As beach season winds down in Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium is hosting a series of weekend cleanups to clear the shoreline of a summer’s worth of litter and debris.
The events coincide with International Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 18, but instead of limiting action to a single day, Shedd is focusing on beaches and waterfronts all month long. The dates, times and locations of the cleanups are:
— Sept. 8, 12th Street Beach, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
— Sept. 11, Ping Tom Memorial Park, 10 a.m.-noon
— Sept. 18, 63rd Street Beach, 10 a.m.-noon
— Sept. 25, Calumet Beach, 10 a.m.-noon
The cleanups are free and open to all, but registration is required and sites do have capacity limits. To sign up, email [email protected] with your name, the date and location you wish to attend, and how many individuals will be joining you.
In addition to picking up trash, volunteers will sort the litter for recyclables and will also document what they found. This information will be added to a database of materials found during cleanups across the Great Lakes and will help direct coastal policy and management.
Among the pollutants of particular concern: “nurdles.” Nurdles are the plastic pellets — less than 5 mm in size — used to create plastic products. They’re the building blocks of plastics, not the fragments of larger plastic items. Pellets spilled or discarded during transportation or the production process make their way into drainage systems, circulate through rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, and ultimately wind up on shorelines.
According to a study of Great Lakes beaches published in late 2020, beaches sampled on Lake Michigan contained the greatest number of pellets. One exception was 12th Street Beach, where no pellets were found. The study’s authors theorized that Chicago’s unique drainage into the Mississippi River rather than Lake Michigan may have played a role.
Plastic can take thousands of years to degrade in the water. Ecologists are concerned that nurdles will be mistaken for food by aquatic animals and organisms.