News > News > Preserve River Ecology > Top item in shoreline trash? ‘Sweep’ finds plastic bottles, by the bazillion

Top item in shoreline trash? ‘Sweep’ finds plastic bottles, by the bazillion


Annsville Creek, Peekskill (Photo: Oxygen House Photography)
View more images on our Flickr site

During the annual Riverkeeper Sweep shoreline cleanup event on May 4, 2,400 volunteers cleaned up 32 tons of trash & debris from 122 locations in NYC & the Hudson Valley.

Plastic bottles were the most pervasive item noted in the trash, fueling new efforts to expand NYS ‘bottle bill.’ Add your voice here.

Annsville Creek, Peekskill (Photo: Oxygen House Photography)

Ossining, N.Y. – Riverkeeper today announced the results of the 8th Annual “Riverkeeper Sweep” May 4, when 2,400 volunteers cleaned the shorelines of New York City and the Hudson Valley and removed a total of 32 tons of trash and debris from 122 locations.

One of the most commonly found items in the shoreline trash – probably the most common – was plastic bottles. No other single item was quite as pervasive, either in the anecdotal reports from project leaders or in the detailed data collected at 12 of the 122 locations.

The results add urgency to Riverkeeper’s campaign to expand New York’s bottle deposit program this year so that more bottles will redeemed and recycled, instead of polluting the environment. Riverkeeper is pushing for passage of a bill (A5028A / S2129A) by the end of the legislative session June 19 that would make bottles for juices, sports drinks, teas and other beverages redeemable under the deposit program.

Overall, teams of volunteers, organized by schools, businesses, Scout troops, paddling groups, park staff and others, removed:

314 tires
32 tons of trash and debris
362 bags of recycling
• Various large debris including metal pipes, plywood, ropes, lawn chairs, garbage cans, plastic barrels, shopping carts, a snow blower, kitchen sink, toilet, car bumpers and steering wheel.

Volunteers also planted or maintained more than 100 trees and bushes and removed invasive plants like garlic mustard, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, water chestnut, and field bindweed.

They spruced up areas of shoreline from the “street end parks” in Brooklyn to a winding stretch of the Hudson in Queensbury, near Glens Falls. The annual event, the largest one-day cleanup of the Hudson, takes place along the waterways surrounding New York City, the Hudson River and the streams flowing into it. [Photos available via Flickr.]

Plastic pollution on the shorelines

The bulk of the trash, every year, is plastic. Sweep project leaders report to Riverkeeper on the overall volume of trash removed at their site and the most common items observed at their location. The most frequently named item, by far, was plastic bottles (named by 35 of 65 project leaders who specified their most commonly seen items). That was followed by Styrofoam (named by 22 of 65 project leaders).

In detailed reports from a dozen locations, plastic bottles tended to be among the Top 3 items, more than any other item. At Scenic Hudson Park in Irvington, for example, volunteers counted 248 plastic bottles. Volunteers at Parkway Oval Park in Tuckahoe, on the Bronx River, counted 197. At John V. Lindsay East River Park, the total was 255.

About 290 plastic bottles were picked up along Flushing Bay in Queens, and the three most common items at that location were also beverage-related: 553 plastic bottle caps, 458 straws or stirrers, and 429 plastic lids. In Ulster County, volunteers counted 123 plastic bottles – and 137 bottle caps – at Lighthouse Park and Esopus Meadows Preserve. Food wrappers were another widespread item at Sweep sites, along with bits of broken-down plastic and foam.

Pushing for legislative solutions

Riverkeeper is supporting a bill (A5028A / S2129A aiming to reduce bottle pollution and improve recycling rates in New York State. The measure would expand New York’s bottle deposit program to include not just beer, soda, wine coolers and water bottles (covered by the current program), but containers for most non-carbonated beverages, such as juices, teas and sports drinks, as well as wine and liquor bottles.

Riverkeeper began collecting signatures in support of the bill during the May 4 Sweep. A similar effort last year gathered signatures in support of a statewide plastic bag ban, which ultimately passed this year.

“Seeing the amounts of plastic and foam washing up on the shoreline really shows the scale of the problem, and it fires people up to push for solutions, said Jen Benson, Riverkeeper Outreach Coordinator. “In just one day, we removed 32 tons of trash, and most of it, yet again, was plastic. The numbers help tell the story, and add urgency to our efforts to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic.

“We are making progress, and yet there is so much more we can do.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that the existing bottle bill has decreased beverage container litter by 70 percent for bottles currently covered – a limited range of carbonated beverages, wine coolers and water bottles. With the expansion, consumers would have the option to return a larger variety of bottles to a redemption center or continue to recycle them through municipal pickups.

“Juice drinks, energy drinks – all non-carbonated beverages would be included in the deposit program under this bill. All these plastic bottles will be more likely to end up at a redemption center rather than in a local creek,” Riverkeeper Legislative Advocacy Manager Jeremy Cherson said. “That will be a big step forward in fighting plastic pollution.”

Riverkeeper also supports state legislation to expand New York’s plastic bag ban to restaurants
(A7363 / S5185) and to ban polystyrene containers in food service (S3068 / A5398).

Riverkeeper Sweep, an annual day of service, is part of year-round efforts for a Trash Free Hudson. Over eight years, Riverkeeper Sweep volunteers have removed 259 tons of debris, including 28 tons of recycling, and 1,365 tires. Additional local cleanups take place during the year.

Trash enters the Hudson River and its tributaries from a variety of sources, including street garbage that washes into storm drains, illegal dumping, and littering. Much of it washes up on the shoreline – harming wildlife, threatening public health, and affecting the economic vitality of Hudson River communities.


Leah Rae, Riverkeeper Media Specialist
[email protected], (914) 478-4501 ext. 238

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