Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

It's Saint Patrick's Day!!! Whether you are Irish or not, St. Patrick's Day is a day full of fun - whether the leprechauns come and dye your milk green, you drink green beer, or you eat your yearly dose of corned beef - most people in the U.S. find a way to celebrate. Being from Chicagoland, one of the time honored traditions for Saint Patrick's Day is the green dying of the Chicago River. After the river gets its yearly pigment, the parade kicks off, and for those of us who enjoy running, the Shamrock Shuffle snakes through downtown the following weekend.

But these traditions, as quaint and fun as they are, come at a price. Perhaps in our festive moods, we have forgotten the original reason that the river gets its green bath every year. Before I was born, and certainly before I could say "top o' the morning to you", Chicago was an industrial city. Not only were there "The Jungle" type food processing places, but workers created a plethora of materials. And the companies needed somewhere to put their waste. The Chicago River, which feeds into Lake Michigan conveniently wound through the city, and big business did not hesitate to dump their waste into it. So much so, that at one point, the river was so saturated with junk, that it caught on fire. The river became so polluted that it was no longer a topic to be avoided - people could literally see the filth floating in the river. The city needed a solution, but telling its revenue generating companies to stop dumping wasn't on the agenda. Due, in part, to a large Irish population, the city decided to dye the river green. It hid some of the worst parts of the pollution, and created a fun festival the city could be proud of.

Now, we still dye the river green, both out of tradition, and because of the Irish population in our city. But those parades celebrating the dying of the river attract crowds. The Shamrock Shuffle (one of the largest 8Ks in the country) brings 36,000 runners from all over the country. And these people don't leave only footprints. Confetti, lost mittens, thrown aside water glasses all line the streets as their owners ignore the trash they are leaving behind. Drunks leave beer cans. Smokers leave cigarette butts. Runners leave empty Gu packs. Children leave lollipop sticks, and on it goes. And that litter is dealt with in one of two ways. The first option is the amazingly speedy and precise clean up crews come through and collect it all, and put it in a dumpster where it goes to a landfill. There it may or may not biodegrade, but will definitely leave its carbon footprint in our environment. The second option is that it will be overlooked, or outside of the clean up crew's jurisdiction. At that point, it becomes an eyesore, litter literally lining our streets, and on our street corners it will either biodegrade or not.

So while we all celebrate this holiday, that I for one, absolutely love, let's keep in mind that celebrating is fun, littering and pollution are not. Make yourself a promise that you won't litter - at parades OR during the work week. Make yourself a promise that when you find out a company is dumping their waste, you are one of the outspoken critics. And then make yourself the promise that you will eat as many servings of corned beef as it takes to make yourself full :)

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