How Des Plaines History Center, Park District are supporting Earth Month

With April being Earth Month, it is only natural that we focus on … nature. And there certainly are many opportunities to do so.

The Des Plaines Park District will celebrate Earth Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at the Arndt Park Field House, 1990 White St. Also, the group Clean Up — Give Back is cleaning up trash, via the Chippewa Woods entrance to Axehead Lake, 2760 S. River Road. Gloves, grabbers, safety vests and trash bags will be provided from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 13. Register in advance at or simply show up. The rain date is Sunday, April 14.

Clean Up — Give Back also is conducting its annual plastic bag drive in April, diverting some 10,000 pounds of pliable plastic bags and film from the landfill by partnering with locations such as the Des Plaines History Center at 781 Pearson St. Our box is filling up, but when it comes to recycling plastic: It’s in the bag. The History Center, for example, will be collaborating with members of the Des Plaines Art Guild on a Fourth of July parade entry featuring flowers crafted from plastic bottles. Appropriately, this year’s theme is “Planting the Seeds of Happiness.”

A group of chemistry researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is working on ways to recycle an increasingly popular form of plastic called polyoxymethylene or “POM.” Delrin by DuPont is one popular version of this hard-to-recycle, crystalline resin used in the automotive industry to replace metal gears and in some zippers.

Yuting Zhou, a postdoctoral associate and co-author of the research study, was part of a team that used renewable energy to break down this rigid plastic into its original chemicals, which can be reused.

“As for the fate of used POM products, there's currently no reported data on their disposal after consumer use,” Zhou said. “If they are tossed in a trash can, I believe they will end up in landfill.”

According to the U of I, more than 8 billion tons of plastics have been produced to date, with 80% ending up in landfills or as environmental pollutants.

“We're proposing a new approach to address the plastic problem,” Zhou said. “Instead of traditional thermochemical or mechanical recycling methods, we're exploring the potential of leveraging electricity. While it may not immediately solve the entire plastic problem, we aim to inspire the scientific community to integrate renewable energy sources like electricity into a circular plastic economy.”

Such “interventions” are important, since we all covet a sustainable environment for our kids and their kids. Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times ran an article about the need for bird-safe buildings such as the Robert Crown Community Center in Evanston. Its patterned glass helps migrating birds see glass windows as solid structures, while not detracting from the building’s overall design or appearance.

Chicago’s development plan seeks to curb countless bird deaths by avoiding railings, elevated walkways and the use of landscaping and architectural elements that channel birds toward windows. Similarly, it encourages awnings to reduce glare, louvres for visibility and minimizing decorative lighting at night — particularly on upper floors. Recommendations can be found on the following websites, as well as others:

The American Bird Conservatory singled out New York City; Mountain View, Calif.; and Toronto, Canada, for their adoption of bird-friendly building guidelines. Toronto’s “green standard” affects all industrial, commercial, and institutional developments; residential buildings four stories or higher; and low-rise residential development near natural areas.

Des Plaines has set a limit of 165 feet for commercial structures, but the pressure to rise even higher continues to build — further dwarfing historic buildings such as the old Des Plaines State Bank building at Lee and Ellinwood streets near the depot. It may be time to follow Chicago’s lead and reward bird-safe designs in new buildings.

Kurt Begalka is executive director of the Des Plaines History Center. He may be reached at

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