Resolutions for the River

At Friends we are honored to serve as the voice for the Chicago River system. As advocates who work for clean water, healthy habitat, public access and investments that will improve and protect the river now and into the future, we know that each of us can make a big difference this New Year by changing our individual habits toward the natural world. 

There are at least three resolutions we could all make in 2021 that would have a direct, positive effect on the Chicago River system: pick up the litter, conserve individual water use, and reduce consumption of single-use plastics.

Litter Clean-up Resolution

Litter remains a stubborn problem, however there are ways to help reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in our waterways, contaminating the river and harming local wildlife. This year, make a resolution to pick up litter in your neighborhood, your local park, or nearby forest preserve. A protocol from Friends on how to pick up litter safely is available for download in a PDF format. You can also start using your reusable bags for grocery shopping again. This past year, Friends successfully reinvented Chicago River Day into the Summer Challenge, combining litter cleanups with online educational programming about the river system. Instead of one massive clean-up day, we experienced six months of outstanding work by dedicated volunteers who cleaned up litter individually or in small groups at numerous locations at home or along the river system all summer long. In doing so, we learned a lot about ways to grow the impact of litter clean-ups throughout the watershed. We resolve to build on this success as we launch the 29th Annual Chicago River Day this spring. 

Conserve Water and Salt Resolution

Conserving water use is critical especially during heavy rain storms and winter snowmelt. That’s why Friends of the Chicago River established Overflow Action Days to alert people to minimize water use before, during, and after rain storms when we need to reduce the amount of water going down our drains and the chance of combined sewer overflows which dump sewage and polluted stormwater into the river system and sometimes Lake Michigan. This winter, remember that pollution from stormwater runoff almost always includes rock salt which is toxic for river life. Resolve to use the smallest amount of rock salt possible. A 12 oz. cup holds enough to spread across 500 square feet or about 80 feet of sidewalk. This year you can also implement your own nature-based solutions by replacing turf grass with native grasses and flowers, and by installing rain barrels. Watch a free webinar about the origins and importance of Overflow Action Days on Friends’ YouTube channel, and sign up to receive Overflow Action Day Alerts.

Reduce Single-use Plastics Resolution

During the pandemic, consumption of single-use plastics, including medical equipment, is estimated to have increased by as much as 250% to 300%, according to the International Solid Waste Association. This year, while you are supporting your neighborhood restaurants, you can help reduce plastic waste by asking them to not use foam containers or to include plastic utensils or other disposables with your orders. To reduce trash from PPE, re-use your disposable mask or better yet, purchase washable face coverings from local businesses. Friends supports a proposed Chicago ordinance that would ban polystyrene containers, and require reusable dishes for dining in and mandate recyclable or compostable containers for to-go orders. The proposed ordinance is on hold to help restaurants during the pandemic and shutdowns.

The Chicago River system continues to make extraordinary progress. Our success is rooted in great partnerships and people who contribute their time, talent, money, influence, and break-through thinking to help us overcome complex problems facing the river.

This past year has been unprecedented. At Friends – with your unwavering support – we pulled together in unexpected ways to continue our mission to improve and protect the Chicago River for people, plants, and animals. As we embark on the year ahead, we know more than ever that we can rely on each other to make 2021 a successful year for our magnificent river. Thank you for being a Friend of the Chicago River.