Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Putting-it-out-Back-for-the-Scrap-Metal-Scavengers-to-Take is NOT Recycling!

We've all seen them in the alleys behind our homes... they're about as prevalent as those rat extermination posters the city tacks to utility poles each spring. I'm talking about the scrap-metal guys that skulk through the alley ways in 30-year-old pick-ups trucks, trucks with bad spray paint jobs and hauling beds that have been built up with cheap chain-link fencing, rusty support rods, and splintered two-by-fours.

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

Privatized Recycling?

Guess what, everybody? Mayor Daley wants to privatize yet another city service! We've already leased the Skyway, possibly the airports, and of course the parking meters (and we all know how well that went over, now that we're paying 5 times as much to park on the same streets we've been parking on for years, taking away free parking on Sundays and holidays...). What could be next, you ask? RECYCLING!

[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

Dawn Saves Wildlife

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

World Environment Day

Well, it seems like there's a day for everything-- National Donut Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, and today, it's World Environment Day. The United Nations actually began celebrating this day back in 1972, so I'm almost embarrassed to say this is the first I've heard of it. I know about Earth Day in April and even Earth Hour in March, but what is World Environment Day?

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!