April 16, 2013

Honorary Chirping Bird, Abby Goldberg



                                        Honorary Chirping Bird, Abby Goldberg

Chirping birds of all ages evolve because of strong belief systems or because of an encounter with some person or thing that triggers a reaction which cannot be ignored. Capt. Charles Moore Charles@algalita.org accidently encountered what became known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of plastic in the Pacific Ocean with which he became obsessed and subsequently took his findings to the media. Daniella Dimitrova Russo daniella@plasticpollutioncoalition.org felt so strongly about plastic in the ocean, she was compelled to speak out despite the fact that the American Chemical Council (ACC) and Coca Cola, two of the biggest polluters in the world, were helping to sponsor the event at which she was speaking. Beth Terry saw the decomposed body of an albatross chick whose plastic stomach contents spilled out on to the sand after having starved to death and the two children of One More Generation, Olivia (10½) and Carter (12) info@onemoregeneration.org were so upset at the probable extinction of beautiful African animals that they persuaded their parents to start a non-profit organization through which they could make their concern public. Now the children also make presentations about the devastating effects of disposable plastic.

The most recent chirping bird with whom I have become acquainted is an 8th grader from Illinois, Abby Goldberg. Abby began a school project with a view to banning plastic bags in her home town. The school project very quickly changed Abby’s life and she subsequently opened a facebook page calling herself Activist Abby to bring awareness to the problems of plastic bags. I have been so touched by Abby’s initiative, I want to help spread her passion and make her the latest Honorary Chirping Bird. Actually Abby tells her story so well herself, you can read about her in her own words:

I struggled for a long time for a school project that would make a positive impact on my community and the environment. The idea literally flew in my face. I live less than a mile from landfill and on windy days, temporary fencing is put up to capture thousands of plastic bags. Bags get entangled in the trees and bushes on the perimeter of my neighborhood. Actually, that wasn’t what made me the angriest about plastic bags. If you “Google” plastic bags, one of the first images you can find is of a whole plastic bag wrapped around a seabird. That’s what got me hooked! I couldn’t believe that was happening! I love animals! I needed to find out more.

I spent the first part of 7th grade researching the issue. Besides being made from limited resources, I found out that plastic bag litter was a huge problem. Once I started paying attention, it seemed like everywhere I looked there was a plastic bag! How was this happening? I spent just two hours at my local grocery store observing just one checkout lane and counted 173 plastic bags leaving the store. How many checkout lanes and how many stores are in the United States? This is where they were coming from.  The average American uses 350-500 bags a year. On windy days, I can tell that not many people are recycling these bags. I also learned that recycling plastic bags is really not a good solution. But, that is a whole other blog!  Not only are seabirds impacted by plastic bags, but sea turtles, whales, cows, goats, and camels die a horrible death by eating plastic bags. Why should I, a kid in the Midwest, care about plastic bags litter so much?

We are all connected and everything we do impacts OUR world. Plastic bags were made to be disposable, thrown away. Oops, now WE have a problem. That plastic bag, that escaped my landfill, may float in the river near my house, and then make its way to the Mississippi river. That river leads to the ocean. That plastic bag may mistakenly end up as a sea turtle’s dinner, killing it. Or, think about this. That plastic bag may photodegrade, breaking into bits, attracting toxins and eaten by a fish. If you are a seafood lover watch out! I would be heartbroken thinking I caused an animal’s death all because I needed a convenient way to bring home something I got at the mall.  But what was I to do?

I was convinced that if I just told my community about the dangers of plastic bags, the unlimited resources we were using to make them, and how they are part of a bigger problem of our throw away culture, that everyone would see my side and want to change. I would maybe make a kid video, show pictures of animals entangled in plastic bags, and get a whole presentation ready to show my village board. After all, bag bans were happening all over the world. This was going to be fun. But, just when I started, a bill was passed in my state that would ban any local communities from having a plastic bag ban. How did that happen? I think it was a compromise that was reached by the retailers, the bag makers, and representatives. It was supposed to take care of bag litter. To keep everyone happy, goals were set to increase the recycling of bags, but bans would not be allowed. This way retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances regarding plastic bags. Well, now what?

A petition on Change.org was suggested. Luckily, I had a friend who knew a friend! I learned quickly that activists have a huge network of friends who help each other out. All have a common goal of doing good in the world and are willing to share their resources. Activists in my state were fighting this bill too and activist in other states were trying to ban the bag. I had all kinds of advice from adults willing to talk to a teenager. I quickly made a video plea to Change.org, wrote a passionate letter, and I was on my way. I petitioned my governor to veto Senate Bill #3442. With a network of new friends, and the help of social media, I was able to get of 175,000 signatures and I am happy to report, the governor did veto that bill. I got signatures from all over the world! People understood that this bill could set a precedence and that the bag makers were influencing politics to keep making their bags. I don’t know if bans, taxes on bags, buyback programs or bag maker responsibility is the solution, but now my village has the choice to solve the issue however they want to. Recently, I was told that a plastic bag ban probably would never happen in my village or county. Maybe that is the case, but we don’t have to wait for legislation! You can be the change and change before you have to! Demand it of yourself.

After the veto, I started a facebook page and I have started to visit some local schools to speak with kids about the issue. I am determined to get the word out about plastic bags. I have the facebook page loaded with articles, facts and pictures. The more people are informed, the more likely they will make better decisions. The bag monster, made of 500 bags one person may use in a year, is a great visual, an “Oh wow,” moment. Now I am lucky enough to have another great visual aid, the education kit from 5gyres! When I first opened it up, I was truly amazed! Teachers and kids will literally see and TOUCH the plastic bits and debris taken from OUR ocean. They can see what our marine life is living in and eating. Seeing will be believing! I know personally, that whenever I can see and touch something as part of a lesson, the facts stay with me.  Kids will understand that plastic items they may throw away might just end up in the ocean.  They will see that when it comes to plastic, there is no away.

I not only discuss plastic bags, but how kids have power to change their world. We don’t have money, special interest groups or political power, but we do have our voices. You can write letters to your representatives, work with other activists in your community, and start petitions.  If you see something you want to change, are passionate about it, ask for help and educate yourself about it. Find people who care about it too. Be creative in finding your voice and most importantly educate others. Tell everyone and anyone.

Can you imagine if we all made a collective decision not to use plastic shopping bags? The power of that would be amazing. It all starts with just one.

What a compelling story from such a young lady! Abby could teach us adults a thing or two. I so much admire her initiative and spirit. This summer Abby will further her plastic oceanic education by partaking in an Atlantic Ocean voyage from Bermuda to Rhode Island with the non-profit organization 5 Gyres. After Capt. Moore discovered the first gyre in the North Pacific, 5 Gyres was formed to explore the other major gyres in our oceans.

The Chirping Bird Society wishes Abby lots of luck with her future endeavors and we will be following her passion, commitment and career with great interest.







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