285. Get Growing: Waste-Free Initiatives Gaining Momentum in Barrington

Farmers are highly attuned to food waste, whether it be from surplus harvests to failed harvests. For many small farms, creating one’s own composting system is often the way to go.

Home Composting

Utilizing crops for their organic material as they breakdown creates an in-house way of making ones very own nutrient rich, organic soil and it reduces the amount going into landfill – of which, by the way, food makes up 1/3*. Why is that a problem when food is biodegradable and will break down anyway? Because of the way landfills work: without food having access to oxygen in the decomposition process, it releases methane gas – a very potent greenhouse gas that is simply not good for the environment.

It is hard not to get overwhelmed by it all when you consider the scale of the food waste issue currently in America. However, in order to make it manageable and be inspired to act, focusing on the areas in which one can actually have an impact is a great first step. From home to school to work, it is possible to play a small role in reducing our landfill waste for our communities.

The federal government has very recently declared a goal of decreasing the amount of food waste in the country by 50% by 2030. Inspired by this initiative, community members in the Barrington-area are already doing what they can to support a reduction in landfill waste by recycling, upcylcing, and composting. In the process, they are educating and empowering those around them to be able to do the same.

If we continue down this path, Barrington will be able to add itself to a list of communities and cities that will be able to reach these goals way ahead of schedule. We already consider our community to be unique in that we take maintaining our open spaces through conservation very seriously; collectively reducing our landfill waste seems like a natural next step.

Local Leaders in Reducing Waste

If you’d like to be part of the solution, there are various resources and ways get involved on a local level. Here are some of the nearby business and organizations actively participating in initiatives to reduce waste…


The Arboretum of South Barrington’s Spa Bleu is an Asha salon that takes sustainability seriously. The salon has recently initiated a program where they are able to re-purpose or recycle 85-95% of their salon waste keeping it out of our waterways and landfills. Hair, foils, color tubes, plastics and paper are all part of a salon’s day to day waste. By partnering with Green Circle Salons (GCS) – a company which helps spas sort and collect and re-purpose and recycle waste – Spa Bleu is able to create a more sustainable environment for their staff and clients.

GCS gives back 5% of their pre-tax profits to issues related to local habitat, women and children. In addition to making zero-waste efforts a part of their business culture, Spa Bleu is collaborating with The Illinois Institute of Art and recently hosted a fundraising “Trashion Show” event in aid of Educate the Children International in Nepal. Held at The Haight in Elgin, the Trashion Show featured original 100% recycled fashions.


The Wild Onion Brewery grows hops on their Lake Barrington property to brew their signature wet-hopped beer, named Otis. They also compost spent grain from their on-site brewery to use as fertilizer and they use Prairieland Disposal and Recycling for food scrap recycling. All of that goes to Midwest Organics, based in Wauconda Township.


Smart Farm recently celebrated their second annual Farm to Table dinner in the barn on Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital’s grounds. SmartFarm founder Kathy Gabelman announced that this year’s dinner would not only raise funds to support the farm’s mission of growing healthy food for local food pantries while also offering educational opportunities for the community, but would also be a zero waste event. In doing so she collaborated with local chefs and food proprietors who are aligned with this mission serving over 125 people using only real glass and dishware, cutlery, napkins and linens. All of the event’s food waste was composted for free by Prairieland, our area’s very own disposal and recycling service also located in Lake Barrington.


Prairieland Disposal and Recycling is a family owned, environmentally conscious waste removal company which services the greater Cook, Lake and McHenry counties. Unlike many of Prairieland’s competitors, Prairieland offers the removal of food scraps and organic materials from homes and businesses and composts them at a state-licensed compost facility which turns the food scraps and organic materials into compost and mulch. Prairieland has state of the art trucks which can pick up landfill, recyclables and food waste at one time reducing the amount of emissions and reducing the number of trucks on the road. Ever mindful of their environmentally friendly mission, Prairieland trucks run on bio-diesel fuel and a large portion of waste collected is recycled. For those in our community who would like to compost but are restricted to a different waste removal contract, Prairieland has a food waste container on site that is accessible any time they are open however, should you have over 20lbs of food waste, please contact Prairieland in advance.

Reducing Waste in Barrington’s Schools

Parent volunteers Renee Blue, Jennifer Kainz and Heather Boehm have launched an effort to reduce cafeteria and lunch waste at Hough, Countryside and Roslyn Road elementary schools over the 2014-2015 school year and are set to continue the volunteer effort into this year. Working with the schools’ principals, these moms have spent hundreds of hours in their children’s respective lunchrooms, helping to educate students about separating recyclables from landfill waste. Prairie Middle School has also made great strides toward conservation by taking part in a audit to quantify and be more proactive about sorting lunchroom waste.

While there is no composting or food waste removal offered by the current waste removal provider contracted with Barrington 220, the moms have been able to offer one day a week titled Waste-Free Wednesdays where they remove the collected food waste themselves, composting it at Prairieland’s facilities. The PTO’s from all three schools have also funded water bottle refill stations to further enhance conservation practices in our schools.

Upcycling is part of the waste reduction process too. This is when materials are unable to be composted or recycled, but can be re-purposed. TerraCycle offers a program which receives individual applesauce packets and capri-sun-like drinks and re-purposes them. Trex takes zip lock sandwich bags and turns them into composite decking materials. I recently observed Waste-Free Wednesday at Hough Street School and was impressed to watch the children make concerted efforts to put the waste in the appropriate receptacle. Go to the Barrington Area Compost Action Team Facebook page to learn more about how you can make a difference in your school or home.

Should our schools be interested, the schools have the opportunity to be a part of the Illinois Green Lunchroom Challenge which is a friendly competition among K-12 schools to reduce food waste and teach conservation lessons to tomorrow’s leaders. The Green Lunchroom program is being launched in collaboration with the Illinois State Board of Education and other partners. Participating schools can choose from a variety of suggested activities to improve the sustainability of their food services. Examples include a food waste prevention curriculum, composting, creative entrée names and donations to food banks. Schools with the most points will be recognized on Earth Day 2016 as the winner for the year. The Challenge period runs from Sept- April 2016.

* Statistics from Natural Resources Defense Council & TheWorldCounts.com.


About the Author

Marketplace - The Gentleman Farmer LogoJessica Green and her husband Dominic run The Gentleman Farmer, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program from their family farm in Barrington Hills. When they’re not working on the farm, Jessica and Dominic keep busy looking after their two young boys, Henry and Oliver. You’ll also find the Greens selling their freshest fruits and veggies at the Barrington Farmers Market on Thursdays weekly from 2 to 7 p.m.

Jessica also authors Get Growing with Jessica Green, an ongoing series at 365Barrington.com focused on local farming, food and family.

For more information about the Greens’ efforts in local and sustainable farming or to learn about how you can join their Community Supported Agriculture programs, visit Gentleman-Farmer.com.