Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Coming Soon, to a Park Near You....

On a sleety, snowy night, I was on my way home after an evening out when I caught a glimpse of what looked like a recycling drop-off center at the park by my home. Could it be?!? A convenient place to drop off my recyclables? No more twenty-minute commutes with a trunkful of paper, glass, and aluminum? I could hardly believe my eyes! Visibility was low because of the fog and other precipitation, but I was curious enough to venture out in the elements the next day to confirm my suspicions. There, in the parking lot just a block away, stood an official City of Chicago drop-off bin, a shining blue eco-beacon amidst the snow, salt residue, and city sludge.

I ran right home to retrieve my recycling-- I couldn't bag it fast enough! The best thing of all was when I went back to the park with my recycling in tow and opened the first door to deposit my recyclables, only to discover that the container was full! I had to try three more lids before I found just enough space to squeeze my two garbage bags into the receptacle. I think that speaks volumes about the need in this city for convenient recycling options. I checked the City of Chicago Web site to see how many other locations had been added this past year. While the site still only listed the original sixteen drop-off locales, the map below had nearly twice as many locations flagged, and when I ran my mouse cursor over each, the corresponding address popped up. Let's hope this number continues to double exponentially in the coming year!

So if you're like me and have been going to great lengths to recycle your everyday waste, be on the lookout for a drop-off site at a park or local college near you-- this earth-friendly task may soon be much easier to do!

Recycle Those Trees!

Christmas is over, and for most people, that means that the decorations must come down. But what to do with the decorations that can't be put back into storage, such as the live trees and wreaths and garland? I hate seeing the lovely Douglas firs and blue spruces and Norwegian pines that lent themselves so beautifully to the holiday decor of many a Chicago home cast heartlessly onto the curbs and into the alleyways to be picked up with the trash, especially when the city has a better solution! From Saturday, January 3rd through Friday, January 16th, the City of Chicago will be accepting trees at the following locations for recycling.

The service has been expanded from a couple of Saturdays to nearly two weeks, due to the overwhelming response in recent years. There are some other changes, though-- the city will not be collecting regular recyclables at these locations like it has in the past, and it sounds like, instead of blue bags or a free CFL bulb, the city will be offering bagged mulch to recyclers (albeit on a limited basis). The city will then use the extra mulch from the recycled trees on gardening and landscaping projects throughout the city later this spring.

So look out the window the next time you're on the el-- the trashed trees that are leaning against the dumpsters are very easy to see from this heightened vantage point-- and try to envision how much landfill space those discarded trees will needlessly be filling. That's a lot of mulch!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now That's ALDI Smart!

At first glance, Aldi customers are a strange and varied bunch. They bring their own bags, wagons, or suitcases into the store, they unload crates of food then stock the shelves and reuse the boxes, they bag their own groceries, and they never leave their carts in the middle of the parking lot. While the extra effort on the customer's part is largely to avoid paying five- to ten-cents per bag and to retrieve the 25-cent deposit required to use a cart, and the minimal services on the store's part save money, space, and labor, this economic business endeavor has become-- albeit inadvertently-- an environmental one as well.

Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount, named after owners and brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht. Based in Germany, Aldi is one of the largest grocers in the world. This discount chain now ranks among the top twenty five groceries in the United States, with Chicago being its largest American market. Aldi does not accept checks or credit cards, only cash, debit, or food stamps, as the former payment methods cost too much to process. Because the shopping experience is such a do-it-yourself endeavor, Aldi saves a great deal on labor and passes these savings on to the customers. Other, larger grocers employ baggers, stockers, and cart corralers, and conversely pass these added expense on to their customers.

With an inexpensive, yet varied (and tasty!) store brand, Aldi rarely stocks name brands or products other than their own. That said, they do sometimes carry brand-name products on special, such as Goose Island root beer or Ritz crackers. Finding such gems at exceptionally low prices is always a treat! While the Jewels and the Dominicks carry 35 times as many products, most of these are different brands of identical products, and this requires nearly four times the square footage and shelf space as the typical Aldi store.

Most of the stores I've been into are clean and unpretentious. This no-frills operation was years ahead of its time in the practice of charging for bags. It doesn't waste money on fancy displays, and rarely stocks more than it can sell, which significantly cuts down on the amount of food it throws away. I particularly like that these stores carry 90% of the products consumers buy most. The produce section is usually a pleasant surprise, and the meat department has improved greatly in recent years.

There are 157 Aldi stores in the Chicagoland area, and 31 of these are in the city itself. When I shop there, I rarely spend more than $25 on a week's worth of groceries. So if you haven't been into an Aldi before, grab a bag (and a quarter for the cart) and see for yourself what great deals await you. I would recommend staying away at the beginning of the month, though-- that's when the LINK/WIC people get their monthly government handouts-- the place is a madhouse. But do try and support this economically and environmentally efficient business model during the remaining three weeks of the month, and save up to 40% on your groceries. Now THAT'S Aldi smart!