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Through advocacy, prevention, community education and stewardship, Riverkeeper is working towards a trash-free Hudson. Our annual day of service, Riverkeeper Sweep, has become a catalyst for sustained, year-round action. Recognizing that our local trash and marine debris is part of a global problem, we are expanding our efforts to stem the tide.
Trash enters the Hudson River and its tributaries from a variety of sources. Among these are litter picked up in wet weather and carried through storm drains, illegal dumping, and littering. Ultimately litter flows into the Atlantic Ocean contributing to a global problem known as marine debris. Marine debris harms wildlife, threatens public health and impacts the economic vitality of Hudson River communities.
Riverkeeper is addressing this problem through volunteer opportunities, partnerships and engagement with local, state and federal officials and agencies. This portal offers an introduction to marine debris pollution in the Hudson River and beyond. To learn more about this issue click on the sections below and take action.
The 2016 Riverkeeper Sweep, our fifth annual day of service for the Hudson River, occurred on Saturday, May 7. With the help of 2,200 volunteers at 109 projects from Brooklyn to Troy, 39 tons of trash, and 9 tons of recycling was removed from the Hudson River Estuary. For a full account of the 2016 Riverkeeper Sweep, checkout Riverkeeper Sweep 2016: Our biggest yet!
To learn more about Sweep, or to register to volunteer, visit the Riverkeeper Sweep event page.
We often see plastic bottles, polystyrene foam plastic (Styrofoam), bottle caps, plastic bags, cigarette butts, tires, polyethylene 55 gallon drums, blue dock foam, and micropastics*. Most to all of the debris found in the river is preventable. With education, care, and enforcement debris can be kept within the waste stream and out of the Hudson River. Learn more about the Urban-Coastal connection from this EPA fact sheet.
According to the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas 2015 Report, the most common items found in US waters are:
1. Cigarettes & cigarette filters
2. Food Wrappers
3. Plastic beverage bottles
4. Plastic beverage bottle caps
5. Straws & stirrers
6. Other Plastic Bags
7. Plastic Grocery Bags
8. Glass Beverage Bottles
9. Beverage Cans
10. Plastic Cups and Plates
The May 7, 2016 Riverkeeper Sweep removed 39 tons of litter from the Hudson River in one day, and found single-use plastic items and foam to be the most prominent types of trash. (view photos here)!
Many Hudson River communities benefit from a $4.75 billion tourism economy (Hudson River Greenway Council 2012 Annual Report) generated through the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities on the Hudson. The attractiveness of the river is greatly impacted by debris and effects common perceptions of the Hudson— leading to negative associations with the river.
Debris is the most visible form of pollution on the Hudson and therefore litter prevention and cleanup marks a huge opportunity to improve the reputation and multi-billion dollar economic engine for Hudson River communities.
Fish, birds, turtles and other wildlife can mistake small plastic pieces for food and the ingestion can lead to intestinal blockages causing injury or death. On June 2, 2016, the Guardian reported scientists have for the first time demonstrated the negative effects small pieces of plastic, particularly microbeads, have on fish These scientists subjected perch to microbeads, discovering that the larvae perch actually preferred the microbeads to their own natural food source and that perch that ate the microbeads often ignored the chemical warnings of a predatory fish attack resulting in the microbead fed perch being eaten four times quicker than normal perch. After 48 hours, all perch fed the microbeads were dead. To learn more behind the science of microbeads and their effect on ocean life watch this video.
The Hudson River is also home to several species of mammals, including otters and seals. One common mammal is the Harbor Seal. In a study of injection of plastic of Harbor Seals in the Netherlands, researchers found over 12% of the Harbor Seals in their sample contained plastic in their stomachs and intestines. It is important to note that the Hudson River is a different environment from the studies listed above. However, the large body of evidence available on plastics’ impact on wildlife globally should raise concerns about impacts on Hudson River wildlife.A recent study published in PLOS One estimates global waters contain over 5 trillion particles of plastic, weighing over 250,000 tons. However, local citizens are demanding change and driving local solutions to this global problem.
The EPA Trash Free Waters Working Group
Riverkeeper has joined the EPA’s Trash Free Waters working group bringing together scientists, government and advocacy groups to address global and local problems.
Supporting Local and Statewide Policies
Riverkeeper is supporting a number of measures to reduce the amount of trash and debris entering our watershed.
Riverkeeper Supports a New York State Ban on Microbeads
“We and many others have worked for decades, and huge strides have been made, to return the Hudson River to a fishable, swimmable, drinkable waterway, a goal that is once again being put at risk by micro bead plastic pollution that threatens wildlife and public health. We strongly support Attorney General Schneiderman’s legislation which will ban this unnecessary source of contamination that cannot be cleaned up and will persist for centuries if its flow into the Hudson and other precious New York waters is not stopped.”– Hudson Riverkeeper, Paul Gallay
Congress Passes Microbeads Trash Free Waters Act of 2015
In December 2015 Congress passed the Microbeads Trash Free Waters Act of 2015 bans microbeads, which are commonly used as abrasives in beauty and health products by July 2017. Growing numbers of local and state bans across the country motivated support of the law. Riverkeeper worked on local and state legislation banning microbeads prior to the passage of the federal legislation.
Supporting a New York City fee on single-use bags
In a March 3 letter to Mayor Bill DeBlasio more than 70 organizations called on his administration and City Council to pass a proposed bag bill by Earth Day – April 22, 2015. The letter notes that similar bag ordinances have decreased single-use plastic bag consumption by 60 to 90 percent. In New York City this would decrease the annual single-use plastic bag consumption from 10 billion per year to between 1 billion and 4 billion single-use plastic bags polluting our environment!
Phasing out Single Use Plastic Bags at the Ossining Farmers Market and supporting Local Regulation of Polystyrene (Styrofoam)
In August 2014, Riverkeeper with Down to Earth Markets, Green Ossining and ECOBAGS® forged the BYOBag coalition. The goal of the coalition was to dramatically reduce the amount of single-use plastic bags consumed at the Ossining Farmers Market. The staff at Down to Earth Markets estimated that annually the Ossining Market distributed over 64,000 single-use plastic bags passed from vendors to shoppers. Initial results of the BYOBag pilot program place a 60-70% reduction in single-use plastic bags. Read about this success story here.
Supporting Polystyrene Bans in Ulster, Putnam and Beyond
Riverkeeper spoke out in support of polystyrene bans in Ulster County and Putnam County. Read more at our blog.
Riverkeeper can’t do this work alone. We depend on each and every one of you to help us clean up solid waste pollution out of the Hudson and to help prevent it from returning.
Hudson Valley residents have a large role to play in local policymaking. Many of the polystyrene and plastic bag laws began when a concerned citizen organized their neighbors and approached their local elected officials with a plan.
How to pass a resolution:
1) Start with a small group of advocates
2) Adapt existing resolutions to your local laws and problems
3) Identify a target committee at the municipal or county level
4) Find a sponsor within the identified committee to move the resolution forward
5) Build support for your resolution. Show up to committee meetings and hearings on the issue, and invite Riverkeeper to join you!
Our friends at the Surfrider Foundation have created a handy toolkit with steps on how to build a polystyrene and plastic bag campaign.
Access Surfrider’s toolkit here.
Additionally, below we’ve included the legislation passed in communities up and down the Hudson in municipalities and counties.
On March 17, 2015, the Ulster County Legislature voted to ban polystyrene products in all food service establishments and county government facilities, after the urging of county residents and Riverkeeper.
In March 2015, the Putnam County Legislature took a first step by banning polystyrene in government facilities. The law takes effect this June. Riverkeeper submitted a letter of support for this effort.
In June 2014, Hastings-on-Hudson became the first municipality in Westchester County to simultaneously ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers. The law went into effect at the first of the year.
The Village of New Paltz in Ulster County banned single-use plastic bags last November. The law went into effect April, 2015.
Albany County banned polystyrene in chain restaurants in December 2013, and the law went into effect a month later.
New York City’s food service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not possess, sell, or offer for use single-service polystyrene foam articles or loose fill packaging, such as “packing peanuts” in New York City by January 2016. The law was passed in December 2013 and goes fully into effect in January 2016 after a six-month grace period beginning in this summer.
Please visit these resources to learn more about litter and debris in our waterways.
Gregory, M. R. (2009). Environmental implications of plastic debris in marine settings—entanglement, ingestion, smothering, hangers-on, hitch-hiking and alien invasions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2013-2025
Rochman, C. M., Hoh, E., Kurobe, T., & Teh, S. J. (2013). Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. Scientific reports, 3.
Elisa L. Bravo Rebolledo, Jan A. Van Franeker, Okka E. Jansen, Sophie M.J.M. Brasseur, Plastic ingestion by harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in The Netherlands, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 67, Issues 1–2, 15 February 2013, Pages 200-202, ISSN 0025-326X,
Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem: Introducing a Solutions Based Framework on Plastic. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environmental Facility. November, 2011.
Summary of Expert Discussion Forum on Possible Human Health Risks from Microplastics in the Marine Environment. EPA Forum Convened on April 24, 2014