Merchandise Mart home to huge recycling center

March 25, 2011 3:37:52 PM PDT
The largest commercial building in the world, the Merchandise Mart is ''green'' year-round -- and especially so during Earth Hour.

Know for its sheer size and grandeur, The Mart is 25 stories high and stretches over two full city blocks along the Chicago River. "We have office and retail here. We have residential. We have the Luxe Home boutiques," Kristen Pabst, assistant property manager, Merchandise Mart, said.

But underneath the luxury shops is the building's true guts and glory. The 4.2 million square foot building is one of the country's largest recyclers. It has expanded from collecting simple paper and plastic. It also culls metal, batteries, construction debris and other waste. It even has a machine that recycles light bulbs.

"It breaks out the glass and the toxins that are in that light bulb and the metal part and it all gets shipped into a barrel and gets turned back into light bulbs," Kristen Pabst, assistant property manager, Merchandise Mart, said.

Usable items like doors removed from an inside office are donated to the rebuilding exchange, which sells them for second-hand use. That saves them from being dumped into a landfill.

The Mart will be switching off its exterior lights to observe earth hour, but they hope to have a greater impact.

"It's important to us to send the message that we don't only go dark for the hour, we reduce our utilities and our lighting in everything that we possibly can all the time, every day," Kristen Pabst, assistant property manager, Merchandise Mart, said.

While earth hour is largely a symbolic gesture, ComEd says everyone's participation makes a difference.

"Last year during Earth Hour customers turned off their lights and we were able to save enough energy to remove more than 124,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That's the equivalent of planting 15 acres of trees," Krissy Posey, ComEd, said.

Earth Hour is this Saturday night from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Learn more about the Chicago effort at and

For more on the recycling program at Merchandise Mart, visit

Despite its expansiveness, the building will sink back into the city's skyline Saturday as it participates in Earth Hour at 8:30 p.m.