Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Saturday, October 2, 2010
In my excitement, I arrived at the museum shortly after it opened, and had the entire Climate Change exhibit practically to myself. So I took my time meandering through the aisles, crammed floor to ceiling with historic facts, photos, meteorological diagrams, and flow charts, reading both the interest-piquing tidbits and the heavier scientific evidence behind the findings presented.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I learned of this ecological gem while waiting on the Roosevelt el platform, of all places. The CTA has TV screens at some of the larger stations that encourage passengers to explore different areas of the city by mass transit, by showcasing certain attractions near different el stops. Advertised as being just steps from the Halsted Orange Line station and bus hub, I hopped a train to the south side and spent a morning wandering through one of the Park District's newest open areas and wetlands restoration sites.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
If you live in a residential building with four or fewer units, you're supposed to put your recyclables into blue carts and set them out by your trash every two weeks—though ... in most neighborhoods there are no blue carts yet. [Or] you can take your recyclables to one of the city's 33 drop-off centers and hope the bins there aren't already too full.
[But] if you live in a building with more than four units, your garbage is picked up by private waste haulers ... If your hauler isn't recycling, you can press the building owner to comply with the law, but he doesn't really have to fear being fined for violating it. Or you can take your stuff to one of those 33 drop-off centers and hope the bins there aren't already too full.
If you live adjacent to a neighborhood that has the blue carts, maybe you can slip your recycling into the ones across the street, if they're not already too full—but don't get caught, because it's illegal. If you live next to a park, or visit the airports regularly, maybe you can take your materials to their plentiful recycling bins.
Or you can do what most Chicagoans do: say to hell with it.
Confusing, right? I think so, too. A good deal of funds allotted for recycling have been spent on studies, which show that only 8% of waste from city garbage haulers is diverted from landfills (private sector haulers fare slightly better at 19%). Studies also project that this number could easily be raised to 40% in both public and private sectors. So why is Chicago's recycling program still such a failure?
In April, city officials quietly released the results of a pair of studies they'd commissioned to help figure out how to reduce the amount of garbage produced in Chicago. One, a "waste characterization study," sampled trash around the city to determine what Chicagoans are throwing out. It found that we produced about 7.7 million tons of waste in 2007, most of it metals, paper, food and yard waste, plastics, used clothing, and construction and demolition (C & D) debris like concrete and steel.
The other, a "waste diversion study," analyzed what's happening to the city's garbage after it's picked up. It determined that most C & D debris is recycled and reused—as much as 65 percent, the result of a 2005 city ordinance as well as demand for the materials in the marketplace.
But the study also found that even with the high recycling rate for C & D debris, most of Chicago's waste ends up in landfills: 56 percent of metals from homes and businesses, 69 percent of discarded paper, 96 percent of food and yard waste, 96 percent of plastics, and almost all clothing.
The study authors, from a consulting and engineering firm called CDM, offered city officials some straightforward recommendations: offer blue carts citywide, provide more opportunities for residents to recycle clothing and compost organic waste, launch education and outreach programs, and start enforcing recycling laws already on the books. (The studies cost $494,250, about half of which was covered by grants, the rest by funds drawn from the city budget.)
Enforce laws already on the books. That seems obvious to me. So obvious, in fact, that I bristle every time I hear lawmakers debating issues into the ground for which practical (albeit unenforced) solutions already exist. Even more alarming to me, though, are these findings: almost all clothing is tossed instead of being donated!?! 56% of metals, 69% of paper, and 96% of plastics are NOT being recycled!?! And 96% of food and yard waste is NOT being composted?!? Not cool, Chicago. Not cool.
According to the study results released by the city this spring, just 14 percent of the city's waste is produced by the homes served by city garbage crews. About 61 percent comes from the C & D sector, whose efforts are one of the city's few recycling success stories.
The other 25 percent comes from businesses and what the city refers to as high-density residential buildings—those with more than four units, for which garbage collection and recycling are already in the private sector. For the last 20 years recycling in these buildings has been an even lower priority for the Daley administration.
In 1993 the City Council passed the Chicago High Density Residential and Commercial Source Reduction and Recycling Ordinance ... It requires that building owners set up recycling for at least three kinds of materials. If they don't, the city can issue warnings, impose fines of $100 a day, or take away the business licenses of retailers and offices ... In practice, however, the ordinance is almost meaningless, because city officials quickly decided that they didn't want to alienate property owners and building managers by enforcing it.
Well, so much for that idea. The article attempts to leave the Chicago's readers with a glimmer of hope in the closing paragraphs:
In lieu of curbside programs or a coherent high-density policy, the city has created 33 recycling drop-off centers that are well used, to the point where they're often overflowing. In fact, two south-side aldermen recently proposed fining suburbanites who sneak into Chicago to dump their recyclables at city-owned drop-off facilities. From the beginning of the year through the end of May, 1,900 tons of recyclables have been left at the sites, according to Matt Smith.
Recent changes to city and state law have made composting more feasible. The city's website offers tutorials, even for apartment dwellers, and several new commercial composting ventures are opening on the far south side. But for many people—even those with a deep interest in recycling—the city's current web of programs and possibilities is too difficult to navigate.
And where will that leave us, Chicago? Before too long, I imagine it will leave us wallowing in our own waste, because we've been clogging up the landfills with recyclable materials for far too long.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Stop the presses! Chicago is the Second City no longer! At least not in the realm of environmental initiatives, that is. I personally thought the segment on this Brightfields Initiative that has come to fruition in the West Pullman neighborhood on Chicago's far south side was more of a headline story than an end-of-broadcast blurb, but these days, I'll take my good news any way I can get it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the EPA's Brownfields Initiative, Brownfields sites are perhaps better known as former Superfund sites. These sites, even after successful cleanup and remediation, are ill suited for most types of developments. For example, no one would want to purchase a Brownfields site and build a subdivision or an elementary school, or cultivate a community garden because -- despite even the most successful cleanups -- these sites are still heavily contaminated, it's just that the amount of contamination has been reduced to acceptable EPA levels. So the Brownfields Initiative exists to find viable uses for this spoiled land, such as turning it into a parking lot, or building a big-box warehouse or retail location (with provisions made, of course, for importing potable water).
The Brownfields to Brightfields Initiative takes this task one step further and put solar panels on these undesirable pieces of real estate, which brings clean energy, jobs, and (eventually) power savings to the surrounding communities. And in this, Chicago is leading the nation! Not only is Exelon City Solar the largest urban solar power plant in the country, it's also the first of its kind!
The 32,000 solar panels, which were sourced and manufactured from south side companies, are equipped to follow the rays of the sun as it makes its way across the sky, and will generate enough power to power 1,500 homes. Exelon has leased the 40-acre Brownfield site from the City of Chicago in a long-term deal, and according to the EPA:
"The City of Chicago and Commonwealth Edison have jointly committed $8 million to purchase solar systems in the next five years. The solar systems will be installed on other [B]rownfield sites as well as schools, office buildings, transportation routes, and municipal and commercial properties."
Exelon City Solar will also serve as a demonstration and educational site for other cities that want to harness the power of the sun. So let's hear it for Chicago, solar energy's First City!
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The state's initial investment into this innovative initiative is $2 million to upgrade Big River's two facilities, which are some of the only ones in this state already equipped to handle the processing of these massive fish. Projected benefits of this investment include: 60-180 new downstate jobs, a marked reduction of Asian carp in the Mississippi River, and a local product that China actually wants to import. Quinn said that an estimated 30 million pounds of carp will be exported in the first two years of this venture.
Since this unwelcome species was introduced to American waterways down south nearly 30 years ago, they have been migrating north, largely unchecked, destroying native ecosystems as they go. Currently, their continued push has brought them dangerously close to the Great Lakes. If these fish succeed in reaching Lake Michigan, the results could be devastating to nature and industry alike.
Friday, July 9, 2010
The blue cart program, which was supposed to have been completed by the end of 2011, ground to a screeching halt when Chicago, along with many other cities across the nation, witnessed their smoke-and-mirrors method of balancing the city budget evaporate along with the nation's economy back in 2008.
Aldermanic proponents of this city-wide program have called the stockpile of pristine blue carts (with an estimated value of $45 each) a "colossal waste of money" and demand that City Hall make recycling a priority once more. Mayor Daley defends his proposal to privatize the city's recycling, which he unveiled last month (just to freak me out, I'm fairly certain), claiming that doing so would cut $40 million of the estimated $60 million it would cost for the city to see this plan through to completion.
I'm including this blurb from The Huffington Post, aptly entitled "Chicago Recycling FAIL", which summarizes the Sun Times article and offers a more pointed reaction to the city's recycling shortcomings. I hate to break it to you, Chicago, but the only thing "green" about the recycling program in this city is our collective envy of the villages, townships, and even other cities that have managed to get it right!
Monday, June 28, 2010
And who hasn't left an unwanted item off to the side of the dumpster, in hopes that someone else will claim it before the garbage men come? I've been guilty of this myself... both of leaving trash and of finding treasures. Well, this isn't always the best idea. I won't even go into how it provides a way for undocumented workers-- who, let's face the facts, make up the vast majority of these scavengers-- to acquire a tax-free income, even though it does.
For the purposes of this blog, I would like to keep my focus on the environmental ramifications of this phenomenon. I watched from my kitchen window today as my landlord cleaned out the garage. The pile of stuff he had amassed was astounding. Within minutes, along hobbles a rusty pick-up truck, already heavily laden with scrap metal. Not only did these guys stop and gobble up the appliances, electronics, and building materials that my landlord had already dragged to the curb, they (with his blessing) finished clearing the unwanted metal items out of the garage for him, with nothing but dollar signs in their eyes!
As the poor old truck groaned and lumbered out of the alley, I began to wonder what would happen to all the non-metal components of these items once the metal portions had been weighed and sold as scrap. While I don't have the specifics on any particular metal recycling center, if I've learned anything from my haz mat and contaminated properties remediation classes, it's that these scrap metal yards tend to not give much thought to the heavy metals, corrosive liquids, and other hazardous wastes they separate from appliances, electronics in particular. Sure, the metal gets recycled, which is great, but where does the rest of it go? Into our landfills, soil, and drinking water. Not cool.
That said, I'm willing to look the other way for scrap metal items like ironing boards and pipes that don't contain hazardous materials. But when it comes to old electronics, folks, take them to some place like Abt Electronics or the Chicago Hazardous Materials Recycling Center (it's free!) where you can be sure that all the parts of that old computer or behemoth television set will be properly disposed of or recycled. And if you get new appliances, many places will haul your old ones away-- if not for free, then for a nominal fee. Take advantage of and throw your support behind these legit services and quit relying on the scrap metal guys to do the right thing!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
[Insert collective groan and some serious eye rolling here.]
How bad could privatized recycling be, you ask? Well, we'd be paying for it, first of all, and-- once leased-- the city would have little control over things like price hikes and poor service, which is what has enraged so many residents about the parking meter deal. Secondly, who's to say that a privatized company would accept as many types of recyclables as our current (albeit imperfect) system does? And third, if people actually have to make an effort to separate their paper from their plastics, how many will be inclined just to throw the item into the trash?
According to the Chicago Reader, Mayor Harold Washington first put this plan into action back in the 1980s. His successor, Mayor Daley, who inherited the plan when he took office after Washington passed away, has been dragging his feet on the matter ever since. He's concocted a variety of schemes, such as Waste Management's blue bag program (which, as we should all know by now, was an absolute disaster), but hasn't really done much to establish an effective, functional recycling program in this city. Even the blue cart program (which is sloooooowly making its way to 600,000 residential homes in Chicago and estimated to be finished by the end of next year) does nothing to address the remaining 80% of this city's waste, which comes from businesses and multi-unit buildings.
The upside to privatized recycling, should this deal in fact go through? Maybe we Chicagoans would finally have a comprehensive, city-wide recycling program that we can call our own. That's what we really want, isn't it? Well, if so, it's looking like it may cost us... and the final price tag remains to be seen.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Reason #37492751 to read the fine print: buying Dawn dish washing liquid in and of itself does not save wildlife like the cute little otter pictured on the front of these bottles. Consumers have to enter the long numerical code (printed in white on the lower back side of each bottle) and place of purchase at the web site listed in microscopic lettering underneath the claim that $1.00 from each purchase will go toward saving wildlife.
Once I finally sat down to claim my $2.00 in donations to this timely and worthwhile cause, it only took a minute, but it made me wonder how many people take even that much time to follow through on this extra step, or if they read the fine print at all.
I've been fighting an overwhelming urge to take my Dawn dish washing liquid, along with my pink-and-brown plaid Wellies, yellow rubber gloves, and an animal carrier down to the Gulf shores, and to just start catching and cleaning oil-covered animals. As much as I would like to be fighting the good fight on the front lines-- from the marshlands of Louisiana to the once-white, sandy beaches of Florida-- it's simply not a feasible option at this time. Entering a product code into a web site, however, is.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
With the tag line of "Many Species. One Planet. One Future.", the UN Environmental Programme boasts June 5th to be the "most widely celebrated, global day for positive, environmental action." Activities are meant to promote awareness, champion biodiversity, and spur individuals and communities to action.
On the local level, the Chicago Botanical Gardens has a whole schedule of activities planned to commemorate WED, including used plant container recycling, gardening demonstrations, kids' activities, and a farmer's market. We Chicagoans are always looking for a reason to celebrate, and today, the environment is reason enough!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
I spent some time chatting with the Environmental Law and Policy group based right here in Chicago, and filled out post cards to my senators and alderman to vote to close the coal plants operating near Pilsen and Little Village. I also picked the brain of a woman working to collect signatures for the Food and Water Watch, a group that was petitioning to have BP's Deep Water Atlantis rig shut down as well, because this well was missing even more safety records than the Horizon, which as we all know, blew up last month.
If I were a home owner, I would have enjoyed learning about geo-thermal energy, solar panels, eco-friendly windows and energy-efficient appliances, but for the time being I just scooted right past. There's a little something for everybody at this festival: fair-trade edibles (from chocolate to coffee) for the foodies; hemp purses and clothing for the tree-hugging hippies; one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry for the classy folk; organic t-shirts with clever quips or creative graphics for the hipsters; and volunteer/non-profit organizations passionately supporting some noble cause for the do-gooders, like me!
If you can't make it to Navy Pier this weekend, keep the 2011 festival on your radar; for anyone who's even remotely interested in all things environmental, it's worth the price of admission. And if you ride your bike or take public transit, that admission price will be reduced!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I really don't envy President Obama right now. Hundreds, thousands, or possibly millions (no one seems to know) of gallons of crude oil a day are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico right now, weeks after the Deep Water Horizon platform exploded and killed 11 workers, and there's no end in sight. People are scared and angry, myself included. We feel helpless because we don't know what to do, and many people want someone to blame.
While these feeling are completely justified, I'm afraid our anger is a little misdirected. Every time I see the live footage of that thick, nasty sludge spewing into the sea, I feel a bit nauseated myself. Many people are mad at the president for working with BP and for not making more of a presence in the coastal regions that have been most affected. And others want to channel their anger into a boycott of BP. Neither approach is going to bring about the solution we crave.
Yes, Obama has been relying heavily on BP for the solution to this problem, and all their hair-brained schemes to date have focused more on recovering their precious commodity rather than stopping the actual flow of oil into the Gulf. That makes me mad, too, but I realize the president has to work with them; their people are some of the only ones on the planet who have the knowledge and expertise to shut off this well. The president certainly can't don scuba gear and swim a mile down to the ocean floor with a wrench in one hand and a giant lid in the other and fix the pipe himself!
President Obama has spent a great deal of time meeting with experts and organizing aid and response; he has already deployed more than 17,000 National Guard to the Gulf, and has provided additional military vessels and equipment to aid in clean-up efforts. He is also pushing his clean energy agenda harder than ever, and although it isn't providing the instant gratification people crave, it is the best long-term solution to ensuring that a tragedy like this doesn't happen again. Much more aid is on the way to Gulf residents, but the seemingly slow response isn't apathy on the part of the president, it's because of our tri-cameral government. If you want to be mad at a president, direct your anger toward our forefathers, who designed this system of checks and balances and bureaucratic red tape that is holding up the Federal aid package.
Equally ludicrous is the small but boisterous movement to boycott BP gas stations. This is ineffective for a number of reasons. In the short term, the only people a BP boycott will hurt will be the local gas station owners and workers, most of whom are not even directly affiliated with BP. Also, BP gasoline is sold under many names, not just British Petroleum. Who knows where Huck's or Meijer's or Sam's Club gets their gasoline? And ultimately, if a boycott of BP were to succeed, the company could potentially go bankrupt. This would be the worst outcome of all, because they would no longer have to pay to clean up the enormous mess they've made. We're the ones who have created such a high demand for gasoline; we the people of the U.S. of A, making up only 2% of the world's population, use more than 20% of the world's oil. We're the ones who want the oil, and it has to come from somewhere. Our best revenge would be to reduce our individual consumption, thus making the need for deep sea drilling unnecessary.
That said... If I were president, I would acknowledge peoples' feelings of heartbreak, helplessness, and outrage, and channel those emotions into clean-up efforts and other solutions. I would highlight environmental non-profits that are already in the marshes and on the beaches that don't have to sift through the same bureaucratic bull sh*t that the government does, and encourage people to donate or volunteer. I would demand that BP hire any out-of-work fisherman, shrimper, or oyster trawler with a boat who wants to pull a skimmer or lay out booms or shovel tar balls off the beach, because I guarantee you there is no one on this planet with a more vested interest in getting this spill cleaned up than those whose livelihoods depend on the waters of the Gulf. I would insist that all the aid and relief workers-- military and civilian alike-- stay in the hotels and eat at the restaurants that have been hardest hit to keep the local economy afloat.
In short, I would try to turn this nation's anger into action. We can sit around and be as angry as we want, but if all we do is sit around and kvetch nothing will ever get done. Unfortunately, I won't be eligible for the presidency until 2016 (so save your votes!), but I can encourage everyone I know to be part of the solution, which will empower us all to deal with the problem.
BP logo image: © BP p.l.c.
Friday, May 7, 2010
I stumbled on this video a day too late to badger my own hairdresser to participate in this project, but there's still time for all of you to pester your stylists and barbers (and even pet groomers!) This awesome and innovative non-profit, Matter of Trust, takes hair and fur trimmings (and even fleece and feathers!) that salons, farms, and groomers package up and mail in from around the country and turn them into hair mats and booms, which are in turn used to soak up oil.
In light of the devastating spill in the Gulf caused by the explosion of BP's Deep Water Horizon well, donations are needed now more than ever! Oil continues to gush from this broken well and is making its way toward the shores of our southern states. I feel powerless to help all the way up here in Chicago, but sending money and supplies to agencies and non-profits that do have the ability to help makes me feel like I'm being part of the solution. The group also accepts donated nylons as well as monetary donations to cover operating costs.
For a demonstration of how these hair mats and nylon booms work in the battle against spilled oil, check out the video posted above, and consider asking your hair person to support this creative, timely, and very worthwhile cause.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
1970 was a landmark year for environmental awareness, but sadly, we're still facing many of the same problems we were 40 years ago. All this talk we hear in the news on building more fuel-efficient cars, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and reducing our energy use and waste production... that's nothing new. As times changed (and fuel prices went down) these eco-friendly ideas became less urgent. Let's not make the same mistake this time around!
So here's to making the next 40 years even better than the first... how will you help? Celebrate Earth Day by doing something as simple as planting flowers, picking up garbage, or recycling old electronics. Or you can join forces with like-minded folk and help spruce up a park or clean up a portion of a river bed or lake front. Every little bit will help!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Steingraber first became interested in the environmental causes of cancer when, as an IWU student, she was diagnosed with a rare bladder cancer at age 20. Casual onlookers could attribute her disease to bad genes, because her mom developed breast cancer in her 40s, and an aunt had died of the same type of bladder cancer with which Steingraber was diagnosed. But she was adopted; genetics had nothing to do with it.
When Steingraber began researching this book, she collected a great deal of already-recorded data, which had just been made available to the public under the newly passed Right-To-Know Act, and started connecting the dots. She grew up in central Illinois, just like I did, but she lived in a rural town along the Illinois River. With her home town being as small as it was, it seemed like a disproportionate number of its citizens had some form of cancer. So she made her way "upstream", so to speak, and identified industrial waste dumps, agricultural run-off sites, chemical incinerators, and coal-burning facilities as the sources of the toxins that wound up in the water of her town downstream. Because none of these things are unusual to find in the Midwest, further research revealed just what she suspected: her town was not unique.
Yes, her book is full of the names of various chemicals and contaminants that have found their ways into our food, water, air, and soil. But by intertwining this scientific data with her personal story of cancer and survival (as well as a clear and concise writing style), she makes years of intense research (or scientific gobbledy-gook, to us non-brainiacs) not only palatable, but relatively easy to understand. Critics, doctors, and environmentalists alike have hailed her book as "the Silent Spring of our generation", but let me assure you... having read both, Steingraber's novel is a much more enjoyable read.
On the first day of class, Sandra Steingraber used a parable to depict the backwards way in which we are going about treating cancer patients. She told the story of residents in a small town who noticed more and more people getting caught in the current of a nearby river and drowning. The townspeople invented all of these pricey and elaborate ways to rescue and resuscitate the drowning victims, but no one thought to venture upstream to stop whoever was pushing these victims into the river in the first place. And so it is with environmental contamination.
More than a decade later, the specifics of this class are a bit fuzzy in my head, but I know for certain that Steingraber's passion and enthusiasm for her work is what first got me interested in matters of nature and the environment. I also remember learning about Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), or the amount of each chemical that is allowed to remain in our drinking water. Anything at or under these levels is considered to be safe... more or less. There was an MCL Cafeteria in my hometown at the time, which I thought was a surprisingly inappropriate name for a restaurant. If any of those stores still exist, do yourself a favor and eat somewhere else... unless you know for a fact that MCL stands for something else. Yikes!
My take-away from this one-month course, which involved more reading, studying and research than any other class I had taken before (or have taken since), was that we can greatly reduce the number of "suspected carcinogens" (cigarettes were "suspected carcinogens" for decades before the Supreme Court passed their definitive ruling on the matter, which has upgraded them to plain old carcinogens) in our environment if-- and only if-- we make a fundamental shift in the way in which we dispose of our waste and operate our businesses, both in the industrial and agricultural fields. Regardless of what the news tells us, we can't avoid these environmental contaminants just by individual lifestyle changes; change has to come from upstream.
Here is the schedule of upcoming screenings of her film. If it comes to your area, I strongly encourage you to go see it. You can thank me later!
Sunday, April 11, 2010
The best "plastic" in this bunch, in my humble opinion, is polyactide (PLA). While at first glance it may seem that these letters are an obvious abbreviation for "plastic", it actually gives savvy recyclers a hint as to what it is really made of... plants! Remember back in Plastics 101 when we learned that cellulose (plant material) is a naturally occurring polymer? Well, some innovative scientists are using the power of nature to create compostable plastic packaging! The only catch is that, because it is biodegradable, it is not recyclable.
Because of the variety of items that fall under the category of #7 plastics, they weren't traditionally recycled. However, more curbside programs (Chicago's included) now accept this type of packaging. In addition to the now-recyclable three- and five-gallon water bottles and food containers, (which can be turned into plastic lumber and other custom-made products) miscellaneous plastics are used in bullet-proof materials, DVDs, nylon, signs, and computer cases.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Although there are places in Chicagoland (such as the recycling station behind Abt Electronics in Glenview) to recycle expanded polystyrene, the City of Chicago does not accept #6 plastics in its blue carts or at its many drop-off locations. While this is understandable of expanded polystyrene, as Styrofoam is terribly difficult to recycle-- it's quite expensive, and Styrofoam takes up a lot of space and weighs next to nothing, so it's hard to keep from blowing away-- this leaves me with food containers and produce clam shells that I have little choice but to throw in the trash. Not cool.
Another thing that isn't so cool about polystyrene is that environmentalists and scientists alike suspect that, when heated, this plastic leaches toxins into foods and noxious fumes into the atmosphere. Looking back at the amount of hot chocolate I drank out of Styrofoam cups as a kid at camp, and the number of said cups that wound up being tossed into the campfire because it was cool to watch them burn, I cringe. So next time any one of you thinks about drinking a hot beverage out of a Styrofoam cup, think again.
Of the polystyrene that is actually recycled, it is turned into insulation, egg cartons, rulers, and packing materials.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The appeal of polypropylene is that this particular polymer chain has a very high melting point, which is ideal for hot liquid containers. It is also used for yogurt containers, medicine, syrup and ketchup bottles, and straws. Once recycled, it becomes fodder for battery cables and casings, brooms and brushes, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bins, and pallets and trays.
Remember, plastics aren't so much recycled as they are downcycled-- they will never be as strong or as effective as they were at the start of their lifecycle. And although recycling is now possible, the best solution for recycling plastics remains to reduce the amount of plastic products used in the first place.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Thankfully, more and more curbside programs are now accepting LDPE for recycling, as manufacturers have found a way to incorporate it into trash cans and liners, compost bins, envelopes, and certain construction materials. Many stores now accept plastic shopping bags for recycling. In fact, all the big-box stores in Chicago are now required to reycle shopping bags as part of a compromise reached between retailers and the City after the proposal to ban plastic bags (or at least charge customers who chose to use them) failed miserably.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Occasionally PVC is used to make cleaner or detergent bottles or food packaging. However, PVC is not nearly as benign as plastics #1 or #2, nor is it as easy to recycle. Because of the chlorine present in its molecular structure, highly dangerous toxins can be released into the air during its manufacture. Plastics #3 should never be used for cooking or heating food, as the toxins within are released when the plastic is heated or burned. Some studies have suggested the dreaded chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) may be present in plastics #3 as well, which is suspected of affecting human growth and reproductive hormones when leached into food or drinking water.
Of the municipalities that do accept PVC packaging for recycling (and yes, Chicago does!), it is recycled into plastic lumber and flooring, cables, speed bumps, and mats.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
HDPE is easy to form and easy to process. Not only does the chemical make up of high-density polyethylene make it unlikely to leach into food products or break down too much when heated, it is highly resistant to chemical reactions, which makes it ideal for packaging bleach, motor oil, household cleansers and industrial chemicals.
Because of its strength and stability on a molecular level, HDPE is one of the only plastics that can be recycled back into a plastic bottle or container. Other products commonly made from HDPE include: floor tiles, artificial lumber and fencing, drain pipes, dog houses and picnic tables. There's also a pretty good chance that your recycling bin is made out of #2 plastics! How many of your HDPE containers are making it into that bin?
Friday, February 26, 2010
Plastics #1 is the designated number for all plastic containers made with Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PETE for short. Polyethylene (and all its variations) is the most widely produced plastic in the world, and for good reason. Used to make everything from soda and water bottles to trash bags to peanut butter jars to oven-safe food containers, the plastics in this category are the most easily recycled. They are also the least likely to leach chemicals when heated, which makes it the safest choice for food and beverage containers by far.
Recycled polyethylene terephthalate is actually in high demand; manufacturers use it to make polar fleece, furniture, carpeting, and occasionally new containers. Despite its many (re)uses, the recycling rate for #1 plastics remains quite low; several reports claim it to be as low as 20% in some areas. This is especially surprising because some programs, such as California's Bottle Bill, offer a monetary refund for the return and recycling of containers made from plastics #1.
So when in doubt, just think of PETE. PETE's your buddy, PETE's your pal! C'mon, Chicagoans-- Recycle PETE so manufacturers have a cost-effective and responsible way of making all those products we want to buy! And just think, purchasing those re-manufactured products will be much more rewarding without having a guilty eco-conscience; I don't think there's any such thing as green-buyers' remorse.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Plastics make up one group of synthetic (or man made) polymers, the other being rubber. However, naturally occurring polymers are far more prevalent than all the manufactured rubber and plastic products in the world, combined! Natural polymers include wood, cotton, leather, and wool, which man has long used to build homes and make clothing; the synthetic polymers available today serve to complement these naturally occurring substances.
Left to its own devices, the chemical reaction that causes polymerization would continue unchecked, creating infinitely long chains of hydrocarbons, which would produce so much heat and energy that they would eventually self-combust. This is where the other elements come in; they serve as book ends, if you will, to an otherwise never-ending polymer. Some plastics might contain molecules of chlorine, fluorine, oxygen, or nitrogen, so the make up (and eventual breakdown) of plastics vary drastically from one type to the next.
Okay, so by now we all know that it's important to recycle plastics. But what many people don't know is that some types of plastics are more easily recycled than others, and discerning which containers should go in a blue bin can be downright confusing. Fortunately for us Chicagoans, the city's recycling program accepts six out of the seven basic types of plastics used for packaging and containers: #1-5 and #7.
So what does this mean? Each number represents a category by which plastics can be sorted, and for all intensive purposes, the lower the number, the easier the plastic is to recycle. The good news is that all plastics can be recycled, but the bad news is that not all plastics can be easily recycled. Adding to the bad news is that the composition of plastic changes when exposed to heat, which causes the polymers to break down, the single bonds within the hydrocarbon chains to weaken, and sometimes chemicals within the polymer leach out of the plastic itself. This is especially troubling in the case of plastic bottles or containers for food or beverages.
The other troubling thing about plastic is that, unlike recyclables made from more natural substances such as aluminum and paper, plastic cannot be recycled back into plastic, which means that we have to find other uses for recycled plastics. Without a market for products made from recycled plastics, all the recycling in the world won't do us any good! Stay tuned in the coming months for a breakdown of the seven main types of recyclable plastics, including the common uses and resulting byproducts for each.