Putting gardens to bed, waking up recycling in Chicago, and promoting WCPT’s food drive

November 13, 2011

Dr. Wally helps you put your garden to bed for the winter

A gardener’s work is never done, it seems. Even as we roll, kicking and screaming, into the holiday season (at least some of us), it’s important to remember that a little attention paid to your garden’s soil at this time of year will reap huge benefits in the spring.

That’s why I welcome “Dr.” Wally Schmidtke, manager at Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines, back to the show for some advice on how to get a head start on spring…as odd as that sounds in the days just before Thanksgiving. Wally has put together a very helpful page of tips that I think you will find useful, especially if you like to grow vegetables.

Speaking of Pesche’s, I want to personally thank Chris Pesche for helping Green on McLean, the community garden on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood. Thanks to a generous donation of Back to Nature Cotton Burr Compost, we have been renewing our planting beds–just as Wally suggests–in anticipation of an even more productive 2012 growing season.

America Recycles…can Chicago?

This Tuesday marks the 14th annual America Recycles Day, the only national day dedicated to recycling in America. And once again, Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association, joins me to talk about the state of recycling in the state of Illinois.

Of course, that means Chicago, too. So, I gird my loins once again as I prepare to talk about recycling in the Windy City. (Full disclosure, I am the volunteer president of the all-volunteer Chicago Recycling Coalition) However, as many of you know, things have begun to change under the Rahm Emanuel Administration.

On October 3, Emanuel’s “managed competition” program began. Now and for the next half year or so, public and private employees are engaged in a three-way fight for the right to run all or part of Chicago’s recycling program. Those workers are represented by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, and private companies Waste Management and Sims Metal Management Municipal Recycling.

At the outset, it seemed a foregone conclusion that city workers would never be competitive enough to hold onto their recycling jobs. However, a couple of weeks into the competition, the Sun-Times reported that city union workers were “holding their own” by working more efficiently and, remarkably, reducing the absenteeism rate to zero. It does make one wonder why that couldn’t have been done when those workers weren’t under the gun. But I digress.

Under Mayor Emanuel’s plan, the city has been divided into six areas, two served by city workers, three by Waste Management and one by Sims Metal Management. I’m pleased to be able to talk today to Tom Outerbridge, General Manager of the Municipal Recycling Division. We’ll see what the state of curbside recycling is a little more than a month since the start of managed competition.

Tomorrow, Monday, November 14th, the day beforef America Recycles Day, Sims will be doing an e-waste pick up and a full day of recycling education at Wadsworth School, at 6420 S University Avenue in Chicago. Given that education is such a vital part of any recycling program, it’s good to see Sims reaching out to this south side community.

Last but certainly not least, plastic bags have gotten back into the news, thanks to Alderman Proco Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward. He has proposed an ordinance that would outright ban them in the City of Chicago. In 2008, the City Council passed an ordinance that called for plastic bag recycling containers in retail or wholesale businesses other than food service establishments where 25% or more of gross sales include medicines (I never understood that part) and/or food.

Since its inception, the ordinance has been marked by confusion as to which businesses must recycle, and a general reluctance on the part of smaller companies to comply. In The 2010 Annual Plastic Bag Recycling Report Update, two items caught my eye:

The biggest difference from 2009 to 2010 is the increase in number of businesses reporting that they did not recycle any plastic bags, which went from 95 to 486. Based on phone calls and report entries, the primary reason for this was that although businesses placed a container in their store, customers did not return plastic bags.


The maximum amount reported in 2010 (Jewel Foods) is a business with multiple store locations across Chicago and accounts for 47% of the total weight reported. In addition, almost 90% of the plastic reported as recycled was from only five companies (Dominick’s, Jewel Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, and GM Warehouse), all of which were either large-footprint stores and/or have multiple
locations in Chicago.

We’ll see just how much traction Alderman Moreno’s proposed ordinance has. Already, the dark side is making its voice heard.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
The latest on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, Mike Sanders of Our Town joined me in studio to announce the WCPT Holiday Harvest, which we are doing in partnership with Faith in Place. Our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies.

Last week, on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we discussed the importance of non-perishable protein. This week, the subject is preserved foods–dried and canned.

As I said last week, I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. It’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure things out.

We are continuing to update the Holiday Harvest page, and I hope I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, which we hope will make it easy for you to contribute to the cause. Our motto: Feed the Need. Thanks for whatever you can do.