Keeping Chicago’s beaches clean

By Sean Stillmaker

The Alliance for Great Lakes kicked off its annual inaugural beach cleanup on the North Shore on Sept. 20.

Volunteers gathered along the coastal areas of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin and swept the beaches of garbage and debris. Last year alone, more than 4,100 volunteers participated, according to the Alliance’s website.

The 42nd Ward Democratic Party joined the Alliance, sponsoring the Oak Street Beach cleanup by gathering volunteers and local environmentally – friendly nonprofit organizations such as Cleanslate and the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents.

“I was impressed; a lot of people showed up and combed the beach,” Oak Street Beach volunteer Aaron Danzer said.

The two entities have been partnered for a year, but this is their first event together. The beach has been in the Alliance’s Adopt-A-Beach program since 2004.

“It’s a great beach, accessible to downtown and there are so many people that visit it,” said Frances Canonizado, the Alliance’s outreach coordinator for Illinois and Indiana.

“The goal of the cleanup is to preserve the cleanliness of the lake, create awareness and promote community activism,” said John Corrigan, committeeman of the 42nd Ward Democratic Party.

Volunteers, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, stretched across a quarter mile at the event, sweeping the litter off the beach using rakes, shovels and their hands.

“This is a positive thing,” said Cleanslate volunteer Roger Holland. “Recycling conserves land and water, and then there is less use of landfills.”

According to Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), there were between 70-100 volunteers, exceeding the projected 75.

“Cigarette butts, plastic, glass and styrofoam bottles were the most common garbage collected,” Danzer said.

Danzer came from California where he participated in similar events. California beaches were dirtier, and there were less volunteers to help, he said.

“I think this is good because if people see others cleaning up the beach, it might inspire them to pick up trash, and it’ll start a chain reaction,” he said.

Providing environment education is pivotal to the Alliance’s program.

“The one single best thing a person can do is to pick up after themselves,” she said.

In total, 144.5 pounds were collected, of which 14 pounds will be recycled, according to a cleanup official.  This exceeds the 48 pounds that were collected last year, but there were also fewer volunteers and only swept 0.17 mile last year, Canonizado said.

The garbage collected is then recorded into a database with the Alliance to help identify prevalent beach litter.

The Chicago Board of Trade and Home Depot were the sponsors of the Oak Street Beach cleanup last year but were not proactive in gathering volunteers, Corrigan.

“This is an important quality of life issue, and it’s a beautiful lake,” Corrigan said.  “It’s all about community organizing.”

Since the first outing was a success, the 42nd Ward plans to be a part of next year’s beach cleanup, Reilly said.

“An annual cleanup is great, but people need to do it regularly,” he said.

Currently, the 42nd Ward Democratic Party is working on another initiative to partner with the Alliance for Great Lakes.

The exact parameters of the initiative are not set.

“Maybe in the spring,” Corrigan said.