Earth Day

Let me start off by saying how much I love being outside. It’s fantastic and offers me the motivation to be more conscious of my choices, and being connected to earth is truly a beautiful thing. The lake, the river, the beaches, the parks, and the forest preserves all scattered about the city are what I love about it here, and living in a booming city of almost 3 million people makes it easy to forget that I could immerse myself in those spaces.


While the focus of this blog project is to highlight efforts in lessening waste impact, I also possess a proactive nature and want to talk about my experience in joining efforts with the Friends of the Forest Preserves. I was in search of an activity that I felt was going to be a valuable use of my time for my community, while also serving to my interests.

In January, I made the bold decision to sign up for a Stewardship Day in LaBagh Woods in 6°F weather. Though those I told about it thought I was crazy (and maybe I am), it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made at the time. I’ve stuck with it, and am more than excited to start becoming involved in their education and leadership opportunities and also seeing the noticeable impact of the time and labor donated by all the volunteers, especially as the weather starts to warm.

Earth Day 2018 was the first Earth Day I celebrated with such dedication. Here, I would like to share more on that experience, and what Stewardship Days are about. They are generally geared toward restoration of the forest preserves, and often that involves eradicating invasive species, seeding or planting native shrubs, and this most recent day I attended I had the wonderful opportunity to continue work on a trail staircase. This means that not only do these stewardship days renew the native ecology, they also make the woods more accessible to people who want to appreciate it.


Above is a shot of the staircase before we went to work on it. You can barely see it, right? Maybe a few slats here and there, but it’s otherwise been used and covered with leaves over the two years since it was originally put into place. Below shows some stairs close up after they’ve been repaired.


When the stairs were first built, leaves were used with the idea that they would eventually form a soil between the wooden slats. They did, and now the steps were ready for some maintenance. We cleared the extra leaves, made the steps more visible, graded them, and reinforced them, all using materials from the invasive species we cut down.

And wow, what a feeling of accomplishment after a day like that! I was put in charge of creating the reinforcements for the stairs, which were in the form of spikes that anchored the stair edges into the dirt. The spikes were created using a hatchet to sharpen the ends of felled buckthorn (the invasive species) branches. I had my own station set up, and I got a great workout from using that hatchet over the three hours we put into this.


Because it was Earth Day, the turnout for the stewardship workday was impressive as other organizations sent their own groups to join the Friends of the Forest Preserves efforts. We ended up splitting into two groups: one to take care of cutting down buckthorn, and the other took over the staircase work. The staircase team ended up being almost entirely filled by the Chicago chapter of community group called Gay For Good (check them out here) and we really got so much done in such a short amount of time!


The most satisfying part, though? Sticking a hatchet into a tree trunk.


Healthy Habits : Diet and the Planet


Healthy Habits: Diet and Planet

Finding the motivation to overhaul a lifestyle can be particularly trying, especially having grown up with certain ideas embedded within your daily habits. I want to stress that a journey to zero waste does not have to equate to immediately changing out all of your belongings to sustainable alternatives. In fact, it would actually be more wasteful to do everything in one go instead of making full use of the life of the items already in your arsenal.

As I continue to blog, there will inevitably be times that I run out of some food, cleaning supply, toiletry, or other material. These are the perfect opportunities to establish a new habit or seek out zero waste alternatives to what needs replacing. Try to find some baby steps at every turn.

Some small steps that I’ve used include:

  • Bringing a reusable shopping bag with me for groceries
  • As an extra step, bringing reusable produce bags for groceries
  • Buying pantry items in bulk
  • Saving the rare glass beverage bottle for use in my own home
  • Requesting no straw when being served a drink
  • Air drying my clothes after washing
  • Having reusable rags available in place of paper towels

Let’s take a closer look at some changes that are easy to make for grocery habits. This is by far the biggest change I’ve had in cutting back on the waste I produce.

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This, up until recently, is what a typical grocery haul was for me. Over the past many years, I’ve been making a real effort to eat healthier, but failed to take into consideration that what is healthy for me is not necessarily going to be any healthier for the planet. While my food choices were improving, I was failing to see what other new possibilities that consumer awareness could bring

I also started to realize that some items, like pan spray and pancake mix, are totally unnecessary purchases; I’ve found it’s better to just coat a pan with butter and make my own mix.


Now, my grocery trips end up looking more like this. There’s still some plastic in there (English muffins are my weakness for a breakfast choice), but notice the differences. In my attempt to diminish my use of waste, I’ve also started making healthier decisions in my diet. I now:

  • consume more whole foods, rather than processed.
  • eat less meat, to the point of barely bringing it into my kitchen anymore, which is also a bonus to the burden to our planet that is mass-raising livestock.
  • Am more conscious of nutritional values and intake fewer empty calories.
  • turn most of my waste for the week into compostable materials.

Try within the next week to make at least one sustainable change to your consumer habits. If you do – congratulations! You just took your first step.

The Birthday


My name is Alex, and today I turn 25. I feel like that’s a significant-enough number to make some personal evaluations and then turn it into a mass online social media campaign and join others in making a difference in the world. As we do, right?

This is Sunnyside & Emerald.

Sunnyside & Emerald is a personal Zero-Waste journey that has slowly transformed my routine over the past few months. My meals have become cleaner, my home has felt more homey, and the great outdoors have never felt closer – even in a city like Chicago!

I’ll be covering a variety of topics related (but not limited) to:

  • Environment
  • Self-sufficiency and self-care
  • Local Resources
  • Wellness
  • And, of course, Zero Waste

I’ll also take time to answer questions and solve challenges through thoroughly researched posts, as I want for this experience to be an interactive one for the zero waste community. During my journey, if anything resonates with you or you have further input, let’s start a discussion!

I hope that my platform here can provide the inspiration for someone to join in on this expression of love toward our planet. I also want the emphasize that what I present in this blog isn’t going to be a “one size fits all” for making use of zero waste alternatives. The important part of this journey is learning to recognize habits that are damaging to the planet and making changes to rectify that for overall longevity

This is the beginning.

And as I mentioned, it’s also my birthday! So, for step one, I want to invite anyone reading this to join me in celebrating by volunteering with me for the Cook County Forest Preserves and Friends of the Forest Preserves as a Centennial Volunteer this Saturday, March 10.

Volunteer information and sign-up can be found here.

If you are unable to participate, then I encourage you to donate to their forest restoration efforts here.

The Friends of the Forest Preserves provide an incredible opportunity for anyone to start making a positive environmental impact in aiding our public lands. Don’t let the cold dissuade you, either – even when the temperatures are sub-zero, the physical activity and burn pile keep you warm and energized. They generally have space reserved for up to 40 volunteers on any given day, so if you do sign up please let me know so I can prepare the organizer for a larger group of new people who will be joining us that day.