Sharing is Caring: An Ode to Sustaining Our Freshwater Resources

by Lacy Reyna for SUST 240

Freshwater is a key component to life on Earth. Why is it, then, that many individuals continue to use (and waste) this precious resource without any care or thought behind such mindless consumption? Perhaps it is because many people do not feel the effects of the scarcity of fresh water; therefore, have a lack of empathy for those who do. At the same time, it could also be that individuals are simply not aware of the importance in conserving the freshwater sources we currently have. Whichever it may be, freshwater is in higher demand than ever, and we need to do all we can to reduce, reuse, and recycle this essential resource. The wastefulness of freshwater consumption is especially apparent in urban environments, where so much concrete exists that little water is absorbed into the ground.

Here in Chicago, rainwater runoff is more severe due to lack of absorbent land and an abundance of concrete (contrary to popular belief, concrete does a poor job of soaking up water). Instead, much of the rain that falls to the ground ends up in extensive systems that carry the water to one of several wastewater treatment plants before the treated effluent is released into the Chicago River and other streams. Because the water does not infiltrate the ground well in urban areas, more water ends up in the river and streams much faster than it should, which results in greater and more severe flooding. Not only that, but the quality of runoff is compromised by various surface pollutants and can be difficult to remediate once it has hit the sewer system. While water treatment plants do their best to treat the water before discharging it into waterways toward the ocean, rain barrels and other “green infrastructure” strategies are gaining ground as a popular conservation effort.

Many homeowners have adopted the use of rain barrels in order to reduce the amount of rainwater runoff in the city. These devices allow individuals to collect rainwater and release it into their yards at a controlled pace. That way, the rainwater has a better opportunity to infiltrate the groundwater. The City of Chicago partnered with Center for Neighborhood Technology on the initiative of Rain Ready, which offers a myriad of solutions to reducing rainwater runoff.

In addition to the loss of rainwater in urban environments, freshwater that runs down the drain of a shower that is warming up, down the sink as you’re brushing your pearly whites in the morning, and down the hose from your laundry machine is also wasted water that eventually ends up in Chicago’s river system — but it doesn’t have to be that way. These are all examples of water that could be saved and reused rather than flowing away from the city.

Depiction of a simple set up of an in-home grey water re-use system. Source: http://www.rainwindsun.com/faqs/grey-water.html

Depiction of a simple set up of an in-home grey water re-use system. Source: http://www.rainwindsun.com/faqs/grey-water.html

Many people are now becoming aware of the concept of grey water reuse. Grey water is defined as any domestically produced wastewater, with the exception of sewage. This water may be collected with the use of buckets or more complex systems, depending on the type of water waste and how it will be used. In capturing this water, water consumption is reduced, water bills are cut, and a more sustainable future is created.

Available freshwater can be considered a finite resource, but we can ensure everyone gets their share by taking the appropriate steps to reduce, reuse and recycle our part of the whole.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Conservation, Education, Green Design, Pollution, Students, Sustainability, Waste, Water | Tagged

Composting: We Just Can’t Get Enough of It

by Dusan Koleno for SUST 240

According to the EPA, food waste and yard trimmings make up almost 1/3 of our waste. The vast majority of this waste goes straight to landfills and not to composting facilities. However, there are cities and villages that are trying to change this situation.

Waste Management composting facility on the former Land and Lakes landfill, far South Side of Chicago (D. Koleno)

Waste Management composting facility on the former Land and Lakes landfill, far South Side of Chicago (D. Koleno)

One such example is the Village of Oak Park in the suburbs of Chicago. Residents of Oak Park may participate in a program called CompostAble. For $14 a month they get everything they need for storing of food and yard waste. Then every week it is picked up by the garbage truck together with their other waste. The difference is that their food waste goes to a composting facility. In the end, twice a year, they get compost that could be used in their gardens and lawns.

Oak Park is not the only place in the area that is trying to make difference. The City of Highland Park started its own composting program similar to the one in Oak Park in the beginning of 2013. Unfortunately, it was suspended just after four months. The City of Highland Park was using a facility in Waukegan for their composting program, but local residents were complaining about the odors and facility stopped accepting the food waste from Highland Park. Right now, as of late 2014, the program is still on hiatus.

Therefore, it is important to plan and prepare composting programs thoroughly, so they will be successful. Let’s hope that officials from Highland Park will find viable alternatives to the facility in Waukegan because it would be sad to see so much effort go to “waste.” We need to have more such places in order to get the attention of the general public and enable the establishment of more composting programs. For now, if you are living in a place without a community composting program and you are willing to invst a little time getting a backyard or indoor system set up, you still can do composting on your own. It is always good to see that the composting is on the rise and maybe one day it will be as common as recycling.

Sources:

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/columnists/ct-food-scraps-brotman-talk-0929-20140929-column.html

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-02/news/ct-tl-lk-0404-hp-composting-20130403_1_composting-program-food-waste-food-scraps

http://www.oak-park.us/village-services/refuse-recycling/compostable-program

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Education, Sustainability, Students, Recycling, Waste, News, Communities, Oak Park | Tagged

Elgin O’Hare Expressway No Longer a “Road to Nowhere”

by Jacqueline Eichele for SUST 210

When I first began using the Elgin O’Hare expressway here in the Chicago region, the road was not heavily congested during rush hour or any other time. I remember noticing over time that new mammals, birds, and reptiles would arrive in the wetlands near the Lake Street exit. I now realize the area was slowly recovering from the original construction of the Elgin O’Hare. I vividly recall seeing the first hawk on a light post and thinking about how it had adapted to the presence of the road in the urban landscape. The following year I would see a couple more, and eventually I saw them on almost every light post. This year, though, I haven’t seen one.

The Elgin O’Hare Expressway opened on November 2, 1993, with two eastbound and two westbound lanes. It stretched from Lake Street to Route 53 and was jokingly dubbed the “Road to Nowhere,” since it didn’t go to either Elgin or O’Hare Airport.

This year the Elgin O’Hare, soon to be renamed Route 390, is under construction set to end in 2025, major effort known as the Elgin O’Hare Western Access (EOWA) expansion project. The IL Department of Transportation boasts that it will:

  • save drivers $145 million in time and fuel by 2040
  • decrease local rush hour traffic by 16%
  • decrease local road delays by 24%
  • reduce travel time from Lake Street to the west side of O’Hare Airport by 25%
  • reduce travel time at I-290/Thorndale by 35%
  • add around 17 miles of toll roads/15 new interchanges
  • “improve mobility, freight connectivity and enhance the national and regional economies”
Proposed Elgin O'Hare Expressway

Proposed Elgin O’Hare Expressway

To minimize impact on surrounding homes and businesses, the expansion needs to go through land currently undeveloped. According to the EOWA EPA Report, new roads will impact 24.85 acres of jurisdictional wetlands and 2.97 acres of jurisdictional streams.

EOWA has a three-year agreement with the University of Illinois to ensure that this project is the “cleanest and greenest” in the agency’s history. They will use Federal Highway Administration’s INVEST self-evaluation tool to ensure the project is sustainable for years to come. The EOWA project accommodates future transit options like bus systems, a possible Metra line connecting suburbs, and new bike/pedestrian paths.

Despite the green initiatives, I still question if this expansion is the best idea. Although the thought is the expansion will eventually lead to more public transportation options, easier expressway travel could lead to an increase in expressway usage. While everything sounds good in theory, the traffic scholar Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (2008), would argue that more roads do the exact opposite – they just bring more traffic. I wonder if the hawks will be lining the streets again in 10 years?

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Communities, Elgin, News, Planning, Students, Sustainability, Transportation | Tagged

Beekeeping: Making Honey in its Purest Form

by Ardena Doss for SUST 210

Beekeeper Kevin MacGregor inspects hives Wednesday at the Hanover Park Community Apiary. (Stacy Wescott, Chicago Tribune)

Beekeeper Kevin MacGregor inspects hives Wednesday at the Hanover Park Community Apiary. (Stacy Wescott, Chicago Tribune)

Healthy eating has become more then a buzzword. Communities are finding ways to grow organic foods and to service their neighboring communities. Schaumburg is no stranger to being a progressive thinker when it comes to sustainability. Among its initiatives is constructing an infrastructure to house bees, for the purpose of harvesting honey for the community. According to the article, “Schaumburg’s Plan for a Bee Yard Doesn’t Fly with Neighbors,” published in the Chicago Tribune back in March of 2013 and written by Sally Ho, “the Schaumburg Village Board approved the new public beehive haven – a 1,600-square-foot, fenced-in area at the edge of a 16-acre lot where residents can apply to keep up to three honeybee hives.” A major significant of Schaumburg’s expansion will allow individual residents to maintain their own bees and harvest their own honey. This effort denotes being proactive in securing a sustainable future while providing food that has a nutritional value.

In the United States of America obesity is a major concern. In order to address obesity, we need to address how food is manufactured. Harvesting honey from bees is an alternative to artificial sweeteners, such as fructose syrup. As we have learned in our SUST 210 course, the consumption of food should involve calories that have good nutritional value (Pollen, “Farmer in Chief”, 2008). Moreover, reducing the use of fossil fuel can be accomplished by utilizing nature’s natural production of food, such as harvesting honey from beehive havens.

Picture of beehives and Kevin MacGregor

Picture of beehives and Kevin MacGregor

Public beehive havens are not a new concept in the Midwest. Hanover Park Community Apiary was instrumental in Schaumburg’s decision to build a new public beehive. According to the Cook – Dupage Beekeepers Association website, Hanover Park Community Apiary “is the first publicly-sponsored apiary in the Midwest . . . [that] provides a convenient and secure hive location for Chicago area beekeepers.” Raising bees can be seen by some as a threat to a community, but if the beehive havens are carefully managed they can be a healthy alternative to the ecosystem. The benefits of constructing public beehive havens may one day reduce the fear of bees that is embedded within society and prove to be worth the investment in other suburbs. Isolation and control are essential to breeding bees and to harvesting honey efficiently and safely.

Sources

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Agriculture, Communities, Food, Landscaping, Schaumburg, Students, Sustainability | Tagged

Flood Water Mitigation For Park Ridge IL

by Oskar Bednarek for SUST 210

Residents in the Chicago suburbs of Niles and Park Ridge have to contend with super storms and flood waters on what seems like a yearly basis. The flood of 2013 was unprecedented in magnitude, closing down Golf Road, a main artery that is frequently traveled by thousands of drivers. Oakton Community College saw its parking lot well up with water, effectively closing down the school for a week. River Road, ironically, was dealt the same fate, as the Des Plaines River runs alongside it. This sight isn’t news for the residents in the surrounding area, but with the frequency and scope of the floods it’s a surprise that there isn’t a flood mitigation plan in order.

Floods like these delay traffic, force commuters off of familiar roads, and prevent services like ambulances from taking the easiest way to their location; and lets not forget the damage done to homeowners’ properties. It’s enough to make one ask, what exactly is being done to resolve this crisis?

As it turns out, Park Ridge is tackling this problem head-on according to Jon Davis’ article in the Chicago Tribune from 15 August 2014, with several stormwater projects in the pipeline that will hopefully put an end, or at least abate, future floods. While the efforts are promising, it’s taking longer than expected to execute the projects. With each passing year, another flood swamps the area. Among the projects listed are the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s Dempster Street Sewer Project, the Mayfield Estate storm sewers, and the Northwestern Park project.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Dempster Street project aims to extend the street’s sewer pipe to take in extra stormwater deposits. The MWRD operates in 98 percent of Cook County and was established to deal with sewage and wastewater matters. The pumping stations the district utilizes provide ample power in getting stormwater out of troubled zones and to wastewater treatment facilities, which clean up all incoming wastewater before releasing it into area rivers and canals.

As Davis notes, the engineering firm of Christopher Burke was put on duty to develop a flood water mitigation plan back in 2009, and has drafted plans for the Mayfield Estate and Northwestern Park projects. The first could proceed a couple of different ways, from the least expensive detention basin, to the more expensive underground vault. The underground water storage chamber’s basic aim is to collect surface water, and it could also be fitted with a filtration system to separate the waste from the water. There are certain benefits to having underground storage. For one, it’s underground, and doesn’t leave its residents with an eyesore.

Another reason is the depth and soil temperature reduce bacterial growth in these tanks. A water detention surface basin is also on the table as an option. It comes at half the cost of the underground water storage system. While it may be cheaper, the detention basin comes with a different kind of cost related to sustainability. Detention basins, unlike retention basins, provide a limited amount of treatment for incoming stormwater. They’re effective in storing and slowing the flow of floodwater, but don’t provide the benefits that can come with the underground storage facilities.

The Northwestern Park Project is projected to have a surface detention pond installed, along with storm sewers, that lead into it. These are just two of the projects proposed that aim to alleviate floodwater from “10 to 100-year-storms.” The projects are still in the works and it will be a while before the financial, zoning, and district issues are resolved.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Communities, Education, Schaumburg, Students, Sustainability, Water | Tagged

Composting Big Time in Beantown: What MA is Doing with Their Leftovers and Other Stories

by Anna McColgan for SUST 240

Massachusetts is a state steeped in history. From sports teams to educational institutions, we pride ourselves largely on our past. Despite this persistent culture of nostalgia, some recent news may be placing Massachusetts closer to the front of the waste diversion movement. According to the article “Massachusetts’ New Composting Rules: What They Really Mean,” published in The Boston Globe and written by Chris Perdik, Massachusetts is banning the disposal of organic waste exceeding one ton per week in landfills, in the hopes of establishing an infrastructure that enables the majority of organic waste, at least that produced at the commercial level, to be composted. The article outlines a number of challenges that may come along with this new regulation.

Firstly, Perdik addresses the issue of consumer knowledge and behavior by interviewing Matthew King, the food service director at the New England Aquarium, which has been composting its organic waste for the past four years. King discusses the difficulty of having individuals misunderstand the separation process, not knowing what to put in the compost, what the compost is, or where it goes. “The sorting is easy to control with our staff,” he says, “because you have a limited number of people to train. With the public, it’s like you have to train every one of them.”

Massive piles at the WM large-scale compost site on Chicago’s far South Side (A. McColgan, 2014)

Massive piles at the WM large-scale compost site on Chicago’s far South Side (A. McColgan, 2014)

This is a persistent issue with many sustainability efforts. Our SUST 240 Waste & Consumption class witnessed this firsthand when we toured a Waste Management recycling sorting center on the far South Side of Chicago and even when touring the waste facilities of our own university. Folks just don’t know how or what to recycle sometimes, even if they might have good intentions. And therein also lies an inherent conflict in the desire and necessity to make diversion simple and accessible for consumers and making it an effective process. The concept of single-stream recycling — where residents put everything in one bin and where materials are sorted at the centralized recycling centers — makes it a lot more possible for the majority of the citizenry to participate in movements toward sustainability, but causes a slew of other problems on the sorting end of the recycling process, as we saw during our tour: from putting the wrong stuff in the bin to contamination to leaving recycling in plastic bags that inevitably clog sorting machines.

So while we are consistently left with a question of how to make recycling accessible and also effective, this focus on individual behavior at the point of disposal does not address some of the bigger problems with the way we handle waste. This is why laws like that being enacted by Massachusetts that place the onus on commercial producers to divert large percentages of waste can be so beneficial.

But another question that this article poses in regards to the new regulation is, where to take the food waste? At this time, there are not sufficient external composting facilities to meet the coming demand in Massachusetts for food waste disposal, and the process is not an easy one. Our class had the chance to visit an industrial-scale composting farm and saw massive piles of mostly yard and some food waste in various stages of decomposition. The one pile that looked the most like usable soil had been in process for at least a year.

Piles of shredded currency found at WM's compost site on Chicago's far South Side (photo: A. McColgan, 2014)

Piles of shredded currency found at WM’s compost site on Chicago’s far South Side (photo: A. McColgan, 2014)

But the most interesting thing we found while touring their facilities was an astounding amount of shredded currency, some in large piles, some spread along the ground, presumably taken out of circulation by the Federal Reserve and shipped there for disposal. This oddity pointed to one of the biggest questions I ask myself when scrolling through news articles about new waste diversion efforts (a frequent pastime, of course), which is simply: who’s getting paid?

There is a substantial history of folks in the environmental movement trying to make sustainability a fiscally beneficial enterprise for businesses, but that changes the way that waste diversion gets done. For example, the new organic material being diverted from landfills in Massachusetts and shuttled to a centralized location for industrial-scale composting itself requires the use of resources (such as fuel) and produces various types of waste. If it weren’t profitable for Waste Management and other haulers to do this — make compost and sell it to consumers — it may not have been diverted at all. As a Bostonian myself, I’ll be interested to see how Massachusetts chooses to grapple with these many challenges in the implementation of this new law.

This still leaves the question for all advocates of environmental sustainability to incorporate into our already hyper-complicated dialogue: is making sustainability profitable really ever going to change the material consumption and waste production patterns of the United States that make our future tenuous? And if not, then can we make change without someone making a profit?

Source: Berdik, C. (2014, September 28). Massachusetts’ New Composting Rules: What They Really Mean; How a Regulation Designed to Keep Food Waste out of Landfills Will Affect Restaurants, Supermarkets, and You. The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 12, 2014, from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-37221684.html

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Business, Education, News, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste | Tagged

Listen to the Worms! Getting Started with Vermicomposting

by Alyssa Carabez for SUST 240

A Facebook status post from a co-worker inquiring if any friends wanted a “free composting bin complete with worms and soil to get you started” prompted my curiosity. Sarah is a bartender at the restaurant where I work. She has been worm composting for the past four years and offered both a gander at her worms and some words of advice on a pleasant, autumn evening.

Sarah's worm composting bin (photo: A. Carabez)

Sarah’s worm composting bin (photo: A. Carabez)

Sarah has resided in the neighborhood of Rogers Park, a few blocks from Loyola University’s lakeshore campus, for over a decade. She credits her interest in sustainability to her earth-minded parents. Her parents composted (without worms), raised goats and rabbits, and grew various fruits and vegetables at their home in Michigan. She notes how they taught her to have a respectful, conscious relationship with food. She gushed about the closed cycle in her home that having worms provides: the composted soil goes into her garden and potted plants and then the food is eaten by humans and worms and so on.

Here are some worm composting basics from Sarah:

  • Bedding, like shredded newspaper or cardboard, surrounding your worms and their dirt should always be kept moist.
  • Feed worms (depending on how many you have, of course) about half a pound of food a day. You’ll know if you gave them too much that day as fruit flies will surely gather.
  • Do not feed your worms spicy food, animal products, or cooked food. Raw fruit and vegetable waste is ideal. Some say to not feed them citrus foods due to the acidity, but hers enjoy them in small amounts. Egg shells are okay, as well as some coffee grounds, but not too much as it makes them wired just like people — “just listen to the worms!”
  • Be sure to keep worms insulated in the winter, in a cool or air conditioned space in the summer, and in a container in which they are able to breathe. She used a simple Tupperware storage bin with holes drilled throughout.
  • There will be leakage so prepare for that at the bottom of your bin. It should have a “healthy earthy smell.” If it’s stinky something is wrong; you more than likely gave too much food to your worms that day.

From more information to get started on your own worm composting bin, check out this link from the Cornell Waste Management Institute.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Education, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste | Tagged