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New group wants Chicagoans to ‘rethink trash’


The Mayor’s office and the Office of Streets and Sanitation Department, revealed a new garbage transition plan last month, but they aren’t the the only organization “rethinking trash”.

This garbage transition basically entails a new pick-up grid which will take  aldermanic oversight of community trash across the city, and reorganize garbage pickup.

The claims are that the grid system increases service efficiency, but environmentalist and President of Rethink Trash, Mariella Monterubio, sees traditional garbage collection as a major problem and thinks it should be changed altogether.

Rethink Trash, is a new non-for-profit recycling and composting organization which recognizes the lack of sustainable living practices in urban communities.

“Most people don’t know that 80 to 90 percent of their usual garbage disposal is recyclable,” such as, food scraps, eggshells, fruits and even coffee grinds, said Monterubio.

Rethink trash offers a pick-up service of residential compost buckets and transports them to a community composting facility where those items can be composted(process where natural organic materials are broken down into soil) and later used for someone’s garden, for a monthly fee of $15.

Sometimes that compost is transferred to the Resource Center, an organization that works to spruce up some of the city’s many vacant and abandoned lots on the South Side.

Founder of the Resource Center, Kenn Dunn said, we can’t wait on political structures to develop sustainable programs in undeserved communities.

English: Plastic contamination in municipal co...
English: Plastic contamination in municipal compost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A major concern of Monterubio is the disproportionate number of people in poorer minority communities who have a disregard for trash,recycling and compost, compared to those in more affluent neighborhoods.

“People have a disregard for trash because they grow up seeing people throw trash away on the street when a garbage can is just 20 steps away,”she said.

She observed that when she would visit Mexico City, and thought it was just a cultural thing, but now she believes it is just lack of knowledge.

Dunn thinks that people in poorer communities are just more focused on how they are going to pay for food and the cost of living, and that recycling might seem like a luxury. At that point, survival becomes much a much more important factor than weighing your garbage disposal options.

But when that poor, neglected community is hired to beautify vacant lots, “they develop strong values about the environment,” said Dunn.

Monterubio said her organization has outreach programming that gives elementary school kids hands-on training of recycling and sustainability.

She also hopes to expand her composting services at a faster rate because Illinois’ dumping grounds for garbage are getting more and more scarce.

And currently, there is a moratorium on landfills in Chicago, Joliet, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin said environmentalist Dunn.

Monterubio said she fears Chicago will have to do what New York currently does with its garbage — ship it to Philadelphia, an expensive service that caused New Yorker’s property taxes to go up, said Monterubio.

 Part of the problem with the garbage dumps is that it trash in it never breaks down, “Styrofoam takes 90 years,” she said.

On top of that, old electronics in the garbage dumps create a toxic juice that is hard to clean up or eliminate, said Monterubio.

There is also a challenge to making composting a replacement alternative to garbage dumps.

At Columbia College Chicago, a school that promotes sustainable practices and has a recycle bin in every hallway, composting is slow to take hold, though it is available.

Sustainability manager at Columbia, John Wawrzaszek, said composting for high rise dormitories can be difficult because compost bins must be monitored as the compost grows.

If it starts to go bad, it’s a sanitation issue and a rodent issue. Plus “we just don’t have the space to have that stuff stored properly right now,” said Wawrzasek.

If you want to compost for a building you have to get evaluated by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation and wait for them to grant permission to compost.

In addition to that, there are rules you have to abide by in the city to compost. They include having nothing more than 40 to 60 percent of moisture in your compost. An inspector will examine this by doing a “squeeze test” according to the City of Chicago’s compost standards.

Monterubio is aware of the challenge, right now she has about five residential customers. But she is optimistic that once more people are educated about garbage and the environment, then her business will expand.

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