Living Local: Illinois

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The Living Local series is an insider’s look at local environmental efforts and accessibility. Take a trip around the U.S. without leaving your computer!

Illinois has made impressive strides when it comes to encouraging its residents to live locally, and it is clear from the many environmental initiatives in the state that both government agencies and nonprofit organizations are working to increase options for those interested in living lightly in the Prairie State. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Leading the Charge in Chicago
  2. Not Just Paper and Plastic Anymore
  3. Midwest Market Magic
  4. Banding Together
  5. Education and Outreach

Leading the Charge in Chicago

Photo: Flickr/Gravitywave

With a population of about 12.9 million, Illinois' recycling rate ranks fourth in the country. Photo: Flickr/Gravitywave

Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, is fourth in the country when it comes to recycling. Since 1995, Chicago has had a recycling ordinance in place that requires business and residential recycling.

Last summer, the city started its Blue Cart Recycling Program, which placed recycling carts curbside for all city residents. The carts encourage single-stream recycling and can be filled with many items including:

  • Glass jars and bottles
  • Aluminum cans, foil and pie tins
  • Tin or steel cans
  • Cereal boxes, paper towel rolls
  • Cardboard (flatten all boxes)
  • Plastic bottles and containers (numbers 1-5, 7 accepted)
  • Mail
  • Magazines and catalogs
  • Telephone books
  • Paper bags
  • Office paper and file folders
  • Newspaper and inserts
  • Beverage cartons (milk, juice, soy cartons)

The city also just announced that it partnered with RecycleBank to offer even more of an incentive for residents to recycle. RecycleBank keeps track of how much residents recycle, and points are issued that can be redeemed at several national retailers, as well as converted to donations to local school environmental programs and non-profit organizations. A field test in selected areas will begin shortly with a more comprehensive roll-out of the program coming soon.

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Not Just Paper and Plastic Anymore

In addition to the  30 recycling drop-off centers that it operates and its curbside pick-up program, Chicago also runs a household chemicals and computer recycling facility. The recycling facility also operates a materials exchange room where residents can get free leftover materials, and it trains ex-offenders in a variety of job skills.

Batteries can be dropped off for recycling at any Chicago Public Library branch or any Chicago Walgreen’s. In addition, the statewide Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act takes effect in 2010. This act will require a much higher level of producer responsibility for companies that manufacture electronic waste. It will also ban all electronic waste from Illinois landfills by 2012. This type of waste includes:

  • Televisions
  • Printers
  • Computer equipment
  • MP3 players

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Photo: Flickr/Straightedge217

Illinois is filled with drop-off recycling centers like pictured above in Springfield. Photo: Flickr/Straightedge217

Midwest Market Magic

There are farmers’ markets throughout the Prairie State, and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association Web site maintains a directory by county or city of the many markets throughout the state. From Alton to Springfield, those interested in enjoying the bounty of nearby farms will easily find a place to fill up on local goodness.

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Banding Together

In addition to visiting their local county or city Web site for information about recycling regulations, household hazardous waste drop-off centers and special recycling initiatives, Illinoisans can also check out the Illinois Recycling Association Web site

The association is a nonprofit organization that has 250 members consisting of municipal, county and state recycling coordinators, businesses, haulers, processors, not-for-profit organizations, consultants and manufacturers of recycled-content products. Phew! With a list like that, it is no wonder that this association has a wealth of resources for state residents including:

  • Regularly updated news about pending legislation and waste reduction initiatives
  • An extensive list of suggested reading for all ages
  • An alphabetical directory of members

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Education and Outreach

For those wanting to learn more about topics from sustainable gourmet to how to build a composter, a virtual or actual visit to The Ecology Center in Normal, Ill. will be a great way to spend a day. The center offers a variety of how-to workshops as well as information on everything from the Yard Smart Certification Program, which aims to reduce pesticide use to a variety of kids programs.

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Read more from Libuse Binder at Weekly Way.

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  1. There’s SO much to talk about in Chicago, as it’s biking awareness campaign, it’s farmers’ markets, it’s green roof initiatives, and so much more. Alice Waters commented that we have one of the best YEAR ROUND Farmer’s Markets in the city! WOO HOO for the Midwest! People think we are “behind” in our thinking, but we have committed farmers and chefs partnered in a cooperative movement, and a STRONG ethnically-inspired Slow-Food movement in this City.
    We also have a strong focus on biking, and encourage folks to ride as much as they can, with more and more bike lanes put on good arterial streets to enable those who want to bike to work to do so, even if it is part of the way. We also have mass-transit bike friendly ways to get to work, if you have to come in from the ‘burbs into the City and can only bike part of the way.
    Mayor Daley is certainly one of the Nation’s more focused mayors on the Environment, and he is committed to making Chicago the Nation’s pre-eminent “Green city”. Some are learning about the garbage sorting pre-requisites, but those of us who were trying to recycle have a lot of help in that the city now walks it’s talk. The thing to remember, is that the City can make money off of recycling as well! It SHOULD be a win-win situation for all involved!
    There is also a strong push in our city gardens to teach gardening, and edible landscaping to the youth and parents alike, heck, there’s even a bee-keeping initiative for urban beekeeping!
    Libuse, giving you more ideas for articles in the future! We’ve got a lot here, and even more is coming in focus and online! Thanks for your article!

  2. Thanks for highlighting the work of the Ecology Action Center! We are a local nonprofit working very closely with our local municipalities to inspire and assist residents of our area in creating, strengthening, and preserving a healthy environment. Please do check out our website at or stop in if you are ever in Normal!

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