The final Friday Forum of the semester at the University YMCA took place on November 10th. The Building a Better Environmental Movement series won’t officially conclude until April 18th, 2018, when environmental activist and 350.org found Bill McKibben speaks at the YMCA. But this talk, entitled “Conservation, Waste, and the Revitalization of Urban Communities,” was more than enough to tide us all over until Mr. McKibben arrives in April. The lecture was given by Jonathan Pereira, Executive Director of The Plant Chicago.

The Plant is a non-profit organization and food production space in Back of the Yards, Chicago. Their mission is to promote healthy and sustainable living through the development of circular economies for businesses. Pereira explained that there is no one set definition of circular economy, so it is easier to explain what it is not: it is not linear. In a traditional linear economy, inputs of raw materials are made into products, we consume these products, and then the waste is discarded. While a linear economy is simple and relatively easy to manage, it is not sustainable. As Pereira put it, “We live on a planet with finite resources, but we operate as if there are infinite resources to consume.” Therefore, the continuation of linear economies is one of the biggest crises that humanity faces.

So, The Plant seeks to solve this problem by repurposing all the outputs of the businesses it contains as inputs for others. Doing so “closes the loop” of material reuse. It is important to differentiate between the concepts of “reuse” and “recycling” when understanding what The Plant does. Recycling requires an object to be completely broken down into its components, and then rebuilt into a new object, a process that requires a great deal of energy and therefore is rather inefficient. At The Plant, the goal is to reuse outputs as they are, so this extra expenditure of energy is not needed. While recycling is obviously still preferable to discarding waste into landfills, from the circular economy perspective, it should still be the last thing next to a landfill that we want to do with our waste.

The Plant Chicago is located at 1400 W 46th St, Chicago, IL 60609. Tours can be arranged and more information can be found at their website, plantchicago.org.

On April 13th, 2018, Bill McKibben, famed environmental activist, will speak at the YMCA as the final installment of the Building a Better Environmental Movement Friday Forum series. Until then, Friday Forum will continue next semester at noon on Fridays on the topic of Art and Activism.