With summer approaching, more people will soon flock to area beaches. Loyola Beach on Greenleaf Avenue is popular with Loyola students, and many Northwestern students frequent Clark Street Beach on Sheridan Road in Evanston. But Northwestern students might have a more enjoyable time along the lake — Chicago beaches appear to have a bigger litter problem than Evanston’s.
The work of some local volunteers illustrates differences in beach cleanliness in Chicago and Evanston.
Volunteers from Adopt-a-Beach, a litter cleanup program run by the Alliance for Great Lakes, gathered 60 pounds of trash at Loyola Beach on Sept. 17, the most recently available data for that beach. On that same day, volunteers gathered 44 pounds of litter at Clark Street Beach.
Clark Street Beach had fewer pounds of litter than Loyola Beach six out of eight of the last Septembers, according to Adopt-a-Beach data.
The Adopt-a-Beach program does litter cleanup events at beaches along the Great Lakes in nine states and the province of Quebec.
Alumna environmental science and business management double major Christie Kochis said she volunteered at North Avenue Beach in 2015 and Loyola Beach in 2016 with the Adopt-a-Beach program.
Kochis said she thinks Chicago’s policies impact its cleanliness.
“In Chicago, it’s our taxes [that pay for beaches] so we don’t see the direct impact. So that’s why we’re more likely to litter the area,” the 22-year-old said.
In Chicago, about $4 million is spent to maintain the beaches, according to Assistant Press Secretary of the Chicago Park District, Zvezdana Kubat. Kubat said the Chicago Park District cleans the beaches daily during the summer season.
Maintenance for parks and beaches in Chicago is covered by a portion of residents’ property taxes, according to Kubat.
In Evanston, access to the beach is regulated and community members are only allowed access if they present a seasonal beach pass. Seasonal passes are sold at $26 for residents and $42 for nonresidents, but the prices will increase in June, according to the Evanston Parks and Recreation website. Daily beach passes are also offered for $8.
Kochis said she visited beaches in Evanston and thought they were cleaner compared to Chicago.
She said she thinks the passes are beneficial because she feels they give people a reason to keep their beach clean.
“When you’re at Evanston and their beaches are so pristine, [it’s] because people don’t want to litter,” said Kochis. “They want to go back there … because [it’s] something they’re invested in.”
Assistant Director of the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department Bob Dorneker said the fees from the beach tokens help pay for maintenance.
“Our beach maintenance costs are actually paid by the user fees. When you compare Chicago to Evanston, the beach user fees are included in [Chicago] tax,” said Dorneker.
Dorneker said Evanston’s beaches are cleaned and water-tested daily during the summer beach season.
Biology professor Timothy Hoellein, who studied trash on Great Lake beaches, said he found that litter along the lake is as much of a problem here as it is in the ocean. Hoellein said littering has economic and ecological impacts. Maintaining beaches costs the city and taxpayers money, and some litter has harmful chemicals that can kill fish, according to Hoellein.
Hoellein said that location and environmental factors also matter when it comes to cleanliness.
“Population density is a factor because a lot of the stuff we find across all of those different beaches seems to be stuff that people left behind at the beach,” Hoellein said. “But there are other factors that determine what’s left on the beach, which include abiotic factors like weather and wind [and] waves.”
Hoellein contributed to a study titled “Abundance and environmental drivers of anthropogenic litter on five Lake Michigan beaches: A study facilitated by citizen science data collection.” The research focused on five beaches along Lake Michigan, including North Avenue Beach on 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive, and found a positive relationship between population density and litter density.
Rising junior Abby Garten said she visits Loyola Beach and likes that access is free. But, she said she thinks paying to go to the beach could be effective.
“It probably wouldn’t hurt,” said the 19-year-old. “If anything, it would create incentive to not dirty the place that you’re spending your money to spend the day.”