Long fascinated by the biology of our ecosystems, and an avid recycler since "way before curbside pickup," Erlene Howard initially came to composting by way of her organic diet." I was teaching someone about raw food prep, and she asked for my food scraps to add to her compost bin. Once I learned about composting, I was really drawn to making it work for me." Though the theoretical part came easily, living in a condo without a backyard made the practical application more difficult. "I thought, ‘more people would do this if it were easy.’"
Erlene shared her vision for a residential compost pickup service with Ken Dunn at The Resource Center in Chicago. She drew on Dunn's knowledge of composting and her own experience running small businesses to create Collective Resource, Inc.
As CRI's owner, Erlene wears many hats. Though she manages operations, equipment, crews, bookkeeping and marketing, she says she enjoys the education piece the most. "When we started this in 2010, not too many people had been exposed to composting. They didn't really know what it was. I have had a lot of conversations about what composting is and why it's important. It's important to reduce landfill use, because food waste in landfills creates methane and CO2. It's important for air and water quality. People call us and want this information."
Erlene finds herself educating in many different settings. "Anytime I'm talking about the company, I'm educating about composting. It happens casually, socially, and at zero-waste events." As a result of her efforts, Erlene was recently awarded the Walter Lucansky Environmental Stewardship Award.
Erlene is delighted with the way CRI has grown. "In the beginning, it took us six months to divert our first ton. Now we do nine tons every week." That volume continues to grow, in part because of the attention CRI receives from the media. "There has been a lot of interest from newspapers and Medill journalism students, she says. People want to tell our story."
Mary Beth Schaye
From the moment she hosted her first event using compostable products in 2010, Mary Beth Schaye has been hooked on zero waste. She joined Collective Resource on Earth Day the following year and has been an enthusiastic evangelist for composting ever since.
Her passion for educating people in waste diversion makes her an ideal product and event planning consultant for CRI. "Hosting a zero-waste event is a great way to spread the word about the benefits of composting. It's environmentalism in action." Her design background and aesthetic sensibility also come into play here. "Environmentalism doesn't have to be dull. You can have a party that's both green and stylish. It can be both intrinsically and physically beautiful."
Mary Beth strongly believes that, "It's always better to be doing something rather than nothing." If you're thinking of composting at home, she can help you work out what your particular "something" can be. She's confident a solution can be tailored to fit anyone's needs and ambitions. "Anyone who eats can be a CRI customer, whether you are an individual or a large organization. I want you to understand the advantages of composting, and I can show you how CRI can make it easy."
Mary Beth has successfully designed waste diversion strategies for individuals, schools, houses of worship and other communities. She's received the governor's Environmental Hero award for her work at her daughter's school. Whether you're starting with a backyard bin, a kitchen bucket, a worm farm, or large-scale commercial collection, Mary Beth can be your good-natured guide.
As a youngster, Becky Brodsky spent a lot of time outdoors. That's where her father, a self-taught botanist, wanted to be. She traces her enthusiasm for composting and other environmental issues to having had this direct relationship with the natural world. Her parents also introduced her to the concept of sustainability through their work with food co-ops and Greenpeace. As a result, Becky says, "I've always been more aware of what I use and how I'm using it."
At CRI, Becky is a Zero Waste Event Consultant with a focus on organizations, particularly schools and businesses. "Composting can be good for businesses. They can actually save money on their waste hauling. It can also attract customers with similar values."
In the home, composting "sets a good example and communicates your values to your children. It makes you more aware of how you're using everything else. You end up buying less and wasting less in other areas, which can also result in savings."
As part of her integrated approach to environmentalism, in 2008, Becky founded the Green Team in the school her children attend and has led a wide variety of environmental efforts with a focus on waste reduction. She also set up a composting and recycling program at her synagogue.
In 2010, Becky received the Walter Lucansky Environmental Stewardship Award for her local efforts. Her green series of educational programs for the National Council of Jewish Women received national recognition. She has also earned her Green Classroom Professional Certificate from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), serves on the USGBC-Illinois Chapter's Green Schools Committee, and played a key role in the development of the programming for the 2014 Illinois Healthy and High Performing Schools Symposium. "Anything I'm involved with, I am compelled to make greener."
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