People in Evanston report higher levels of asthma than in the rest of the state of Illinois.

Inappropriate items in recycling bins endanger workers at the recycling facility.  

With a wink, parents can have spinach added to their child’s smoothie at 4 Suns.

These are just a few of the takeaways from Earth Week for Everyone, organized by Citizens’ Greener Evanston last week. The two-and-a-half-day event included 26 different presentations and featured more than 50 panelists, representing a broad range of Evanston organizations. 

“Greening Evanston Schools”

A panel on Greening Evanston’s Schools included three young Evanstonians: Dalston Wooller, a fourth-grader at Washington Elementary School, Nyel Rollins, an eighth-grader at Chute Middle School, and Aldric Martinez-Olson, an Evanston Township High School graduate now attending Macalester College. All three attributed their paths to climate action as happy accidents and believe that the schools could do more to incorporate climate education across the curriculum. 

Dalston started the conversation that “it’s important that kids learn at an early age to take care of the planet. It’s harder to transition if they learn later. They can become role models.”

Nyel has already become a role model. She participated in a program called Quest for Earth as a fifth grader and is now in her third year as a mentor for younger children in the program. 

Mr. Martinez-Olson noted, “The first step to any type of change starts with education. Environmental justice education gives kids awareness. This type of education helps students engage, especially for those that aren’t inclined to the sciences.”  He added, “I finally got involved in climate stuff in my junior year in high school, actually through the youth summer employment program, when I worked with the City.”

Sustainability Consultant Becky Brodsky, co-founder of the District 65 Green Teams, shared a number of ways that students can learn by doing. “Use the building itself as a teaching tool to talk about HVAC, waste, food waste, composting. Outside of the building, the school grounds provide opportunities to learn and engage students, not just in science class. It doesn’t have to be a LEED certified building. It can be just … talking about everything that’s happening in the classroom, like using natural light or making sure the sink isn’t leaking.”

Mr. Martinez-Olson and Nyel both mentioned visits to facilities that had an impact. She said with Quest for Earth, “my year, we went to the water plant. … Seeing that firsthand helps.” The group also made filters to clean dirty water, planted things, and made bird feeders.

As an intern in the City’s Sustainability office, Mr. Martinez-Olson visited the recycling facility and said, “it was kind of a shock to see how badly people were recycling in the northern suburbs, and … how the faulty recycling was putting the workers in danger.” He gave three specific examples:

  • Plastic bags can jam the equipment, requiring workers to climb into the grinders and cut the bags out.
  • If people put syringes into recycling, that puts the workers at risk.
  • Batteries can explode, also putting workers at risk.

Several other panels addressed recycling, composting, and other things Evanstonians can and should be doing for a greener Evanston. 

Habitat and Food

Leslie Shad, co-founder and leader of Natural Habitat Evanston, spoke on keeping habitat resilient. She said turf grass is the nation’s largest irrigated crop, “bigger than corn and soy and fruit trees combined” and recommends people, “do less garden cleanup, reduce the size of their lawns,” noting that, “people overwater by 50% and 30-60% of municipal water supply is used on lawns.”

She adds, “Leaf-blowers churn up whatever is on the ground into the air, so it includes toxins and fungus and pollen and squirrel poop.” Since native plants require less mowing and no chemicals, she concludes, they are better for humans, insects, songbirds, and biodiversity in general.

Ms. Shad makes a direct connection between the equipment and products used on lawns and the elevated levels of asthma in Evanston, pointing out that “21% of low income and people of color in Evanston have asthma, compared to 12% across Illinois.”

Lupe Orozco, owner of D&G Landscaping, offered some concerns about using herbicides. As a panelist on the topic of Green Business Brainstorm for Entrepreneurs of Color, he said, “my kids steered me into more conscientious practice. The over-application of fertilizers gets into our water systems and my kids are playing in the yard. … We need to be more conscious of what we put in the air and earth and in the water.”

Chef Q Ibraheem and Gabrielle Jean-Paul Walker both talked about healthy eating, emphasizing the importance of education and sourcing food locally, whenever possible.  Chef Q teaches urban agriculture and sources food locally, working directly with farmers. 

Ms. Jean-Paul Walker said, “I was surprised at how many people hadn’t tried fruits and vegetables that I take for granted. Coming from the Caribbean, it was always about eating fresh.” She recently launched 4 Suns Fresh Juice and said she wants to “make fresh juice accessible, affordable,” adding, “When people order a smoothie for a child with a wink, we add spinach.”

Managing Waste, Helping the Planet

Other panels addressed different ways Evanstonians can manage waste, from composting food waste, recycling, and repurposing items, and, of course, reducing waste in the first place. 

A number of speakers on different panels talked about Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse. In “Making Buildings Better,” Sylvia Wooller noted that by focusing on deconstruction, Rebuilding Warehouse keeps material out of landfill saying, “construction waste is a huge portion [50%] of waste in landfill so the process of diverting is good, especially for old houses that have better materials.” She also said that the Rebuilding Warehouse will take most items, especially appliances.

In “Beyond Waste,” Michelle Redfield talked about circular cities that mimic nature, where the output or waste of one process becomes the input to another. Composting and recycling are just the beginning. She said, “they’ve identified 10 communities that they’d like to benchmark and present the results to Evanston. There are more in Europe, Toronto, Charlotte, Berkeley. Evanston is not lagging, but definitely not leading.”

Maia Teke, a green entrepreneur from San Francisco, joined the Talking Trash panel and talked about eliminating the need for disposable containers for food. She said take-out food containers are used for an average of 12 minutes. Her company, Dispatch Goods, is a “reverse logistics company…modeled after recycling because it’s a behavior that people are already used to.”

Dispatch Goods delivers clean, stainless steel containers to restaurants. Restaurants deliver their food to customers in the reusable containers, and Dispatch Goods picks up the used containers from the customers’ homes.  Ms. Teke said that one customer, “didn’t do takeout pre-pandemic. They reached out to Dispatch as part of their launch and after lots of positive media coverage, they have doubled their weekly container needs. They have saved about 15,000 single-use items from entering the waste stream.”

Ms. Rollins told participants about a new Quest for Earth program to encourage people to do more. “Families have different activities and get points for it. Things like recycling, going out and picking up garbage, turning off lights for certain times.”

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