Green Ideas

Appears in the April 2023 issue.

By Kelli Ra Anderson

SCARCE provides local solutions to global problems

Outside SCARCE
SCARCE, 800 S. Rohlwing Rd., Addison

Back in 2006, as part of a School District 204 summer class tour revolving around local water and trash conditions, Granger Middle School science teacher Amy Scott first encountered SCARCE, a DuPage County environmental education organization. She and her colleagues at the Aurora school came away inspired, and with their enthusiastic students, took on SCARCE’s sustainability earth flag certification challenge. “Earning that flag was not an easy task,” Scott admits. “We flew it proudly.”

Scott, now at Aurora’s Still Middle School, continues to bring SCARCE’s hands-on learning into her classroom. Each year she witnesses her eight-grade student’s “aha” moments as they interact with groundwater watershed models affected by contaminated runoff, run energy-efficiency tests, and explore creative recycling and sustainability ideas.

York High School’s Pumpkin Smash
York High School’s Pumpkin Smash

SCARCE’s full name—School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education—is almost as big as its vision. Whether it’s hosting earth flag ceremonies, lunchroom-waste audits, pumpkin smashes (for composting), workshops, programs, classes, swap meets, or recycling and repair events, the nonprofit’s environmental education mission is steadfast: helping people take action to take care of the environment. Since its founding in 1990 by executive director Kay McKeen, the organization’s impact has become global. SCARCE’s message and programs have been covered by National Geographic, PBS, and the Weather Channel. In addition to eco-education, the group is also a model in community collecting and upcycling, resulting in keeping millions of pounds of discarded items out of landfills and instead repurposing them for people who need them.

Recycling textbooks, teaching materials, and classroom supplies has been a particular focus. “Since 1991 we’ve rescued over 10 million books,” McKeen says. “We send them to 105 countries and every state.” Donating to teachers and nonprofits (as well as helping replace resources lost in natural disasters), SCARCE upcycles through its Reuse Center. But the public is welcome to donate and shop, too, at its SCARCE-ly Used Books & Records store. “Some say it’s the best they’ve ever been in,” says McKeen, citing its eclectic collection of records, CDs, and refurbished instruments. Other items for recycling—such as electronics, paint, and cooking oil—are accepted at offsite locations listed on the organization’s website, Additional focuses include advocating for eco-friendly legislation, solar energy, and storm-drain medallions and running the programs PickUp5 Litter Clean-up and Literacy at the Laundromat.

With SCARCE’s help, Now Foods earned its earth flag in 2022.
With SCARCE’s help, Now Foods earned its earth flag in 2022.

As SCARCE’s message about recycling and sustainability has grown, so has its space. Its new 18,900-square-foot facility in Addison provides dedicated areas for exhibits, classes—and 100,000 books. “We love it,” McKeen says. “We are so grateful for the old location, but now we’re 100 percent accessible and have 90 feet of windows for natural light.”

Ultimately, McKeen credits a shared passion for the past 30-plus years of SCARCE’s impact. “We can’t do what we do without our incredibly talented volunteers,” she says. “We have retired teachers and principals–people who care about kids, literacy, education, and the planet. We are incredibly fortunate.”


Declutter for the Better

Committed to keeping usable items out of landfills, SCARCE is a model for community upcycling. Here’s a sampling of what the Addison-based nonprofit collects:

Hearing aids
School and art supplies
Office supplies
Records and CDs
Holiday lights
Cords and wires
Ink jet cartridges
Bikes and bike parts
Games and puzzles
Musical instruments
Terracycle packaging
Metal jewelry
Plastic bread tags


Photos courtesy of SCARCE