40 easy ways to save the planet
You don’t have to chain yourself to a tree to help save the world. In honor of Earth Day Saturday 22, we came up with some small steps you can take to help make the world a little greener. From fueling your car with veggie oil to using organic lube, these painless tips will get you on Mother Nature’s good side.
#1 Clean house
A beer buzz is great. An apartment buzz? Not so much. Chemical agents in flooring, paint and textiles are the major perps, says Barry Bursak, a local green interiors consultant. Find nontoxic paint at Greenmaker (2500 N Pulaski Rd, 773-384-7500, www.greenmakersupply.com) or design a rug with InterfaceFLOR carpet tiles made of partly recycled material (www.interfaceflor.com).—Erin Ensign
#2 Be Mr. Clean Jeans
Most dry cleaners use perc (a toxic chemical) and petroleum solvents, but your wool blazers and silk delicates will be cleaned toxin-free at Greener Cleaner (www.greenercleaner.net). A coffee-stained shirt came back spotless but smelling like mildewy bubble gum, still we’ll take natural soaps and a water-based cleaning process over carcinogens any day.—Cecilia Wong
#3 Make a good reflection
Rooftops need sunscreen, too. Slather on silver aluminum roof coating to reflect UV rays, reduce heat absorption and add years to the life of your roof. DIYers can buy coating and brushes at home-improvement stores.—Laura House
#4 Stick it where the sun does shine
Thank the gadget gods that some nerd finally thought to fuse technology and design into one earth-friendly package. Sure, the Pacific Outdoor Equipment e-Vancouver messenger bag boasts 1,125 cubic inches of waterproof storage space. But the coolest thing about this bag is its discreet solar panel, which charges USB devices such as iPods and cell phones with power from any light, including overhead fluorescents and street lighting. $200, www.pacoutdoor.com.\1\.\2\.\3
#5 Eat your (organic) vegetables
Head to Stanley’s Fruits and Vegetables (1558 N Elston Ave, 773-276-8050) for jaw-dropping deals on organic offerings. Check out vine-ripened tomatoes ($2.49/lb), fresh mesclun greens ($3.98/lb), broccoli ($1.48/lb) and celery ($1.39/lb). That’s an organic salad big enough to feed an entire family for under $10.—Jenn Thompson
#6 See clouds in your coffee
No matter how much milk and sugar you dump in your cuppa joe, unless your beans were shade-grown, you can’t get around the pesticides in each cup. “Arabica coffee doesn’t grow well under direct sunlight unless you’re pumping it full of chemicals,” says Matt Early, co-owner of Just Coffee in Madison, Wisconsin. So buy some shade-grown beans at www.justcoffee.net, or grab a hot, healthy cup of the stuff at Swim Café (1357 W Chicago Ave, 312-492-8600).—David Tamarkin
#7 Throw a pool party
On the West Coast, high-occupancy vehicle highway lanes offer an incentive to carpool. No such luck here, but you can still feel good about your commute—and maybe make a new friend—by hooking up with drivers and riders through free online match sites like www.erideshare.com and www.carpoolworld.com, as well as via the Chicago Area Transportation Study (www.catsmpo.com/ride-carpooling.htm).—Judy Sutton Taylor
#8 Tap into conservation
Step one: Turn on faucet and wet toothbrush. Step two: Turn off faucet. Step three: Brush teeth. Step four: Turn on faucet, rinse toothbrush and spit. Step five: Turn off faucet. Why people skip step two is beyond us—a family of four that keeps the water on wastes an average of ten gallons daily. Oh, and gentlemen, this goes for shaving, too.—Lauren Viera
#9 Put a cork in it
Wine dorks may love their corks, but we love Ravenswood resident Donna Piacenza’s cork cuffs ($48) at Studio 1a.m. (www.studio1am.com). Cut from a single block of recycled (and recyclable) cork, the individually numbered bracelets sport one-of-a-kind textures—and they’re bound to last longer than a bottle of shiraz.—Annie Tomlin
#10 Don’t can it
Cans usually get the thumbs-up from environmentalists because recycling aluminum requires little energy. But mining for bauxite (aluminum’s daddy element) is highly damaging to the earth’s crust and gobbles energy. Your best bet is to drink locally bottled beers, which have a good recycling yield rate and don’t have to be shipped too far. Try to remember that the next time you’re Three Floyds to the wind.—Jonathan Messinger
#11 Take a toxic dump
Don’t sniff mystery bottles in the garage to discover their identity (unless, of course, you’re a huffer). Instead, haul paint cans, old cleaning supplies and photography chemicals to a hazardous household waste collection site. Visit www.epa.state.il.us/land/hazardous-waste/household-haz-waste/hhwc-schedule.html for locations and a pickup schedule.—Laura House
#12 Let it ride
Pick a day of the week and bike to work. It’s good for the planet, the pocketbook and your paunch. And from 7:30 to 9am on June 16, cyclists can snag free breakfast and a T-shirt at Chicago’s Bike to Work Rally in Daley Plaza.—Ruth Welte
#13 Take a flying leap
Airplanes churn huge amounts of carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere, where it does a lot more damage than ground-level fumes. Happily, two websites can assuage your jet-set guilt. Climatecare (www.climatecare.org) will let you buy yourself clean—just enter your flight info, and up pops how much money to donate to offset the carbon-dioxide damage you’ve done. If that’s too much of an environmental mind game, you can just opt for ground travel. The site www.seat61.com is devoted to helping people find smart, affordable train and ship routes to places that might seem reachable only by plane.—Ruth Welte
#14 Whack some weeds
“Removing invasive species” may sound like a Battlestar Galactica plot, but it’ll help save Hegewisch Marsh, one of Chicago’s last remaining wetlands. There are other ways to get your hands dirty while cleaning up Chicago’s Southeast Side (a longtime dumping ground for the city’s waste), like restoring a prairie in Beaubien Woods. Visit www.southeastenvironmental.org and click on “Calumet Stewardship Initiative.”—Erin Ensign
#15 convert your car
the crisco kids Grease is the word for drivers looking to save money and the environment By Web Behrens
If someone told you that you could own a car and still support the environment, fatten your wallet and reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil, wouldn’t you be interested? It’s possible: Buy a diesel car, and through a relatively simple process, you can convert it to run on vegetable oil.
Scott Niziolek of Elmwood Park is installing a DIY veggie oil–powered fuel kit in his car, a 1983 Mercedes 300D with 275,000 miles on it. (“These cars are known for reaching a million miles,” he boasts.) A million miles or not, it will get great mileage: 26 to 32 miles per gallon. Of vegetable oil.
Like all cars equipped to run on cooking oil, Niziolek’s ride uses either standard diesel or biodiesel (an alternative fuel made of chemically modified soybean oil) to start. Once the engine is warmed up, he flicks a switch, accessing the tank of “waste” oil in the trunk.
And no, driving the car shouldn’t make you smell like a McDonald’s fry cook. The exhaust is a different story, but Niziolek feels it’s better than the stench of burning petrol. His main reason for making the switch was economical. “Ultimately, my motivation is to drive for very little, or for free,” says Niziolek, who is soliciting waste oil from Hooters and other restaurants.
The downside is that if you’re relying on used oil collected from willing restaurants, you have to filter it. But that hasn’t stopped Stefan Grace of Humboldt Park: He’s driving to Arizona in his converted car, bringing 40 gallons of veggie oil he accumulated by Dumpster diving and filtering it himself. “Don’t get me wrong—finding the oil and then filtering it is very labor intensive, but so is an oil war,” he says.
The conversion kit costs about $850 (delivered to your door), and it isn’t hard to install if you’re somewhat familiar with what’s under your hood. If not, a mechanic can help. Visit www.greasecar.com or www.greasel.com for details.
#16 try clean living
diary of a mad green woman A TOC reporter goes granola for 48 hours—with mixed results By Erin Ensign
I wake at 7am and take the shortest shower possible (still clocking in at six minutes), then brush my teeth with Tom’s of Maine (an all-natural toothpaste). It tastes like caulk, resembling Crest about as much as a chocolate-flavored Ex-Lax does a Hershey’s Kiss (and it cost $6.65!).
Before leaving my apartment, I lower my thermostat to 58 degrees. (According to Peoples Energy, each degree lowered will save me 3 to 5 percent on my heating costs this month.) I also grab a grocery bag to stick any trash in it that I can’t avoid accumulating, so I can recycle it later. (Yeah, the bag’s plastic, but it was already in my house, so it passes the “renew, reuse, recycle” test.) I read online that the average person produces 4.4 pounds of solid waste per day, so if I can keep it under a half pound, I’ll be elated. (Toilet paper shall be exempt.)
It’s crazy-warm outside for late March, so I ride my bike into work, which saved me $1.75 and only added 15 minutes to my commute. (Props to Mayor Daley for the bike rack in front of my office.)
An Internet search was useless in directing me to a place to fill my travel coffee mug, so I ask the barista at Borders if they serve an organic blend. Nope. I get a fill-up anyway and toss my empty Splenda packet into my garbage bag, where it joins the bag’s inaugural item, a used Q-tip.
Midday, I thought I could count on an organic lunch at Whole Foods and begin loading up at the buffet. Halfway through I notice that organic doesn’t appear on the buffet’s food labels. (As it turns out, it’s not.) Lunch rings in at $8.12—money wasted, but it’s my fault for not checking first. I pick up a filet mignon, asparagus, soup and a chocolate bar (all organic) for dinner ($20.34) declining the bag and jam them into my backpack. A comparable non-organic meal would cost $10.75 at Jewel.
Biking home means I can skip the gym (and save electricity by not spending 30 minutes on a treadmill). Earlier, on www.resourcecenterchicago.org, I found a recycling center two blocks from where I live. Since it closed at 5pm, I’ll have to recycle tomorrow. But I do want to weigh my bag. I detour into a grocery store and sneak it onto the produce scale. It’s 2.2 pounds! (No, the day’s not over, but I won’t be making any more purchases, so it’s safe to say this should be it.)
My lackluster results have me in a funk as I return to my 58-degree home. As penance, I only raise it to 62 and try to keep the shivers to a minimum until I’m under the covers.
On Monday, I decide to try again. “Extreme green” is my theme. For starters, I’m not flushing unless I do the doo. It’s risky—I’m starting a new job today and this could be social (if not career) suicide. I zip in and out of bathrooms and consider leaving a Post-it to explain my left-behind pots of gold, until I decide that conservation means never having to say you’re sorry.
By noon, there’s a troubling development. Houston, we have a stinker. I’m using a deodorant crystal called “The Natural,” made entirely of natural mineral salts and free of the (allegedly) harmful aluminum chlorohydrate found in most antiperspirants. And “natural” I smell. Minutes away from pit stains, I dig into my gym bag for some shit that actually works.
My editor had begged me to check out eco-friendly “lady products,” like washable pads or this cup thingy that you pop up your “hoo hoo” (his words, not mine) to catch your flow. The cashier at Kramer’s (230 S Wabash Ave, 312-922-0077) hadn’t heard of such gizmos (but you can get them at www.natural-woman.com and www.divacup.com, respectively). Instead, I pick up an all-natural cleaner called Citra-Solv and clean my house. It seems to do the job—the rag is soot black and everything smells like orange peel.
I end my day with dinner at Lula Café (2537 N Kedzie Blvd, 773-489-9554), known for its organic menu. The wild nettle risotto ($15) is creamy comfort food, and five of the seven main ingredients (including golden beets, black walnuts and blood oranges) are organic. I also chose a glass of the organic Ransom Pinot Noir ($12).
By day’s end I realize that for “normal” people like me, being ecologically responsible is all about making small choices you can live with. I don’t need chemicals to sterilize my window sills, I just want them dirt-free. And I can tote a travel coffee mug, even though it’s a pain. If I can find a green choice at a lean price (which didn’t prove to be easy during this experiment), I’m willing to give it a go, and so should you.
#17 See the light
Ever notice how hot to the touch a standard lightbulb is? That’s because it’s wasting a ton of energy. Reduce maintenance by investing in energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). They’re available in various wattages at hardware stores. CFLs last eight- to ten-times longer than regular bulbs, produce 90 percent less heat, and use about 75 percent less electricity.—LV
#18 Find your green-spot
Take sex out of the dark and into the (sun) light with a three-speed Solar Sensations solar-powered vibrator from Babeland (www.babeland.com). Or bypass batteries altogether with a vibe that gets its juice from your Mac or PC USB port, like the Majel at Early to Bed (5232 N Sheridan St, 773-271-1219), which is made of hard plastic rather than potentially toxic polyvinyl chloride.—Debby Herbenick
#19 Rouge, renew, recycle
Through its Back to M·A·C program, Canadian cosmetics giant M·A·C turns garbage into glamour. Customers who return six empty M•A•C containers to stores receive a free full-size lipstick of their choice (M·A·C forwards the empties to recycling centers). M·A·C may have hundreds of hues in its makeup palette, but it does green the best. 40 E Oak St, 312-951-7310.—AT
#20 Hang up on SBCChanging long-distance carriers in the name of Mother Earth?
Trust us—Working Assets is worth it. Its rates are generally less than SBC’s, and its politics are in the right place: Since its 1985 inception, WA has donated $50 million to organizations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International. Plus, every month for your first year of service, you’ll get a coupon good for one free pint of Ben & Jerry’s. What more incentive do you need?—LV
#21 Go on lithium
Why keep batteries out of landfills? So their incinerated dust isn’t coughed into the food chain, duh. Recycle alkaline batteries at Chicago public libraries (www.chipublib.org), participating Walgreens stores (inquire at your local branch) and UIC Student Center West (312-413-5539). Or make the switch to rechargeable lithium batteries, which cost a little more but last seven times longer.—LH
#22 Make some waves
Listen up, tree huggers: Blue is the new green. So says David Helvarg, journalist, ocean activist and president of Blue Frontier Campaign (www.bluefront.org). Pick up his latest books, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, and Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness. Get your copies signed May 17 at 7pm at Transitions Bookplace (1000 W North Ave, 312-951-7323, www.transitionsbookplace.com).—LH
#23 Pile it on
Those banana peels you toss in the garbage could be transformed into gardener’s gold via the magic of a compost pile (for the uninformed, that’s a heap of organic detritus, such as dry leaves, kitchen leftovers, etc.). The Chicago Home Composting program offers bins at a subsidized low price once a summer, selling them first-come, first-served at the Garfield Park Conservatory and the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. Check www.chicagohomecomposting.org for this year’s yet-to-be-announced date, and loads of information about different types of composting—including how to build your own indoor worm farm. Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N Central Park Ave, 773-638-1766, www.garfieldconservatory.org; Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, 3807 W 111th St, 773-233-0476.—RW
#24 Slug a bug
Garden pests a problem? Eschew toxic sprays and spread crushed eggshells around slug- or snail-prone plants. They’re unlikely to travel over such a rough, spiky surface. Plus, crushed eggshells can give your soil a calcium boost and help grow healthy tomatoes (place eggshells in the hole before planting). For more tips, read Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, $18).—DH
#25 Give at the office
Office recycling isn’t just eco-friendly—it’s a city ordinance. If your company doesn’t recycle, get started by calling Recycling Services (773-247-2070, www.recyclingservices.com) or the Resource Center (773-821-1351, www.resourcecenterchicago.org).—LH
#26 Get into hot water
In May, the city’s Department of Environment plans to award 600 solar thermal collectors—vessels that use solar energy to heat water and subsequently reduce harmful emissions and lower energy costs—through its solar thermal grants program. Applications are being accepted through April 28 from small businesses and residences that use large amounts of hot water. Grant winners will be responsible for installation costs. Applications and details are available at www.cityofchicago.org/environment and by calling 312-744-7606.—JST
#27 Paint that peculiar
The artist known as People Powered solicits donations of excess household paint, mixes them together and repackages the new color —usually gray—for sale as paint or an objet d’art. The label lists all the ridiculous names of the colors we buy too much of—Siesta Key, Toni’s Smile, Embassy Purple, etc. This project is part of the traveling exhibition “Beyond Green: Toward Sustainable Art” organized by the Smart Museum. To offer up your surplus paint, visit www.peoplepowered.org.—Ruth Lopez
#28 Flip your phone
Though you can recycle your old, defunct cell phone just about anywhere (visit www.earth911.org and enter your zip code for nearby locations), some programs are particularly noteworthy. Verizon’s HopeLine program donates both phones and air time to domestic-violence survivors. See www.verizonwireless.com for details.—DH
#29 Get the blues
Whether you think Chicago’s blue-bag system is the real deal or a complete scam, you should separate your recyclables just on principle. The process is so simple that if you aren’t using it, you must just really hate the planet (or you’re an incredible skeptic). Divide recyclables into three bags: junk mail and newspapers; cans, glass, and plastic bottles marked “1” or “2”; and yard waste. Put them in your city garbage can, and cross your fingers that those bags aren’t just being packed away to a landfill after they’re out of your sight. And check this out: Some grocery stores offer blue bags for carrying your groceries.—RW
#30 lend a hand
join the green parties Volunteer with these groups and help the earth in an organized fashion By Judy Sutton Taylor
There are plenty of opportunities in and around the city to get out and give a little bit back to Mother Nature. Here are some suggestions:
Chicago Wilderness Consortium Always wanted to get up close and personal with birds of prey? Dream of swapping your cubicle for a country stream? Chicago Wilderness has something for anyone who wants to satisfy a back-to-nature jones. The alliance of more than 190 public and private groups works to protect and restore local ecosystems, and relies on volunteers to do a lot of the work. A stewardship network maintains area woodlands, wetlands and prairies, and a citizen-scientist program trains volunteers to monitor bird, butterfly and frog populations. Volunteers also conduct biological inventories of urban green spaces, rivers and forest areas. At Spring Brook Nature Center in Itasca, you can even help rehabilitate and release injured raptors. 312-580-2137, www.chicagowilderness.org.
Friends of the Forest Preserves Everyone could use friends like this independent group, which commissions studies of the Cook County Forest Preserve District and makes improvement recommendations. Volunteers work on habitat-restoration projects around Chicago almost every weekend, doing everything from gathering seeds to maintaining trails. FOTFP’s Mighty Acorns program trains volunteers to run student field trips at nature centers and preserves, and the group also coaches people on advocating for local preserves by recording problems and reporting them to the district. 205 W Monroe St, 312-696-0070, www.fotfp.org.
SCARCE Kay McKeen started SCARCE (School and Community Assistance for Recycling & Composting Education) to bring recycling programs and education into DuPage County schools almost 15 years ago. But when she noticed all the old books gathering dust on school shelves, her mission expanded. Today, her organization serves as a clearinghouse where schools, libraries and individuals bring books they no longer need (and take ones they can use). SCARCE has helped get books to Guatemala, Kenya and the Gulf areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The group also collects equipment—from crayons to grand pianos—for a Tools for Schools program. Volunteers of all ages do everything from melt crayons (to create larger ones for kids with disabilities) and sort books to run community outreach events. 799 Roosevelt Rd, Glen Ellyn, 630-790-4345, www.bookrescue.org.
#31 join a vehicle share
don’t have car, will travel Sharing a car means never having to pay for gas By Ruth Welte
If the idea of schlepping groceries on the bus is all that’s keeping you from canning your personal pimpmobile, consider joining Chicago’s growing I-GO nation. The I-GO car-sharing program, designed by the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology (2125 W North Ave), is an environmentally sound way to get some wheels without the hassle of parking, insurance, maintenance and all that other not-fun-car-ownership stuff.
The communal car love began in March 2002, and it’s pretty cheap: There’s a one-time $75 membership fee, and then a $25 annual renewal fee. Once you’ve officially joined the I-GO clan, it’s $6 an hour plus 50 cents a mile. The setup is perfect for errands, but a good old-fashioned rental car would cost less if you’re heading to Madison for the weekend. And I-GO isn’t for the superspontaneous shopper: You have to make a reservation to get behind the wheel. But if you and some friends want to raid Trader Joe’s and Target on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll each end up paying a little more than the bus would cost, and you’ll save that much, anyway, by stocking up on bulky staples like toilet paper and giganto jugs of olive oil.
Even better, the little things are all taken care of—there’s a gas charge card in the car (you’ll even get a $2 credit to your account if you fill ’er up), and a 24-hour call center in case you blow a tire or the engine starts coughing out fireballs. An upcoming improvement to the system should make it more convenient and available to more people: I-GO just got a federal grant to up its fleet from 50 cars to 100 in the Chicago area—the cars are a mix of Hondas: Civics, Civic Hybrids and roomier Elements. There are already dozens of I-GO cars throughout the city, parked in fixed locations in Logan Square, Hyde Park and spots sprinkled along the Red Line. But, just as I-GO gives, I-GO can take away: There’s an eight-hour cancellation policy; same-day reservations must be canceled within an hour of the booking to avoid getting charged. For more information, visit www.igocars.org or call 773-278-4446.
#32 Seek sustainable spas
Salon Echo could just as easily be called Salon Eco: The Edgewater establishment was constructed last fall using 85 percent recycled, renewable and sustainable materials. The salon stocks botanical-based Framesi and Ayuroma products. Even more, anyone who rides a bike to an appointment there will receive 25 percent off of services $25 and up through April 30.—LV
#33 Ask for Michigan on the rocks
Remember when people felt like idiots for buying bottled water? Good times. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 1.5 million tons of plastic are used each year for bottled-water containers. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that the oil used to generate all those bottles could fuel 100,000 cars a year. And, unlike water from the tap, the Environmental Protection Agency holds no sway over the safety of consumer agua. Makes tap look a little better, no?—JM
#34 Primp some clo’s
Mess Hall, the Rogers Park nonprofit arts space, is a treasure trove of information and events for the green-minded. At its free monthly Clothes Swap/Remix/Remake and Brunchluck on April 30 (noon–4pm), you can learn to fix, alter or decorate your old stuff and be social at the same time. Clothing left behind is taken to a local shelter. Sewing machines are provided. 6932 N Glenwood Ave, 773-465-4033, www.messhall.org.—RL
#35 Take the hybrid road
The more expensive gas gets, the quicker you’ll recoup the higher price of a hybrid car. And with more models being introduced, the excuses for not going hybrid are dwindling. Now, if we can just get Mayor Daley to give hybrid drivers the perk of free parking at Chicago meters—something lots of other cities are doing—you could add fewer parking tickets to the savings, too.—JST
#36 Beat a bad wrap
Apply the “reuse” mentality to gift wrap with themed or artsy magazine ads or articles. Use diaper ads for baby showers or a “Best orgasm ever” article for bridal showers. Presto! Gift wrap with a soul (and much eco-love).—DH
#37 Park it
Try a different take on spring-cleaning by joining Friends of the Parks for its annual Earth Day Parks & Preserves Clean-Up on Saturday 22. Green-thumb types can show off their skills by mulching trees and removing non-native plants from area parks and forest preserves, while others can pick up litter and clean up playgrounds. Call 312-857-2757 or go to www.fotp.org for details and to register.—JST
#38 Lube yourself in the moment
Sympathical Formulas’ (www.sympathical.com) water-based, latex-friendly lube is an TOC sex-columnist favorite. With ingredients like organic aloe vera and organic grapefruit-seed extract, you can stage your own revival of How Green Was My Valley. Plus, women prone to yeast infections can rejoice that this lube is glycerin-free.—DH
#39 Get nailed
If you need inspiration to help Mother Earth, head to the Aveda Institute in Lakeview (2828 N Clark St, 773-883-1560), where signing a petition in support of the Endangered Species Act nabs you a hand-therapy service Saturdays in April. You can also buy a geranium-scented, organic Light the Way candle ($10), the proceeds of which benefit organizations dedicated to protecting endangered plants. Schedule a service on Saturday 22, and a dollar will go to the Earth Month Fund. Saving the planet has never looked or smelled so good. 2828 N Clark St, 773-883-1560.—AT
#40 get scrappy
aluminum groupies Those metal collectors aren’t crazy—there’s gold in them thar alleys By Web Behrens
It’s not hard to properly dispose of plastic milk jugs, brown beer bottles or back issues of Time Out Chicago—you can easily take them to a recycling center (find one at www.resourcecenterchicago.org). If you can’t manage that, even Mayor Daley’s blue-bag program is better than nothing. But you can’t fit your old box spring inside a blue bag, and who wants to take huge old appliances to the landfills? That’s where local metal collectors and processors enter the equation.
“Have you seen those old pickup trucks running around in the alleys?” Oscar Castillo asks. “I’m not like that.” Castillo owns American Metals (2420 W Cermak Rd, 773-927-0060) in Little Village. As a “primary collector,” Castillo and his employees pick up mostly from industrial accounts; in turn, the metal is sold to other companies capable of processing it. (They also accept stuff from the alley-scavenging pickup trucks.)
American Metals works with aluminum, brass, copper, stainless steel and high-temperature alloys. It also accepts certain appliances, like toasters and refrigerators. “But not microwaves,” Castillo says. “Microwaves are not [easily] recyclable. I don’t know what they do with them.”
In Cicero, United Scrap Metal (1545 S Cicero Ave, 708-780-6800) buys and processes scrap metal from Jane and Joe Q. Citizen, though the list is a bit more selective—no refrigerators or cars. “Nothing that could pose any kind of contamination to the site,” says Jodi Keller, USM’s director of marketing and business development. USM processes all the metal on-site, getting it for the mills.
If you want to get rid of your old metal appliances, you can call these guys or try to sell it yourself. But you won’t get rich recycling scrap metal from your basement. “I took a truckload of very nice iron to [a North Side site], but they only paid me for half the weight,” says Penny, a local artist-environmentalist (with, yes, a single moniker). “Perhaps they assume that half of what you bring is nonmetal attached to the good stuff. Still, that pretty much soured me on the whole enterprise.”
Keller says, “Some of the different waste haulers do understand the importance of separating the garbage from the scrap metal. I don’t know that they all do.” USM pays market prices, which fluctuate on a daily basis according to supply and demand for individual metals, she says. (On the day we talked to her, she quoted aluminum cans at paying around 50 cents per pound.)
Here’s a low-energy solution: Every eco-system needs its scavengers, so you could place scrap metal in your alley after the garbage men’s weekly pickup. That gives junk men six days to take it.
“God bless the souls who support their fam-ilies by scavenging,” Penny says. “I’m happy to give it to them—the metal and the money.”