This morning, I collected a modest bagful of expired medications and caustic cleaners, hopped in my car and headed to today's Hazardous Materials Recycling event at Northeastern Illinois University, hosted by the City of Chicago. Because of a road closure, I had to detour a bit and approach the University from the west, and was shocked to see that the line for the event was backed up almost all the way to Pulaski!
Fortunately, the event was very well staffed, with workers directing traffic, providing updates, and talking us through every step of the process. By the time I got there (at 10:30 a.m.), the rain barrels were long gone, and the last of the compost bins was claimed while I was waiting in the line, which snaked its way through several parking lots, not unlike the rollercoaster queues at many amusement parks. Many of those who came out solely to get one of these containers were turning away at the entrance-- I just hope they weren't leaving with thier trunks still full of hazardous chemicals!
I was about 10 minutes into the endless procession of conscientious Chicagoans when I realized I left my camera at home-- I tried taking some photos from my car with my camera phone, none of which turned out-- so I'll have to describe what I saw as vividly as I can. On my way to the back of the lot, I passed at least four semis waiting to haul away the massive amounts of chemical and e-waste being collected. As I wound my way through, I gave my zip code to one event staffer (to verify my residency), collected a mini-booklet on other programs and recycling incentives offered by the Department of the Environmnet (complete with Web sites and contact numbers, which I fully intend to look into) and branched off into the paints and chemicals line.
The makeshift tables stretched nearly 40 feet, and were covered with recyclables. Staffers with rolling carts were able to unload trunkfuls of paints, motor oils, caustic chemicals, and cleaning supplies from up to 12 cars at a time-- I found myself wishing I had more to offer!
Behind the sorting tables, dumpsters full of paint cans and the like were filling up fast. Further down the lot, staffers were shrink-wrapping countless computer consoles and monitors into large cubes, which would undoubtedly be forklifted into the waiting semi trailers. Back even further still was a more modest (but still sizable) pile of gas-powered lawn mowers. I even came across an industrial-sized recycling bin and was able to empty my trunk of regular recyclables, which saved me a trip to the Far North side. I don't know whether NEIU is a regular drop-off site, or if the bin was just there for the event, but I'm hoping that it is-- it's much closer than the one I normally go to! And finally, as I was leaving, I got a free CFL bulb for my efforts.
I think residents' overwhelming response is very telling of how badly these services are needed in Chicago, and hopefully this will spur even more events in the future (or at least expand the hours at the permanent hazardous materials recycling center!). Rain barrels are such a hot commodity right now that the city can't quite keep up with the demand. It sounds like, until they manage to keep some in stock, your best bet of getting a rain barrel is to attend a recycling event like this one (just be sure to arrive early!). The next event is on Saturday, September 20, at the City Parking Facility at 900 E. 103rd Street, from 9:00-3:00.
The sheer size of (and participation in) this event was a powerful visual indeed, providing perspective on just how many tons of computer monitors and motor oil containers and such will not be clogging area landfills or leaking toxins into our soil and groundwater for centuries to come. I can't help but feel all warm and fuzzy today, thinking about the number of Chicagoans who suddenly find themselves with more shelf space in their garages and basements, all because they cared enough to load up their household hazards and wait patiently in a long line of like-minded folks to properly and responsibly dispose of these items.