CHICAGO (CBS) — A mess in Montrose Harbor is part of why every few seconds social media is lighting up with the hashtag #PlasticFreeJuly. It’s a global environmental movement taking hold in Chicago as waste accumulates from holiday parties.
America’s birthday is over, but celebrations will continue over the weekend, and so will cleanup.
The leftovers from July Fourth at North Avenue Beach land in the lap of Sara Cervantez with Chicago Park District Labor.
“Plates and food and charcoal and everything,” said Cervantez.
Miles down the shore, CBS 2 crews spotted other Chicago Park District crews tackling holiday litter on 31st Street Beach.
“This is like the tenth time I’m loading up garbage,” Cervantez said. “Water bottles are everywhere.”
Trash in the big city isn’t anything new, but the popularity of #PlasticFreeJuly is.
The movement challenges people to reduce their reliance on plastic like bottles and bags and aims to prevent nasty scenes like the one at Montrose Harbor.
Tyrone Dobson has made the pledge after some sobering observations as the volunteer manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
“It’s the straw. It’s the lid that goes on your McDonald’s or fast food cup,” he said. “Last year we had about 900 beach [cleanup] events in all of the Great Lakes area, and we picked up about 35-36,000 pounds of trash. And of that trash about 86, 87 percent of it was plastic, so that’s a huge, huge number.
The group that started #PlasticFreeJuly is actually based in Australia. Organizers told CBS 2’s Lauren Victory that last July 120 million people participated worldwide. Ten million of those were Americans.
The Plastic Free Foundation recently revealed the power of 2018’s campaign, saying more than one million pounds of plastic waste were avoided.
“We try to use mason jars instead of the reusable coffee cups,” said mother Karen Arslan, who said she did not know about the #PlasticFreeJuly movement.
It’s fairly easy to hop on the bandwagon, but will the movement last more than this month?
“It isn’t like we’re going to take this effort, and then tomorrow it’s all going to be all better,” said Dobson.
“It’ll be the same,” said Cervantez. “Everything’s bottled and plastic.”
“It’s all about making those small incremental changes,” said Dobson.
More than 55 percent of Chicagoans voted ‘Yes’ on a ballot question about a citywide plastic straw ban in November.
City Council still needs to pass an ordinance to make that ban a reality.
A list of Chicago beach cleanup events can be found here. Two cleanup events are scheduled for this weekend at Montrose Beach.