Waste and the Single (K) Cup

by Sarah Tag for SUST 240

A Keurig coffee brewing machine, in action (photo: R.J. Huneke)

A Keurig coffee brewing machine, in action (R.J. Huneke)

If you are a coffee drinker, you almost certainly know what Keurig machines are: single-serve coffee brewing systems produced for home and commercial use. They function using small, air-tight plastic containers, called K-cups, that are sealed with coffee filters and ground coffee inside. When you want to brew a fresh cup of coffee, you place a K-cup into the brewer, it pierces a hole in the top and bottom, and forces hot water through, which then drains into your coffee cup. Keurig has become a huge success and has transformed the coffee experience for almost a third of Americans, according to a recent article in The Atlantic.

Photo: Global News (Canada)

Photo: Global News (Canada)

So why is it that John Sylvan, creator of the Keurig, doesn’t even own one? In 1997, Sylvan sold his share of the company for $50,000, and now he regrets that just a bit, as it is worth billions now. But that bothers him less than the environmental concerns that they pose. A recent article by James Hamblin in The Atlantic not only states that Sylvan claims they are expensive, but he is also feeling badly about inventing the machine at all. This is because the K-cups have received increasing criticism as being a bane to the Earth since they are not recyclable or biodegradable, and therefore “generate a ton of waste” according to a Boston Globe Magazine article.

In 2012 the patent on the K-cups expired and many off-brand competitors inundated the market, some with biodegradable or reusable versions. This has made it easy for critics to maintain that Keurig doesn’t prioritize sustainability, despite claims on their web page. Keurig’s web page links to their sustainability report in which they pledge to make a fully recyclable K-cup by the year 2020. Sylvan says that this is impossible, though, as “the plastic is a specialized plastic made of four different layers.” Integrated within are a filter, grounds, and a plastic foil top, which makes it extremely difficult to separate the materials for proper recycling.

In 2012, Monique Oxender joined Keurig’s team as their Chief Sustainability Officer. With regard to the K-cup problem she was quoted as saying, “We’re not happy with where we are either. We have to get a solution, and we have to get it in place quickly.” However, she and other proponents point out that single-serve coffee brewers save energy over standard coffee brewers as they do not stay turned on to keep a pot warm. They also extract the grounds more efficiently, which is significant considering that coffee beans are a very water-intensive crop. It should also be noted that in brewing complete pots of coffee, households usually end up tossing 12 to 15 percent of the pot, which represents 25 liters of water, based on Keurig Green Mountain’s calculations.

Keurig has been claiming to be working on their waste issue for five years now. They will need to move more swiftly, though. Though backlash continues, so does the popularity of the product. And as Keurig’s popularity increases, K-cup waste will do the same. 2020 appears to be very far away.

Each week during the Fall 2014 / Spring 2015 semesters, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Economics, Education, Food, News, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste

Recycling as a Carrot (Not a Stick)

by MaryBeth Radeck for SUST 240

Radeck blog image 1 carrotOver the last five years around the country, cities have been penalizing households for ignoring their civic duty to recycle through fines for not recycling. $100 fines to households in Cleveland and whopping $500 fines in San Francisco are levied for ignoring laws on recycling and composting. Punitive, yes. But for good reason. Stowing trash in landfills contributes to global climate change and as landfills settle, toxic wastes leach into the water table, polluting ground and drinking water. It’s senseless and also a waste of limited resources. In 2009, only 34% of waste was recovered, leaving $7 billion of recyclables in landfills, according to America the Beautiful.

The cost to stash trash in landfills not only damages the environment, it eats into municipal budgets and eventually causes tax hikes. A City of St. Louis analysis compared recycling versus landfills and found substantial savings of over $1M per year made possible by a 25% increase in recycling. In addition, the city stands to earn income from selling reclaimed waste and tax income from attracting recycling businesses to St. Louis. Businesses would bring jobs to the area as well. Economically, recycling makes good sense. But forcing it with fines? How about becoming a positive force in the community, instead?

Radeck blog image 2 truck

Houston garbage trucks promote recycling

New, fun ways to make recycling popular are gaining traction in pockets around the country. According to blogger Anna Clark, the City of Houston partners with the Houston Arts Alliance to decorate their fleet of recycling trucks, converting them into moving artworks which promote curbside recycling.

Sculpture at the Lincoln City Art Park made from reclaimed materials from RecycleHere!

Sculpture at the Lincoln City Art Park made from reclaimed materials from RecycleHere!

Detroit, too, ties the art community into recycling. Since they have no curbside service, residents drop off goods at a non-profit called Recycle Here! Their location offers the experience of seeing goods upcycled as sculpture nearby, and the opportunity to attend performances by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and even a production by Shakespeare in Detroit. Recycling has become upcycling–and it’s fun.

Fun with recycling can also be educational and profitable for consumers, not just municipalities. Recyclebank links retail stores, consumers, and municipalities through an incentive program which pays consumers back for recycling. Points are redeemable at national stores like Target, Whole Foods, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as at local establishments. Recyclebank educates visitors and also offers sustainable products for purchase directly from their website. Visitors can even earn points from learning about recycling from interactive games on the site itself or from sending in their eWaste to gain points.

As time goes by, there is hope that more and more creative ways to reclaim and reuse items, instead of burying them underground, will be discovered — perhaps by someone in your neighborhood!

Matthew Naimi of Recycle Here!, in front of a piece done by Brown Bag Detroit

Matthew Naimi of Recycle Here!, in front of a piece done by Brown Bag Detroit

Each week during the Fall 2014 / Spring 2015 semesters, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in Economics, Education, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste

Plots Still Available for the RU Community Garden at the Schaumburg Campus!

Roosevelt University’s Physical Resources Department is coordinating the Schaumburg campus’ RUrbanPioneer Community Garden for the 2015 growing season. This is the garden’s fourth year and its leadership team, led by senior SUST major and Environmental Sustainability Associate Mary Rasic, is excited to get started. Currently (as of Friday, March 13th), there are seven (7) plots still available for 2015.

All members of the Roosevelt community who are interested in access to fresh, organic produce are welcome to participate. Garden members tend their own plots and participate in community tasks from early spring through November.

The RU community garden in 2014 (M. Rasic)

The RU community garden in 2014 (M. Rasic)

Last year, the garden team installed a drip irrigation system making each plot customizable to suit individual gardeners’ needs. They continue to learn and experiment with procedures, techniques, and equipment to make for a sustainable gardening. Each year the garden has produced fresh veggies and herbs for the Schaumburg Campus dining center, and gardeners have donated many pounds of produce to local food pantries in the Schaumburg area.

If you have any questions or would like to reserve your plot(s), please email Mary Rasic at Mrasic02@roosevelt.edu and she will be happy to assist you. We think you can tell by the photo below that a good time is pretty much guaranteed!

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski work in the RU community garden, summer 2014

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski work in the RU community garden, summer 2014; cool sunglasses are always a plus.

Posted in Agriculture, Education, Food, Gardening, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Setting a Sustainable Example: Local Businesses Strive to Reduce Food Waste

by Michelle Trispel for SUST 240

In an average American trash can, one is likely to find a combination of two things: food and packaging. When mixed together, these otherwise useful materials become trash. “Together, food and packaging/containers account for almost 45% of the materials landfilled in the United States” (EPA). Food and the packaging it is sold in accounts for the majority of waste produced by homes and restaurants in the United States. From field to plate and everywhere in between, much of the food being grown in this country will be wasted. There are, however, solutions to our food/packaging waste dilemma. Whether you are a food producer, restaurant, grocery store, or homeowner, you can turn wasted food into valuable resources.

In this TEDx Talk, Natural Resources Defense Council’s executive director Peter Lehner illustrates the issues related to food waste along with potential solutions to this problem. Lehner states that although “40% of the food grown in this country isn’t eaten,” there are low-tech solutions to our food waste dilemma.

Many homes and businesses are doing their part to reduce their waste and create a model of sustainability for the rest of us to strive for. In our region, we have businesses that are setting a positive example of sustainability. Local locations of Whole Foods Market have implemented programs in their stores to not only properly recycle containers, but also to reduce food waste. Whole Foods Market in Schaumburg has been composting in store since 2011. Not only does Whole Foods compost within their store, they also provide customers with the tools they need to create their own home compost.

Local restaurants such as Chicago’s’ Sandwich Me In have have implemented a zero waste policy. This local restaurant values its sustainable practices and have created a model for other restaurants to follow. This video provides more information on the trash free story of this Chicago Restaurant.

If large grocery stores and local restaurants can reduce their food waste, so can everyone else. As consumers we can learn to reduce our personal waste. While large-scale business will produce more waste, even our home kitchen waste has an impact. Every little bit counts.

Tips for reducing your food and packaging waste:

  • Support local business that value sustainable waste practices.
  • Shop smart — buying in bulk (especially if using your own container) will greatly reduce the packaging you toss each week.
  • Make a list — only buy what you need and use what you have first. How often do you find food that’s gone bad in the back of the fridge?
  • Bring your own container when you are grocery shopping or eating out.
  • BYOB (bring you own bags) — Disposable plastic bags are out! In some places they are even banned.
  • Recycle & compost –- Materials that we throw away do not have to me “waste.” Properly recycling or composting items in our trashcan can transform these items transformed into valuable resources.

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

Posted in Business, Chicago, Food, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste

Oak Park and River Forest Sustainability Plan: PlanItGreen

by Akilah Mitchell for SUST 240

Oak Park and River Forest are two of many western suburbs in the Chicago area on the rise toward becoming a sustainable community. They’ve currently have set in stone a 10-year plan to make their towns greener known as PlanItGreen, which is associated with the OPRF Foundation, Seven Generations Ahead, and several more organizaitons. This plan was developed in June of 2011 with proposals on making Oak Park and River Forest sustainable. To get this project going they set categories in each area that are important to address, such as education, energy, waste, water and many more. In each of these categories there are set goals to accomplish to transform the community into an environmental friendly town. A more in-depth explanation of the PlanItGreen is stated here:

PlanItGreen Sustainability Plan reduces the environmental footprint and advances common sustainabil­ity objectives of Oak Park and River Forest through 2020. Phase 1 of PlanItGreen began in August, 2010 with the aggregation of baseline metrics on community resource use conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology. Phase 2, led by SGA in collaboration with the Delta Institute, included a multi-faceted commu­nity engagement process resulting in the development of a final plan with goals, targets, and strategies in nine sustainability topic areas.

One of the many steps in PlanItGreen involves reducing waste. The two goals for waste includes diverting the community residence waste from landfills by 50% by 2015 and 62% by 2020, and decreasing overall waste created by 1% annually. The most up to date numbers are from this Community Sustainability Report Card 2012.

For the first goal: diverting waste from landfills involves the strategies of recycling, diversion of construction debris, and encouraging composting by families. Each strategy is not solely depended upon the town itself, but it educates and encourages the residents of the town to get involved with the plan, too. The strategies for the second goal of waste reduction are again focused on diversion of construction debris and composting. For the first strategy they want to develop a Building Reuse Material Resource Center for the towns. For a more detailed look at both goals and strategies, consult the Oak Park River Forest Sustainability Plan.

To continue watching the progress on the Oak Park and River Forest sustainability plan, go to Seven Generations Ahead to keep up to date with their activities and initiatives. Soon they will be making a report card to show the progress in 2014!

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

Posted in Communities, Oak Park, Planning, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste

Smog, Pollution, and Improving the Chicago Region’s Air Quality

by Melanie Blume for SUST 240

Smog over Chicago IL (photo: Storm Williams, ENN)

Smog over Chicago IL (photo: Storm Williams, ENS)

Ever wondered where that smog we see hanging over the city in the morning actually comes from? And what happens when we breathe it in? The collective cloud is referred to as particle pollution. It’s a gaseous mix of chemicals and minute debris. The truth isn’t always pretty, but it’s got very real health consequences for people who live in smog-polluted areas: cancers, reproductive problems, asthma, and heart disease.

The American Lung Association has a program that reveals air quality reports around the United States called State of the Air. In 2014, State of the Air gave Chicago a failing grade for particle pollution as well as unsafe ozone levels. Another resource for the public is scorecard.org, which gives information based on zip codes of pollution sources and levels. It includes air and water pollution and even names the companies who pollute the most in that area.

Scorecard.org uses data complied by the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Companies by law are required to submit their chemical emissions to the TRI. In Cook County, the Corn Products Argo Plant in Bedford Park takes the title for the heaviest toxic air releases. They reported air releases of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, N-hexane, hydrofluoric acid, lead compounds, mercury compounds, and ammonia adding up to 1,123,016 lbs. of pollutants.

While this list of chemicals doesn’t mean much to the average nonchemist, hydrochloric acid is ranked as one of the most hazardous compounds (worst 10%) to human health and the overall ecosystem (scorecard.org).

Despite being overlooked because it’s not entirely visible, air pollution has serious consequences. The American Lung Association reports that air pollution is linked to “increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs.” Cancer or asthma from extended exposure from general air quality is impossible to prove in terms of pinpoint the exact cause, but we’ve seen a clear enough trend to realize what happens when we breathe in toxic chemicals and particulates.

Nationally, the EPA sets the standards and uses the TRI data to make feasible benchmarks for industries to comply with. Change in air quality is assessed by the EPA and revisited every five years. The EPA is responsible for setting national air quality standards under the Clean Air Act that was enacted to improve air quality and protect public health “with an adequate margin of safety.”

On a much more local level, Chicago has its own action plan. As a response to our failing air quality grade in Chicago, solutions are being proposed. Mayor Emanuel wants clear data on air quality and sources to improve the efficacy of any changes he can implement. Amina Elahi, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune‘s Blue Sky Innovation, wrote about Chicago’s plan to implement a high tech data collection system that will improve public health and safety.

The project is called Array of Things and will start rolling out at the end of this year. The goal is use technology to make better decisions in terms of Chicago’s overall sustainability. Devices mounted on lampposts will monitor air pollution and a free downloadable app will show pedestrians which route avoids the most air pollution to their destination. This database will remotely collect a plethora of information that will provide the city with solid data that’s necessary in making crucial decisions affecting public health.

Even if this program doesn’t turn out to be as successful as one might hope, it is nonetheless progress in the right direction. Public awareness about air pollution, its consequences, and its potential solutions is a critical component to changing our the quality of our environment for the better.

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

Posted in Chicago, Pollution, Science, Students, Sustainability, Waste

Hope for Illinois’ Jeopardized Electronics Recycling Programs

by Tiffany Mucci for SUST 240

Last week brought a glimmer of hope for Illinois’ electronic waste recycling program. Lauren Leone-Cross reported in the Joliet Herald-News on Tuesday, February 10th, of the filing of House Bill 1455, which has local governments crossing their fingers that electronics manufacturers’ state-mandated goals will be significantly increased to help fund the program. This recycling program, an outcome of the 2012 Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, was proving to be highly effective until last year, when manufacturers met annual goals earlier than expected. The emergence of this predicament is explained in further detail in this SUST blog post from November 15th, 2014, “Will County E-Waste Recycling Program’s Future Uncertain”.

Dean Olson, head of Will County’s Resource Recovery and Energy Division, told Leone-Cross that “he and other local governments initially wanted the weight goal raised to 100 percent, but representatives from the Illinois Manufacturers Association were opposed, so compromise bills have been drafted.” Currently, manufacturers are required to pay into the recycling program until they meet 50 percent, by weight, of electronics sold in Illinois two years ago.

The hitch is that new electronics have become ever lighter year by year, making it easier for manufacturers to meet their quotas, and for this reason recycling programs across the state are in trouble. The proposed compromise would bring state-mandated goals up to 80 percent.

For now, municipalities are doing what they can to keep recycling events from disappearing altogether. In a related article published by Leone-Cross in the Joliet Herald-News last month, Olson announced that Will County’s collection events will be decreased from six days to two days for this entire year in an effort to avoid costs, adding that “Lake County, having been in a similar situation, pulled $200,000 from savings to subsidize its own electronics recycling program.”

The Orland Township electronics recycling drop-off site is closed. Last year, a half-million pounds of electronics were recycled.  (Photo: Gary Middendorf, Daily Southtown)

The Orland Township electronics recycling drop-off site is closed. Last year, a half-million pounds of electronics were recycled. (Photo: Gary Middendorf, Daily Southtown)

If this weren’t enough disappointment, just one day before House Bill 1455 was filed, Susan DeMar Lafferty published an article to the Chicago Tribune’s website to report that Orland Township’s once lively electronics recycling center has closed its doors until further notice. Illinois’ recycling program has officially become unaffordable for local governments, and this problem is evidence that manufacturers’ participation is integral to managing our e-waste.

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

Posted in Economics, News, Recycling, Students, Sustainability, Waste, Will County