Monday, April 07, 2008


by Michael Dymmoch

It started small.

A friend’s daughter attended a private school that collected paper to help defray its costs. So I asked my building manager if I could recycle our junk mail. When I asked if I could put a blue recycling container in the mail room, the board not only said yes, they provided a container. I live in a 250 unit condo building, so pretty soon I was hauling 300 pounds of junk mail per week to the school. That gets old very fast, but I’m stubborn. I kept at it.

Then we had a telephone book delivery at my building—250 copies of several different directories. Problem was, most of the residents have computers and internet access. We don’t use telephone directories. We still had most of the directories that were delivered six months earlier. And we don’t have storage space for things nobody wants. So the old directories were dumped in the trash. From which—with the help of one of our building engineers—I rescued them. It took me ten trips to the school to recycle all those directories.

That must have made someone feel guilty, because the building manager soon informed me that the board had decided to put a dedicated recycling container in the trash room—one pick-up a week. They painted it blue and stenciled “RECYCLE ONLY" on the side. And they put up a poster detailing what could be recycled—basically the same things the city accepts in its recycling drop-off centers. I volunteered to keep an eye on it.

It wasn’t long before we were overfilling the container weekly with recyclables, even some things that had to be recycled at The Salvation Army (old clothes) or the Brown Elephant (books) or the City of Chicago Hazardous Waste & Recycling Center (tech trash).

I’m now devoting ten hours a week to breaking down boxes and sorting stuff. And stopping at the Salvation Army and the tech trash place at least once a week. Some days, I feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. On the plus side, however, I don’t have to go to the fit center to work out.

At present, we’re filling our recycling container three times a week. And diverting another container’s worth of clothes, books, packing peanuts, plastic bags, and other things away from the landfill.

If your building doesn’t have recycling, and you’d like to start it up . . .

Things you’ll need if you decide to start a recycling project:

Cooperation from your condo board or building manager.

Dedicated (read that moderately obsessive) volunteers to flatten boxes and deal with things left in the recycling container that don’t belong there.

A place to locate your container. (You’ll have to limit public access to prevent fly dumping.) Many apartment and condo buildings have a trash room with space for containers. Most cities have regulations about what you can store on site or outside—check before you start.

A reliable company to haul things away.

Signs telling people what you can accept. And what you can’t. Signs (or, better yet, handouts) telling people where they can take things you can’t accept.

Handouts to let residents know about recycling in your building.

Safety First:

Wear gloves and safety glasses.

Learn the safe way to use a box cutter. Keep it closed and in your pocket when it’s not in use.

Keep waterless hand cleaner, Band-Aids, and Neosporin handy.

Ask your doctor if you need a tetanus shot.

Things to remember:

Start Small. Be sure you can dispose of everything you’ll collect so things don’t pile up.

People don’t read signs. Expect to spend time relocating things that aren’t recyclable.

Many people don’t care. You can change this--be nice.

Don’t lose your cool. People make mistakes that you’ll have to deal with. And you’ll have to deal with the same (to you) mistakes made by different people. Be patient.

Take time for training. Believe it or not, some people don’t know about recycling. If you explain it nicely (without preaching) and point out the advantages, they’ll often get on board.

Anticipate problems. It takes time to iron the wrinkles out of any new project.

Ask for help. If you’re doing it alone, you’ll burn out very quickly, but if you share the work, it’s easier. Take occasional vacations.

If you can figure out a profitable way to recycle polystyrene (i. e. Styrofoam), you may become a millionaire.

Where to Recycle Things In Chicago That The City/Hauler Won’t Pick Up: (Always phone first.)

Batteries, Akaline, Lithium, and All Button Type

Walgreens Stores and Chicago Public Libraries

Books (except manuals and text books)

Most public libraries accept books in good condition for resale to their patrons. Ask yours.

LITTLE CITY (formerly Brandeis) BOOK SALE
Call 847-221-7856 for drop-off locations or pickups (150 book minimum).

Brown Elephant
3651 N Halsted, Chicago, 773-549-5943
5404 N. Clark, Chicago, 773-271-9382
1459 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 773-252-8801

Clothes, furniture, household items: (Call for pick-up and information)

Mt. Sinai Hospital Resale
814 W Diversy Parkway
Chicago, IL 60614
773 -935-1434

The Salvation Army 312-738-4360

Brown Elephant Stores
3651 N Halsted St, Chicago, 60613 - (773) 549-5943
5404 N Clark St, Chicago, 60640 - (773) 271-9382
1459 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 60622 - (773) 252-8801

The White Elephant
2380 N Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

(Most of the above will give you a receipt for your donations that you can use if you itemize on your taxes. Check with your tax preparer.).

Please don’t take them broken, torn or soiled items. They have to pay to dispose of anything they can’t sell.

Cell phones:

At Cell Phones for Soldiers,
click on “Help out our troops” and you can print out a postage-paid mailing label to recycle your used cell phones.


Computers for Schools Chicago
3350 N Kedzie, docks # 2 & 3
Chicago, IL

Dead Computers, Electronic junk, Hazardous materials

City of Chicago Hazardous Waste & Recycling Center
(Chicago Residents)
1150 N Branch St, Chicago
7:00 am – noon Tuesday
2:00 PM to 7:00 PM Thursday
8:00 AM to 3:00 PM the 1st Sat of each month

Solid Wast Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) Illinois residents only


Orphans of the Storm Animal Shelter
2200 Riverwoods Road
Riverwoods (Deerfield), IL 60015
Phone: 847-945-0235

Newspapers & Towels:

The Anti-Cruelty Society
510 N. LaSalle
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 644-8338
12:00 noon - 7:00 pm Monday through Friday.
12:00 noon - 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday

AnimalCare & Control
2741 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 747-1406
noon to 7 pm daily (phone first)

Paper Shopping Bags:

Check with your local resale store (i. e. Brown Elephant, Salvation Army).

And Church rummage sales often need bags.

Packing Peanuts:

Call 800-828-2214 for where to take peanuts in your area.

UPS STORES take peanuts.
527 Dundee Road
Northbrook, IL 60062

Plastic Bags:
Many retail stores recycle plastic bags (e.g. Jewel/Osco). If your favorite store doesn’t, ask why not.

Check with your cleaners. Many take back and recycle plastic cleaners bags and coat hangers. (Please package them neatly.)

You can also sell unwanted items on Craigslist or eBay


Michael Dymmoch said...

I'm sorry, but some of my links don't work. Some of them work sometimes. I've tried, but I can't do any more to make them behave. I suspect Clarke's Third Law* is in effect, and I don't have the proper spell. If you're really interested, you can get the information through Google which is reliable magic.

*Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Barbara D'Amato said...

My building has us place recyclables in a small bin. There's one on each floor. Michael was kind enough to answer some of my questions when I suspected we weren't getting a clear story about some of the plastics. Thank you, Michael.

Wilfred the Author said...


Great post. As an Environmental Engineer by trade, I'm not necessarily an environmentalist, but I do know the importance of recycling and preserving the environment.

I keep thinking my next great idea will be an Eco-Thriller, but it hasn't formed in my brain yet.

By the way, for thoose of you that haven't taken aluminum to a recycling center in a while, for the price of aluminum, a couple of bags of recycled cans can net you a weeks worth of Caramel Macchiattos at the local Starbucks.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

A barely tangential link to a terrific post: Paul Collins's Why Won't Phone Books Die?

Wilfred the Author said...

It's funny how certain things spark old memories. All the talk about phone books...

When I was much younger, a group I was involved in was looking to raise money and found that we could raise a bit by collecting and recycling phonebooks.

Being the overzealous type, I struck a deal with one of the midsize companies in St. Louis to collect and recycle their phone books. They diligently collected over 600 and called me to pick them up. 600 StL Phone Books is a lot of books.

I loaded 300 into my 1967 Plymouth Sport Fury and watched the back end of my car sink closer to the ground. I drove them to the recycling center and noticed as I unloaded them, the back of my car stayed close to the ground. The weight had broken a leafspring.

By the time I located a new (used) one at the junkyard and replaced it, I could have just made a nice donation to the group instead and still been ahead.

Cozy Crime said...

What a great idea! good for you, Michael.

Maryann said...

My dad was a better recycler than I is my daughter, but I do try. Our trash haulers offer recycling pickup once a week, which makes it easy. When Chuck remembers to haul out the tubs. He's oblivious to the whole carbon footprint concept unless it has something to do with compost. Go figure. You've prodded me to do better, Michael. Thanks :o)

Sara Paretsky said...

Michael, this is a great post. You have awe-inspiring energy and commitment, and I'm also glad to have the tips on where to send household items, etc.

I prefer phone books to the Internet--they're more accurate and they're easier to search through.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I live in Kansas and try to do my part. Our office recyles paper, water bottles, and pop cans which the city picks up and I take cardboard to be recycled, plus coworkers know I take old blankets and towels to the animal shelter where I volunteer. The trunk of my car looks like a hermit's den, as that is where I store things. My "favorite" thing to do is fish out pop cans from office wastebaskets, placed by people who should know better. It's difficult not to be sarcastic. JoEllen

bibliogrrl said...

One other great place to recycle books here in Chicago is Open Books:

Same parameters as the library, and they are a FANTASTIC organization that promotes literacy and helps writers. I'm in love with them. And a lot of people are unaware that they exist.

This is a great post.