In the past, the list of zero waste events in the Oak Park/River Forest area could be counted on one hand, but now zero waste events are the new normal.
The Village of Oak Park has unanimously passed an ordinance requiring stores over 5000 square feet to charge 10¢ a single-use bag. The new rule goes into effect on January 1, 2018, and will apply to both paper and plastic bags. The new 10¢ fee will be evenly split between the retailer and the Village, with the Village’s share earmarked for “environmental sustainability initiatives” which have yet to be named.
With Spring finally "sprung," and the last day of school soon approaching -- neighbors' minds and hearts turn to that annual homage to communal grilling, sidewalk chalk, water fights, and big-and-little-people tricycle races. The Block Party is a sacred thing in many places across the country -- not least in Oak Park and River Forest. Here, block party fun is serious business. And to some local citizens, greening their block parties is seriously cool and important business. The great news is that the villages of Oak Park and River Forest are both supporting GREEN BLOCK PARTIES this year! Why? Read on for the why's, who's, what's, and how's of green block parties.
Justin Vrany knows about the power of publicity, and the strength of the “green” movement. He opened his Chicago restaurant, Sandwich Me In, two years ago with a commitment to zero waste and to sourcing local, organic food. Despite a loyal customer base and favorable reaction to his delicious offerings, business was so slow that he found himself unable to pay employees and running the restaurant single-handedly for nearly six months last year. Then NationSwell produced a short documentary about the restaurant recently (click "continue reading" below to see video). The documentary shows how Sandwich Me In is truly a zero waste restaurant. It has been widely viewed—over 130,000 views within the first several weeks—and has also sparked a series of articles in prestigious on-line and print publications (CBS News, the Huffington Post, Chicago Tonight and others).
And with the publicity have come customers! Now the restaurant is thriving and Justin is finding the time to start other initiatives, such as a local composting program where customers can bring their own compostables to the restaurant, and live music at the restaurant most evenings. He’s also been approached by other restaurants wanting to know how he does it, and is considering starting a consulting business to teach other restaurants how to incorporate zero waste principles.
Many of us use the term “zero waste” to mean reducing our landfill waste, but at Vrany’s restaurant zero really means zero. While most restaurants discard dozens of gallons of waste per day, or even per hour, in its two years of existence, Sandwich Me In has recycled or composted all but eight gallons of its waste—which is itself largely plastic-lined coffee cups and the like brought into the restaurant by its customers (photo at right). And even these eight gallons have been taken by a local artist to turn into a sculpture! Vrany tried to cancel garbage pickup, but the city wouldn’t let him, insisting that the restaurant pay at least the minimum $40 a month for trash pickup it doesn’t use.
Sandwich Me In is a proud member of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, and its commitment to sustainability doesn’t end with eliminating waste. Vrany refuses to buy overly processed or transported foods for the restaurant. Instead, nearly all of the food served by the restaurant is made in-house from scratch, using organic meats, dairy and produce from local farmers. (This year, Alex Poltorak’s The Urban Canopy will grow fresh produce for the restaurant in a dedicated Englewood plot so that food picked that day will be on the menu.) The restaurant also uses 100% renewable energy and is committed to water-conserving techniques. The restaurant’s furnishings and equipment are nearly all reused or refurbished—Vrany even ingeniously used the pallets from an appliance delivery to build out the restaurant’s behind-the-counter area!
Vrany began working in the restaurant industry at a young age, for powerhouses such as The Ritz and Nick’s Fish Market. He later attended the business and culinary arts program at Kendall College, where he learned about sustainability. Vrany credits a French teacher’s Food Politics course for changing his life, opening his eyes to what the U.S. is doing to its food and the planet. Vrany says that one of the many inspirational quotes painted on the restaurant’s walls sums up the way in which he lives his life: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want” (Anna Lappé, Small Planet Institute).
The Village will be hosting another Electronics Recycling Event this Saturday, May 24th from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm in the west Thatcher parking lot located on the west side of the 400 block of Thatcher Avenue across from the Metra train station.
The State of Illinois has mandated that certain electronics may no longer be disposed of in landfills. The following items can be recycled on Saturday:
Televisions, Computer monitors, Printers and scanners, Computers (including tablet computers), Keyboards and other computer components (mice, speakers, etc), Facsimile machines, VCRs and DVD players, Portable digital music players, CD Players and stereo components, Video game consoles, Small scale servers, Digital converter boxes, cable and satellite receivers, Cell Phones, Cordless Phones
To assist residents in the disposal of their electronic devices, the Village of River Forest has partnered with Vintage Tech Recyclers to offer free electronics waste recycling events. Residents will be able to drop off their electronic devices to Vintage Tech representatives to be recycled in an environmentally safe manner.
The next electronics recycling event in River Forest will take place on Saturday, August 30.
When Julie Moller showed up as the "bag monster" last year at the One Earth Film Festival, we knew we had connected with someone special. As facilitator for the film Bag It at the River Forest Public Library, she came in a handmade costume consisting of hundreds of plastic bags. Needless to say, she attracted a lot of attention. And, she still gets use out of that costume.
"I've worn that costume to the science fair at my daughter's school, a girls scouts event, and on Earth Day. My kids are used to it," she laughs. But her commitment to waste reduction doesn't stop there. As founder of River Forest's Recycling Extravaganza--this year's runs on May 3 from 8 am to 1 pm at River Forest United Methodist Church, 7970 Lake Street, River Forest -- she mobilizes hundreds of people to divert carloads of stuff from the landfill and get these materials into the hands of people who can reuse them. We talked to Julie about the event and what motivates her.
GCC: How did this get started?
JM: I had attended a similar event at Cantigny Park in Wheaton several years ago. So I contacted the person who organized it, Kay McKeen. She runs the organization, School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE). She filled me in on what she does, and I looked at what we could do here in the Village. I got a committee together through River Forest District 90's Green for Good team, found a venue and then started connecting to recycling entities that would take the stuff. We found recyclers or re-users for corks, eyeglasses, old bedding for pet shelters, cooking grease, batteries and dozens of other items. We also accept fluorescent tubes, electronics and prescription drugs for proper disposal. See poster for details.
GCC: How does the Recycling Extravaganza work?
JM: It's a drive-up and drop-off system. People don't get out of their cars. We take down their zip code and record what they drop off. And we empty their trunk, back seat, or in some cases, U-Haul! Typically, about 60 percent of cars come from River Forest, but we get people from the surrounding suburbs and even a few from Chicago.
GCC: How did it go that first year?
JM: At our first event in 2012, I was expecting maybe 50 or 100 cars. But we got 575 cars! Last year, I thought, we can't do better than that...well, we got 750 cars! We filled every container and had to turn away 20 cars.
GCC: The lesson there is to come early. And, it sounds like a lot of work. Tell us about your volunteer structure.
JM: The first year, core Green for Good members stayed all day. Last year, we formalized the jobs, so that people had separate tasks. We had about 65 volunteers. This year, we have almost 90 volunteers, including the people working the trucks. We're still looking for more volunteers for this year. Sign up now!
GCC: Why trash?
JM: I've been interested in trash since I was a kid. It drives me nuts when there's a recycling bin, and I see an aluminum can in the trash bin next to it. Or, I'll pick up a piece of litter someone tossed, and calmly tell them, "I think you dropped something." I hand it to them. They are kind of shocked! But I want to educate people. With a little bit of effort, you can give these things to others who can use them.
Interview by Laurie Casey