Chapter Highlight: Adopt-a-Beach Cleanup with Chicagoland AGC

Chicagoland AGC’s CLC hosted a beach cleanup on Thursday, May 23rd as part of the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-a-Beach program. The group’s young professionals gathered on the shores of Lake Michigan at Chicago’s iconic Oak Street Beach where they collected 306 pounds of litter in 40 trash bags.

“When you can combine quality industry networking with a worthwhile volunteer activity that helps the environment and fellow Chicagoans,” Ben Penzick of member firm Dalux US described, “throw in food and drinks, and do it on a gorgeous day in downtown Chicago... there are few ways to host a better event!”

As the group soaked up the sun to kick off summer, their presence on the beach was significant. Year after year, beach cleanup volunteers diligently work to rid Great Lakes’ shorelines of litter – tallying hundreds of thousands of pieces and tens of thousands of pounds of debris.

It is a staggering reality that about 85% of this litter picked up is plastic, destined to break down into harmful microplastics that infiltrate the very source of our region’s drinking water.

Researchers from the University of Toronto released a Journal of Great Lakes Research in 2021 where they identified a stunningly high amount of microplastics in all five Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for 40 million people. It was calculated that the amount of microplastics in the surface water of the Great Lakes is higher than plastic concentrations in the widely publicized Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Researchers have found microplastics in Great Lakes fish, bottled water, drinking water, and beer.

Addressing plastic pollution in Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes is no small task, and volunteers with the Alliance’s Adopt-a-Beach program are on the front lines of keeping plastic out of our Great Lakes.

“The CAGC CLC Beach Clean-up event highlighted the importance of community involvement in environmental efforts,” said Kiera Coleman of member firm Curran Contracting.

Chicagoland AGC (CAGC) volunteers worked in groups to track the types of litter they collected and recorded their findings in the online Adopt-a-Beach database, a dataset with more than 20 years of litter data used by researchers, policy makers, and advocates to study plastic pollution and advocate for solutions. This database helps Alliance for the Great Lakes form a picture of coastal litter across the entire Great Lakes region.

“It was encouraging to see volunteers step up and come together to improve our environment,” Coleman added.

Among the litter collected by CAGC young professionals were 614 beverage cans, 475 cigarette butts, and 382 plastic pieces.

“The beach cleanup provided a great opportunity to bond with my own team and other CAGC members,” commented Juliana Roznowski, field engineer with member firm Mortenson.

After the cleanup, volunteers shared their experiences with one another and walked two blocks down Michigan Avenue to Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch venue in Water Tower Place. The group enjoyed well-earned refreshments and food, networking, and a tour of the adjacent Chicago Sports Museum.

Adopt-a-Beach stands as more than just a cleanup initiative; it is a testament to the importance of Lake Michigan as one of Chicago’s essential natural resources and our role in preserving it. These young professionals demonstrated a commitment to philanthropy, one of the CLC’s main tenets, through environmental stewardship and community engagement to reduce the amount of plastic pollution at our beaches and in the Great Lakes.

“It was a rewarding experience to do this right around the corner from where I work each day,” Roznowski added. “It sparked an interest in our team doing something similar in the future.”

CAGC is proud of our emerging industry leaders for their collective action in improving the famous Oak Street Beach. As the five Great Lakes touch eight states in our nation, this program offers a unique and rewarding philanthropic opportunity for other CLC chapters in the AGC family.