The online registration for the fall Illinois EPA-Sponsored One-Day Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event in Champaign County will open on Monday, September 23, at 8 a.m. The link to the online registration system is http://hhwevent.simplybook.me/. The collection event will take place on Saturday, October 26, in Champaign. Residents can find drop-off location information on the registration website.
This drop-off event is open to all Illinois residents. Residents must register for an appointment in order to attend. On September 23, residents can reserve one of the available 15-minute time slots between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Immediately upon reserving a time, a confirmation email and/or text message will be sent. The resident will also receive a postcard in the U.S. Mail five to seven days before the event which serves as their “ticket” into the event.
ECEC19 will be held on May 21-22, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, IL. This year the conference will expand beyond the aquatic environment to also include air and soil studies along with effects on human and animal health.
The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.
Researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, regulatory agencies, policy makers, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, members of the general public, and medical, veterinary, and public health professionals are encouraged to attend the conference.
Those of us in the Great Lakes region (and the rest of the US and Canada) live in a so-called “throw-away society” in which consumerism is rampant, and goods are not often designed or produced with durability in mind. In fact, in recent years, more and more goods are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disposable. Even complex products, such as consumer electronics, are treated as if they are meant to be ephemeral. The classic example is the smartphone. These devices are astounding feats of scientific innovation and engineering. For perspective, consider ZME Science’s article from September 2017: Your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computing in 1969. Despite their complexity, and the fact that you, and probably everyone you know, barely scratch the surface in terms of using these devices to their full potential, we are constantly bombarded with cues to upgrade to the latest model. And new models seem to be released ever more frequently, always being touted as somehow greatly more advanced than their predecessors. A simpler example is clothing–when was the last time you sewed up or patched a hole in a shirt or pair of pants? Something that once would have been done by most people as a matter of course might now be deemed peculiar. A modern member of our culture might wonder why one would bother to patch a pair of pants when a new pair could be obtained so cheaply.
Our “take-make-dispose” model can also be called a linear economy, and the message you receive in such a system is clear: if you have something that becomes damaged or has minor performance issues, you should just replace it. In fact, even if what you have is working well, the time will quickly come when you should just replace the old with the new. Replace, rinse, and repeat. A linear economy is one in which natural resources are extracted and used to create goods which will entirely, or partially, inevitably end up in landfills or incinerators. Some materials may be recovered and recycled, but over time these materials degrade in quality and are used for increasingly lower grade purposes, so that ultimately they will become waste, of little or no further use.
Of course, in order to replace whatever is being disposed of, new goods are required. And those new goods require as much or more resources as the ones that went before them–new minerals and other raw materials must be extracted. Extraction processes can have negative environmental and social impacts (e.g. pollution, habitat destruction, human rights issues related to labor practices, health issues related to exposure to chemicals or physical risks, etc.). Materials are transported to factories (requiring the use of energy in the form of fuel) where they are transformed into new products, again potentially with new human exposures to toxins or other adverse conditions, and potential new emissions of toxins or other substances of concern. In the case of products such as electronics, sometimes components are manufactured in places distant from each other and must be further transported to be brought together in yet another factory to create a complete device. And the finished product is in turn transported across the globe to reach consumers, resulting in more expenditure of energy, more emissions. By the time most products reach the consumer, a great deal of natural and human resources have been invested in them, and however positively the product itself may impact a human life or the broader ecosystem, the number of potential negative impacts all along the supply chain have stacked up. Clearly, any tendency to treat products as disposable, purposefully or incidentally, exacerbates those negative impacts by requiring the manufacture of more products, more quickly than might otherwise have been the case, as long as the demand for product does not diminish.
The tragedy of this linear cycle of use and disposal has lead to the advocacy for a circular economy–one in which extraction of resources is minimized and products and services are designed in such a way as to maximize the flow of materials through resource loops as close to perpetually as physically possible. In such a system, what might have once been considered “waste” continues to be valued in some form or another. A circular economy is built upon design for durability, reuse, and the ability to keep products in service for as long as possible, followed by the ability to effectively reclaim, reuse and recycle materials.
There are many barriers to repair, including costs (real or perceived), knowledge, confidence in those performing the repair (one’s self or someone else), and access to tools, instruction manuals and repair code meanings which tell technicians exactly what the problem is so they can address it. Manufacturers of a variety of products, particular those with electronic components (everything from automobiles to cell phones to tractors) have come under pressure in recent years over the attempt to monopolize access to parts, tools, and necessary information for performing repairs, leading to what is called the Right to Repair movement. Currently, 18 US states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and New York in the Great Lakes region, have introduced “fair repair” bills which would require manufacturers of various products to make those tools, parts, and pieces of information accessible to consumer and third-party repair shops. You can read more about the history of the right to repair movement and right to repair legislation on the Repair Association web site.
In an increasing number of communities around the world, citizens are coming together to share their knowledge, tools, and problem-solving skills to help each other repair every day items for free. I’m writing this on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and here are some examples of local projects that can help you repair the items you own:
Illini Gadget Garage. This one’s my favorite, but I’m admittedly biased, since I helped launch this project and coordinated it for the past few years. The IGG is a collaborative repair center for personally-owned electronic devices and small appliances. “Collaborative repair” means that project staff and volunteers don’t repair your device for you; rather they work with you to troubleshoot and repair your device. Assistance is free; consumers are responsible for purchasing their own parts if needed, though staff can help determine what parts might be necessary. In addition to working with consumers by appointment at their campus workshop, the IGG crew conduct “pop-up” repair clinics in various public spaces around the Champaign-Urbana community and across campus. Consumers not only benefit from the “do-it-together” approach, they also get access to specialized tools (e.g. soldering irons, pentalobe screwdrivers, heat guns, etc.) that enable device repair, which many folks wouldn’t have in their tool box at home. Though successful repair obviously can’t be guaranteed, project staff say that if it has a plug or electrical component, and you can carry into the shop (or pop-up), they’ll help you try to figure out and fix the problem.
The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign. Including both a downtown Urbana shop and a Campus Bike Center, this project provides tools and space for bicyclists to share knowledge and repair bicycles. This project sells refurbished bikes, and individuals who are willing to work on fixing up a donated bike (with assistance) can eventually purchase a bike at a discount. See https://thebikeproject.org/get-involved/join-the-bike-project/ for membership fees; an equity membership based on volunteer hours is available.
CU Community Fab Lab. Though technically a makerspace, this project provides access to a variety of tools that individuals may not own themselves, as well as a community of tinkerers and creative minds to foster sharing of knowledge. See http://cucfablab.org/inside-the-lab/tools/ for available tools. Note that some fees may apply for consumable materials. Workshops are also offered to help you learn various skills. The Fab Lab is free to anyone in the community during open hours.
Restart Project. Focused on electronics, this is a UK project, but you can host a “restart party” anywhere, and some K-12 schools, including some in the US are integrating restart centers to help teach repair skills and instill ideas of sustainability among students.
A sustainability gem hides in Champaign, just east Neil Street and the Springfield Avenue viaduct. Tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript strip mall, The IDEA Store, an “eco-edu-art marketplace,” has set the standard for creative reuse retail in downstate Illinois. Any preconceived notions one may have about traditional secondhand shopping will be suspended the second they walk into this expertly-curated hub of reusable goods.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Margaret Golden, ISTC Intern
Co-founded by Carol Jo Morgan in 2010, the IDEA Store accepts items that would normally be thrown in the trash and gives them a second life. This isn’t your average thrift shop. The IDEA Store exists more as a testament to the benefits of sustainability. Its specialty is showcasing how almost any household item has the potential for reuse, encouraging the community to refrain from contributing to landfill growth.
“My favorite thing about working here, of all the awesome things, is seeing people’s faces when they come in the door,” says the Idea Store’s Retail Manager Jessy Ruddell. “When you see one bottle cap, it doesn’t seem awesome, it seems like trash or recycling. But when you get a collection of bottle caps together, it can really inspire people creatively.”
The shop is filled with typical household items as well as more unexpected discoveries. You can find school supplies next to glass slides donated by the University of Illinois’ Art History department. A bin of rubber stamps is an aisle down from a collection of disconnected keyboard keys. There are greeting cards, yarn, fabric, candles, magazines, records, instruments, office supplies, metals, and even home improvement materials. The most interesting item the store has received? “We once had someone donate a desiccated tarantula,” Morgan said, in between bouts of laughter. “And it sold for $20!”
Morgan, who received her master’s in Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, has some advice for other retail outlets looking to incorporate sustainability into their business plans. “We know that there are cottage industries that have sprung up as a result of the IDEA being here. When you think about it, the raw materials we supply are so inexpensive, it helps their profit margin,” Morgan explained. “We’ve provided a sustainable place for people to shop. People with budgets, people without budgets, there’s something for everyone. We’ve filled a niche. That is the secret of success in any kind of nonprofit or business. You look where the need is and you fill that.”
The IDEA Store won’t be located at its current Springfield Avenue location for much longer. Morgan and team are in the process of transitioning the store to a new location at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. To accommodate an exponential growth in donations, the Lincoln Square storefront will be three times larger than the current location. This will allow excess items currently stored in the warehouses to be sold on the floor. The location also makes it much easier to donate materials. Instead of having to physically bring their donations in and hand them off to volunteers, customers will be able to drive around to the back of the mall and simply ring the doorbell to have their items collected. Keep an eye out for the new store, which has a target opening date of late October.
A crowdfunding effort will be launched August 20th to support the financial cost of the IDEA Store’s big move. Community support ensures that the shop’s growth will be successful and smooth.
This annual upbeat reminder that “we use too much, buy too much, and toss too much” shines a light on a society that more and more gets it.
At our homes and schools, the interest and the opportunities for recycling keep growing, slowly. Here in Champaign, IL, two collection events this year gathered 146 tons of electronics for recycling.
But as much as we waste at home — over-consuming our disposable goods — that is a small fraction of the estimated volume of non-household waste (i.e. industrial, manufacturing, commercial, construction, mining, etc.).
A new analysis of winners of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award suggests many of those big players get it too. The number one sustainability initiatives by ISA winners was for waste reduction. When AbbVie took down three buildings on its North Chicago campus they wasted nothing. All of the metal was recycled and all of the masonry and concrete was crushed for current and future use.
Caterpillar, Inc. knows big. When its Surface Mining and Technology site in Decatur committed to a Zero Landfill goal, they created a by-product catalog, devising a “plan for every waste.” The result has been an average recycling rate in the 90s.
Dynamic Manufacturing Inc. in Melrose Park is in a recycling business of sorts. They restore used automotive transmissions and torque converters for reuse “as-new.” By installing a solvent recovery system, they now recycle 35,000 gallons for reuse on-site rather than transporting it for disposal.
What was number two? Maybe better news – process upgrades, optimization, and planning. These achievements eliminate waste before it exists. Here is where sustainable supply chains, sustainable product design, and better packaging open doors to easier recycling and hopes of a circular economy.
The third most prevalent achievement leading to a 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award was community involvement. That brings us back home. These companies value recycling and that is reinforced by employees and their communities. Marion automotive parts maker Aisin Manufacturing Illinois purchased four collection trailers for the Recycle Williamson County program. Caterpillar in Decatur encourages its employees to reduce waste and recycle by donating all recycling proceeds to local charities and agencies, also nominated by those workers.
Course overview: When thinking about how to decrease their own “carbon footprint,” or to improve the overall sustainability of our society, many people typically consider strategies involving reduction of consumption or resource use, or increased recycling and use of recycled materials. This course will focus on the often overlooked “third R,” reuse, and why it is an important component of sustainability. Students will be introduced to sustainability, the waste management hierarchy, and the circular economy. The course will explore different forms of reuse (e.g. repair, food recovery, etc.), and their economic, environmental, and social impacts. During the final session we’ll spend some time reflecting on the concepts covered throughout the course and students will brainstorm ideas for how they might apply those concepts to their own lives and/or communities—e.g. in day-to-day lifestyle choices, as part of their business or a volunteer effort, or in congregations or other groups in which they may participate. In other words, we’ll consider how you might take what you’ve learned and use it to be a force for positive change, or more broadly, how these concepts might be applied in the Champaign-Urbana area to make it a more sustainable place for all inhabitants.
Each 90-minute session will include lecture/discussion with roughly the last 20-30 minutes dedicated to questions and in-depth discussion. Course materials, including suggested readings and PDF versions of lecture slides, are made available to participants to download from a course web site. There are no assignments or grades–just learning for sake of learning.
Week 1 (Sept. 13): Sustainability and Circularity. An introduction to sustainability, the waste management hierarchy, and the circular economy. We’ll explore the differences between reuse and recycling, the environmental impacts of reuse (beyond solid waste reduction), as well as related concepts and terms, such as “zero waste,” “cradle to cradle,” “biomimicry,” etc.
Week 2 (Sept. 20): Design Paradigms: Durability vs. Disposability. An exploration of the origins of planned obsolescence, as well as related concepts like technological and perceived obsolescence, and what it all means in terms of the way we interact with products, both from the consumer and designer perspectives. We’ll look at examples of how some products are being designed with reuse and materials reclamation in mind.
Week 3 (Sept. 27): Repair is Noble. This tag line is used by the repair-oriented company iFixit to convey how repair is tied to values such as freedom, respect, and conservation. We’ll discuss the extension of the product life cycle through repair, and how that not only reduces solid waste generation, but also consumption of “embodied” resources. Case studies of projects tied to fostering repair will illustrate economic and social benefits through community building and making technology accessible to more people. The “Right to Repair” movement will be outlined, including relevant legislation (proposed or on the books) in various states, including IL. Related concepts, such as refurbishment and remanufacturing, will be defined.
Week 4 (Oct. 4): Feeding People, Not Landfills. An exploration of food recovery as an important strategy to fight food waste as well as hunger and poverty. The magnitude of food waste both nationally and globally will be conveyed. Opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, relevant policy, and challenges related to infrastructure and logistics will be discussed.
Week 5 (Oct.11): Secondhand Solutions. We’ll examine enterprises and organizations that contribute to our economy and culture by making commodities out of reused and reclaimed goods. Materials for the Arts, thrift stores, and reclaimed building and home décor warehouses will be presented as familiar examples, along with virtual examples, and tools for connecting individuals for the purposes of exchanging or sharing goods and surplus.
Week 6 (Oct.18): Finding Your Repurpose. An analysis of repurposing—reusing or redeploying products or objects with one original use value for an alternative use value. The “beneficial reuse” of buildings, products, vehicles, and materials will be examined, along with the reuse art movement.
Week 7 (Oct. 25): Repackaged: Packaging with Reuse in Mind. A survey of packaging waste issues and impacts along with opportunities for change through creative design. Examples of retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers employing reusable packaging strategies will be highlighted.
Week 8 (Nov. 1): Full Circle: Summary and Applications Brainstorming. A review of points about environmental, economic, and social impacts of reuse which were touched upon throughout the course, including potential negative impacts as well as positive ones. We’ll delve into ideas for how the strategies discussed are and might be applied in our community, organizations, businesses, policies, personal lives, etc. How might you reuse the information and inspiration gleaned from this course to be a force for positive change?
OLLI is a member-centered community of adult learners that is supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Illinois Office of the Provost, and the generous donations of OLLI members and community partners. It is part of a network of 120 OLLI programs across the United States, and there are over 160,000 members nationwide. OLLI offers fall and spring semesters of 8-week courses taught by distinguished faculty (both current and emeritus) from the University of Illinois and other regional colleges and universities, and community members from a wide variety of areas. A selection of 4-week courses is also offered. The fall 2017 semester begins Monday, September 11th.
To sign up for an OLLI course, a community member must first sign up for an OLLI membership. You must be 50 or older to join OLLI. Your OLLI membership includes one free course per year; additional 8-week courses are $40 each, and 4-week courses are $20 each. Annual membership for an individual or the first member of a household membership, active from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, costs $180. Adding a second member in your household costs $155. Current course offerings are listed at http://olli.illinois.edu/courses/current.html.
You may register for any course, including the Reuse as a Sustainability Strategy course, at any time, right up until the course begins. Register online at https://reg138.imperisoft.com/OlliIllinois/Search/Registration.aspx. If you are not yet an OLLI member, look for the “New user?” link in the log in box at this URL to become a member and obtain a user name and password to sign up for courses. Full registration instructions are available at
Ideas for “Revitalizing Plastics Recycling” will be the topic for a symposium hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the I Hotel and Conference Center on the University of Illinois campus from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Plastic production has risen steeply decade upon decade in the United States, primarily for use in packaging, and as a cheap, tough, lightweight substitute for glass and metal.
Ironically glass and metal are far more economical to recycle, so used plastic has come to blight the environment. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that the U.S. recycled only nine percent of its post-consumer plastic in 2012. The program also reports that up to 43 percent of waste plastic finds its way into landfills. That leaves a lot of plastic unaccounted for.
Factors that make plastic easy or hard to recycle depends largely on logistics in the local recycling market, according to B.K. Sharma, senior research scientist at ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute, and one of the presenters at the symposium.
Take polyethylene, for instance, which comes in two varieties – high density or low density, according to Sharma. If it is extruded (as in disposable drink bottles) it can usually be economically crushed, handled, and transported. If polyethylene products are molded they are typically too dense and/or brittle for a recycler to profitably manipulate. Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another example of a hard-to-recycle plastic. All volume and no weight, it is expensive to transport and few communities today offer opportunities to recycle it, Sharma explained.
Ken Santowski’s Chicago Logistic Service has been working to provide Styrofoam recycling to citizens of the greater Chicago area. He will speak at the symposium of his company’s success in dealing with that necessary evil.
The symposium will also deal with another scourge of plastic recycling – agricultural plastics. It wraps bales, covers forage, bags silage, covers silo bunkers, and makes farmers more productive in many ways. But once used it doesn’t all go easily into dumpsters and is too lightweight to make much economic sense to conventional recyclers. Tanner Smith, corporate development analyst for Delta Plastics, will discuss dealing with agricultural plastics at the symposium.
Sharma’s lab has approached the problem from a different angle. He has demonstrated how petroleum-derived polymers can be “reverse engineered” right back into gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel. He has also shown how high-value “fractions” can be recovered from trash that might have ended up in landfills. He will be giving a demonstration at the symposium of the technology which can be used to convert plastics to oil.
The symposium will bring together experts on different aspects of the problem and share solutions on how to improve Illinois’ experience and record of plastic recycling. To register, and for more information about the symposium visit the Illinois Recycling Association’s website.
The next Champaign County residential electronics collection event has been scheduled for October 14, 2017. The event will occur from 8 AM to noon at Parkland College. Registration is required for participation; online registration (at www.ecycle.simplybook.me) opens on September 5, 2017 at 8 AM.
On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.
The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. The Illini Gadget Garage is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.
Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/ and http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.