Tag Archives: Chicago Recycling Coalition

Organics, flooding, plastic bags and climate change (and they’re all related!)

June 9, 2013

The Doctor is in the house–Milo Shammas, a.k.a. Dr. Earth

All you need to know about Dr. Earth products is that Ron Cowgill, host of Mighty House on Chicago’s Progressive Talk, is a huge fan. I introduced the Dr. Earth line to Ron a couple of years ago (partly because they have been a sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show for several years now) and he has never looked back. Regardless of the fact that his favorite gardening tool is a lawn mower (which he uses on perennials and shrubs, too), Ron has learned that the secret to healthy plants is healthy soil.

In fact, why don’t I let Dr. Earth himself–Milo Shammas–explain:

When we feed our plants instead of our soil, we lose all the benefits that microbes contribute. When we say” feed the soil” it means feed the microbes in the soil, because it is the microbes that make nutrients available for the plants. The way you feed microbes is through the addition of organic material. If you feed with a synthetic chemical fertilizer, you are feeding the plant, not the soil, or the microbes. Adding petrochemical synthetic fertilizer also drives up the salt index in the soil and changes the pH, which can have adverse effects on plants.

More importantly, chemical fertilizers only feed for a short period of time; organic fertilizers offer continual feeding because the microbes cannot digest all of the organic fertilizer at once. With chemical fertilizers, we also lose the microbes’ contribution to soil aggregation. Good soil aggregation leads to improvements in tilth, water retention, the rates at which water penetrates the soil, the amount of oxygen in the soil, and the reduction of runoff. All of these desirable soil conditions can be achieved by adding organic material. As you can see, microbes are immeasurably important and essential to the health of all productive soils.

Milo joins us on the show this morning via phone from the Left Coast.

Flooding problems? Don’t get in a snit…Wetrofit!

Regardless of whether the news operations you rely on have any clue, all you need to know about climate change is to look at the difference between Spring 2012 and Spring 2013. Last year, we had record warmth in March, followed by heat and drought. This year, it has been cool weather and flooding.

The Midwest was hit particularly hard by rain at the end of April, but an organization called the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has been studying this problem for awhile. Last fall, I attended the roll out of their Smart Water for Smart Regions Initiative, whick offers a blueprint for the responsible and sustainable utilization of water in the Great Lakes states. One of its publications is People, Water, and the Great Lakes: Ready for Change? which reveals these stunning facts:

Collectively the 55 Great Lakes water supply utilities we surveyed manage 63,000 miles of pipe that are, on average 50 years old and leak an estimated 66.5 billion gallons of water each year. That is enough to cover 318 square miles in water one foot deep.

As if that isn’t bad enough, CNT recently reported that, in urban areas, flooding is chronic and costly–no big surprise. What is a revelation is that they discovered that it makes little difference whether a property is located within a floodplain or not–meaning that our cities have actually been designed to cause flooding. You can find out more about that in a report called of The Prevalence and Cost of Urban Flooding.

So how do you fight bad urban design and planning? One way is something that CNT calls Wetrofit Service— simple, low-cost tools such as building rain gardens, repairing private lateral sewage pipes, installing water permeable paving, even collecting roof runoff in rain barrels.

Which leads us to a gathering–The Gross Gathering–that CNT is having this Wednesday. The idea is that if you have had flooding in your basement or backyard, you can share your experience with others who have gone through the same thing. It gives you an apportunity to vent on their their ‘Soap Box’, meet with contractors and officials, bring your wet basement photos for their montage and Civic Techarette, and even tell your story on camera

It must have struck a nerve, because the first Gross Gathering is booked solid. However, there will be more in the future. Just go to this site to RSVP and CNT will let you know when the next event is scheduled.

I’m pleased to have Ryan Wilson, Stormwater Program Manager for the Wetrofit™ and Sustainable Backyards programs at CNT on the show this morning to talk about this brave new waterworld.

Bring Your Bag Chicago hopes to slow the plastic bag pandemic

In 2008, because of my connection to the Chicago Recycling Coalition, I testified before the Chicago City Council regarding a plastic bag ordinance it was considering. The CRC was called into the process late in the game and our advice–which was to institute a fee on plastic bags–was ignored. The council passed a “plastic bag recycling” bill that was pretty mucn based on the then-current New York City law. In public testimony, I described it as “New York Lite.”

Regardless, the ordinance passed. In the five years since, it has pretty much been ignored and plastic bags continue to be an almost unregulated nuisance–not just in Chicago, but throughout the world. Consider these facts:

  • More than1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
  • The average American family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008).
  • Every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. (UN, 2006)
  • The national recycling rate for plastic bags is no higher than 11% and could be as low as 3% (the EPA reports that paper bags are recycled at a 49% rate).
  • The average length of time that a plastic bag is used by a consumer is 12 minutes.
  • In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Single-use, disposable plastic bags cost Chicago taxpayers an estimated $27 million dollars a year:

I could go on and on. To see more about the consequences of our addiction to plastic bags–especially in Chicago, check out this video called Plastic Bags: Not an American Beauty.

In an effort to encourage the use of reusable bags, 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, along with six co-signers, has proposed legislation called the Chicago Checkout Bag Ordinance. It would require that Chicago retail establishments larger than 5,000 square feet would no longer be able to provide free single-use plastic bags to customers. This ordinance, which will be introduced in the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection on Tuesday, June 18, encourages a shift away from disposables and towards reusables.

The intitiative is called Bring Your Bag Chicago, and it is the subject of a Change.org petition that has already garnered about one thousand signatures. I urge you–whether or not you live in Chicago–to add your name to the list.

If you’re even more inspired (and have the time), email Ashley Craig at ashleycraig913@gmail.com with your name and/or name of your organization, your intended petition location, date and time frame, and the names of the volunteers who will be helping out. Then print up this FAQ sheet and paper petition and gather signatures from friends, neighbors and others at public locations. When you’re finished, drop the signed petitions at Alderman Moreno’s office in City Hall before the end of the day Monday, June 17.

Alderman Proco Joe Moreno joins me this morning to discuss the ordinance he will introduce on June 18.

Want to make a difference regarding climate change?

For all you climate enthusiasts out there, Al Gore and team are coming to town in July to train new speakers for The Climate Reality Project . Shortly after “An Inconvenient Truth” was released, Al Gore began training an army of presenters to provide education via The Climate Reality Project.  The mission:  to spread the facts, motivate change and disarm intentionally damaging efforts to create denial and confusion in the public.

Over the past 10 years they have trained over 4,000 speakers worldwide, unleashing a global cultural movement demanding action on the climate crisis. Sadly, despite scientific consensus, the majority of the world does not understand the severity of the issues or necessity for immediate solutions. The Mike Nowak Show contributor Lisa Albrecht was trained in August of last year where she met Jim Sweitzer, one of the first graduates of the program. An astrophysicist and educator, he speaks regularly on Climate among his other responsibilities as owner of Science Communications Consultants where he advises NASA and international planetariums.

Luckily, Chicago is the host city for this years training program  with Al himself on July 3 – August 1st.  Applications are being accepted but the deadline is quickly approaching on June 15th.  The training is free with the commitment of speaking in public 10 times over the next year.

Not your bailiwick but still  interested in learning more on Climate Change?  Lisa will be presenting The Climate Reality Program on June 21st at the  Peoples Church/Preston Bradley Center at 7pm.  Or contact her, albrecht . lisa @gmail.com, if you would like to host a training for your organization–free!

Recoverable waste and edible treasures

April 8, 2012

Two weeks to the premiere of Dig In® Chicago

I’m trying to remember the last time I worked as hard as I did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, as we shot the first three episodes of Dig In® Chicago. Co-host Jennifer Brennan, Executive Producer Blaine Howerton (who IS the video crew) and I started at sunrise on Monday and finished at sunset on Wednesday. Along the way, we visited

Lurie Garden in Millennium Park
Lurvey Landscape Supply in Des Plaines
Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines
The Shedd Aquarium
The Field Museum
Tavern at the Park in Millennium Park
La Encantata Restaurant in Humboldt Park
Emerald Ash Borer treatment site in Park Forest
The Growing Place in Naperville
Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove
and more…

We have some slide shows of stills from the three days’ shooting on our own Dig In® Chicago page on this website. Check them out.

Whew! I need a nap. More about all of this as we get to our premiere on Saturday, April 21 at 10:00 a.m. on Comcast/Xfinity Channel 102. Please tune in. And don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

Recycling, consumption and waste in Chicago

You might have seen video of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the past couple of days announcing that the City plans to supply Blue Carts to approximately 340,000 Chicago homes that do not currently have them. The City says it has saved $2.2 million during the on-going “managed competition” between city workers and private contractors. The press release from the Office of the Mayor states

The current cost for providing residents recycling services for six months under competitive bidding is $4.1 million, compared to pre-competition costs of $6.3 million – a 35 percent decrease. In addition, the savings are 10 percent greater than initially projected, thanks to cooperation between labor unions and City government to create efficiencies in the blue cart recycling program. Since the competition began in July, the City’s crews have worked to close the gap between the private haulers’ $2.70 price per cart by reducing their costs by 35 percent from $4.77 to $3.28 per cart.

“The success of the recycling competition would not have been possible without the partnership of the unions, as well as the hard work and professionalism of both the City and private crews,” said Commissioner Thomas G. Byrne, Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. “We look forward to the opportunity of bringing the best possible recycling services to all Chicago residents in 2013.”

While it’s great to hear that recycling is coming, at long last, to so many Chicago residents, we are still a long way from having a reliable and comprehensive recycling program in the city. For instance, the Blue Cart program applies only to residential buildings with four units or fewer. The rest of Chicago–in what are sometimes called high-density residential buildings–must contract with their private waste hauler for their recycling. The problem is that many of those high rises don’t have recycling programs and the city doesn’t enforce its own recycling law that requires those systems to be set up.

Not only that, but even when people have blue carts, they often don’t use them properly. In my own neighborhood in Logan Square, we received our blue carts in the past week. When the City delivers them, the carts are left in front of the buildings, to be taken to the alley and placed next to the black garbage containers. However, a week after delivery, many blue carts on my block are still in front. Do my neighbors understand how the system works? I don’t know. But there isn’t much in the way of education to help them out. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a TV public service announcement or an ad on the “L” about recycling? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

In the midst of this, I’ve just received a copy of a two-volume set called Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. I’m pleased to say that the editor of this substantial book is my friend and fellow board member at the Chicago Recycling Coalition, Carl Zimring. He also happens to be one of co-founders of the Sustainability Studies program at Roosevelt University. Speaking of the way that this reference is unique, Zimring focuses on their approach to the subject of cars. “Other reference books would highlight other aspects of the automobile, but this one focuses on the ways in which automobiles shape waste streams. We tried to take that approach for various other goods, from toys to audio equipment.”

This is from the entry “Automobiles”:

Despite calls for an industrial ecology approach to automobile assembly and disassembly that would eliminate hazardous wastes, more attention is paid to performance of the machine, safety of the driver, and fuel efficiency of the engine than the life cycle of the product. The automobile has become more complex over time because of innovations that increase the enjoyment and safe use of the vehicle, but they also complicate disassembly. Over time, shredding and burning of junked automobiles has had environmental consequences, including the release of hazardous, corrosive, and carcinogenic substances into the ground, air, and water.

Not exactly light reading, but for some of us, fascinating stuff.

Edible Treasures at The Field Museum of Natural History

One of the stops on the Great Dig In Chicago Spring 2012 Tour last week was The Field Museum of Natural History. Jennifer Brennan and I were there to see some treasures…but they weren’t dinosaur bones or Egyptian mummies. Rather, they are horticultural treasures–heirlooms, in fact.

The Edible Treasures Garden is a community vegetable garden and a partnership among The Field Museum, Jewell Events Catering and The Peterson Garden Project. The goal is simply, really–to demonstrate how easy it is to grow your own healthy, nutritious and tasty vegetables, even in the shadow of one of the world’s great institutions. The Edible Treasures Garden name is a play on words relating to the world-famous gem collection at the museum. The garden will introduce visitors to a cultural treasure we all share – the value and diversity of heirloom seeds.

Of course, if you see the name The Peterson Garden Project, you know that the irrepressible LaManda Joy must be nearby. Indeed, she’s one of the movers behind this project, and she joins me on the show today. Also on the program is Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder and vice-president of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), the largest non-profit seed bank in the United States. She is also author of the book Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver. Whealy chose the seeds for the Edible Treasures Garden, focusing on growing “seeds with stories.” Fittingly, the garden was planted and will be tended by museum employees who donate their time. The garden was designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects and installed by Kimora Landscaping. Additional support is provided by CEDA and Cook County.

Join me at the Green Metropolis Fair at the Green Exchange

It’s Earth Month, and next week, more than 100 local businesses and organizations are getting together for an event that celebrates spring, sustainable living & wellness. It’s called the Green Metropolis Fair and it’s being held at the Green Exchange at 2545 W. Diversey, just off the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago.

I’m doing a talk called The Urban Organic Garden – Food, Flowers, and Landscaping from 2:45 to 3:25. I’lll give a quick course how to bring all the elements of gardening together in an organic way–food, function and beauty.

I can’t possibly list everything else that will be happening at this event, but here are just some of the activities and seminars.

  • Barnyard Friends – meet farm animals!
  • Rain Barrel Bonanza! – The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is donating 7 rain barrels to be raffled off each hour. Stop by the table and register!
  • Ask a Master Gardener/Composter
  • I-GO Car Sharing – Learn about car-sharing, how it works, and what you can do to help free yourself from owning a car. Demos at 12pm & 2pm.
  • Green Exchange Information – Learn about the history of this remarkable building
  • Yoga at the Fair – Free yoga classes! Bring your own mat.

Then there are seminars on gardening:

  • Starting a Community Garden
  • Going Native – Why Fight Mother Nature?
  • Backyard Chickens-Yes, You Can!
  • Keeping Bees
  • Urban Composting
  • Balcony Gardening for Apartment Dwellers
  • Organic Alternatives to Garden Chemicals

And about greening:

  • USGBC-Illinois presents Turning Existing Homes Green
  • Johnny Appleseed: Presentation for kids and families.
  • Safeguarding our Most Precious Resource: water
  • Green Exchange Tenants Panel Discussion
  • Dr. Don Harris – Nutrition and Health

Co-sponsors of the event are Green Parents Network and the Green Exchange. Maureen Ewing from the Green Metropolis Fair joins me this morning to talk about the reasons you should participate. I hope I see you there.

A week of special events

August 14, 2011

Event #1 – Now streaming LIVE: #gardenchat party at The Yarden!

You might even have noticed my shiny new uStream screen on the home page. It’s up there because I’m going to be streaming the 2011 Garden Party Event from my own website Monday evening, August 15. If it all works well, (and you know what can go wrong with technology) you can just click on tomorrow evening and join the fun. Here’s what’s will be happening.

As I mentioned last week, the Independent Garden Center Show, or IGC, is one of the really big horticultural trade events of the year. It’s at Naviy Pier this week, Tuesday, August 16 through Thursday, August 18 and features 1,000 vendor booths and dozens of seminars. And when the big industry shows are in town, the industry media descend, to see what’s hot, what’s news and generally what’s happening. More and more, that means garden writers armed devices that allow them to immediately connect with their followers on their blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook and more.

As a kickoff to IGC week, some of those social media types will be gathering in LaManda Joy‘s fabulous garden on Chicago’s northwest side. LaManda is one of the forces behind the Peterson Garden Project, a historic 40th Ward victory garden that has become the largest community garden in the City of Chicago. She is also known as the proprietor of The Yarden blog, and her Twitter handle is @TheYarden (quelle coincidence!)

It’s a Twitter garden party, as a bunch of aforementioned horticulture media types gather to have some food and drink, tour her garden, but more importantly, tweet until their fingers drop off! If you have a Twitter account, just go to #gardenchat to join in the conversation. If you couldn’t care less about Twitter (and you know who you are), the whole shebang is going to be streamed live on Ustream from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. CDT tomorrow, August 15,

I will be co-hosting the event with garden writer Brenda Haas, who goes by the Twitter handle @BG_garden, and who has her own blog, BGgarden. If you are a Twitterphile, there are a number of good reasons to log into #gardenchat from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. CDT. The first is that you might win some great prizes, just for tweeting during the event.

One lucky participent will have their name drawn at the end of the #gardenchat Summer Party Event 8/15 in @TheYarden as the winner of the @Subaru_Life Tailgate Wagon. YOU MUST BE tweeting on #gardenchat during the 7 -9 p.m. CT event to be eligible to win the Subaru Wagon. Now before you get all breathless about winning an automobile, you need to know that the Tailgate Wagon isn’t that. It’s a wagon–you know, like a Radio Flyer–except that it’s the perfect size for…um, a tailgate party. Hence the name.

A few other great companies, who sponsor #gardenchat will have things to give away. They include Corona Tools, Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs,and Easy Gardener , to mention a few. To see the full list of giveaways, click on to the Summer 2011 Garden Party Event link.

Rumor has it that horticultural TV guru P.Allen Smith and social media expert Kyle Lacy awill be on site, which doesn’t do you any good, ’cause you didn’t get an invitation. No offense. There’s only so many people that will fit into LaManda’s garden. Which is why you should log on for the Chicago garden event of the season. It’s going to be fun. I hope you join us on Twitter or watch us on uStream. TWEET ON, DUDES!

Event #2 – Recycle Now! fundraiser for CRC on Thursday

If you live in Chicago, you’ve heard these questions more than once:

  • When is my block going to get blue carts?
  • Why do I have to schlep my recyclables to a drop off site?
  • Why can’t Chicago recycle???!

I have a question of my own:

  • Why the heck are we still talking about this in the 21st Century?

It used to be that the city had an excuse–Mayor Richard M. Daley was in charge and he didn’t care about recycling. You could look it up. Well, you could if he had ever said anything about the issue, Now we have a new mayor–some guy named Rahm Emanuel–and it’s hard to tell where he stands on this important environmental matter..At least it is to us at the Chicago Recycling Coaltion, because he’s done his darndest to pretend that our organization doesn’t exist.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I am president of the CRC. However, I don’t make a dime for holding that position. I don’t exactly make a lot of money for being the host of my radio show, either. Boy, can I pick ’em or what?

Last month, Mr. Emanuel announced that he was intiating a six month “managed competition” program for Chicago’s Blue Cart Program. In essense, the mayor is pitting city workers against private contractors to see who can more effeciently and cost-effectlvely perform reycling services. To read more about the media reaction to the mayor’s proposal, go to the CRC home page for a list of stories. The CRC has its own reservations, detailed in an article called Is Mayor Emanuel’s “managed competition” really just “stealth privatization?”

One of the questions that CRC asks is whether this is the first step in turning over ALL Bureau of Sanitation pick ups to private companies–including garbage. To get a good sense of where this might be headed, check out Mick Dumke‘s excellent piece in The Reader: Why you should care about the way garbage is picked up.

Meanwhile, this is no time to sit back while the mayor makes unilateral decisions that will have far-reaching consequences. (Think parking meters.) it’s time to take action…and I hope you’ll join me next Thursday to do just that.

The CRC is holding a fundraiser at the beautiful, Gold LEED certified Logan Square Kitchen on Thursday, August 18 at 6:00 p.m. Do you have something to say about recycling? Do you want to hear what other people have to say? Do you want to be part of a new game plan for a new administration? If you stop by, You’ll meet people who have been fighting for recycling in Chicago for twenty years and people who just moved into town and can’t believe that recycling isn’t recognized as a basic city service. You will have a chance to talk with Chicago Recycling Coalition board members about how we can mobilize to get an efficient, socially fair recycling program instituted in Chicago.

We’re trying to make it an offer you can’t refuse in a number of ways. How? Check it out:

  • The documentary Scrappers will be shown. Shot by local filmmakers, it’s about two metal scavengers in the alleys of Chicago.
  • PC Rebuilders & Recyclers will be on hand to pick up your electronic waste.
  • There will be tours of the gorgeous Logan Square Kitchen facilites.
  • You can talk to CRC board members about possible solutions to moving recycling forward in Chicago.
  • There will be gourmet popcorn (FREE!), as well as craft beer, wine and craft sodas for sale (proceeds go in part to CRC)
  • You can sign up for future strategy sessions with the CRC.
  • AND IT ONLY COSTS $20!!!

Reservations can be made at Brown Paper Tickets. However, I know that many of you won’t be able to attend. So I hope you consider sending a message to city hall that Chicago is an embarrassment in the “greenest city in America” competition until it has a comprehensive recycling program. You can do that clicking RIGHT HERE to make a tax-deductible donation.

“Scrappers” filmmakers Brian Ashby, Courtney Prokopas and Ben Kolak join me in studio this morning to talk about their film, which, among other things, received 3 1/2 stars from Roger Ebert. They’ll be joined on the phone by Zina Murray of the Logan Square Kitchen.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
Sweet Home Organics keeps up with changing seasons

It’s time for another visit with “commuting farmer” Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. Even she has begun to use that phrase, which I guess I coined. I can’t wait for the royalty checks to start rolling in. You might remember that Kim and Rachel are part of a new breed of farmers who don’t own the land on which they grow crops. Primrose Farm, where they lease land, is owned by the St. Charles Park District. The farm itself is the last of a line of what used to be 3-5 working dairy farms. The former neighboring farms have since been torn down or turned into homes. The park district runs the farm as a living history farm open for the public for tours (on Wed and Saturdays).

I spoke with Kim the other day and she gave me an ear full of how she and partner Rachel Reklau are “switching fields.” That is to say, they’re about to start planting on fields that have been growing cover crops, which help fertilize the soil naturally. In fact, why don’t I let Kim explain it herself?

We’re in the process of switching fields. We’re on a 2-year rotation, so we’ve been growing our veggies on the East 2 acres and next year we’ll grow on the Whabitatest 2 acres (that was previously growing a red clover/annual rye cover crop). Clover does a great job of breaking up soil and fixing nitrogen. Cut clover makes tasty hay for the Primrose dairy cows and draft horses. We’re excited to make this switch because we know our veggies will do very well.

Today the farmers of Primrose cut the clover one last time to make hay for their animals. Next week we’ll till in the clover and put down our fall cover crop, forage peas and oats. These will winter-kill (die over winter), which will allow us to plant straight into the ground (without tilling) in spring. We’ve previously tried growing over-wintering (plants that will go dormant during the winter, but then start back growing once the ground warms up) cover crops. We found this added stress trying to kill off the cover crop in the midst of unpredictable spring soil moisture craziness. I used to shake my head when I’d drive by all the fields that have just bare open soil in winter, wondering why don’t they plant a cover crop to prevent soil erosion, etc. After what we struggled through earlier this spring, I now understand the draw to leaving the soil exposed and ready to plant come spring.

Having half or part of fields resting or growing cover crops/green manures is a key component to most organic agriculture practices. It’s a great way to allow soil to build up organic matter and replenish nitrogen and other nutrients (without bringing in compost or other ‘bought’ fertilizers). A fun side benefit is the habitat it provides for beneficial insects. We have a yard of honey bee hives on site and the beekeeper likes that we grow clover as it makes for lots more great-tasting honey!

By the way, Angelic Organics Learning Center, which often helps me bring guests to the Sustainable Food Fundamentals segment, features Sweet Home Organics in their latest farmer profile.