July 3, 2019 (Chicago, IL) – Millions of people will be heading to their favorite beach to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday this week. But, plastic pollution is all too often an unwanted part of holiday celebrations. Keeping plastic out of the Great Lakes is easy, and small changes add up to a big, positive difference for the lakes. 

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology estimate that more than 22 million pounds of plastic debris ends up in the Great Lakes each year. Plastic never completely disappears. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are consumed by wildlife and have been found in bottled drinking water, beer, and even tap water. Last year, nearly 15,000 volunteers participated in the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program by cleaning up shorelines on all five lakes. Eighty-five percent of the litter cleaned up by volunteers was made wholly or in part of plastic, from cigarette butts to food takeout containers to balloons. 

While the problem may seem overwhelming in scale, keeping plastic out of the Great Lakes is easy and everyone can help. Small changes can add up to big results. For your Fourth of July holiday celebration, the Alliance for the Great Lakes recommends: 

  •  Use a reusable water bottle – Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most commonly picked up litter items on beaches. Skip the one-time plastic drink bottles. Instead, use reusable water bottles and drink containers.
  • Bring reusable cutlery for your picnic – Bring reusable cutlery instead of single-use plastic forks, knives, and spoons.
  • Be careful with balloons – It is tempting to let balloons go, but what goes up must come down. Balloons take years to decompose and are an entanglement risk for animals.
  • Tote it – Use reusable bags. Bring the party, but not in plastic bags. Carry all the necessary items for your festivities in a reusable bag.
  • Skip the straw – Plastic straws are only used for a few minutes, but take nearly 200 years to break down.
  • Recycling is an option – Using plastic is sometimes hard to avoid. If you end up with some single-use plastic, make sure you recycle.
  • Help with the cleanup – Interested volunteers can find an Adopt-a-Beach cleanup in their area, or start their own cleanup, by visiting www.greatlakesadopt.org.

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Media Contact: Jennifer Caddick, jcaddick@greatlakes.org, (315) 767-2802