Constable: Itasca woman's idea to pick up trash during walks picks up speed across town
With spring's arrival and the lingering pandemic, Lu Semenzin does what lots of folks do. She takes long walks around her town of Itasca. Only she brings a plastic bag.
"I started taking walks with Jewel bags during the pandemic and am increasingly shocked at the amount of garbage in town," Semenzin, 54, posted on March 10, the day she launched Keep Itasca Beautiful as a Facebook page. "Once you start paying attention, it really is staggering how much trash needs to be picked up."
Her page now boasts 59 members, lots of photographs of bags filled with trash, and a few photos of kids and adults smiling as they pick it up.
A toddler in Ohio for our nation's first Earth Day in 1970, Semenzin was inspired by her hometown's environmental campaign to Keep Akron Beautiful. She remembers iconic television commercials featuring "The Crying Indian" with a tear in his eye after seeing polluters and Woodsy Owl singing, "Give a hoot! Don't pollute."
She and her husband, Michael, also were inspired by their son, Jackson, a senior at Lake Park High School who picked up trash as part of a public service project for his civics class.
"She has done a wonderful job," says Sharon Hower, 60, who joins Semenzin for a morning outing picking up trash in back of the Itasca Community Library along the Springbrook Nature Center.
Semenzin instantly cuts off all talk about giving her credit for the movement. It's not about her, or even about Itasca, but about what people across the landscape can do to keep their town beautiful. Fellow Itasca residents Hower, Claudia Apuzzo, Ellen Herbert, Krista Ray and Linda Elsner are doing their part. Jay Manguba circulated a flyer on social media for Earth Day, inviting people to pick up trash in the Clover Ridge subdivision. Lake Park High School student Olivia Apuzzo is the student liaison for the Conservation Foundation's annual River Sweep, which will mark its 30th anniversary on Saturday, May 15.
During those three decades, more than 9,000 volunteers have removed nearly 300 tons of garbage from DuPage County streams, according to theconservationfoundation.org website.
This isn't the first crack at helping the environment for Semenzin, who works in customer service at Thread Experiment, an e-commerce site selling bedding designed for men. Some know her as "the butterfly lady," after she and Eagle Scout candidate Dylan Williams led a successful campaign to transform a 2-acre prairie into a Monarch butterfly habitat in the Springbrook Nature Center. She got an unlikely reminder of that while picking up trash when she found an empty mesh butterfly habitat.
"What are the odds the butterfly lady finds a butterfly habitat when looking for garbage?" Semenzin says of one odd trash find among many, including a 2018 campaign sign, a container of uneaten french fries with lots of ketchup packets, and an iPhone that had been abandoned so long ago it was falling apart.
While litterbugs still throw alcohol bottles and other trash out car windows, along roadsides and in the woods, much of the pollution seems accidental.
"It's a topsoil bag," Semenzin says as her long claw grabber plucks a large piece of plastic from the woods. "People don't throw these out the car window."
Garbage pickup is on Mondays, and Semenzin says she thinks that results in trash getting blown into the environment from overloaded cans and during the dumping process.
"We're really just trying to do our part in our little corner of the community," Semenzin says.
"Every time you go out for a walk, take a garbage bag," suggests Hower, who bends over to pick up most trash in a gloved hand. "It's really great exercise. It's good cardio."
The concept of Keep Itasca Beautiful is as easy to spread through the neighborhood as a fast-food wrapper on a windy day.
"Once you start looking for it, it's everywhere," Semenzin says, as she picks up a discarded plastic cup lid. "Now that I'm hooked, I can't go for a walk without taking a bag. It is super-addicting."