The Beacon

On Our Throw-Away Culture, and 174,000 Signatures: Q+A with Ocean Hero Youth Finalist Abby Goldberg

Abby GoldbergGrayslake, IL. 

Inspired by the harmful impact of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways, Abby, 13, set out to ban plastic bags in her northeast Illinois community. But, faced with a proposed state bill that would forbid towns from banning plastic bags, Abby took her fight to state legislators through her “Don't Let Big Plastic Bully Me” campaign on Change.org. Her petition gathered over 174,000 signatures and influenced the Governor’s veto of the state bag bill in August 2012. Since then, Abby has testified in favor of a new Chicago check-out bag ordinance, which would ban plastic bags at Chicago stores.

Please describe your contribution to ocean conservation: 

As a teenager, I have one foot in the adult world and know that I need to start taking responsibility for my actions and participate in my community. This led to wanting to do something about the millions of plastic shopping bags we use around the world…My contribution includes educating the public about the danger shopping bag litter poses to our marine wildlife and helping with legislation that will ban plastic shopping bags in our communities. Although I live in the Midwest, I know that we are all connected and that everything we do affects the delicate balance of the ecosystem. I hope that my small efforts are helping to protect our oceans and the life in them.

Please explain why your contribution is important and why voters should choose you as a winner of the 2013 Ocean Hero Awards:

I AM the next generation, IT’S ME, and kids my age know that we will be the caretakers of our planet, not future generations! We know that our addiction to this throw-away culture is becoming a huge problem. My efforts are important because not only am I helping with future legislation (legislative is much more successful than incentives), but I am helping the get the word out to my peers and other adults. I think plastic pollution is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. So many people still have no idea about this issue. I don’t know if people just don’t care, don’t have time to worry about the issue, or if they truly don’t understand. Right now it’s out of sight, out of mind. Not until it’s a crisis or it effects people personally will there be a change. That seems to be the attitude I hear from many. Hopefully my efforts will make people realize that their choices do matter. I may not be able to physically help the ocean, but it is my goal to educate the public. That is just as important.

What was your first victory?

My first victory was when my efforts changed from banning the bag in my village to fighting a bad plastic shopping bag bill in my state of Illinois. I started an online petition on Change.org to get my governor to veto that bill. The bill would ban any town from banning plastic bags. I was able to get over 174,000 signatures and I am happy to report that the governor did veto that bill. He personally called me to commend my efforts. I know that I could make a difference when I got my first responses to my petition. It was nice to get all those signatures, but people from all over actually emailed me and were willing to help spread the word and send me best wishes! The Illinois State Legislature never overruled his veto. After the veto, I got asked to speak to a few school groups and an adult environmental club. I couldn’t believe people were actually interested in what a 13-year-old had to say!

What is one thing you recommend that people do every day to help the ocean?

I want people to think about their everyday habits, especially shopping. If we all thought for a few seconds about the things we buy, the oceans and waterways would be in better shape. Thinking about packaging, bags, chemicals, and what we eat is important. Saying NO to bags, straws, Styrofoam, and other things that make their way to the ocean can help! Our choices matter! Disposables may be convenient and make life easier for you, but it’s not so much the case for marine life.

Inspired by Abby Goldberg? Vote for her to be a 2013 Youth Ocean Hero


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