Food action items


Don't buy bottled water

Our tap water is high quality, much less expensive with a vastly more environmentally friendly delivery system than single-use plastic bottles.

Why do this?

A gallon of municipal tap water costs ½ cent while a gallon of bottled water costs $9.50/gallon -- 2000 times more expensive!

According to National Geographic, PET plastic water bottles take 450 years to degrade. While they can be recycled, in the US only 30% are. The other 70% goes into landfill, litters landscapes or bodies of water, including Lake Michigan. According to Food & Water Watch, four billion pounds of plastic are used each year in the US to produce water bottles -- enough plastic to fill the Empire State Building, taking more than 82 million barrels of oil to produce. This doesn’t include all the fossil fuel used to transport bottles from bottling plants to retailers and retailers to homes. Pipes are so much more efficient.

Evanston’s water is a gift from the Ice Age in the form of the Great Lakes. It must meet all Environmental Protection agency (USEPA) safety standards. Bottled water isn’t required to. On average Evanston’s Water Quality Laboratory does over 100 quality tests a day on its tap water, which is also protected from bacteria growth on its way to its destinations by a small amount of chlorine. According to the NRDC, tap water in most big cities must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens, and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottle water doesn’t have to be.

PET plastic water bottles contain phthalates, which are known disruptors of testosterone and other hormones, and over time leach into the water they contain. There are legal limits for phthalates in tap water, but not in bottled water, because the bottled-water industry successfully campaigned against them.

Action ideas!
  1. If you need to take water with you, fill bottles designed for repeated use.
  2. If you don’t like the taste of chlorine, acquire a simple filter pitcher to remove it. They cost around $30 not including cartridge replacements.
  3. If you do buy bottled water, read the labels. They will at least give you some information where the water comes from and what treatments it received. Around 45% of bottled water is sourced from tap water, often without further treatment.
  4. Avoid the use of plastic straws. They are even more likely than water bottles to not make it into recycling and end up in bodies of water
  5. If you are concerned about lead, have your water tested. Or for drinking water use a simple filter pitcher or faucet filter that removes lead. Or run your water until it turns cold, or even better, when you wake up in the morning or return from a day away, flush your toilet before you open the tap — this will flush your whole water system and it will take less time and waste less water. In Evanston lead in tap water can only come from the feeder pipes between the street and your house or apartment building. Some feeder pipes are made out of copper, galvanized steel, or ductile iron — not lead. You can locate your house on the map below and see what your service line is made of.

Some additional information about lead in water pipes

Since 1980, lead water pipes have not been used in the U.S. But because replacing underground pipes is complicated and expensive, all US cities have to deal with lead. Legally operated municipal water treatment facilities (including Evanston’s) use an orthophosphate chemical that prevents lead from flaking off pipes into drinking water. In Flint, Washington DC and Newark, lead from old pipes leached into the drinking water because the local water treatment plant stopped using this chemical. In every case, the change was made to save money and went against the US EPA's guidelines. The cost ended up being very high because of the health crises, the need to provide bottled water, and the loss of faith in municipal services. In Evanston, the water treatment plant has consistently used the proper chemical to prevent lead from getting into tap water.

More info
A map with information about your home water pipes (zoom in until you see blue dots which represent water accounts for each address), City of Evanston
The Truth About Tap, NRDC, January, 2016
City of Evanston’s website on lead
Environmental Protection Agency on lead in drinking water
Metropolitan Planning Council’s Water 123s
WBEZ’s “Curious City” news report on lead


Use less water to save energy

Energy is used in producing and pumping fresh water through pipes, in heating it, and then in treating it once it goes down your drain and back to a wastewater treatment plant. Here are some ways to get the most out of the water supplied to you.

Why do this?

Processing water — first producing it, then pumping it to buildings, then heating it for use, then pumping it away and finally treating it — is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric energy powers the pumps that distribute water throughout the city’s water supply piping system. Wastewater is collected and sent to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) treatment plants. There, electric energy also powers pumps, filtering, and treatment processes that allow “used” water to be returned back to our natural waterways.

Depending on your method of water heating, energy from natural gas or electricity is used to provide hot water for sinks, bathtubs, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers. Using less water often means using less hot water and, therefore, less heating energy.

These processes all have costs, whether it’s the water itself, or the energy for our end uses. Any water savings will yield cost savings, in addition to helping our planet.

Although we are fortunate to have an abundance of water here, we can also be model stewards in light of global freshwater scarcity.

Action ideas!

Consider these items to enhance your awareness and prompt easy changes. Making these no-cost approaches part of your regular routines can help make a difference

  1. Sign up for the City of Evanston’s WaterSmart Program to track your water use.
  2. Review your water consumption history to become familiar with usage patterns and help identify potential leaks.
  3. Fully load your dishwasher before running.
  4. Clean more dishes, pots, and utensils in the dishwasher instead of hand washing.
  5. Don’t let water run when not being used. (While brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc.)
  6. Use less water while showering by taking shorter showers, turning water off while you're soaping up, and using a partial water flow setting.
  7. Take fewer baths, showering instead.
  8. Fully load your clothes washer before running.


These items help identify some of the low-cost, straight-forward actions toward achieving more energy reduction improvements. For example, seek out ways to obtain incremental energy efficient options when you need to fix or replace something. The incremental cost for those product upgrades can often be modest when the main work is already planned.

  1. Make sure sink faucets have aerators to reduce the amount of water used and make what is used more effective.
  2. Install reduced flow shower heads. Much progress has been made to improve water distribution characteristics so these are more appealing to use. Use WaterSense labeled products.
  3. Add insulation around hot water pipes and water heater.
  4. Use rainwater when possible to irrigate outside plantings instead of tap water. Rain barrels offer a good alternative to using water that’s been treated for drinking.


Some significant investments can provide long-lived savings, as well as allow you to replace aging fixtures with new ones or incorporate water-saving ideas into future planning.

  1. Replace old toilets with low water consumption types. These plumbing fixtures have also improved over time to be more effective while using less water. Use WaterSense labeled products. 1.** Replace old appliances with high water efficiency models** for dishwashers and clothes washers.
    1.** Use native plant species for your yard landscaping**. They will typically thrive under normal rainfall, reducing the need for supplemental watering. Let the grass turn brown during droughts: it will recover when rains return.
  2. When trying to achieve significant reliance on renewable energy, consider solar thermal for water heating or switch to electric water heating so that solar photovoltaic energy can provide a greater contribution.
  3. When considering home improvement/remodeling projects,** look for ways to gain incremental advantages**. Modest price increases in selecting products can offer good savings over the life of the product.
  4. Support updates to Evanston’s plumbing codes to allow for non-potable water reuse for irrigation and other domestic uses (administered by the Community Development Department).
More info
City of Evanston’s WaterSmart program website
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense product website


Watch what goes down your drains

What you do in and around your home affects water quality well beyond our watershed because it is connected to downstream watersheds and ultimately to oceans.

Why do this?

Some contaminants are untreatable. If they go down your drains, are poured into toilets, or down stormwater drains they go into our rivers, down the Mississippi and out to the Gulf of Mexico. These untreated contaminants can reduce human health, wildlife health, aquatic ecosystems, and our aquatic food supply.

Older communities, such as ours, have a combined sewer system in which stormwater from rainfall combines with sanitary wastewater into a common piping system for treatment.

Wastewater/stormwater treatment processes include filtering out larger debris, biological breakdown, separation of fine materials, and antimicrobial measures. However, the various treatment processes are unable to completely remove or neutralize most pharmaceuticals, non-biological compounds, and ultrafine particulates.

Action ideas!
Avoid putting untreatable indoor contaminants down drains

Household chemicals like paint can be toxic to the environment if disposed of incorrectly. Trace pharmaceuticals may adversely impact the environment and public health. The presence of these compounds in the aquatic environment, even trace quantities, could result in impacts such as antibiotic resistance, abnormal hormonal effects, and interference with the reproduction and growth of aquatic life.

Plastic microbeads from cosmetics and personal hygiene products enter the water system primarily through sinks, tubs and showers. Fortunately, recent legislation was passed to discontinue the sale and manufacture of products containing these small plastics.

Microfibers released from synthetic clothing enter the water system primarily through clothes washing. Studies indicate synthetic fleece materials may be especially prone to this shedding. These contaminants get consumed by fish and other wildlife, posing a danger to the food chain. The small plastic fibers may “bioaccumulate” as the animals that consume them are then consumed by larger animals. The toxins related to these plastics become concentrated in the bodies of animals higher on the food chain, all the way up to us.

These items can help you eliminate your contributions of contaminants to the common wastewater stream.

  1. Make sure household chemicals are disposed of properly. Take advantage of hazardous waste collection sites around Chicagoland, provided by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
  2. Make sure medications are disposed of properly. Don’t flush expired or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs down the toilet or drain. For medication and prescription drug drop-offs, Evanston residents can dispose of unwanted or unused medications in the pill collection unit located in the front lobby of the Evanston Police Department, 24 hours a day.
  3. Reduce microfiber contaminant by putting polar fleece clothes in a fine mesh laundry bag.
  4. Add a pantyhose stocking to the inside of your washing machine lint trap. This will help capture fibers from the water, similar to your dryer’s lint trap.

Avoid untreatable contaminants reaching storm sewers from your property

As water travels over land or through the ground, it dissolves substances resulting from human activities. Precipitation on our cities and towns runs across hard surfaces - like rooftops, sidewalks and roads - and carries pollutants, including pesticides, and nitrogen and phosphorus which are found in fertilizers. Nutrient pollution is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. Too much causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. This increase harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic life for survival. Large algal blooms reduce or eliminate oxygen in water, leading to fish illnesses in fish and death in large numbers. Algal blooms can be harmful to humans if elevated toxins and bacterial growth occur that can make people sick if they contact polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.

These items can help you eliminate your contributions of contaminants to the common stormwater stream.

  1. Reduce or eliminate use of pesticides (both herbicides and insecticides) in yards.
  2. Eliminate the use of plant and yard chemical fertilizers designed to feed the plants directly. Replace them with biological natural soil amendments that gradually improve the health of soils and thereby the health of plants. This not only avoids runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus during wet weather that cause algae blooms and dead zones in lakes and ocean, but also allows soil to hold onto more water when it rains, making your garden more drought tolerant and downpours less overwhelming to drainage systems.
  3. Do not add to the amount of outdoor impermeable hard surfaces on your property. If those that exist need replacement, or you want to add hard surfaces areas, choose among many hard surface options that are permeable. Also consider converting areas with hard surfaces back to soil and plantings.
  4. Plant a rain garden of native plants, shrubs and trees that reduce the amount of lawn fertilizer needed, slow down the flow and capture rainwater, allowing more to sink in and less to run off.
More info
CIty of Evanston Sewer Maps
Medication disposal practices: Increasing patient and clinician education on safe methods, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Household Chemical Disposal, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC)
Microbead Menace, Alliance for the Great Lakes
Website of the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC)
What You Can Do: In Your Yard, Environmental Protection Agency, undated
Stormwater Runoff, City of Evanston
Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) website, the regional agency that provides Evanston’s water treatment.


Make the most of downpours

In Evanston we experience more sudden downpours than we did in years before and more is expected based on climate predictions for our region. We are challenged to avoid drowning in this free resource, and to instead make maximum use of it.

Why do this?

As our town borders Lake Michigan and we get considerable annual precipitation, water is a locally abundant resource. One might think we therefore need not pay much attention to capturing heavy rainfall. But there are several reasons to do so.

Capturing rain on our properties can help us keep our gardens and lawns green during droughts and miminize the need to water, reducing our water bills.

It can also helps avoid overflows of our sewer systems that cause basements to flood and system overflows to pollute the lake and the North Shore Channel. Getting good at this at a community level will also delay or avoid altogether the need to further upgrade sewer systems: a cost that property owners would be required to bear.

Here are some ways to manage water before it goes down a drain or runs downhill off of our properties.

Action ideas!
  • Plant trees—and take care of them. Trees intercept stormwater and help absorb and hold it in the soil. The bigger and healthier the tree, the more it helps with stormwater management.
  • Plant deep-rooted prairie and savanna plants. Like trees, they also slow and absorb stormwater—and they provide numerous other benefits, like attracting providing food for butterflies and birds.
  • Direct downspouts to areas that can hold and absorb heavy downpours. Consider creating swales or rain gardens. Note: Make sure that water will flow away from the foundation of the house and soak into the ground. It’s ok to let water stand for up to two days, as long as it’s not against your house. It will eventually soak in.
  • Make your garden more sponge-like by removing turf, expanding planting beds, and leaving fallen leaves to decay in beds and under trees and shrubs. Avoid chemical fertilizers that can damage healthy soil and instead use biological soil amendments that build soil. The healthier it gets the more water it can retain and the less prone it is to be lost in runoff or wind.
  • Avoid paving wherever you can. If you need to replace a driveway or walk, consider permeable options that allow infiltration of water. If your alley needs replacement, consider involving neighbors and asking for a green alley, which has a central strip of bricks with spaces among them that allow drainage down into the ground.
  • Avoid doing water intensive tasks like taking a bath or doing the laundry during downpours so as not to add to the extreme burden the sewer system must bear.
  • Sign up for Overflow Action Days with Friends of the Chicago River. They will alert you when heavy rainfall is expected and suggest that you avoid heavy water use activities.
More info
Midwest Climate Predictions in the 2018 National Climate Assessment

Green infrastructure solutions

RainReady, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago
Stormwater Management, Metropolitan Planning Council
Rain Gardens , IL Extension of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Community & Economic Development serving Cook County, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Stormwater problem prevention

Overflow Action Days E-alert sign-ups, Friends of the Chicago River
About the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District by commissioner (and Evanston resident) Debra Shore
Tunnel and Reservoir Plan of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago


Raise your voice for water justice

Beyond actions we take at our homes and in our communities, another way to benefit the watershed is to urge our elected officials to support legislation that will improve the health and safety of our water.

Why do this?

Constituent advocacy helps politicians do what they’d like to do if they agree with advocates, and helps increase their attention to matters that are not top of mind. Even if your representative has announced support for bills you favor, it helps to let them know you care and approve of their stance.

Action ideas!

As of May 2020, support these Illinois state bills by contacting your state representatives:

  • Senate Bill SB2916 Lead Service Line Replacement (Steans/Robinson) -- Requires every municipality to have a plan in place for replacement of lead service lines, as well as a robust inventory with prioritization of vulnerable communities, and rate relief through a Low Income Water Assistance Program.
  • Senate Bill SB3154 Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)(Ellman) -- IEC and Sierra Club plan to introduce legislation that would phase out PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging.
  • Senate Bill SB3311 Lead testing at parks (Peters) -- Protects children from lead exposure and requires testing for lead at parks.
  • Senate Bill SB3462 Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy fund (Villivalam) -- In order to address the state’s difficulties with implementing the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, this legislation would create a fund in statute for the first time dedicated to nutrient loss reduction and provide additional fiscal resources to agencies implementing the strategy.

Senate Joint Resolution SJR 60 Protecting communities in floodplains (Koehler) -- Encourages sound floodplain management by IDNR, including preserving oversight of levees. Senate Bill SB3547 / House Bill HB4329 Ban on leaded garden hoses (Curran/Costa Howard) -- Requires the sale of only lead free garden hoses. Senate Bill SB2975 / House Bill HB4605 Quarries (Ellman/Connor) -- IEC and ELPC are reintroducing legislation to require groundwater monitoring at clean construction of demolition debris (CCDD) sites.

More info
Illinois State Board of Elections Find My Elected Officials web page
H. RES. 109 (Green New Deal)
Sierra Club Home Page: Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet
Contact information for local office of Food and Water Watch.
Rising Tide Chicago homepage. Its mission is to confront the root causes of climate change
Sunrise Movement homepage. They are building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.