After being unexpectedly ditched on a frozen Friday night two weeks ago, I drowned my sorrows in a cup of Whole Foods' vegan chocolate mousse (with a side of bourbon) while watching the only thing my non-cable-equipped television could pick up: sitcom reruns. The mind-numbing pityfest, which began with an uninspiring, underpants-themed episode of "Friends" and lasted all the way through two unsuccessful couplings on "Blind Date," left me feeling much the same way I feel after downing half a bag of El Rancheros and calling it lunch: desperately in need of a cleanse.
Coming to my rescue was the newly opened Household Chemical & Electronics Recycling Center, 1150 N. North Branch St., which sits less than a mile from my apartment. So, before I could change my mind, I did it. I got rid of the TV. And I've gotta say, it felt pretty good.
If you're thinking about trashing an old TV, computer, cell phone or other electrical appliance, think twice before ditching it in an alleyway or a dumpster. Electronic products often contain toxic materials that become environmental hazards when these products are dumped in a landfill or incinerator. Recycling not only diverts these materials from the waste stream, it also reduces the energy and raw material costs of producing new products, since some components can be re-used.
The Center isn't just for electronics: Like the name says, the facility accepts household chemicals, which have pretty nasty environmental effects when dumped down drains or tossed in the trash. If you've decided to make the switch to eco-friendly cleaning products and you're not sure what to do with your leftover Windex, this is the place to go. Ditto for other harmful compounds like used motor oil, drain de-cloggers, lawn and garden chemicals, antifreeze, oil-based or aerosol paints, or even used batteries.
Not all products can be recycled, but the ones that can't are sent to specially designed incinerators and landfills that minimize the pollution impact of hazardous wastes. And in the case of paints, the leftovers are stored at the Center where anyone is free to take them home for re-use, so if you've got a project in the works, you're in luck!
The best thing is that the drop-off process is completely hassle-free. The Center opens at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays, so I loaded the TV into my car and zipped by the building on my way to work. The giant warehouse of disembodied motherboards and monitors may not be the cheeriest of places, but the two staff on duty were friendly and helpful, unloading the set and sending me on my way in a matter of minutes.
Since my TV still works, it'll be donated to a nonprofit organization that could put it to better use than my occasional sitcom binge. As a thank-you, they handed me two brand-new CFL bulbs—an awesome freebie, since the energy-saving bulbs are pricier than the conventional kind.
Revved up for recycling? Check out these other totally convenient options:
Batteries: They may seem small, but since everyone uses them, they add up to major weight in landfills. The metal components can be re-used, and the chemicals inside are best disposed of in specialized facilities. It couldn't be easier: drop 'em at a nearby Chicago Public Library, or at a Walgreens in plastic bins set up for the service.
Christmas trees: Strings of lights that won't make it to next year should be dropped at the Household Chemical & Electronics Recycling Center. But on Jan. 8, you can take your tree to one of 22 parks across Chicago between 9 a.m.-2 p.m., and you'll go home with some mulch, a year's supply of blue bags and the unbeatable feeling of sending your tree off to do good for a second time.
Cell phones: Used cell phones and parts from the U.S. can often give an affordable option to citizens in developing countries. Even if yours doesn't work, the old phone is considered hazardous waste. Drop it off at Staples stores, or most wireless provider stores, and they'll happily take care of it for free.
After four greener-than-average college years as a co-op dweller-turned-aspiring-permaculturist, Julia Steinberger finds it hard not to feel guilty about her one-bedroom apartment, daily commute and indulgence in the occasional dollar burger. She'd like to dream that she could live in a tent/treehouse/rabbit hole, but the truth is, she'd rather stay in the city while doing her best to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. You can contact her here.