Community Profile: Julie Moller, Bag Monster & Founder of Recycling Extravaganza

Bag Monster - JM When Julie Moller showed up as the "bag monster" last year at the One Earth Film Festival, we knew we had connected with someone special. As facilitator for the film Bag It at the River Forest Public Library, she came in a handmade costume consisting of hundreds of plastic bags.  Needless to say, she attracted a lot of attention. And, she still gets  use out of that costume.

"I've worn that costume to the science fair at my daughter's school, a girls scouts event, and on Earth Day. My kids are used to it," she laughs. But her commitment to waste reduction doesn't stop there. As founder of River Forest's Recycling Extravaganza--this year's runs on May 3 from 8 am to 1 pm at River Forest United Methodist Church, 7970 Lake Street, River Forest -- she mobilizes hundreds of people to divert carloads of stuff from the landfill and get these materials into the hands of people who can reuse them.  We talked to Julie about the event and what motivates her.

GCC: How did this get started?

Julie Moller Profile PicJM: I had attended a similar event at Cantigny Park in Wheaton several years ago. So I contacted the person who organized it, Kay McKeen. She runs the organization, School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE). She filled me in on what she does, and I looked at what we could do here in the Village. I got a committee together through River Forest District 90's Green for Good team, found a venue and then started connecting to recycling entities that would take the stuff. We found recyclers or re-users for corks, eyeglasses, old bedding for pet shelters, cooking grease, batteries and dozens of other items. We also accept fluorescent tubes, electronics and prescription drugs for proper disposal.  See poster for details.

GCC: How does the Recycling Extravaganza work?

JM: It's  a drive-up and drop-off system. People don't get out of their cars. We take down their zip code and record what they drop off. And we empty their trunk, back seat,extravaganza bikes or in some cases, U-Haul! Typically, about 60 percent of cars come from River Forest, but we get people from the surrounding suburbs and even a few from Chicago.

GCC: How did it go that first year?

JM: At our first event in 2012, I was expecting maybe 50 or 100 cars. But we got 575 cars! Last year, I thought, we can't do better than that...well, we got 750 cars!  We filled every container and had to turn away 20 cars.

GCC: The lesson there is to come early. And, it sounds like a lot of work. Tell us about your volunteer structure.

JM: The first year, core Green for Good members stayed all day. Last year, we formalized the jobs, so that people had separate tasks. We had about 65 volunteers. This year, we have almost 90 volunteers, including the people working the trucks. We're still looking for more volunteers for this year.  Sign up now!

GCC:  Why trash?

JM: I've been interested in trash since I was a kid. It drives me nuts when there's a recycling bin, and I see an aluminum can in the trash bin next to it. Or, I'll pick up a piece of litter someone tossed, and calmly tell them, "I think you dropped something."  I hand it to them. They are kind of shocked! But I want to educate people. With a little bit of effort, you can give these things to others who can use them.

Interview by Laurie Casey