Abby Goldberg is a 13-year-old girl in Grayslake, IL. who believes that you’re never too young to make a difference. After seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life, she set out to get a local ban on single-use plastic shopping bags passed. This is her story.
In 2011, I began a school project to get my village to ban plastic bags. Since then, I have learned more about the dangers of plastic bags and have a better understanding how my government works and a feel for what activism is all about.
The project literally flew in my face. I’ve documented thousands of blowing bags at my landfill. But, why should people in the Midwest, care about plastic bags so much? Are they really causing any harm? Will a plastic bag really kill a turtle because I automatically accepted a bag with purchase?
I was convinced that if I just told my community about the limited resources we are using to make these bags, AND THE TRUE COST TO THE ENVIRONMENT, that everyone would want a ban. Bag bans are happening all over the world! But, just when I got started, Illinois Senate Bill # 3442 was passed in my state. It would prohibit any local communities from enacting a plastic bag ban. At the same time, retailers, bag makers, and local representatives came up with a feel good compromise to increase the recycling of bags, but bag bans would still be illegal. This way, retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances regarding plastic bags or lose customers, bag makers could still make more bags, and representatives could feel good thinking they were helping the environment. But plastic bags are not recycled successfully anywhere and recycling is not the answer!
I learned quickly that activists have a huge network of friends who help each other out. Activists in other states, who have worked on bag bans, gave me great advice. I petitioned Governor Quinn through a Change.org petition to veto Senate Bill #3442. With a network of new friends, and the help of social media, I was able to get 175,000 signatures and I am happy to report, the Governor did veto that bill.
It wasn’t just my lone voice, but other voices too, that understood that this bill was an example of bag makers and special interest groups influencing politics. And it could happen in other states. We stood up against money, collectively screamed, got noticed, and now towns in my state have a choice about how they want to solve their plastic bag problem. We believed that power and money should not influence government to tell a community what to do.
After the veto, I started a Facebook page, ActivistAbby, and began visiting local schools to speak with kids about the issue. Kids will understand that making disposable items out of materials that last forever is a problem. There is no away when it comes to plastic.
I tell the kids that they have power to change their world. We may not have money, lobbyists working for us, or a vote, but we do have our voices. Anyone can write letters to representatives, work with other activists, and simply start petitions. I tell them that if they see something that makes them angry or something they’re passionate about, they should ask for help and educate themselves. Find other people who care about the issue too. I tell them to find their voices and talk to everyone and anyone. I tell them they are bigger than they think. I tell them that no matter how young or small they are they can make a difference!