Watch out for determined 13-year old eco-activists! Last year the Illinois legislature passed a dubious industry-backed bill that required plastic bag manufacturers to set up recycling programs, but prohibited towns from enacting their own recycling mandates, PlasTax fees or outright bans on plastic bags. Intent on stopping the law, Grayslake eigth-grader Abby Goldberg started the Dont Let Big Plastic Bully Me on-line petition that ended up gathering over 175,000 signatures! Thanks to Abbys efforts along with an environmental coalition, Gov. Quinn vetoed the the legislation stating communities should not be restricted to implement innovative solutions to the plastic bag litter problem. As it stands today, the effort to ban plastic bags in Chicago may have enough support to become law. Meanwhile, cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco have banned bags, and Hawaii has instituted the nation’s first statewide ban of plastic bags available at checkout counters. Abby was featured last year in wren’s Lowdown on Plastic Bags, and we finally met up this month at a CONSEG meeting, where she addressed a roomful of environmental advocates at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. She was nice enough to share her impressive comments below:
Abby Goldberg’s Speech:
Good afternoon everyone! My name is Abby Goldberg otherwise known as Activist Abby! I am so honored to be included as a speaker today. Obviously, we share the same passion for the environment and for our communities. It always amazes me that people actually care about what I need to say!
Ive been invited to talk about my passion for plastic bags or really my passion AGAINST plastic bags. What it basically boils down to, is that I represent my generation and we have been charged with being the future custodians of our planet.
In August of 2011, I started a school project that involved plastic bags, specifically to try and get my village to ban plastic shopping bags. Who knew that it would bring me on such a fantastic journey? I have learned what it means to be an activist, how my government REALLY works and all about plastic bags. It was then that I learned that my choices matter.
I live less than a mile from Countryside Landfill in Grayslake. On windy days temporary fencing is put up to catch thousands of bags. It was just about two weeks ago that we had one of those days with 40 mile per winds! I witnessed yet again bags flying everywhere. This is very upsetting to me, especially when I know all that I know about plastic bags. What is most upsetting is that people were driving by and I am pretty sure not as upset about it as me. Or at least not upset enough to demand a change from themselves or our legislators!
The first thing that I found out about plastic bags is that they are made from non-renewable resources. 7 out of 10 Americans dont know that plastic is made from these resources. Some argue that they are made from a by-product of these resources. True, but whether made from natural gas or petroleum byproducts, why fuel the need for these resources for something we use for about 12 minutes! Second, I learned that the litter of plastic bags is a danger to our wildlife. Again, some may argue that our community isnt anywhere near our oceans where plastic bags are swallowed by creatures like sea turtles. I would be devastated to know that a bag I got from a purchase at the mall caused a death to an animal. It doesnt take much for a bag to make its way from here, to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf waters. Or, make its way to Lake Michigan where it can photodegrade into bits that attract toxins, get eaten by a fish and make its way into our food chain. YES, that IS happening now in our Great Lakes as well as the ocean!!! Plus, the litter from plastic bags is just a plain eyesore. We all know of a few plastic bags stuck in some familiar trees. Down the street from my house, a plastic bag was stuck in a sewer grate. A couple more bags and it will be blocked. Our snows are melting and this could cause potential flooding. Bags cost millions for our cities to clean up each year.
Plastic bags were once an easy choice. Bags are made to be disposable, used once and thrown away and with no thought to the consequences. Nice for a while wasnt it? Oops, no WE have a problem with that choice. One household may use 300-500 bags a year! 22, 000 bags could be used in one persons lifetime! Thats a big problem and if we dont fix it now, along with this throw away attitude, this all will be my problem to fix. Its crazy that I am only 14 and I realize this problem and yet not too many adults do or care. I shouldnt have to worry about such things. Its crazy that last summer I traveled with a sailing expedition just to study plastic pollution in the Atlantic. I was asked so I could make speeches like this and be an ambassador.
When I first started this project, I talked to few adults that tried to convince me that I should change my project to encouraging the public to recycle plastic bags and start a roadside clean-up crew. We look down on those who dont recycle, right? I seriously considered it for a while, but I did a little research and decided that recycling is just a band aid to this huge problem. Recycling is just a way for us to feel less guilty about those single use disposable products and keeps us addicted to them all. Recycling and clean-up crews put ALL the responsibility on ME and NONE and the manufacturers or the retailers. The bag makers would like you to think that recycled bags get made into new bags. Most times that is not the case. In order for a bag to get made into a new bag the old bag or film needs to be extremely clean. Have you seen the recycling bin at the grocery store for plastic bags? I have 349 of those bags for a Green Fair visual aid next week. In going through them, you would have thought people mistook the bin for a garbage can. IF they do get recycled, virgin plastic is added to make sure the new bag is as strong as the first bag. Nice, more plastic! If bags are unclean, they are made into composite lumber. So, recycling is not solving the issue of REDUCING the amount of plastic in our world. Its not a closed loop system. Perfect for the plastic producers right? And, actually, it is so much cheaper to make new plastic bags than recycle. So, why would any bag maker feel the need to recycle their bags into new ones? What is the incentive? Some recyclers are no longer accepting plastic bags. New York City doesnt even recycle bags. No recycler in that city can find a market for them. They are worthless! If bag makers want your bags back so badly, why are they not begging for them back, where is the public service announcement, why are we not gathering them all up? Recycling is only put on a pedestal when bans are talked about. The bag makers have some great lobbyists working for them as well as the American Chemistry Council. Believe me I know! Bag makers also spend a lot of time talking about reusing bags as a reason we should keep them around. Reusing them as trash can liners does not solve the problems with these bags. Just because you reuse them, does not prevent another one from being made. Yea, just what the bag makers want! We will always do what is easiest and cheapest and not what is right. Reducing our waste in general is what we should all be working on. Recycling should be a LAST resort to our waste issue. If it truly is going to work, it should be about recycling that bottle, bag, yogurt cup into those same products over and over again! An interesting fact for you that I learned this year ..Some plastic bottles are now being recycled into clothing. Cool until you learn that every time you wash those sweatshirts or jeans, plastic fibers are slowly being washed into our waterways! These fibers are showing up in our water samples! Very scary.
My biggest obstacle in my campaign is an attitude that one person cannot make a difference. I am proof that you can make a difference. Please dont think that bringing your own bag will not matter that much. Actually, you can be a reminder to someone else that our choices do matter. My other obstacle is some peoples feeling that I am taking their rights away because if they want a plastic bag, they should be able to get one. But what about my rights to have a clean neighborhood, waterways and a healthy environment? I have learned that plastic bag policies reduce the amount of single-use bags in some areas by 90% almost overnight! LET US add our communities to the growing list of communities that have made a difference. Lets change consumer behavior because being green by choice is not working, there just isnt enough of us! We know the solutions, lets demand them from ourselves, our community leaders and our manufacturers. We may not have money or enough lobby power yet and I cant vote, but together we have our voices!