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Let's Shedd Plastic Together!

A staggering 22 million pounds of plastic enters the Great Lakes every year, threatening wildlife and even our drinking water. On top of that, nationally, the plastic recycling rate is a dismal 9%. Our waste management system is simply not able to recycle at a rate high enough to keep up with the amount of plastic used. 

From sharks in our ocean to sturgeon in our lakes, animals everywhere need you to take action to tackle plastic pollution — here’s how!

Rocks along the south shoreline of Lake Michigan north of the city

1. Take a Waste Inventory

A waste inventory will act as a roadmap for the swaps you need to make that will have the biggest impact on reducing your plastic footprint. When you go to throw something out, take note if what you are about to toss into the trash is actually recyclable or compostable. Pay extra attention to the types and amounts of single-use items such as cold coffee cups that you are using. Once you know what you are sending to the landfill, you can tackle the most frequently-spotted items first. Remember that any progress is important and you don’t need to strive for perfection.

Go further:
 Know what can be recycled and composted in your area. Contact your local waste collection agency to get a list of what is accepted.

2. Make Plastic-Conscious Choices When Shopping

Going plastic free can be a challenge when it comes to the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging on merchandise. When heading to the store, consider bringing your own reusable bags for items and favor products that minimize the amount of plastic used to wrap it. This can look like purchasing unpackaged fruits and vegetables, asking meat to be wrapped in only paper and purchasing glass bottles instead of plastic bottles for drinks.

Go further: Ask your favorite grocery stores if you can fill reusable containers from home, or find a store that allows you to do so.

Oranges and eggs laid out on a table.

3. Switch to Reusables

Switching to reusable versions of your everyday items is one of the best ways to reduce your plastic waste while also saving you money long-term. Helpful swaps can include a reusable water bottle instead of flimsy plastic ones, beeswax paper instead of plastic wrap and glass storage containers instead of single-use bags or boxes.

Go further: Make a to-go kit of your essential reusable items to keep in your bag, at your desk at work or in your car. Having your items easily and readily accessible means you’ll be more likely to use them. Depending on your needs, your kit may include items such as a water bottle, reusable cutlery, reusable straws and a reusable bag.

Wooden utensils, silicone bags and other reusables are laid out on a table.
Various reusables, such as bottles, wooden cutlery, and reusable straws.

4. Dine at our Let's Shedd Plastic Partner Restaurants

Restaurants that have partnered with us to reduce their plastic waste are a great way to support a good cause while still enjoying delicious food. By going to a Let’s Shedd Plastic collaborator restaurant, you’ll likely find that many of your typical utensils, to-go containers and cups are compostable or even reusable all in the effort to reduce single-use plastic waste.

Go further: Plastic cutlery and other accessory items like condiment cups are difficult or impossible to recycle. Many restaurants and delivery company websites offer the option to opt out of items like cutlery. For those that don’t give that option, be sure to tell them over the phone or in the comments in your online order that you want to decline the extras.

Shrimp and various vegetables are artfully arranged on an appetizer plate.

5. Engage with Others

We are on this plastic-free journey together! Sharing your efforts to reduce your plastic waste with friends or family can create a positive source of support and encouragement. Participating in community events such as a beach cleanup is a great way to build a network of people who also care about plastic pollution, and can broaden your awareness of all the creative solutions that you can use to go plastic-free.

Make a difference for the local aquatic world! Sign up for Kayak for Conservation or volunteer to take action for animals on one of our Action Days to restore and protect nearby beaches, waterways and forest preserves. You’ll support animals from frogs to fishes while having fun and learning along the way.

Go Further: Contact your local policy-makers in support of legislation that encourages plastic reduction.

Participants in Shedd's Kayak for Conservation program sit in single-person canoes on the Chicago river. One participant holds a trash bag open for another, who has scooped a piece of trash from the river using a mechanical gripper.
Three young teens stand crouched on the sand of 12th street beach in the summertime, wearing matching green t-shirts. The teen on the right is holding a blue garbage bag and reaching for a plastic bag that the teen on the left has unearthed from the sand. The third teen crouches with a clipboard, recording their finds.

6. Act for Animals Through Email Alerts

Dive in to tangible and timely ways to act and advocate for wildlife, in the Great Lakes region and beyond. Make your voice heard, get out in nature or go deep on environmental legislation with our experts through opportunities delivered directly to your inbox. Through our action network, Surge, we'll work together for collective impact for our blue planet.


Silver fish dart in a swirling cloud in blue waters.

Photo by: © LuffyKun/Getty Images