"Lobbying for change"
By Christel Mohrman, Staff Writer 06/16/2005

Sophomores promoting bill aimed at increased recycling.

When Barrington High School sophomores Masumi Amin, Emily Graham and Caroline Wardin set out to boost recycling in Illinois, they weren't sure how much of an impact they'd be able to make.

They also didn't expect their efforts to continue beyond the end of the semester.

"Quite honestly, we weren't really sure we'd be able to pull anything off.  We thought since were the kids, we wouldn't be able to pull anything off.  But we were able to make a difference, which is cool," Graham said.

For the past few months, the three 16-year-ld girls worked to gain legislators support for an I-CAN Bottle Bill, which they believe would help encourage beverage consumers to recycle their empty cans and bottles. 

While the bill has not yet gained House approval, the girls' efforts have resulted in a partnership with bottle bill advocate Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and an appearance with him at a press conference.

At the press conference, which was held May 24 at the Thompson Center, the students demonstrated a Kansmacker.  The machine, which is used in Michigan sorts and crushes empty beverage containers.  It then prints a receipt, which can be taken to the cash register for a rebate.

By recycling, beverage consumers are refunded for the extra 5 cents charged per can or bottle, under the state's bottle bill.

The students hope a similar bill will be passed in Illinois.

"I thought the machine was actually really cool," Wardin said. "We'd have a lot less cans on the side of the road and in lakes and stuff."

The students' work began when debate teachers Ryan Goble assigned his class to research an issue they would like to change in the local, national or international community.  Students then had to create a case for that change and present their ideas to someone in the real world who could make a difference.

Amin, Graham and Wardin, who teamed up as the Bottlehead Coalition, contacted Congresswoman Melissa Bean's office and were preparing to mail about 500 letters to the members of Illinois' House of Representatives and Congress when they learned Quinn was already a bottle bill advocate.

"We were kind of bummed," said Amin, explaining she didn't think the student's efforts would make a difference if the bill was already being supported.  

"Then we realized this is awesome because we can call him and ask to work with him.  It turned out to be better than we thought," she said.

Beverage Container deposit programs have reduced total litter along roadways and waterways up to 60 percent in 11 other states according to Quinn's office.

The programs have also increased recycling, created new joss in retail, distribution and recycling, and helped to conserve natural resources.

In 2002, 8 billion beverage containers were sold in Illinois, weighing in at a total of 544,683 tons.

"As taxpayers, we've been paying for the cleanup.  We could save millions of Illinois taxpayer dollars annually in litter pickup and disposal costs by enacting the I-Can Bottle Bill.  It is important that we begin to do our part to keep these items out of the waste stream," Quinn said in a statement.

Opponents of the bill include beverage and packaging companies.

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Main, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont has passed bottle bills.  Eight other states, excluding Illinois, have such bills in the works.  A bottle bill failed in Illinois in 2001.

Wardin said she and her group member plan to keep in touch with Quinn and Goble, and hope to see the Illinois adopt a bottle bill.  The proposed bill is currently under consideration by the House Environmental Health Committee.

Although the legislative session ended recently without a vote on HB 4080, policy advisor Michael Norbeck said Quinn's staff will continue to support the bottle bill when the new session begins early next year.  

The Barrington students are welcome to continue their efforts with Quinn, he added.

"They've been very valuable.  They are smeary, motivated kids who have done great work.  We look forward to working with them more in the future," Norbeck said.

Even though they are now on summer vacation and their required work is complete, the girls said they will continue to help out.

The Bottlehead Coalition was invited to speak again with Quinn last week at two Chicago press conferences about the importance of clean beaches, and how a bottle bill could help keep local beaches free of bottle and can litter.

Amin said she thinks the Bottlehead Coalition's participation in such events will factor into lawmakers' decision.

"Now they know that younger people care about this, too.  It's not just the lieutenant governor," she said.

If it doesn't pass, I'll be extremely disappointed," Graham said, "We've worked so hard to come this far. Since we worked so hard, we'll feel like we made a difference, but it would be great if it got passed." 

"It would help a lot with recoiling and cleaning up our cities, It would be great to clean up Barrington, it would be awesome to clean up the whole state," she said. 

Goble, who will leave Barrington this year to pursue a doctor degree, has assigned his debate students the project for the last two years.  

Last year, a student team helped encourage the creation of a bike path in Cuba Township, while another group began a high school club to raise money to address world hunger. 

Other projects this year included efforts to convince the District 220 administration to use recycled paper, an awareness campaign about the rBGH growth hormone in milk, and an attempt to bring live music to Tower Lakes. 

"The whole principle is, you ale old enough to make a difference," Goble said. "I go in expecting the best, and I hope they make a change."