Talking trash with the Litterati

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

You might not like trash talk but we have a litter problem to discuss. We also need action. Members of Go Green Forest Park are already tackling the trash, picking up litter across the village. At a meeting of Go Green, Julieta Aguilera introduced them to a new way to collect and catalogue the waste. It involves the Litterati phone app. 

Litterati users form a world-wide community that identifies, maps, and collects litter. They have collected 2,639,389 pieces. Julieta joined the Litterati movement because her front lawn is a trap for trash.

Cleaning isn't enough for Julieta, who believes it's important to catalogue litter. She gave a presentation at the History & Community Festival about this "historical approach" to litter control. 

"Forest Parkers have been picking up trash forever without a second thought about where it comes from," she testified.

The Litterati app allows residents to tag items, identify its material and describe it in detail. For example, wrappers are the most common item they collect and the most common material is plastic. They even identify the brand and source, with fast food customers being leading polluters. 

The Litterati app is useful but some collectors are not techies. Julieta, though, describes herself as "super-nerdy." Her goals are to make our pollution problem more visible and to engage adults in changing their behavior. 

Many remember those carefree days of tossing garbage out the car window. Most wouldn't think of doing that now. But there are still some who believe a "cigarette fairy" cleans up their butts. Julieta wants to overcome this ignorance with "an anti-denial project that combines science, art and trash." 

Julieta has been combining science and art since growing up in her native Chile. There she studied design and earned a Master of Fine Art degree. In 1994, she moved to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Notre Dame University. She studied virtual reality there, which became her passion. 

After graduating, she worked in the Space Visualization Laboratory at Adler Planetarium for eight years. She was also part of the planetarium's Green Team, warning the public against the use of pollutants like Styrofoam. 

Styrofoam containers were among the objects Julieta found on her property when she and her husband, Andy, moved there in 2000. They chose Forest Park because they have two friends here who are now their neighbors. 

When the couple bought their house, they replaced the front lawn with shrubs and native plants. Thanks to the milkweed, it became a butterfly garden, attracting Monarchs. It also attracted trash. Each time they expanded the plot, they found more litter. Julieta catalogued the trash to identify the source.

For example, when Ultra Foods was on Roosevelt Road, Julieta was finding their bags and fliers on her property. After she complained to the store manager, he made sure their trash containers were emptied regularly. This cut down on litter but living close to Roosevelt Road means trash is still a problem for Julieta.

Beti Vere, who lives in the north end of town, was recruited by Julieta to join the project. She finds a lot of plastic straws and alcohol containers on her property. Her data shows Newport to be the most common cigarette box, Nestle the most plentiful plastic water bottle, and Coca-Cola the most common can. 

Beti is working on a grocery bag made of recycled material, bearing the Forest Park logo. This will cut down on our use of plastic bags. It will also save us from that silly 10-cent shopping bag fee being charged by Oak Park stores. 

Oops, that sounds like real trash talk.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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