zero waste

Anthony Bourdain's Wasted! Comes to Oak Park/River Forest

Anthony Bourdain's Wasted! Comes to Oak Park/River Forest

With 40% of all food being wasted in the United States, the Interfaith Green Network, in conjunction with several sustainable organizations in the area, want to help us all become Food Waste Warriors. Two programs are lined up to help us become more aware of the problem of food waste and what we can do about it at home.

Those who didn’t catch the documentary WASTED! at last year’s One Earth Film Festival have another chance next month at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Oak Park Library. Doors open at 6 p.m. for this free screening. All ages welcome. Please register here.

Resilient Communities Forum Offers Climate Action Options

Resilient Communities Forum Offers Climate Action Options

The Resilient Communities Forum on Jan. 31 at the Nineteenth Century Club drew 175 residents from Oak Park and River Forest. They heard from municipal and environmental leaders on ways nations and communities are addressing the challenges of climate change.

Meet Mindy Agnew: Oak Park's New Sustainability Coordinator

Meet Mindy Agnew: Oak Park's New Sustainability Coordinator

In mid-November, Mindy Agnew took on the role as Oak Park’s new sustainability coordinator, stepping into a post that had been vacant for more than three and a half years.

Mindy’s sustainability pedigree is already well established in Oak Park. She was a member of the team that guided District 97 to incorporate zero waste programs in the schools, beginning in 2008. Since that time, composting, recycling, and zero waste lunches have become commonplace throughout the Oak Park educational system.

A Tax We Hope No One Will Pay!

A Tax We Hope No One Will Pay!

The Village of Oak Park has unanimously passed an ordinance requiring stores over 5000 square feet to charge 10¢ a single-use bag. The new rule goes into effect on January 1, 2018, and will apply to both paper and plastic bags. The new 10¢ fee will be evenly split between the retailer and the Village, with the Village’s share earmarked for “environmental sustainability initiatives” which have yet to be named.

Halfway Through the Plan!

Halfway Through the Plan!

The PlanItGreen Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest – was created through compiling baseline data and holding many community forums, led by Seven Generations Ahead in collaboration with the Delta Institute.  The planning was funded primarily by the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation’s Communityworks Endowment Fund. Communityworks has three priority areas, including Environmental Sustainability.  PlanItGreen was established as a 10 year plan in this area, beginning in 2011. Thus, we are half-way through the Plan.

Do It Your Way with DIY Green Block Parties

Do It Your Way with DIY Green Block Parties

Summer is upon us and with it the annual block party season. Block parties are a special part of celebrating community and our wonderful outdoor spaces. It’s also a great way of recognizing and celebrating the many sustainability initiatives and resources in our community – whether it’s native or edible gardens, backyard or curbside composting (offered through the villages of Oak Park and River Forest), solar panels or learning about the awesome trees on your block. By shining a light on these important community assets, we encourage one another and help to build a more resilient future for our children.

Make a Measurable Difference by Being a "Green Guide"

Make a Measurable Difference by Being a "Green Guide"

PlanItGreen is launching a campaign to make a big reduction in the amount of material we send to the landfill. The PlanItGreen sustainability plan outlines a goal to divert 50 percent of Oak Park and River Forest “waste” away from landfills by 2015 and into compost and recycling, where it becomes a resource.

Community Profile: Justin Vrany, a Chicago restauranteur who takes zero-waste literally


Justin Vrany knows about the power of publicity, and the strength of the “green” movement. He opened his Chicago restaurant, Sandwich Me In, two years ago with a commitment to zero waste and to sourcing local, organic food. Despite a loyal customer base and favorable reaction to his delicious offerings, business was so slow that he found himself unable to pay employees and running the restaurant single-handedly for nearly six months last year. Then NationSwell produced a short documentary about the restaurant  recently (click "continue reading" below to see video). The documentary shows how Sandwich Me In is truly a zero waste restaurant. It has been widely viewed—over 130,000 views within the first several weeks—and has also sparked a series of articles in prestigious on-line and print publications (CBS News, the Huffington Post, Chicago Tonight and others).

And with the publicity have come customers! Now the restaurant is thriving and Justin is finding the time to start other initiatives, such as a local composting program where customers can bring their own compostables to the restaurant, and live music at the restaurant most evenings. He’s also been approached by other restaurants wanting to know how he does it, and is considering starting a consulting business to teach other restaurants how to incorporate zero waste principles.

Many of us use the term “zero waste” to mean reducing our landfill waste, but at Vrany’s restaurant zero really means zero. While most restaurants discard dozens of gallons of waste per day, or even per hour, in its two years of existence, Sandwich Me In has recycled or composted all but eight gallons of its waste—which is itself largely plastic-lined coffee cups and the like brought into the restaurant by its customers (photo at right). And even these eight gallons have been taken by a local artist to turn into a sculpture! Vrany tried to cancel garbage pickup, but the city wouldn’t let him, insisting that the restaurant pay at least the minimum $40 a month for trash pickup it doesn’t use.


Sandwich Me In is a proud member of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, and its commitment to sustainability doesn’t end with eliminating waste. Vrany refuses to buy overly processed or transported foods for the restaurant. Instead, nearly all of the food served by the restaurant is made in-house from scratch, using organic meats, dairy and produce from local farmers. (This year, Alex Poltorak’s The Urban Canopy will grow fresh produce for the restaurant in a dedicated Englewood plot so that food picked that day will be on the menu.) The restaurant also uses 100% renewable energy and is committed to water-conserving techniques. The restaurant’s furnishings and equipment are nearly all reused or refurbished—Vrany even ingeniously used the pallets from an appliance delivery to build out the restaurant’s behind-the-counter area!

Vrany began working in the restaurant industry at a young age, for powerhouses such as The Ritz and Nick’s Fish Market. He later attended the business and culinary arts program at Kendall College, where he learned about sustainability. Vrany credits a French teacher’s Food Politics course for changing his life, opening his eyes to what the U.S. is doing to its food and the planet. Vrany says that one of the many inspirational quotes painted on the restaurant’s walls sums up the way in which he lives his life: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want” (Anna Lappé, Small Planet Institute).

Justin Vrany, Sandwich Me In, 3037 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657, (773) 348-3037

Community Profile: Mindy Agnew, Sustainable Communities Advocate

Mindy head 1 shotInterview by Laurie Casey

In January, Oak Park, IL's Percy Julian Middle School successfully launched a "zero waste" lunch program for its sixth graders. For several weeks, school administrators, custodians, community members and students helped more than 300 sixth graders decide where to place their lunch discards among three bins (recycle, compost, landfill). A small group of sixth grade volunteers are now answering any lingering questions from their classmates about what goes where. The Julian implementation team is awaiting the results of an audit to find out how much waste the program is diverting from the landfill, and they expect the school will have lower waste hauling bills.

"This effort is a powerful example of sustainable community development in action," says Oak Park resident Mindy Agnew, a key parent volunteer who helped plan the roll-out. "The district, the custodians, the parents...we wouldn't be able to do this without their help. And what better audience than the best change agents I've come across, our students?"

Agnew, chairperson of Lincoln Elementary School's green committee and a member of an Oak Park parent collaborative called the Zero Waste Schools Group, is a passionate sustainability champion.

"The path to zero waste is not difficult. It's a different way of taking out the trash. It's that simple," says Agnew. "Waste is a big issue and a good one to start on. But there are so many sustainability topics: renewable energy, energy efficiency, toxins, to name a few."

In 2013 Agnew quit her full-time job as a senior vice president at Citi to pursue a career in sustainable community development. She is now earning a Master's degree in sustainable management at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She is embarking on a variety of sustainability projects, including helping the city of Chicago write a new composting ordinance.

She sees the path to zero waste as a process that takes time. Ideas need to percolate within a community before they take hold. Agnew looks at the school setting as an effective starting place.

imageAgnew has been involved in District 97's zero waste efforts since 2008, when the Zero Waste Schools Group, with the help of Seven Generations Ahead, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote the development of ecologically sustainable and healthy communities, received grant funding to implement sustainability measures in District 97 schools. According to Agnew, the schools used the grant money to install energy- and water-efficient dishwashers, purchase reusable lunchroom trays and silverware or add hand dryers in bathrooms.

"The grants required that we implement some sort of composting program in the school. So I was inspired to become a Master Composter. It's my favorite title! I'm crazy for worms!" says Agnew, who has brought her expertise on worm bins to science teachers and scout troops in Oak Park and beyond.

Here are the steps Agnew took to waste less in her life:

1. Implement a simple source separation process in your home. Use a three bin system: compost, recycle, landfill. "Don't buy new bins; use containers you have or reusable bags. A lot of packaging can be recycled. If it's soiled paper, it can be composted, as long as it's not plastic or foil lined," says Agnew.

2. If you have a yard, begin backyard composting. It's simple, and dramatically reduces the amount of landfill trash your family produces.

3. Join Oak Park's curbside CompostAble program ( "One of the fantastic benefits is that it makes you more aware of packaging when you are at the grocery store. We save money on groceries because we're cooking smaller meals and buying more in bulk," says Agnew. If you live outside of Oak Park, encourage your town to investigate a curbside pick up program.

4. Start growing your own food. Agnew began with simple with containers of herbs. "Each year we added something. We grew peppers, green beans, cucumbers. Grow it, eat what you use. What's left over, compost," says Agnew.

5. Take it outside and get involved in the community. Want to do more? Each District 97 school has a green committee and a liaison to the Zero Waste Schools Group. Ask around to find those contacts.  And if you are in River Forest District 90, each school has a Green4Good committee.  Green4Good will present the 3rd annual Recycling Extravaganza on May 3, 2014 in River Forest.  To volunteer for the recycling extravaganza or find out more about Green4Good please contact Julie Moller at  Or, volunteer with Seven Generations Ahead (, a key partner in local zero waste efforts.

For more information, visit these pages: Green Community Connection's Waste Page.  Seven Generations Ahead Zero Waste Page.  EPA's Municipal Waste Page.