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OUR BACK YARD DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY


Timothy Hoellein, PhD, collects and analyzes trash in Chicago waterways to learn about the effects of refuse on river ecosystems.


Talking trash


Timothy Hoellein, PhD, studies garbage in the Chicago River and its effects.


26 LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO A


s anyone who’s seen (or smelled) the Chicago River can attest, the waterway contains a good amount of garbage. But what is it made of, and how does


it affect the river’s ecosystem? Tim Hoellein, PhD, an aquatic ecologist in Loyola’s biology depart- ment, is on the case. Two years ago, Hoellein and a group of stu-


dents trawled the North Branch of the river for garbage. “We’d mark off the length of stream, usually about a hundred yards or so, where it was knee-deep, and we’d walk up the river, slowly, sort of feeling and looking and grabbing all the garbage we could find,” Hoellein says. They did


the same in the vegetation next to the stream. They hauled all of their findings back to the lab to count, organize, and weigh the garbage. The garbage was mostly glass bottles, plastic


bags, food wrappers, and pieces of ceramic. Among the more interesting items of refuse were pieces of bikes, tires, a bowling ball, a fire extinguisher, and a shopping cart. Having no prescribed set of techniques for garbage analysis, Hoellein borrowed the methods normally used to analyze organic material like algae or insects. Although he knew they’d find a lot of garbage, Hoellein was still surprised by the volume. “It was abundant and heavy,” he says.


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