Why we reduced our accepted items list

Last year, Reduce Waste Chicago hosted 11 collection events at six venues across the city. With a list of more than 80 items, we (you, and 100 volunteers) diverted more than nine tons (NINE TONS!) of material from the landfill. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

But the more material we collected, the less time we had for meaningful conversations with you about sustainability, new products we discovered, the nonprofits benefiting from your donations, policies in the legislative pipeline, the kind of stuff that lifts the soul and results in lasting change. As time went on, we found ourselves turning into a waste management company — and that’s not what we want to be.

That’s why we have reduced our list of accepted items.

We still will be accepting items that are essential to daily living and can be reused, repurposed, easily recycled or don’t have affordable low-to-no waste options yet. We also will continue to accept materials on behalf of local artists.

We have stopped accepting items that have what we call a “high personal decision factor” or have more sustainable alternatives, things like chip bags, snack containers, beauty product packaging and toys. Frankly, that’s most of the reduction.

There are three popular items we want to draw your attention to:

  • Textiles/Clothing: This is one has been tough. We humans create a lot of textile waste and the organizations that handle it can get overwhelmed (including us). We also were going through a fair share of plastic garbage bags to deliver them to Chicago Textile Recycling. For now, we’re limiting our focus to denim clothing and the denim lining that comes in food boxes, which will be sent to Zappos for Good/Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green™ program. (Update, August 2023: The CTR bin in Lakeview, at Howard Brown Health at 3245 N. Halsted has been removed.)
  • Electronics: We will continue taking personal technology, things like cell phones, iPads and laptops. We are working on finding partners for other materials, but in the meantime please check out the city’s Household Chemical & Computer Recycling facility, Best Buy and Staples.
  • Books: We will continue to accept books, especially sellable titles in good condition, and pass them along to literacy organizations like Open Books and SCARCE. Older publications such as encyclopedias, text books, manuals or magazines have no aftermarket and we ask that you make a donation so they may be properly recycled.

Check out our new list of accepted items and let us know what you think. We will continue seeking new and better solutions for our household waste, and building relationships and collaborating with other organizations. So before coming by our events, always check our list. To be notified directly of changes, sign up for our email newsletter or follow us on Instagram or Facebook.

So what DO we want to be? Glad you asked 😉

Climate change is a multilayered crisis. You may not hear as much about waste as you do about, say, alternative energy and electric cars, land conservation and planting trees. And when we do talk about waste, we linger at the end, when it’s too late to make a significant difference. The reality is “waste” begins as something else — an idea, a design, raw material that is harvested, processed, manufactured, transported and consumed before it is reused, repurposed, transported again, recycled or sent to a landfill.

There’s a lot of environmental harm in that sentence. The best shot we have at sustainability is at the beginning. And if people before us in that sentence fail — and there is little financial incentive for them not to — it’s us who bear the burden.

At Reduce Waste Chicago, we want to change that paradigm. We want to empower people, demand more from producers and support policies that place responsibility where it belongs. Yes, we will continue hosting collections, we’ll just be adding inspiring and advocating to our mission.

Soon, we’ll share how.

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