ISTC is proud to be a 2023 Food Waste Prevention Week Partner

Food Waste Prevention Week Partner logo

Mark your calendars for Food Waste Prevention Week, scheduled to take place April 10-16 this year. In 2018 alone, EPA estimates that about 63 million tons of wasted food were generated in the commercial, institutional, and residential sectors. Food Waste Prevention Week is a collaborative effort to raise awareness about food waste and its negative impacts on our society and environment, while also sharing resources to help individuals, families, and organizations reduce their own food waste. Because its Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has experience working on food waste reduction and management projects, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is proud to be a partner organization for Food Waste Prevention Week!

Be sure to check ISTC’s social media platforms during April 10-16th, as we highlight some of the past and present work TAP is doing related to food waste. We’ll also share links to relevant blog posts, websites, videos, and other resources to help you on your food waste reduction journey. If you’re not already following us on social media, you can connect with us on:

Throughout the week, several partners across the U.S. will host webinars to inspire action to reduce food waste. For example:

  • Local Solutions: Food Waste Prevention Week. On Monday, April 10 at noon Central time, join the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a presentation featuring Food For the Soul, Hamilton County R3Source, Food Shift, and Alameda County StopWaste. County recycling experts and food rescuers will talk about valuing food, ensuring good food gets eaten, and how they share their stories with the community. Register here.
  • The Sustainable Management of Food on the U.S.-México Border. On Wednesday, April 12 at 12:30 PM Central, U.S. EPA Region 9 will present on food waste prevention, recovery, and recycling strategies, policies, and practices for and by border-adjacent communities. Register here.
  • School Food Recovery: Inventory Management, Share Tables, Smarter Lunchrooms and Food Donations. Also on April 12, at 1 PM Central, you can learn about food recovery in Florida schools. Guest speakers from Orange County Public Schools will provide key takeaways from their efforts to increase consumption, decrease waste, and donate excess food. Register here. [Note: Topics covered relate to TAP’s past Green Lunchroom Challenge project and efforts on a food waste reduction toolkit for IL Schools, though neither ISTC nor the Wasted Food Action Alliance is involved in planning or presenting this webinar.]
  • Food Rescue 101 for Commercial Kitchens. From 11 AM to noon Central on April 12, zero-waste specialist and Careit CEO Alyson Schill takes restaurants, food-based nonprofits, institutions, and other kitchen staff on a journey of food waste in commercial food establishments. Participants will learn: Why reducing food waste benefits businesses and communities; techniques to reduce food loss; successful food donation with the Careit app; and how to compost the rest for healthy soils. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/food-waste-prevention-rescue-and-composting-101-tickets-591691664697[Note: The topics covered in this webinar relate to an ongoing collaborative effort between TAP and UI Extension focused on greater Chicagoland, though neither of those organizations is involved in planning or presenting this webinar.]

See https://www.foodwastepreventionweek.com/webinars for additional webinars scheduled for Food Waste Prevention Week, and learn more about other ways you can get involved at https://www.foodwastepreventionweek.com/get-involved.

“Green” your Halloween with these seasonal waste diversion programs

What do the members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program’s zero waste team fear the most? Unnecessary waste! Think about all the products and packaging sent off to be prematurely buried in landfills before their useful “lives” are truly over–it makes our blood run cold. To avoid being haunted by the ghosts of poorly managed materials, check out the following Halloween waste diversion programs to keep waste out of landfills.

Please note that links and/or mentions of organizations or businesses are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by the Technical Assistance Program, ISTC, the Prairie Research Institute, or the University of Illinois.

Pumpkin Smash Events

Did you know that IL leads the nation in production of pumpkins? Did you further know that pumpkins are mostly water? A great deal of labor, land, water, and other resources are invested in growing, harvesting, and distributing pumpkins in our state, and many of them end up being used for brief decorations that may wind up in landfills after Halloween has passed.

Pumpkin “Smash” events are events to collect jack-o-lanterns and other pumpkins for composting. They’re held on the Saturday after Halloween (November 5th this year), and may involve fun activities in which people can “smash” their pumpkins by throwing them into a designated dumpster or compost heap. Some events even involve pumpkin “chucking” with catapults! SCARCE has helped Pumpkin Smashes grow to over 59 sites across IL since 2014, and their efforts have even inspired communities outside of IL to host their own pumpkin collections. According to the SCARCE website, the 2021 Pumpkin Smash events collectively composted over 242 tons of pumpkins! See https://www.scarce.org/pumpkins/ for more information, including a map of registered events in the state, a guide for hosting a Pumpkin Smash to help with planning for next year, a form to register your local event so it will be included on the aforementioned map, and example flyers and other resources to help spread the word. See this recent Illinois Food Scrap Coalition blog post and flyer developed by Go Green Winnetka for further information.

Flyer for Pumpkin Smash Event at the Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana, IL.

Candy Wrapper Recycling Programs

When you’re hosting a Halloween party or having kids trick-or-treat at the homes of people you know and trust, there are opportunities to pass out/receive homemade or minimally-packaged bulk treats and reduce the amount of plastic packaging associated with Halloween festivities. However, the reality is that many people pass out candy to or collect candy from strangers; plus, many of us like to purchase Halloween candy to share with coworkers or our family during the month of October as part of celebrating. The result is lots of plastic packaging ending up in landfills because such material is not collected in typical recycling programs because the form or components of the packaging make them difficult to recycle. There are however, a couple of options that can help divert the seasonal increase in candy wrappers from the landfill.

Trick or trash box
Trick or Trash collection box available from Rubicon.

Rubicon, in collaboration with the National Wildlife Foundation, annually offers a Trick or Trash program, in which schools, independent small businesses, and community organizations can order FREE candy wrapper collection boxes. Organizations receive their collection boxes through the UPS Carbon Neutral Shipment program, set them up and collect wrappers until their box is full. Then, boxes are sealed and mailed back using a pre-affixed label. Each participating organization gets a certificate of recycling confirming how many wrappers they diverted from landfill. The recycled plastic can be used to make “doggie bags” used at animal shelters for animal waste collection. See https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/how-it-works/ for more information, and https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/#block_5aee8cc625f6cfa2532fd2b387a4e675 to order a free box. Educational materials, including lesson plans, are available at https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/education/. Note that teachers and organizations are limited to one free box to ensure that more people across the country can participate, and you should allow at least a week for shipping. So if you order a free box now, you might plan to collect wrappers right after Halloween, rather than at Halloween events. Individuals or larger business might choose to purchase a box for participation.

TerraCycle also sells “zero waste boxes” for various hard-to-recycle waste streams, including candy and snack wrapper zero waste boxes. That company also collaborates with various Subaru locations nationwide that host collection boxes for items including disposable cups, lids, straws, candy and snack wrappers, and coffee and creamer capsules. Learn more on the TerraCycle Subaru Loves the Earth web page and search for a participating location near you.

Learn more about reducing and reusing on Halloween

Glass Recycling Foundation partners with Corona on glass recycling pilot project

Corona Protect Our Beaches and Glass Recycling Foundation logo

In a recent webinar hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association/Illinois Recycling Foundation (IRA/IRF), Scott Defife, President, Glass Packaging Institute and Glass Recycling Foundation (GRF), and Jeff Lang of Legacy Marketing described the Corona Protect Our Beaches program currently being deployed throughout Chicagoland.

According to GRF, more than 28 million glass bottles and jars end up in landfills each year, despite the fact that glass is endlessly recyclable. Recycling glass can protect the environment, economy, and sustainable manufacturing by capturing materials for reuse and keeping them out of landfills, as well as preventing litter from polluting the ocean and beaches.

To improve glass diversion from landfills and educate the public about the importance of glass recycling, Constellation Brands and its popular beer brand, Corona, have teamed up with GRF for a glass recycling initiative as part of the Corona Protect Our Beaches campaign.

This pilot program involves glass bottle recycling at Chicago-based bars and restaurants. Participating locations will separate their glass bottles into a separate bulk bin for pick up, starting in late June 2021. The GRF pays a hauler for the pick-ups; there is no cost to the participating locations. Any glass bottle, not just Corona-branded bottles, can be recycled, and no color sorting of bottles is required (as noted during the webinar Q&A).  Additionally, a small amount of incidental contamination (e.g. napkins or straws) is acceptable. This creates a simple system for the participating pilot locations.

The glass recycling pilot will be paired with special events including an interactive experience that sheds light on the need for glass recycling and helps “crush the problem.” At these events, empty bottles will be turned into a sand-like powder using a grinding machine that allows members of the public to watch the process, thus capturing their attention and imagination. Event attendees learn about the program and the call to action, “#DontTrashGlass.” Select consumers will be able to feed empty bottles into the grinding machine. Events will also feature a sand art station for attendees to enjoy as they learn about the benefits of recycling glass. According to Defife and Lang, the grinding machine is actually relatively quiet; the generators used to power the machine at these events is louder than the machine itself. The sand-like substance fits well with the theme of Corona’s Protect Our Beaches campaign and brand identity. GRF recognizes that there are many ways to use recycled glass and beach restoration is one of them; in addition, bottles can become new bottles, fiberglass, construction aggregate, sandblasting, and more.

Corona glass recycling event

Over the course of nine weeks this summer, the grinding machine will tour ten different wholesalers and corresponding accounts. The complete list of grinding events is available at https://protectbeaches.com/events/. Events kick off on June 25 at two locations in St. Charles, IL, and one in West Chicago.

During the webinar, it was noted that additional restaurants and bars can be added to the pilot in the Chicagoland area by contacting Defife or Lang (their email addresses are provided at the end of the webinar recording). Also, the collaborative team is trying to figure out what it would cost to continue the recycling program beyond the pilot period. A similar pilot is taking place in Phoenix, AZ, in partnership with Glass King. At the end of the pilot the total tonnage of glass recycled will be measured to illustrate diversion impacts. Participating locations will also learn valuable information about the nature of their waste streams from those measurements.

Learn More

Links, company, and brand names are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Redesigned Sustain Springfield Green Map Released

The Urban Action Network has partnered with Lincoln Land Community College’s GIS Program since 2017 to provide an online map of all things “green” in Springfield.  The Sustain Springfield Green Map (SSGM) is a user-friendly, GIS-based, online resource that guides residents, visitors, organizations, and businesses to sustainable or environmentally-friendly services, sites, and amenities. Map users can easily find recycling locations, community gardens, car charging stations, and much more. The SSGM has been redesigned to make searching even easier.

This completely redesigned Map streamlines category headings, tells its story better with tabs and graphics, and includes a new Special Projects section in the Gallery. The special projects mini-maps currently include Springfield’s tiny libraries and micro-pantries and the section provides an opportunity for more LLCC GIS students, the public, and special audiences to contribute to its development through emailing suggested additions. A Steering Committee (see Supporters tab in the online map) formulates new ways to expand Map content and engage the public.

The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a project of the Urban Action Network (UAct) which provides executive oversight and operational support. The original map was created as a classroom project by Jordyn Lahey, an LLCC GIS student. The SSGM is hosted by LLCC under the guidance of Geography Professor, Dean Butzow and is maintained as an in-kind service by LLCC GIS Instructor, Rey de Castro and Think GeoSpatial Educator, Jenni Dahl, who are also members of the Steering Committee.

“Springfield is remarkably green for a city of its size and we must continue to cultivate and support sustainability in Springfield.  The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a dynamic tool that showcases Springfield’s environmental services, sites, and amenities placing the information at our fingertips,” said UAct President Sheila Stocks-Smith. “Please share the Map widely with your family, friends, and social networks, and perhaps the Sustain Springfield Green Map can help inspire us all to make conscious choices and act collectively to make every day Earth Day.”

See the newly redesigned Green Map online at https://arcg.is/u14Hq.

How can I help influence the takeout containers restaurants are purchasing?

Have a question about living a greener life? Joy Scrogum's work focuses on food waste, waste reduction, and reuse. Ask her anything about being more sustainable. We'll post her answers next week.This is the first in a periodic series of Ask Me Anything (AMA) posts where ISTC features a researcher on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts and solicits questions from our followers. We post the answers on the original platform and also aggregate them into a wrap-up blog post. Our first featured researcher is Joy Scrogum.

Question (from Facebook): I like to order takeout food from the many amazing restaurants in my neighborhood, but cringe at all the waste this generates. Some of this serveware I can compost and recycle, but some of it I cannot.  How can I help influence the takeout containers restaurants are purchasing?

Joy: I’m glad you’re thinking about this. consumers really have more power than they tend to think. First of all, let me note that during the current pandemic, we all have to make allowances for the takeout containers being used by our local restaurants. It’s fabulous that they’re open and delivering. It’s important to support them during this difficult time and recognize that exploring new packaging is, of course, not a priority for them now. One thing you can do when ordering takeout is remember to ask a restaurant to not include unnecessary disposable items with your order (e.g. plastic utensils, napkins, condiment packets, plastic straws, etc.). That will not only prevent waste, but also save them a little money and reduce the opportunity for contamination as we practice social distancing.

When we’ve gotten past this pandemic, the easiest thing you can do is voice your concerns about packaging to the manager of a restaurant, along with your reasoning (e.g. polystyrene foam, aka Styrofoam, its persistence, difficulty/inability to recycle in your area, etc.). Always start on a positive note by letting them know what you enjoy about their food and service, if you’re a long-time customer, etc., and then tell them what’s troubling you, so the conversation doesn’t seem like an attack.

It’s also important to bear in mind that businesses, especially small ones, are making decisions based on costs. So when you speak or write to someone with your concerns, acknowledge that price is an issue for them and be prepared to provide some tools that might help them choose “greener” options available at similar or better prices than what  they’re currently using. The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) has developed the Foodware Cost Calculator, which allows restaurants or other foodservice operations to compare the costs of their currently used disposable products to reusable options (e.g. plastic utensils vs. real silverware) or alternative disposable items (e.g. recyclable, compostable, made with recycled content, etc.). PSI also has a guidance document that can help businesses reduce their plastic footprint, and understand the benefits, called 3 Steps to Reduce Plastic & Benefit Your Business. You might also point out examples of preferable packaging used by other businesses in your area or elsewhere to help make the case for what is possible. A few examples that come to mind include Just Salad, which uses reusable to-go packaging, and Farmer’s Fridge, which operates fresh-food vending machines using recyclable and reusable containers. 

You can always use existing consumers ratings mechanisms, such as Yelp, Google, or Facebook, to express support for businesses using greener packaging or dismay at a restaurant with great food but problematic to-go packaging. An interesting new app from developers in Colorado is called PlasticScore. It allows you to provide feedback to restaurants on single-use plastic, as well as see waste-related ratings of nearby restaurants so you can support businesses practices that align with your values. It’s pretty new (just launched in March 2020), so you might not find a lot of information applicable to your area right now, but you could certainly contribute your own feedback to help expand their database.

Another thing to keep in mind related to compostable packaging is that sort of packaging only degrades properly in commercial composting operations (e.g. services that pick up compostables from a business or via residential drop-off or curbside composting programs). Backyard compost piles don’t attain the proper temperatures or other conditions to effectively break down those items. So before asking a restaurant to switch to compostable items, check to see if commercial composting is available in your area. It’s unfortunately true that such service is not available in many areas of Illinois.

I’m a proud member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC), which is working to expand food scrap composting in our state. Check the IFSC’s online list of haulers and compost processors to see if commercial food scrap composting exists in your area. If so, you can let your favorite restaurants know, and also point out that if they decide to start composting their food scraps and compostable packaging, they could receive recognition through IFSC’s We Compost program.

Finally, you can influence restaurants and other diners through your own example. When we’re all able to dine-in at our favorite restaurants again, consider taking your own reusable food storage container or foil from home for packing any leftovers, instead of asking the restaurant for a box. When people see you doing this, it can spark conversation about packaging and may inspire someone else to do the same. Many coffee shops offer discounts for folks who bring in their own reusable mug. Be sure to ask if your favorite shop does this, so they know there is interest, and remember to take advantage of such incentives where they exist.

Note: ISTC does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, any particular manufacturer, vendor, product or service. Information about specific products, manufacturers or vendors is provided for reference only.

A Very (Last-Minute) Sustainable Christmas

Are you a last-minute holiday gift shopper? Personally, I have a knack for waiting until the last possible second to take care of my yuletide errands, but I always (somehow) pull it off just in time. Wanting to incorporate sustainability into your holiday plans but afraid that there’s not enough time? You may have not factored sustainability into your holiday plans months in advance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start now. Here are a few tips to have a very (last-minute) sustainable Christmas.    

Recycle

Recycling is an easy way to make your Christmas festivities more sustainable. While plastic cellophane and metallic wrapping has to go to landfills, wrapping paper can be reused. When it’s time to open presents, take out a recycling bin. Make an effort to direct people to it after they’ve opened their gifts. If you have some over-excited present-openers that like to haphazardly rip and throw their scraps, resist the urge to toss it all. Pick it up at the end of the night and put into the bin. You’ll have a cleaner house and feel better about yourself.

Ornaments

While decorating the tree is a Christmas tradition, it’s hard to find time these days to take part. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the racks and racks of gaudy, expensive ornaments lining store shelves, each with more glitter than the next. You don’t need the most showy decorations to stand out. Instead, make creative ornaments from materials at home. It’ll give you the traditional display you want while also adding a unique, personal touch and saving some extra cash.

If you’re from Champaign-Urbana ,The IDEA Store is a great place to fulfill your last-minute eco-ornament needs.

Lights

Looking to spruce up your house before having guests over? Head to the store and buy some  some energy efficient LED or solar powered lights. They may be pricier, but they typically last longer, which means you’re covered for next year. Less electricity used, same festive impact. And, remember, while those twinkle lights may look pretty, flashing lights actually use more energy, so stick with traditional.

If you find yourself wanting to have a more sustainable Christmas with only a few days left on the calendar to do so, don’t fret. Like those last-minute gifts, sustainability is something that can still be achieved with days to spare. Pair these tips with our other suggestions for a sustainable holiday and you’ll be good to go. May your days be sustainable and waste-free, and may all your holidays be green.

Sustainable Holidays

We’re halfway through December and deep into the holiday season. At this time of year, people tend to focus on how much stuff they can buy. Sustainability doesn’t have to take a back seat though. Check out this post on rethinking the holidays or this fact sheet for more info on how to have a more sustainable holiday season.

Some key tips include:

  • Reduce —  Buy only what you need. When you do need to purchase something, look for recycled content or buy used.
  • Buy local food —  When possible, support local farmers and reduce your carbon footprint by buying local food.
  • Send E-cardsCommunicating the holiday spirit should not be at the price of trees. Instead, consider sending e-cards, which are readily available on the web. If you receive greeting cards, repurpose them as gift tags on your holiday packages.
  • Eco-Friendly gift wrapping — Consider wrapping gifts in recycled material like a newspaper or using something that can be reused, like thin cloth. You can also reuse gift bags that you’ve received from others.

Giving Tuesday

After the conspicuous consumption messages of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday provides an opportunity to think about how we can give back.  Vox has some tips to help you choose which charities to support. Resources like Charity Navigator, GiveWell, and GuideStar can help you determine how your money gets spent.

ISTC is working to combat the effects of consumerism by coming up with solutions to some of the world’s greatest environmental problems. This important work would not be possible without generous support from our funding organizations and supporters like you. Thank you!

#P2Week Day 2: Reducing Your Impact Through Repair

This post was written by Joy Scrogum and originally published on the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) BlogFor more information on Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, see https://www.epa.gov/p2week

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 wasteof 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.

A comparison of linear and circular economies. From the New Zealand Ministry for Environment, https://www.mfe.govt.nz/waste/circular-economy.

So while the industrial designers of tomorrow will hopefully create products that are in line with the more circular worldview, what can you as a consumer do today to foster a circular economy? Of course you can reduce your use of materials, but practically, you will still need to use some products in order to support yourself, your family, and your lifestyle. You can reuse materials for something other than their original purpose, and sell or donate unwanted functional items so that someone else may use them. Similarly you can purchase items that have been previously used by someone else. And recycling of materials after the end of their original purpose allows for at least some extension of their value. But there is another “r,” which in some ways can be seen as a specialized form of reuse, that is becoming more popular–repair. If you own something with minor damage or performance issues, you can choose to repair it rather than replace itAccording to WRAP, a UK organization dedicated to resource efficiency and the circular economy,  “Worth over £200m in gross revenue each year, 23% of the 348,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collected at household waste and recycling centres could be re-used with minor repairs.” The US company iFixit reports similar statistics, and further states that for every 1000 tons of electronics, landfilling creates less than one job, recycling creates 15 jobs, and repair creates 200 jobs.

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.

Wherever you live, you can watch for repair-related courses from local community colleges and park districts, and check to see if your local library operates a tool library, or at least lends some tools (e.g. you can check out a sewing machine and accessories from the Urbana Free Library). Many libraries also provide access to online research tools that can assist with auto and home repairs or more (e.g. see https://champaign.org/library-resources/research-learning).

Interested in starting your own repair-oriented project? Check out these additional examples and resources:

Learn more about the circular economy on the WRAP web site, or the Ellen MacArthur Foundation web site.

 

 

The IDEA Store

Originally published on the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable blog.

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.

To donate, visit:

https://secure.givelively.org/donate/champaign-urbana-schools-foundation/the-big-idea