Most Americans should now be familiar with the green triangle
of never-ending arrows often found engraved or imprinted on the underside of water bottles, salsa jars or paper bags. The universal symbol helps us know to put a product in the recycling bin or the trashcan. My household puts newspapers, cereal boxes and milk jugs out to the curb every Monday morning, to be cycled through the city's recycling system
. Many Milwaukee residents, homeowners and businesses choose to participate in the recycling movement, hoping to limit the number of items trucked to landfills.
In addition to the city's recycling program, some local companies are moving beyond the standard recycling program, by developing creative and profitable means of reusing, reducing and recycling.
is my first example of an item made by and from Milwaukee residents. It is an organic grass and garden fertilizer made downtown, by Milwaukee Sewage Treatment Plant. If you think that the company turns a profit off of local sewer slime ... you're right. Instead of disposing of the treated waste, the city treats the nutrient-dense biosolids (a.k.a. feces) and sells it throughout North America. This recycling process has been in business for almost one century, as the Milorganite website recounts:
"In 1913 the City of Milwaukee created a sewerage commission charged with the responsibility of cleaning up the waterways. That same year, a chemist in England was experimenting with the biosolids in sewage sludge. Air was allowed to bubble through wastewater for a period of time. When the air was turned off, and the mixture settled, the water was purified. This was the beginning of the activated sludge process."
Scientists subsequently tested the possibility of using the material as fertilizer, and found it particularly effective, due to its high levels of nitrogen. Another unbeatable perk was that Milorganite sold for one-third the price of competing fertilizers. Today we would boast about it being local and organic!
Food "waste" pickup
My second example of local recycling is found at Growing Power
, a city-based farm dedicated to bringing healthy and affordable food to urban places where local produce is scarce. A friend who recently toured the agricultural compound boasted about the dedication Growing Power has towards compost. In fact, the website states:
"It all starts with food waste — food waste literally by the truck load. Not only does Growing Power compost all of our farm waste in Milwaukee, Merton and Chicago, but we also pick up food waste from Maglio's Produce, Tropic Banana and Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative in Milwaukee. Food waste from those three sources alone amount to 80,000 pounds per week or over 4 million pounds per year."
As Milorganite found an item to hold on to, before it ended up in the dump, Growing Power has found a way to reduce waste by reusing food items for its valuable residual nutrients, to ultimately grow more food. Creating rich soil allows empty lots or polluted areas to become grounds for growing tomatoes, beets and broccoli. Renewal does not yet have a corner on the green recycling triangle, but is surely part of the environment's greater recycling system.
Moving away from fertilizer-type recycling, the third count of Milwaukee's alternative recycling is found at Madam Chino's Look Nook
. The Look Nook's founder, Vanessa Andrew, recently spoke to a group of high school students interested in environmental conservation. While explaining her business of buying used T-shirts and reconfiguring them into stylish dresses, she gracefully stitched together ideas of
consumer culture, economics, recycling, art, and entrepreneurialism. Reusing old fabrics for new clothes or completely new objects like patches or wall art, Andrew is pushing commonly held notions of fashion while engaging in a low-impact model of society. One reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said
"One of Andrew's fortes is repurposing old things in creative, even conceptual, ways. Who would have thought that an old pair of women's tights could be transformed into a stretchy top, a bundle of '80s sweaters into a hoodie or a pair of old keys into earrings?"
Vanessa Andrew thought of making a new shirt out of old nylons. Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, probably thought of transporting local food waste to make richer soil. O.J. Noer studied the properties and benefits of Milorganite in the 1920s. It is thanks to these three creative thinkers, among many more, I'm sure, that we are all inspired to reinvent the idea of recycling and push us to become greener and greener.