Activist Abby

Activist AbbyIt is always uplifting when young people step up and do something for the environment in their community. One such person is Abby from Grayslake, Illinois in the United States of America.

I first came across 14 year old Abby, who goes by the title “Activist Abby”, on Facebook about two years ago. Abby had set up the page after seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life. Abby has set about to get a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in her home town. Abby’s efforts to fight for legislation to ban bags and educate people on the dangers of plastic caught the attention of the organisers of the 5 Gyres expedition and as a result she was offered a position on the yacht Sea Dragon for the scientific trip to the North Atlantic gyre in June to see first-hand the plastic pollution in our oceans and get a better understanding how big the issue is.

The Kritic has invited Abby to write a guest blog about her cause and the story behind how she got involved, as well as her trip to the North Atlantic gyre. I am hoping her story will inspire other young, and older, people to take up the push to have single use plastics removed and replaced with suitable alternatives.

This is Abby’s story:

My name is Abby Goldberg and since August of 2011, I’ve been working on a reusable bag campaign. I have also been helping with plastic bag legislation. This all started as a school project. To graduate 8th grade, I had to complete a two year project, designed by myself, that would benefit my community and the environment. I wanted to convince my village to ban plastic shopping bags. The idea literally flew in my face! I live near a landfill and on windy days, temporary fencing is put up to catch thousands of bags. My research taught me that plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources and that litter from plastic bags harms our environment. I also learned how my government works and what activism is all about.

What really drew me to this project was my love of animals. I found out that turtles were dying because of plastic bags! These wonderful creatures eat bags thinking they are jellyfish. Some people think that the benefits and their right to use plastic bags outweigh the litter and the use of natural resources. But I can’t see the benefit when an animal dies. Plastic bags were once an easy choice with no thought to the consequences, nice for a while, but now I know better. Soon I started to notice OUR plastic bag litter everywhere! One person my use 300-500 bags a year! All it took was a trip to the grocery store for me to confirm these numbers. I counted 173 bags leaving one lane in two hours.

Just as I was gathering research, a bill was introduced and passed in the Illinois State legislature that would BAR any village from banning plastic bags. It was introduced with the intention to increase the recycling of bags. It was a compromise reached by the retailers and the bag makers. Retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances, bag makers could still make bags and representatives would feel good thinking they were helping the environment. Recycling rates for plastic bags is very low and the goal for this bill was not that much higher. Plastic bags do not get made into new plastic bags. There is no value to a recycled bag; it is cheaper to make a new one. More and more bags would still be introduced into the environment with this bill. If bag makers think that recycling is the solution, where is the public campaign? It has been reported that some recyclers are no longer accepting plastic bags because they cannot find buyers! The cost to sort is not worth it. Besides, recycling is just a Band-Aid and it makes us feel less guilty for using disposables. What was really scary was that this bill was going to set a precedent for other states and bag makers were influencing politicians! I now know what a lobbyist is!

What was I to do? A petition on Change.org was suggested. I petitioned my governor to veto this bill. With the help of social media and other activists around the country willing to help a 12 yr. old, I was able to get over 174,000 signatures. It wasn’t just my voice. Last summer I personally met and presented the petition to Governor Quinn and sent letters to all the state representatives. I am happy to report that he did veto the bill and it was not overruled.

Abby With Governor Quinn

Abby Goldberg with Illinois Governor QuinnPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

Since then I have been very busy with my Facebook page. I have also spoken to a few school groups, environmental groups and written a few blogs. My page is a great way for me to promote bag legislation around the world and it has become a great place to debate recycling, biodegradable bags and how to kick the bag habit. This summer, I was asked to join a week long sailing expedition with 5 Gyres to help collect samples in the North Atlantic Gyre. Yes, there are more gyres in our ocean besides the Great Pacific Gyre/Garbage Patch! Pretty scary that I can go on a trip with the intent to study plastic pollution!

Abby Piloting Sea Dragon

Abby Piloting Sea DragonPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

I was going to see it with my own eyes, learn how to collect samples, see how the plastic is moving and become an ambassador for our oceans. I knew I wouldn’t see tons of bags floating around. Most people don’t know that plastic breaks down into tiny bits because of wave action and from sunlight. The gyres do not contain floating islands of soda bottles and plastic candy wrappers that you can walk across and clean up; it is more like a soup. Although we did see plastic crates, foam and bottles. But mostly we saw plastic bits. “How much plastic is in the ocean? 3.2 billion lbs. from 3.3 trillion particles” (Marcus Eriksen 5 Gyres). These bits are tiny! And, they were in every sample we collected! What was really sad was that we sailed through the Sargasso Sea made up of Sargassum. This is a golden rainforest of the ocean. It was home to tiny creatures and fish. These animals are living in our trash and most likely eating these bits. Did you know that for some reason, plastic in our oceans attracts all sorts of toxic chemicals? These bits don’t just stay contained in gyres either. This is something to think about when you eat your next seafood dinner.

After this trip I was asked by Bring Your Bag Chicago and Alderman Moreno to testify at a Chicago Health and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall. The city is debating a plastic shopping bag ordinance. I was asked because of my success in getting the state bill vetoed and because of my perspective as a young person as a future custodian of our environment. I know that legislation is important because incentives are not working. I was also able to testify with crewmate, Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, who a few weeks later gathered samples of micro-plastics in the Great Lakes. Plastic pollution is not just a problem in our oceans! Hopefully we were able to convince some alderman of this fact! I am still waiting to hear when and if this ordinance will be passed.

A crewmate, Jennie Romer from PlasticBagLaws.org, made me realize that bags are like a “gateway drug” because they make you suddenly see OUR addictive use of all disposable plastics. There is no away, it is forever! Our addiction to this throw away culture is becoming a huge problem. I am only 14 and I already know plastic pollution’s true cost. To my generation, plastic bags in trees and in our waterways are just part of the landscape. What is most frustrating to me is that there is any easy alternative to plastic bags.

Together we need to rethink our habits and choose to be the change!


  1. Alison Maltby said:
    16 September 9:13 am

    What a wonderful inspiration this young lady is! Thank you Tee Kay for bringing this to my attention. I am happy to see that with the next generation their is hope for the custodianship of this magnificent world by extraordinary people like Abby.

  2. James said:
    16 September 9:26 am

    With the advent of plastics bags made from corn starch and other environmentally friendly, biodegradable, non fossil fuel sources I do not understand why an immediate ban on petroleum based plastic bags has not been put in place world wide!

    Good on you Abby, I will follow your work with interest.

  3. Peter Oldstein said:
    16 September 10:36 am

    When I was fourteen I was out skateboarding and generally getting up to no good.

    It is great to see such a young person dedicated to something she really believes in.

    I think you will go far Abby!

    Well Done!

  4. Charles said:
    16 September 5:15 pm

    Thanks for having Abby as a guest blogger Tee Kay. I was aware of her campaign to some extent but reading her story has shown me that I should have looked a bit closer.

    Abby is a remarkable young lady that deserves all the accolades she gets. Hopefully her dream of a plastic bag free society comes to fruition without much further delay.

    I encourage everyone to show your support of Abby by liking her page on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ActivistAbby

  5. activist abby said:
    19 September 8:06 am

    Thank you for all the kind words!