Hudson River plagued by single-use plastic pollution

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  • Riverkeeper Sweep 2018: The results indicate a single-use culture: plastic bags, straws, Styrofoam coffee cups and takeout containers. The items in the chart were counted by cleanup volunteers at shoreline locations during the May 5 Sweep using survey protocol developed by the Ocean Conservancy.

  • Volunteers clean up at Riverkeeper Sweep 2018

5 easy things you can do to reduce plastic pollution

Clean your shoreline. Once you’ve spent a few hours picking plastic bottles and bottle caps up off the beach, and pulling chip bags out of the brush, you’ll never look at plastic the same way again.
Help ban plastic bags in New York. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are backing an effort by more than 100 organizations across the state to urge Governor Cuomo to support an effective ban on single-use plastic bags. The ‘New York State Bring Your Own Bag Act,’modeled on California’s successful law, would ban single-use plastic bags statewide and place a 10-cent fee on alternative bags.
Skip straws. Like plastic bags, plastic straws are among the top 10 items of trash found in U.S. waters, and they’re generally not recyclable. Restaurants can be convinced to forgo the straws and stirrers unless customers request them. They can offer paper straws, as McDonald’s is starting to do.
Bottle your own. Bottled water might seem cleaner, but the federal government requires far more rigorous and frequent safety testing and monitoring of municipal drinking water than of bottled water.
Mind your microfibers. Just like plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, microfibers from our clothing can pass through wastewater treatment plants into our waterways.

Plastic pollution plagues the Hudson as it does the world over, and a new compilation of trash data from eight Riverkeeper Sweep locations gives a clearer picture of the problem.

The results are indicative of a culture of single-use: plastic bags, straws, Styrofoam coffee cups and takeout containers. The volume of these items entering our waterways is staggering.

Our annual Riverkeeper Sweep brought out 2,300 volunteers on Saturday, May 5, for 120 cleanups and other projects to restore the shorelines and remove invasive species. Since 2016, we have worked with a handful of Sweep sites to gather comprehensive data based on the Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal Cleanup Data Card. During our first year of data collection, we teamed up with seven student and community groups to collect data at five sites.

This year we had data collection at eight sites and found cigarette butts to be the most prevalent type of trash, followed closely by foam pieces, plastic beverage bottles, and plastic pieces. View our 2017 and 2016 data for a comparison at

Each year of our comprehensive data collection initiative, we have seen Styrofoam, cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, and single-use plastic bags in the top 5 most commonly found items. The rank varies by year, but these items consistently top our list, which is constant with data collected by The Ocean Conservancy.

Over seven years of Riverkeeper Sweep events, we have removed a total of 227 tons of debris from shorelines of the Hudson River, its tributaries and the New York City waterfront.

In 2018 alone, Riverkeeper Sweep volunteers cleaned up 38 tons of trash. A handful of project sites have been adopted as official unofficial parks by local residents and are maintained throughout the year. However, as Sweep continues to grow, the trash problem persists. We have not seen an overall decrease in the volume of trash we find.

Cleanups are an important component of the fight for a Trash Free Hudson, providing an opportunity to speak with our neighbors about our reverence of the Hudson River and its tributaries, remove as much trash as we can, and begin conversations about ways to prevent trash from entering our waterways in the first place. We hope you will be a part of it.

Here are ways you can help us work for a Trash Free Hudson:

• Voice your support for the New York State Bring Your Own Back Act

• Speak with local restaurants and coffee shops and request they switch to reusable straws

• Support local efforts to pass bans on single-use items including single-use plastic bags, straws, and styrofoam

• Read 5 easy things you can do to reduce plastic pollution (see sidebar)

• Organize a cleanup in your community

• Show your support for a trash-free Hudson by becoming a Riverkeeper member today-

Jen Benson

Hudson Riverkeeper

Editor's note: As the Outreach Coordinator, Jen Benson manages the Riverkeeper Sweep, an annual day of service for the Hudson River, and works with partner organizations and local groups on around issues threatening the Hudson River. Contact her at 914-478-4501 ext. 234 or at

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