CHICAGO – Most Chicagoans are unaware that everyday plastic products such as straws, bottles and utensils contaminate local waterways, an expert from Shedd Aquarium said on Monday.
A packed audience outside the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum in downtown Chicago tuned in to a noon lecture on single-use plastics with Shedd Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Action Jaclyn Wegner.
“Our relationship to plastic is complicated,” Wegner said. “Plastic makes our life easier and its really cheap, but it’s also a detriment to the environment.”
The most recent data from the Alliance for the Great Lakes in 2017 shows that of the 36,128 pounds of litter picked up on Great Lakes beaches, 89 percent was plastic.
While strolling along the Chicago River, Alan Weninger, 75, of Wilmette, had not planned to attend the lecture, but he was intrigued by the discussion about the repercussions of plastic straws.
“People don’t think about how it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces,” Weninger said. “We’re going to be breathing it and eating it.”
Kelsey Walsh, 29, recently joined a local environmental team with her coworker at the American Medical Association and came to the lecture to learn more about minimizing her plastic footprint.
“Plastics are a problem, but it’s a complex problem and not one we can fix right away,” Walsh said. “It’ll take a lot of work.”
Wegner championed Shedd The Straw which is an initiative to reduce plastic straw use in Chicago. Wegner said the campaign has persuaded over 250 local Chicago businesses to eliminate single-use plastic straws. She emboldened consumers to discuss their concerns about plastic consumption with local businesses.
“They are going to listen to their consumers,” Wegner said. “You have a lot of power as a consumer and your dollar really does show them what you care about.”
McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum Director Josh Coles said these campaigns have positively impacted plastic waste reduction.
“It’s on the minds of so many people,” Coles said. “A lot of people have it in their daily life now that they need to reduce the amount of waste they are producing.”