CHICAGO — Chicago beaches may seem like one giant ashtray, according to a recently released study that details the type of garbage found at Ohio Street Beach.
Loyola University Chicago researchers, including Associate Professor Timothy Hoellein and senior Anna Vincent, analyzed the data that had been compiled from 2003-14 by more than 630 volunteers from 44 separate cleanup events at Ohio Street Beach. The volunteers included Loyola representatives, plus those from the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Earthwatch Institute, and HSBC bank employees.
Over the 12-year span, volunteers collected 57,066 individual pieces of litter at Ohio Street Beach. The largest percentage of that litter came in the form of cigarette butts (41.9 percent), even though smoking at all Chicago beaches has been banned since 2007, the Tribune reported. Other garbage in high concentrations included food waste (34.6 percent), straws and drinking container lids, and bottles and cans, Hoellein said. He added that "medical and hygiene" items like condoms, needles, tampons and diapers were found, too, but not in large numbers.
Hoellein said the percentages of certain types of garbage collected by volunteers at all other Chicago beaches along Lake Michigan are similar to those of Ohio Street Beach — with cigarette butts leading the way.
The study, which was recently published in the "Science of the Total Environment" journal, was conducted to see where garbage on Great Lakes beaches came from. Other sites where research was conducted included three Illinois beaches along Lake Michigan, plus five beaches near Buffalo, New York, along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Research led by Loyola University Chicago shows the types of garbage collected at Ohio Street Beach and several others along Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. [Loyola University Chicago]
Hoellein said the Great Lakes study determined that garbage came from people frequenting the beaches, including Ohio Street Beach, which is different than oceanic beaches, where most of the garbage comes from washing offshore, he said.
"This is our first take of seeing what type of garbage is on Great Lakes beaches and how it might be different than the oceans," Hoellein said. "As unpleasant as a lot of this is, because the majority of the garbage is locally sourced, we can try to figure out local solutions."
In Chicago, Hoellein said, those solutions include "voting" boxes for cigarette butts that started appearing this year at city beaches. Smokers can "vote" by placing their butts in one of two choices — for example "Cubs" or "White Sox."
"It's almost like a medical situation where you just want to know what the problem is in order to more proactively think about solutions," Hoellein said.
Hoellein said more studies will be published in the coming years on the garbage collected at Chicago beaches.
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