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.