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Chicago’s Garbage Impacts Oceans

Chicago is not a coastal city but it does impact coastal environments, said Michele Hoffman-Trotter, adjunct professor in the Science Department at Columbia College.

Hoffman-Trotter teaches marine biology and oceanography and said the garbage in the ocean is worse than what is portrayed and people would be surprised to know about 80 percent of the trash in the ocean comes from a land source.

“It’s a slow death for an animal because they end up starving,” Hoffman-Trotter said.

Hoffman-Trotter said the garbage is caused by an increase in usage of single-use plastic such as water bottles. This is because while the debris breaks down into pieces, it does not get broken down. Rather it spreads out through the environment.

The pieces are small enough for animals to eat and because their bodies cannot process the plastic, they die of starvation.

It is nearly impossible to tell the amount of garbage in the ocean by looking at what scientists call a “garbage patch,” especially because the ocean has enormous depth and much is still unexplored, Hoffman-Trotter said.

According to the Water Project, a nonprofit that provides water to sub-Saharan Africa, plastic bottles take 1,000 years to biodegrade and if they are burned they release toxic fumes.

An estimated 80 percent of single-use water bottles in the U.S. become litter, according to their website.

Jennifer Caddick, engagement director for Alliance of the Great Lakes, said there are things people can do to reduce pollution.

She said throughout the year teams perform beach cleanup and record what kind of trash and how much they pick up.

“We use that data to help find solutions to marine debris pollution around the great lakes,” Caddick said.

Their volunteer program called Adopt-a-Beach had almost 15,000 people participate last year.

Caddick said most beach cleanup happens in the summer, but people take part in them throughout the year. The big beach cleanup is during the third week of September, called September Adopt-a-Beach.

The Alliance was also behind the successful campaign to get microbeads taken out of personal care products.

Caddick said the beads are tiny pieces of plastic used as a scrubbing component in things like face and body washes.

After washing, the plastic goes down the drain and into the water causing a great concentration of the beads in the Great Lakes.

In December President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. The Act requires manufacturers to eliminate microbeads from their products by 2017.

For more information about local beach clean ups please visit

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