How to start your sustainability journey in Chicago this Earth Day
April is here, which means many of us are thinking about our environmental impact ahead of Earth Day.
The fight against climate change goes far beyond any individual action, but there are still small but significant means you can live more sustainably here in Chicago, while building community, saving money, and sleeping a little sounder knowing your spring cleaning items will stay out of the landfill. And, hey, the more people who make changes, the bigger the impact, right? Here are some events, organizations and stores in Chicago to help you make an impact this Earth Day.
Reduce: Explore Chicago’s Zero Waste Stores
As children growing up in suburban Des Plaines, Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie have fond memories of exploring nature in nearby forest reserves.
As adults, they transformed their passion for nature into Eco and the flamingo, Chicago’s “first zero waste general store”, with locations in Lincoln Square and Evanston. At Eco and the Flamingo, customers can bring their own jars or bottles to fill with dish soap, laundry soap, shampoo and conditioner, as well as dry goods like coffee, tea, food staples, rice and pasta. You’ll also find fun household items like candles, napkins, and even crayons made from recycled paper.
The owners of Eco and Flamingo encourage people who want to start their sustainability journey to “start where you are”. MacCartie says they encourage people to take inventory of what they have and start, for example, when they run out of dish soap, by rinsing out the bottle and bringing it.
Another popular exchange recommended by Barbouti and MacCartie in their store is the Wettex Swedish tea towelthey sell for $2.50 each and can absorb up to 15 times their weight in water, making them an economical and waste-reducing replacement for paper towels.
Looking for another zero waste store option? Last year, when Broadway was closed during the pandemic, Broadway actors Jessica Naimy and Ben Mayne opened a zero-waste pop-up shop called The trash shop in the western city. The two actors later returned to Broadway, but Chicagoan Todd Barancik still runs the store as an online-only operation where people can buy eco-friendly versions of bath and body products, cookware and more. . As an online store, Barancik says they work to ensure boxes are recyclable or compostable, and items are packaged in as small a box as possible.
As parents of two young children, Barancik and his wife began to question some of the procedures in their home and started with small exchanges, such as reusable mesh produce bags and plastic-free dental floss. He advises starting small and acknowledges that these changes can seem daunting at first.
“I think people are overwhelmed, thinking you have to do everything perfectly,” Barancik says. “Better to do little than to do nothing.”
Barbouti agrees that it’s important to empower people to make gradual changes and to work with them to avoid being overwhelmed. “You don’t have to make these changes overnight,” says Barbouti. “It can be one thing at a time. There’s also a lot of variety – we take a lot of customer referrals of things that have worked for them.
Making it easier for people to redeem is also a big step – for example, Eco and the Flamingo offers compostable bags and a donated jar section for people who come in and have forgotten their refill containers. Barancik and The Unwaste Shop facilitate exchanges thanks to theirzero waste kitscollection of a number of plastic-free supplies for an activity, such as grocery and produce bags, dishware supplies, and even a picnic.
“It’s your own growth, it’s your own rituals and experiences, and a part of you that slows down and tunes into what you really need,” MacCartie says. “You might buy a two-pound bag of rice at the grocery store, but you only need a cup of rice with your meal prep.”
For people who want advice on recycling these more difficult items, MacCartie and Barbouti recommend Reduce Waste Chicagoan organization that is hosting a Swap and Recycle pop-up with the University of Illinois at Chicago on April 21. At the event, UIC students, employees, and community members can swap books and clothing in good condition, and guests can recycle certain items that are not accepted by the city’s Blue Cart program (think electrical cords, take-out containers and disposable masks).
If you’re looking for even more tips on how to cut back, MacCartie also recommends Chicago Environmentalistsa sustainability-focused online community with an interactive map of where to recycle delicate items and an easy-to-follow online directory of sustainable stores and restaurants, community-supported agriculture, composting/recycling resources and more .
Reuse: look for organizations that help you buy second-hand/second-hand goods
Working on a major spring cleaning or home improvement project? Consider using salvaged building materials or donating your own for reuse. the Rebuilding Exchange and Rebuilding Warehouse based in Evanston salvage everything from bricks and lumber to lighting and cabinetry that you can keep out of a landfill and give your home another life. In the suburb of Maywood, you’ll find the sprawling salvage warehouse at Reuse depositwhere you can donate or browse appliances, doors, plumbing and more.
Are you a crafter with a half-finished project or a teacher in need of inexpensive art supplies for your classroom? The waste shed, with locations in Humboldt Park and Evanston, is a creative reuse hub that collects reusable arts and school materials that would otherwise be thrown away and makes them available to artists, teachers, and anyone else who may need them. Low cost. While sustainability is the goal, The WasteShed also seeks to foster creativity by inspiring artists with unconventional materials. You can even volunteer to earn store creditor order a pleasure mystery box random stuff for inspiration.
Do you have various items in great condition, but you don’t know where to put them? the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange is a non-profit organization that redistributes donated surplus materials to students, non-profit organizations and community groups. Items on their “most wanted” donations list, which can be viewed on their website, include office supplies, containers like (clean!) coffee cans and buckets, and wooden boards.
Another easy way to reduce waste and ensure goods stay out of landfills longer is to shop. second hand (or donate clothes and other goods, as long as they’re things people actually want and in good condition). Lincoln Square Resale of family tree donates clothes, toys and household items, recycles what they can’t use and donated over $170,000 in gift vouchers so neighbors in need can shop there for free anonymously and dignity. from north central Kangaroo kids is a “premium children’s consignment store” where parents can find children’s clothing and toys in excellent condition at reasonable prices. And in addition to a host of high-quality merchandise, Logan Square’s Monarch Thrift Shop partners with One heart one soul provide job training and career paths for homeless youth.
Want pizza and beer with your donations of reusable items? Head toward Reuse-a-Palooza at The Plant Chicago on Sunday, April 24. At this community gathering, partners will help safely dispose of hard-to-recycle items like batteries and surgical masks, repair clothing and household items, and educate each other on waste reduction strategies. Afterwards, enjoy delicious pizzas and beer in the Whiner Beer Co. on-site taproom or savory vegan bites from Ste. Martaen food truck.
Repair: Learn how to repair common household items
Many of us were raised on the philosophy of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, but in recent years there has been a greater focus on a fourth ‘R’: repair. Learning how to fix household items keeps them out of landfills longer, reducing waste, saving you money, and giving people a new skill.
“Repair is exciting and important for your own self-confidence and empowerment, and a sense that you have choices about your life and the things you own,” says Tessa Vierk, founder of the Chicago Tool Library, an organization that allows subscribers to borrow hundreds of household tools for an annual pay-per-view fee. “Repair events can create an entry point for people to experiment. It’s so easy to order new things with Amazon, and shopping is so ingrained in our culture. people to think about repair and think about sustainable alternatives to buying new things.”
The Chicago Tool Library began hosting repair shows in 2019 with the Chicago Public Library to encourage and empower Chicagoans to tinker, experiment, and try something new. Their next Repair show—a free community event where attendees can connect with volunteers to fix bikes, clothes, appliances and other beloved household items – takes place April 23 from 1-4 p.m. at the Back Library of the Yards, 2111 W 47th St.
If you can’t attend the repair show this month, check out other repair organizations and events like Community glue workshopwhich hosts community repair clinics, and the Chicago Repair Cafewhich meets the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at the Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square.
And, of course, you can always join the Chicago Tool Library for borrow from over 2,500 tools housed in their space at 1048 W. 37th St. in Bridgeport. If you want to connect even more to the tool library, you can sign up to volunteer or also offer a membership to a member of the community.