Archive for Waste Disposal

Ten Steps Toward a Greener New Year

Ten Steps Toward a Greener New Year

1.  Slay Vampires
“Vampire energy loss” from appliances in passive mode (the clock on your microwave) or standby mode (your DVR scheduled to record something) account for 5-8 percent of your home’s total electricity usage per year.  Slay energy loss by unplugging unused appliances.  Or get a Smart Strip surge protector, which shuts off electricity to dormant appliances.

2.  Detox Your Home
If you’re still not using green cleaning products, what are you waiting for?  If you want to avoid asthma and allergy attacks, carcinogens and toxic chemicals, it’s time to green your cleaners.  Still worried about high prices or the effectiveness of cleaners?  Then you need to stop into GHE, where you’ll get what you need–the right price and a clean home.

3.  Read the Labels
What does green mean?  Are you being “greenwashed” by big box advertisers?  Be sure to read the labels on your food, personal care items, and everything else.  Don’t be fooled by their trickery.  And if you have a question about something, call us!  We’re always happy to help.

4.  Remember Fido…
…and the cat, iguana, etc.  Pet food is often filled with ingredients that animals’ stomachs can’t digest properly.  Skin, behavior and other health problems are often caused by poor diet.  For cat and dog food, we highly recommend our friends at Sirius Cooks in Oak Park.  And we’re happy to provide organic dog shampoo!

5.  Use Pedal Power
We love twofers, and here’s another one: reduce your oil consumption and get fit by opting to use your feet instead of your car.  Map out days that you can walk or bike instead of drive.  Also, you can make life easier for pedestrians with some of our pet-safe ice melt.

6.  Let’s Take This Outside
A green home includes the outdoors too.  Are your fertilizers and herbicides toxic?  Are you composting?  Growing your own food?  Do you leave your sprinkler on and forget to turn it off?  Start planning a greener garden now: non-toxic soil enhancements, composters and rain barrels are all part of a non-toxic home!

7.  Trash the Trash
Can you go a year without garbage?  These folks did!  Composting, growing your own food, and conscientious consumption are a few tactics to help you trash the trash.  Oh, and are you planning on doing any remodeling?  You have lots of options here.  Before you rent a dumpster, check out The ReBuilding Exchange, Murco Recycling, RSI, Habitat ReStore and ReUse People.

8.  Share the Love
So, you’re a green guru by now.  Ready to do more?  Start a green team at work.  Join the green committee at your child’s school.  Help your neighbors detox their homes by being their green guru.  Remember the words of Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

9.  Give Green
This is the perfect time of year to think about your gift giving.  Does your co-worker really need another pair of fuzzy socks for Christmas?  Does your kid’s teacher want another porcelain apple?  Most of us really don’t need any more stuff.  Consider donating to a charity in someone’s name.   Support a local organization they support.  Or, The Humane Society, Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity make gift-giving with a cause very easy to do.

10.  Do Lunch
This one accomplishes a few goals.  Eat better, save money and reduce what you throw away by bringing your lunch to work and packing your kids’ lunches.  Guess who has lots of waste-free lunch supplies?  That’s right, we’ve got Snack Taxis, Wrap-N-Mats, Klean Kanteens, and much more!

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Local Trend Watch

Local Trend Watch
10 Ways Oak Parkers are Going Green

  1. Zero Waste Lunches. Several area schools have received funding from the DCEO to create zero waste lunch days.  This gets parents in the habit of packing lunches with reusable containers and composting food waste.
  2. Rain Barrels. Last summer’s successful “Roll Out the Rain Barrels” campaign (League of Women Voters) put rain barrels on the map—literally.  Residents are more aware of storm water management and water conservation, and rain barrels have become rather commonplace!
  3. Composting. Outdoor bins and piles, vermiculture indoors, whatever suits your fancy.  30% of what we throw away is food waste—unless you compost.  Make better use of your kitchen and yard waste by composting.  The result is nutrient rich—and free—compost for your yard!
  4. Gardening. Food mileage and eating locally are front line issues today.  Many people are returning to the Victory Garden movement by planting veggie beds at home and participating in community gardens.  This is a great way to save money and to know exactly from where your food is coming.
  5. CSA’s. To go further into the localvore movement, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  Your participation helps fund small farms and ensures you’ll have local, organic produce all summer long.
  6. Energy Incentives. Take advantage of federal tax incentives that expire at the end of 2010.  Insulation, alternative energy, doors, windows and more are covered.
  7. Greener Gatherings. We’re nearing the season for block parties, graduations, and family reunions.  Throw parties with paperless invitations, reusable or compostable plates, cutlery and cups; recycle and compost.  The possibilities are endless!
  8. Shopping Locally. Now, more than ever, local businesses are depending on you to help them thrive.  For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.  If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here.  Spend it online and nothing comes home.
  9. Cutting Out Cars. Consider biking/walking one day a week.  Reduce your carbon footprint, save on gas, and get in shape!

10.  Getting Organized. Many groups exist in and around Oak Park to
support your efforts.  Interfaith Power & Light is a group of different congregations who are active in greening their communities.  Power of 10 is involved in greening Oak Park. Area schools and PTO’s have wellness and/or green teams.  Start or join a green team at work and in your faith community.  Start a green block in your neighborhood!  Attend Earth Fest on April 24, learn more about the work of the Environmental & Energy Advisory Commission, and get involved!

Upcoming Events
More information about all of these events can be found in the Events section at All of these events are free, unless otherwise noted.

4/17: Great Paint Exchange

4/19: LEED for Homes 101: An Introduction to USGBC’s Residential Program

4/20: Green Tuesday: OPRF Community Foundation Sustainability Vision

4/21: Home Energy Reduction Workshop

4/22: Earth Day 40th Anniversary

4/24: Oak Park Earth Fest

4/27: Green Tuesday: What’s New in Waste

4/29: Renew. Refresh. Reconnect.  Bring a necklace or bracelet that you’d like to refresh.*

5/6: Create a Cocktail Container Garden*

5/9: Kids’ Activity: Create an Ecosphere*

* Denotes a charge for participation.

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Can You Help Intelligentsia Coffee with Their Eco-Waste?

Intelligentsia Announcement:

It is my pleasure to formally announce an eco partnership developing between Intelligentsia and members of the Garden Clubs of Illinois’ Nancy Block and her husband Mike.  Some of Nancy’s credentials include being Master Gardner of the year and Citizen of the Year (by Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart); Nancy and Mike’s home garden has taken first place two years in a row city wide competition not to mention they have been featured in several news papers and magazines.  Together we have been developing avenues for diverting a large majority of the eco waste generated at our Chicago Roasting Works and the coffee grounds from our Broadway Coffee Bar.  To keep a long story short, Nancy and Mike show up every Friday at the CHRW and collect a minivan full of burlap sacks, plastic trash liners, coffee chaff & coffee grounds and distribute them to local farmers, garden clubs, Master Gardeners and not-for-profit groups like Habitat for Humanity.  Uses for the coffee grounds and chaff are obvious because their rich nutrient content but become muddied when looking at the plastic and burlap sacks; a farmer who loved the print on the bags is making a rug for himself, one garden club is designing animals from the bags for a handicap children’s garden, another is making purses out of them and turning a profit, at the Flower & Garden show by Master Gardeners children are going to pretend they are worms and roll around, the potential is limitless as you can see.  Nancy and Mike help us recycle one bag at a time and currently have a waiting growing list.  Please note many of us at Intelligentsia are adding our efforts to make this movement a success.  Broadway Coffee Bar Manager Talya Strader and Delivery Driver Nick Tate are ironing out the logistics of getting wet coffee grounds from our cafés to the roasting works where Sean McMahon is taking steps to ensure proper storage of all the eco materials while they are in wait.  Please take this opportunity to keep our efforts going, if you have any ideas or would like to participate in this process please let us know.  Our goal is to develop a self sustainable program that will continue to grow with Intelligentsia’s and Nancy & Mike’s success.

If you are interested in obtaining some “coffee waste” please contact Nancy at


Thank you,

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Composting Becomes the Law!

Last week I read some great news and some awful news.  First, the bad news: in order to cut costs, the City of Chicago is considering reducing recycling pick-ups to once a month or once every 3 weeks.

The good news is that, in another part of the country came a huge victory for composting in San Francisco.

Last week, San Francisco passed a bill mandating residents separate their organic food waste from their landfill-bound trash.  And, while Chicago may well be behind the curve in recycling waste, Illinois passed Senate Bill 99 – Food Waste Composting.  Effective January 1, 2010, it allows for large-scale composting in Illinois.  Businesses will be allowed to have 3rd parties remove food waste where it can be used in composting operations rather than contribute to our waste stream.

New York Times article on San Francisco:

Fact Sheet on IL Composting Bill:



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Got Junk?

Don’t forget to get your junk ready for tomorrow’s Green Fest in Elmhurst!  Okay, there’s a lot to look forward too–such as visiting the booth of your fave green store, hint, hint–but seriously, check out the Recycling Boutique!

Tomorrow when I go to set up the booth, I’m bringing some batteries that have been sitting in my garage for a year waiting to be disposed of.

Check out this link for info on Green Fest and the Recycling Boutique.  And when you stop by the GHE tent, say hi to Kim!

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“Talking Trash” or “Compost Happens”

Notes below are from last night’s composting class.  Held here in the shop, it was a free class that included info on a wide variety of composting methods.  Also, you can find composting info on the U of I Extension website.

Our most sincere thanks to Jackie Paine, Master Gardener and Executive Director of Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory for giving us her time and talent.

The compost you make is better than what you buy–you know what’s in it and you’re cutting down what you’re sending to landfills.  Instead of fertilizing in spring, use compost instead.  18% of what we throw away is food waste, so compost is a great way to reduce what we send to landfills.

Composting Methods:

  • Very basic leaf composting–punch holes in black plastic bag, put leaves in, pack them down, pour 1-2 gal water in and allow to decompose.
  • Garbage can method: put compost in can, drill holes, bungee the top, and roll around.
  • Could use just a plain pile, but it’s difficult in such dense urban/suburban area.  Mini-scale version: dig a hole, bury food scraps.
  • Cold method of composting is traditional to our urban/suburban area because our piles don’t grow very large.  This method takes about 4-6 months.  Compost ready as early as end of May at bottom of pile.
  • Black plastic mat w/ holes in it.  Put 4 pieces of rebar into ground, put cardboard and screen down, wrap mat around it.
  • Wooden 3-bin composting system.  Each is 3×3, separated by walls.  Screen on top.  1 is ready to use. Next is composting. Last is pile you’re adding to.

Keeping Your Compost Moist:

  • Consider using gray water to “water” your compost: water used from heating up shower, boiling vegetables, etc.
  • Fruits and veggies have high moisture content, so take that into consideration when watering compost.
  • Winter breaks down tissue of matter, so remember to start watering when compost thaws.


  • For fall fertilizing, you can dig compost in, but since that’s hard work, it’s okay to leave compost as topsoil because that will still fertilize in the fall.
  • Compost smells when you don’t give it enough air.
  • You can sift compost if you want small, uniform mix.
  • The more sunlight your compost gets, the better b/c you get heat, which causes decomposition.  But its ok if you have shade; the process just takes longer. 
  • Compost material that is 6 in. or less pieces are better–including plant matter.  Larges pieces will eventually break down, but might take a little longer. 
  • Soil has microbes and bacteria you need for composting, so be sure some is in there too.

DO Compost These Materials Outdoors:

  • 50/50 Magic rule: 50% brown, 50% green matter. Green is rich in nitrogen, brown is rich in carbon.
    • You can run kitchen waste through food processor, but not necessary
    • Can also use twigs, other coarse brown matter as mulch
    • Make brown matter by letting green matter dry out
    • Bury food in brown pile to keep insects away. 
    • Eggshells
    • Tea bags (remove tag)
    • Fruit and vegetables
    • Coffee grounds (You can get coffee grounds for free if you don’t drink coffee at home/work from coffee shops.)
    • Coffee filters
    • Brown paper
    • Cardboard boxes without printing
    • Black & white newsprint (okay because it has soy ink)
    • Straw
    • Untreated wood chips
    • Dryer lint
    • Small quantites of bread, cooked cereal, cooked veggies okay—just fold them into your pile.
    • Soil, potting mix
    • Deadheaded flowers and house plants
    • Grass clippings ok if not treated with non-eco friendly fertilizer/weed killer.
    • Wood ash (but not treated charcoal.

DON’T Compost These Materials Outdoors:

  • No diseased leaves—compost won’t get hot enough to kill disease.
  • No bones, meat, dairy, grease because they could attract vermin. 
  • No glossy paper, stationary, junk mail, etc.

Worm Composting:

  • Use red wigglers, not earthworms for worm composting.  Earthworms are burrowing, which is how they survive winters.  They burrow below frost line.  Worm bins not deep enough for earthworms.

  • Simple worm composting: drill holes into top of Rubbermaid.  Better to have two small bins instead of one big one, so that you can sort materials more easily and b/c worms don’t burrow. Shred newspaper, wet it down so that it’s damp.  Add about two inches of newspaper.  Not too wet, just damp.
    • Check out the Worm Factory on our website!
    • Put in worms, banana peels, eggshells, tea bags w/o tag, fruit and veggie pulp.  No citrus rind b/c worms don’t have teeth.  Oatmeal is a good way to feed worms if you’re going on vacation.  Worms’ skin has to stay moist, so be sure they don’t dry out too much.  Add handful of worms.
    • Add more newsprint when bin starts to look wet and clumpy.  Keep stored in dark place.  Worms don’t eat pits/seeds but that’s ok b/c those will compost on their own anyway.  No meat or dairy.  If you do get a smell, it’s because your bin is too wet.  No office paper.  Just fruit and vegetables.  No yard waste.  Worms have no teeth, so keep it soft.
    • Harvest compost by putting fresh food on one side of bin, don’t feed the other side, and they’ll migrate to the fresh stuff.  Or if you’re using Worm Factory, they will migrate up to the fresh food.

      So, how are you composting at home?  What are your tips and tricks?  Share your thoughts!

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Notes from Green This Old House

My thanks to all of the guests and panelists for participating in Green This Old House last night.  The store was packed with inquisitive minds, and our panel was incredibly informative.

As promised, here are some resources that were mentioned by the panel last night.  I encourage any and all to start a dialogue and/or add your own resources using the comments tool.

U.S. Green Building Council:

Info on the USGBC’s LEED Certification program:

Energy and Environmental Ratings Alliance:

Illinois Solar Association:

Waste Management:
ReBuilding Exchange:

Habitat for Humanity ReStore:

The ReUse People:


Tom Bassett-Dilley:
Marty Bhatia, Om Homes:
Jim Gill, Energy360 Solutions: (708) 969-0345

And finally, remember the words of Tom Bassett-Dilley: “Good design begins with a good understanding of your environment.”

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