfall

gorgeous flowers

gorgeous flowers

Chihuly lily pads

Chihuly lily pads

Lily pads close-up

Lily pads close-up