Chicago Apartment Tour

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

A few weeks before I moved to Madison, Anna Zajac came over to my house to photograph a love letter of sorts, to my neighborhood in Chicago and my apartment, capturing a slice of what I loved about those years and what I’ll miss. Things like plants sprouting in the late afternoon sun of the big northwest-facing windows, the little blue dish of keys on the bookshelf, the soap dish found on a neighbor’s stoop. Things that have nothing to do with zero waste but that I thought you might want to see, anyway. An ode to a loved home.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Coats and scarves hanging just inside the door, often much less neatly than this and a home to visiting friends’ coats, too.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Desk-dinner-table-craft-station-extra-countertop all rolled into one, in the main room.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Elsewhere in the same room, a couch, a chair, a footstool from my grandmother, a bookcase found out on the curb in college. A cactus from a friend who moved away, an aloe plant that the former tenant had left in my very first apartment, stacks of cookbooks.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

A treehouse feeling in the summer, my very favorite kind of tree (a locust) right outside.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

As with so many small city apartments, a kitchen almost too small to be worth mentioning, not much more than a sink-square of countertop-stove-fridge, what I’ll miss the least.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Wooden dish brushes, some my own, some given to me by a friend who moved away (and who I hope sees this from her current perch in Morocco).

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

The bedroom, a tiny closet, often crammed with things hidden from sight elsewhere, a secondhand headboard, a birthday gift of a blanket.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

We’re far from settled into our new Madison home, but time not spent putting clothing away has been spent on bike rides, making bread and hummus and dinners, tending to summer herbs on the balcony with a glass of iced tea. More on everything, soon.

(Photographs by the talented Anna Zajac for Litterless).

A Beach Clean-Up

Zero Waste Chicago beach clean-up | Litterless

Last week, Zero Waste Chicago hosted a beach clean-up at the pretty spot pictured above, 31st Street Beach here in Chicago. We brought gloves, trash bags, pencils and paper, a hanging scale for measuring our impact, and asked volunteers who showed up to just bring themselves. More than 20 people came, eagerly grabbed gloves and bags and headed out to get started.

In two hours, we gathered about 35 pounds of trash. Most of it was tiny: 700 cigarette butts, 300 food wrappers, 75 or so straws, 200 miscellaneous pieces of plastic, a few hundred plastic and metal bottle caps. It was a fun way to spend time outdoors, chatting with friends as we gathered small bits and pieces from the sand and the grass.

And, it was a good reminder too of why zero waste matters: it's literally easier to reduce one's trash output down to very little than to clean up even one small stretch of beach. I'm sure we didn't even get half of the trash that was there, and in a few weeks it will be right back to how it was. Better to try to avoid food that comes in wrappers when we can, to say no to straws, to be vigilant about avoiding things that are neither recyclable or compostable.

How to host or attend a beach clean-up | Litterless

In case you're interested in hosting or attending a beach clean-up in your area, a few thoughts to get you started, below.

Hosting a beach clean-up:

You can partner with a local organization that collects data on collected trash, or you can go out on your own. We used the materials from the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program. They provided data collection sheets that we filled out and sent back to them, as well as providing some guidelines for how we could successfully host the event.

If you don't live in the Great Lakes region, there might be another organization you can partner with who would love to use any data you collect and will help you figure out how to go about it. Or, you can simply set a date and location and gather friends for an informal clean-up. Certainly you'll be able to collect much more trash if you don't have to stop to record every cigarette butt you pick up.

If you're hosting, bring gloves for all or ask folks to bring their own. We used washable cloth gardening gloves to prevent making more trash from disposable latex or plastic gloves. We also brought garbage bags and sent each small group of two to four people off with two bags: one for trash and one for recycling. We also kept a bag set aside for compostable materials, too, like wooden barbecue skewers. Take it from us: bring more garbage bags than you think you'll need, as we had to ask a nearby food stand to kindly lend us some.

Attending a beach clean-up:

To find an event near you, do an Internet search, or ask a local environmental organization if there are any groups who offer them in your area. If you're near the Great Lakes area in the United States or Canada, the Alliance for the Great Lakes keeps a map of local events. A few other beach clean-up hosting regulars worldwide: United by Blue on the East Coast of the United States, or the Clean Coast Collective in Australia. If you know of a local organization you'd like to share with others, please comment below!

There of course, too, is immense value in picking up trash without a formal event, without data collection, on places other than beaches. It needn't be formal. You can do so on a walk with friends, your dog, while sitting at the beach slightly bored with your kids. My dad fills a small bag with trash each time he takes the dog for a walk at a nearby creek. All I recommend if you're going solo is using a pair of gardening gloves to keep your hands clean and taking care to avoid sharp objects.

Thank you to all who came to our event and showed so much enthusiasm for it. We're looking forward to hosting more of these next year!

Top and bottom left photographs taken by my friend Marguerite - you can see more photographs from the event in her blog post about it, here.

July Zero Waste Chicago Meet-Up

Zero Waste Chicago Meet-up July 2017

Excited to share the details of our July Zero Waste Chicago meet-up, for any local readers and friends! We'll be getting together over a picnic potluck at Monarch Community Garden in Humboldt Park to chat, eat, and enjoy summer in the garden.

Monarch is located on California Ave between Adams and Cortez, directly across from Adams & Sons Garden Center. Street parking is available, or the garden is also easily accessible via the California or Division buses. Please bring a snack or dish to share, as well as a plate, utensil, and drinking glass or water bottle for yourself. We'll make sure that vegan and gluten-free options are available. And, if you're planning on coming, I'd recommend signing up for the Zero Waste Chicago email list (click here and then "subscribe" down in the bottom right-hand corner), so we can make sure to let you know if the event gets rained out last minute!

And, don't forget about our June meet-up tomorrow, June 10th. We're joining forces with Urban Rivers to plant a garden that will later be installed in the Chicago River, to provide a habitat for wildlife and help keep the river clean and trash-free. Full event details here - hope you can make it!

July Zero Waste Chicago Meet-Up

June 2017 Zero Waste Chicago Meet-up

Chicago friends and readers, I'm excited to share details of our next Zero Waste Chicago meet-up. At our June event, we'll be helping Urban Rivers plant a garden that will later be installed in the Chicago River, to provide a habitat for wildlife and help keep the river clean and trash-free. All of the work will be happening on dry land, though - no kayaking needed!

Please plan to wear closed-toe shoes and clothes that you don't mind getting dirty. If you're planning to attend, just shoot us a quick note to RSVP at

As always, everyone is welcome - feel free to bring friends and family who might like to spend some time getting their hands dirty for a good cause. You can find more details on the event here. Hope to see you soon!

May Zero Waste Chicago Meet-up

Chicago zero waste meet-up, May 16th, 2017

Chicago friends! We hope you can join us in a few weeks for our next zero waste hang-out, where we're hosting an On the Table discussion with The Chicago Community Trust. We'll be talking about how we can build a stronger, more inclusive zero waste community in this city. Our discussion will be held at the wonderful Local Foods grocery store and restaurant space. We hope to see you there, and feel free to bring friends (non-zero wasters are so, so welcome, too!).

April Zero Waste Chicago Events


Chicago friends, mark your calendars for these two events, coming up this month!

First, we'll be offering a zero waste workshop at Sugar Beet Food Co-op in Oak Park on Friday, April 21st from 5 to 6 pm. It's free and open to all, and there will be snacks, drinks, and samples. We'll be chatting about early steps you can take in your zero waste journey, offering tips and tricks, and answering any and all questions. We hope to see you there! (You can check out Sugar Beet's awesome bulk selection while you're at it).

Secondly, our next group meet-up is set for April 29th. We'll be meeting up to march together in the Chicago People's Climate March, a local outpost of the national event happening that day. We'll meet at the Argo Tea on Federal Plaza at 11:30, then join the march when it starts around noon. Everyone is welcome, and feel free to ask your friends or family to tag along!

And for all you dear non-Chicago email subscribers who might be a bit tired of seeing these Chicago events pop up in your inbox... in the next month or so, I'm switching over my email subscription service to one that allows me to do a newsletter format, so that you can opt into a weekly digest with a round-up of all the posts for the week. Hopefully that cuts down on your inbox clutter a bit!

Introducing Zero Waste Chicago!


I'm excited to share that a new project that friends and I have been working hard on for months is launching today! We've started Zero Waste Chicago, a new environmental organization working to move the Chicago area away from disposables to a more circular, lower-waste economy. You can read more about our mission here, if you'd like.

First up, we've built a website that offers a detailed map of the zero waste resources available in Chicago - where you can buy the things you need (compostable dish brushes, bulk laundry detergent, safety razors, kombucha on tap!) and where you can compost. We're starting to lead workshops throughout the city - our next workshop is coming up on April 21st at Sugar Beet Co-op in Oak Park. We also host monthly meet-ups for the zero waste crew here, and all are always welcome (our next one is April 1st, details here).

Otherwise, what's next for us is beginning to host more workshops and outreach opportunities and applying for non-profit status. If you'd like, you can head over to the website to sign up for our email list (just hit "subscribe" at the very bottom) to get a once-a-month update of what we're up to, or to get on our meet-up mailing list if you live in Chicago and are interested in meeting other zero wasters. Or, you can follow us on Instagram or Twitter if you want to stay in the loop.