| Story by Cindy Cain |
Twenty-two hardy volunteers braved 40-degree temperatures and rainy weather on Saturday, April 27, to pick gobs of plastic debris from the shoreline of Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet.
Bundled up in multiple layers for warmth and water resistance, the group scoured the shoreline searching for man-made materials marring the beauty of the preserve during the Forest Preserve District’s fourth annual “River Shoreline Cleanup” program.
“We’re appreciative that on such a crummy day, so many people would be willing to give their Saturday morning to come out and do this not-so-glamourous work,” said Tina Riley, facility supervisor at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon.
Picking up litter at Rock Run Rookery, however, isn’t your normal cleanup task. Unfortunately, the site is besieged with microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic that may become smaller as they are batted around by the elements, but they never truly go away, Ward said. Once the plastic is in the water, it gets into the food chain and both fish and birds will eat it, which is a problem in rivers and oceans around the world.
Locally, these plastics blow or flow into area waterways and make their way into Rock Run Rookery through a channel to the Des Plaines River. The channel was created years ago when the site was a quarry, and the garbage that flows into the river comes from multiple sources, including wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the river. Trash also blows in from garbage trucks, trash cans, yards, roadways, etc.
“So once it makes its way into here, it kind of gets blown around and never goes anywhere else,” said Erin Ward, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve District. “Picking it up will really make a difference in the bird habitat that is here.”