Axios Chicago

Picture of the Chicago skyline.

September 22, 2021

Happy Wednesday! Today is the first day of fall. And in Chicago, that means winter is like a week away.

  • Today's weather: Autumnal. More showers with a high of 64 and a low of, gulp, 53.

Today's newsletter is 935 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Takeout containers that skip the landfill

a plastic takeout container holds a sandwich and tater tots.

Monica’s lunch in a reusable container. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Like a lot of restaurants operating through the pandemic, Baker Miller in Lincoln Square has seen takeout orders go through the roof in the last 18 months.

But that also meant that the bakery-focused eatery was sending a lot more plastic containers into the world.

  • "We were seeing them in trash cans everywhere," co-owner Dave Miller told Axios. "So we're like, 'we've got to come up with a better solution.'"

The latest: Last week, Miller introduced sturdy, returnable, and industrially washable plastic takeout containers.

Why it matters: EPA data shows 10 million tons of plastic went to landfills in 2018 — and that was pre-pandemic. Plastic production and incineration also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

How it works: Last week, Monica ordered from Baker Miller online and chose the returnable container option for an extra $3 deposit.

  • Her turkey & cheese sandwich w/tater tots, container, and tip came to $20.60.
  • When she returns the container to Baker Miller, she will drop it in a designated bin for washing and reuse.
  • And while she's there, she'll get $3 back or more food in another reusable container at no extra charge.

How it's going: Miller says they sold out of all 75 containers the first day.

  • But this week only about 20% of customers are asking for them.
  • Only a few people have returned them for a refill or refund so far.

What's next: Miller says he's talked to other local chefs who want to give reusable containers a try.

  • If more restaurants come on board, he'd like to create a network where customers can return their boxes to multiple spots around town.
  • Portland, Oregon, and New York City have done it with some success.

2. Lightfoot angry over slow lead line removal

a hand holds a lead pipe.

A worker in Detroit removes a lead pipe that connected the water main to a home. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios.

Last September, Mayor Lori Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor to launch a plan to remove Chicago's toxic lead service lines — pipes that connect most Chicago homes to water mains.

  • The plan aimed to remove 650 lead lines from low-income homes in the first year using $15 million in federal block grants.

Yes, but: The Chicago Department of Water Management has removed just six. Water officials say the program's extensive paperwork requirements are slowing them down.

Why it matters: With 400,000 toxic lead service lines in the ground, Chicago has more than any other U.S. city. The toxin — which has shown up in the water of two-thirds of tested homes — can cause brain damage and heart disease.

What they're saying: "I've not been shy about expressing my deep disappointment [in the slow pace of removal]," Lightfoot told Axios in an interview yesterday. "Absolutely more has to be done."

Her focus: "Doing a lot better work reaching out to folks and letting them know, particularly low-income households," that they can apply for free line removals.

The responsibility: "I've been very clear with [Water] commissioner [Andrea Cheng] that this is too slow. And that this is on her and her team to get the job done."

Recent change: "I now have a regular readout on what the progress is ... and I expect to see a significant turnaround in the work that's being done for it."

More from our interview with Lori Lightfoot in coming newsletters.

3. Tips and hot links

The Willis Tower on top of planet earth.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A Wisconsin gun was linked to 27 Chicago shootings in one month. (Chicago Tribune)

A man was charged for striking Ald. James Cappleman (46th) with a piece of a table. (BlockClub)

💰 A bank robbery in Naperville forced area schools to lock down yesterday. (Daily Herald)

The Chicago White Sox will eventually be American League Central champs, but they keep losing. Magic number still at 2. (South Side Sox)

🎵 Move over Metallica, The Fugees want the '90s spotlight back. (Sun-Times)

4. Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire returns

Andrew Bird plays violin

Andrew Bird performs onstage in 2020 in Los Angeles. Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird returns to Ravinia on Friday night, but this time with his former bandmates.

Flashback: Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire was a fixture in Chicago clubs in the 1990s, and this new show brings back almost all of the members for a retrospective.

  • "I just saw some old footage of the band from 1999, and I was struck at how much fun we were having," Bird tells Axios. "We were just doing things all for the right reasons. It was social, it was fun."
  • "But these old relationships are heavy and I'm bracing for it."

Context: After the Bowl disbanded in 2003, Bird went on to a critically-acclaimed solo career. He also took a detour into the world of acting, starring in the last season of "Fargo" on FX.

  • "I still don't quite understand what acting is," says Bird. "I think I can do it. I feel like by the last episode of 'Fargo,' I was like 'All right, I got this.' And then it was over."

The big picture: Friday also marks a homecoming for Bird. "I lived in Chicago for 36 years. I grew up there. From the Fine Arts building to The Hideout to Schubas, it's been a rich part of where I come from. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if I hadn't been in that environment."

If you go: Tickets start at $40.

5. Exhibit honors COVID-19 victims

Art for honoring COVID victims
George Rodriguez, "Mictlantecuhtli Offering," 2020, ceramic installation. Photo courtesy of the artist

All Souls Day, known as Día De Los Muertos in Mexico, takes on an extra somber tone at the National Museum of Mexican Art this year in a show that honors COVID-19 victims.

The show: "Día de Muertos: A Time to Grieve & Remember"

The art includes installations by Hector Duarte, Sandra Cisneros and Alejandro Garcia as well as an altar featuring 200 photographs of loved ones lost to COVID-19.

  • The museum describes it as "a healing way to acknowledge, accept and bear the inevitable."

Details: Free, now through Dec. 12.

Editor's note: Justin isn't well known for his math skills. Yesterday's 1 big thing should have noted that the 2022 city budget calls for $200 million more in police funding, not $2 million.

Our picks:

Monica is feeling cold and making a pot of lentils to warm up.

Justin is still watching Tyler the Creator's amazing set at Lollapalooza.

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