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How did this happen?

The average American throws away 270 pounds of plastic a year, yet only about 9 percent is recycled. A whopping 79 percent ends up in landfills or litters our environment. These plastics don’t decompose but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces. If they get into the aquatic environment, they can be life-threatening to animals, which can become entangled or mistake plastic bits for food. 

This is a growing problem because more and more plastic products are manufactured for single-use. Since 1950, the global production of plastic has increased nearly 200-fold, and today annual plastic production is equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world’s population. Together, we must work toward a world free from plastic pollution to protect the animals and habitats threatened by our waste.

“You can be part of the solution and help to improve the situation. ”

Jaclyn Wegner, director of conservation action
Plastic and foam debris floats in the waters of Lake Michigan, visible from the edge of a pedestrian path bordering the lake along Chicago's skyline.
A conch shell sits on a shallowly submerged beach in the Bahamas littered with plastic pollution.

How you can help

Learning about plastic pollution is the first step in preventing plastic from reaching our waterways and recognizing how much plastic we use every day. Here’s how else you can help:

  1. Refuse single-use plastic items like bottles, bags, cups, containers and cutlery whenever you can, and support businesses that are using or developing plastic-free alternatives.
  2. Remember your reusables! Limit your plastic footprint with every coffee shop visit, grocery store run and dinner out.
  3. Raise your voice! Contact elected officials, local businesses and your community. Ask them to join us in working toward a plastic-free future.
  4. Restore local shorelines by joining Shedd for one of our Lake Michigan or Chicago River cleanups.

Don’t forget to share these steps with family and friends. Collectively, our everyday actions will add up to big changes that protect aquatic wildlife.


These Shedd corporate partners have made the commitment to reduce single-use plastic and provide compostable or reusable alternatives:

Chicago Marathon
Chicago White Sox
Loews Chicago Hotel
United Airlines

See our full list of restaurant collaborators.

Own a restaurant or business?

Join our growing alliance of plastic reduction collaborators! Contact us at [email protected].