Grayslake girl petitions governor in fight against plastic bags | Interview
When 12-year-old Abby Goldberg spots a plastic bag floating lightly in the breeze, she doesn’t see it as an American Beauty-esque source of cinematic inspiration. For her and the rest of her community in suburban Grayslake, about 40 miles north of the Loop, the tornado of plastic bags that plagues the village is a destructive side effect of living next to a landfill. The bags are everywhere, she says: snagged in trees, littered in fields and caught in fences.
So when her environmental-sustainability-focused school, Prairie Crossing Charter School, told seventh graders to design their own environmental projects, Goldberg sought to ban the use of plastic bags in Grayslake. But what started as a school assignment soon turned into a David-and-Goliath fight against the Man. It began when state Sen. Terry Link filed Senate Bill 3442, the so-called “Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act,” in early February. Although it exempts "units of local government with a population of over 2,000,000" (i.e., Chicago), the bill would make it illegal for other Illinois municipalities to ban the use of plastic bags—exactly what Goldberg strives to do.
While conducting her school research, she was appalled to see that the bill had passed through both the Illinois Senate and House as of June 1 and would soon be awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature. (The Illinois General Assembly site notes that it was officially sent to the governor's desk today.) In an effort to rescue Grayslake streets from the never-ending parade of plastic, Goldberg crafted a Change.org petition urging the governor to veto the bill and “not to let plastic-industry corporations use government to eliminate the right of citizens to determine their own local policies.” The petition went live online the third week of June (when we first reported about it); in its first few days, it amassed 14,000 signatures—and then it started to really take off. As of today, the tally has climbed to more than 150,000.
Though the battle might seem futile, the young activist continues to hope that Gov. Quinn will veto the bill. When the decision will be made is still unknown; Time Out Chicago Kids contacted the governor's office, but so far, a representative would only tell us that he has 60 days to sign it. Goldberg is not giving up: On Tuesday morning, July 3, she and some supporters will march into the governor's Chicago office to deliver copies of the petition. We spoke with Goldberg last week, while she was vacationing in Israel with her family, to discuss her fight against SB3442.
What inspired you to take your fight against plastic bags from a school project to writing a petition?
Well, I love animals, so when I see birds and turtles that have been hurt by the plastic bags, it hurts. So that’s how I got started basically with the whole entire thing.
What happened when you called the governor's office?
We asked for the status of the bill, and they told us that the senate had a few days to get it on [Gov. Quinn’s] desk, and then the governor has time to sign it.
Do you know when he’s going to decide whether to sign or veto the bill?
No, we do not know.
So what’s it like to live next to a landfill?
It’s awful. On windy days, we drive by and we can see they’ve put up extra fences to catch all the bags—and there are still bags in the trees everywhere.
If Gov. Quinn does pass this bill, how do you think it will hurt Illinois?
In Grayslake—that’s where I live—you can’t recycle [plastic bags] at all, because you can’t make plastic from other plastic bags. They get caught in the machines. So it would hurt Grayslake and everywhere else because you can’t recycle them.
Who helped you with the petition? Were there teachers or other classmates involved?
No, it was mainly change.org who helped me and a media producer [Ben Zolno] who made this video, “Plastic State of Mind.”
How has change.org been helpful?
They helped me find the right words to say, the right pictures to use, and how to respond to people.
What do you want people to know about this petition?
I want people to know that you’re never too young to make a difference.