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Vickroy: Crestwood woman pleads ‘Quit the plastic’

FOUR WAYS TO HELP CLEAN UP THE PLANET

♦ “Help me clean up the forest preserves,” Janice Gintzler said. “If you see something, pick it up.”

♦ Use reusable cloth or canvas bags when shopping.

♦ Talk to store managers and owners about offering alternatives to plastic.

♦ Avoid Styrofoam by keeping containers in your car for restaurant leftovers.

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Updated: May 1, 2013 1:32PM



Janice Gintzler stands before the enemy the way David must have braced for Goliath.

The thin, small-framed resolute woman sets her jaw and points.

“See that, right there, a plastic bag. And over there, another and, way back there, another.”

Shaking her gray head, she steps off the paved walking path, crouches under bare tree limbs and retrieves the salvos. Further along the Oak Forest walking trail, she spies beer cans, plastic cups and what she suspects are BPA-coated cash register receipts.

“This stuff is killing the animals, and it’s killing us,” Gintzler said.

This nature-respecting, hybrid-driving, animal-loving peace advocate is at war. And her foe is a formidable one: ignorance.

“The chemical industry is out to get us,” she said. “They’re out to make money. The only chance we have is at the grass-roots level. We need to become apprised of the problem, and we need to do something about it.”

First and foremost, she said, “We need to quit the plastic.”

I spit out a National Institutes of Health statistic that states it takes about 500 years for a plastic bag to break down.

“A plastic bag never truly breaks down,” Gintzler replied.

Now, because she has paused on her daily constitutional, we must put pedal to the pavement and catch up with our time.

“Stand very straight,” begins my lesson in speed walking. “Use your biggest muscle — your gluteus maximus — to move you, heel-toe, heel-toe.”

Before I can write that tip in my notebook, she’s off, leaving me in her dust.

Gintzler, of Crestwood, walks the trail that winds from Central to Harlem avenues, just south of 159th Street, every day. Along the way, she picks up garbage and tries to convert fellow walkers to give green living a try.

“Will you be part of the solution?” she asked a middle-aged man wearing headphones.

He smiles, nods and keeps going.

“He thinks I’m talking about all the dog feces,” she said.

And that’s another thing. While there’s no way of knowing for certain whether plastic bags and Styrofoam cups were intentionally tossed in the woods, failure to pick up after pets is 100 percent intentional.

“People think when their animals defecate, it will just break down,” Gintzler said. “It may, but it won’t during a single season.”

It is perhaps the pet owners who upset her most.

“I shop at PetSmart, and I see all these animal lovers walking out with plastic bags,” she said. “And I say to them, ‘You must love animals because you’re here. So why do you use plastic bags?’ ”

Plastic, Gintzler said, breaks down so slowly that it often ends up being ingested by animals in the wild. Equally upsetting, she added, is that much of it is destined to flow into a vortex of plastic in one of the Earth’s oceans.

“If you love animals, you should stop using plastic,” she said. “People say they recycle, but it’s not recycling, it’s down-cycling. It doesn’t stop a new plastic bag from being made.”

It was her concern for the health and happiness of her pets that deployed her into this battle 14 years ago.

“I had two cats, and I used to let them out,” Gintzler said.

But after people in her condominium complex complained about that, she began taking them to the forest preserve.

“I noticed they loved grass,” she said. “So when I couldn’t take them with me, I’d bring some grass back for them.”

One day, while she was pulling the blades, Gintzler noticed all kinds of litter tangled among the brush. She started picking it up. And has been ever since.

Gintzler taught Russian and computer science at Morgan Park High School before retiring in 2006.

In 1989, Shriners Hospitals for Children brought a Ukrainian teen with scoliosis to Chicago for an operation. The girl lived in Gintzler’s home for a time. During her recuperation, she attended Morgan Park High School.

Another student, who just happened to head the environmental club, introduced the girl to “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins. It promotes sustainable agriculture. Gintzler also read the book and as a result became a vegetarian. Today, she is a vegan.

Though she doesn’t teach in a classroom anymore, Gintzler is still all about imparting messages. Her gray Toyota Prius is covered in bumper stickers: “Teach peace.” “I (heart) mountains.” “Stop the war.”

But her biggest mantra is ending our country’s attachment to plastic — one bag, one cup, one spoon at a time.

Influenced by Beth Terry, author of “My Plastic-Free Life,” Gintzler has become quite vocal about effecting change.

She’s contacted Cook County Forest Preserve District officials about the plastic litter problem, and they’ve offered to provide her with gloves and a big plastic bag,

“A big plastic bag — after I told them about the plastic,” she said.

She’s trounced into a nearby Walgreens to ask why they don’t offer customers an alternative to plastic.

Just recently, she asked the manager of a nearby Jewel-Osco if the store’s receipts were coated in BPA, which she calls, “a known endocrine disrupter.” The manager asked for time to find out, and when she returned a few days later, he handed her a letter stating that the receipts were not coated with the chemical.

Gintzler practices what she preaches. While at a Bible study class over the winter, hot chocolate was handed out in, of all things, Styrofoam cups. The next week, the group sipped from ceramic mugs and has been ever since.

She separates the garbage she finds into recycling options. She brings some materials to FutureMark in Blue Island. Twice a year, she heads out to Dart Manufacturing in North Aurora, which recycles clean Styrofoam.

Daily, though, Ginzler reaches out to people along the path, figuring they must, at the very least, appreciate nature to be out walking among the trees. Maybe they’ll parlay that appreciation into action.

She longs for the day, though, when she’ll be able to walk through the forest preserves at a fast and consistent pace — and not be waylaid by plastic bags that haven’t been completely drained and need to be recycled.



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