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Riverkeeper Sweep sheds light on types of marine debris in Hudson: bottles, bags, foam

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As our biggest annual day of service for the Hudson River, the May 7 Riverkeeper Sweep brought over 2,200 volunteers down to their local stretch of the river to clear trash, restore the shoreline and – this year more than ever – to document the types of trash polluting the water.

Over the last 5 years, the Riverkeeper Sweep volunteers removed a total of 164.8 tons of debris, 9 tons of recycling, and 741 tires from the Hudson River Estuary. Each year, we’ve asked our Sweep Leaders to report the calculated weight of trash/recycling collected at each site, the number of tires, and the most frequently found types of debris. These basic numbers have helped us quantify the impact of Sweep, and better understand what types of trash are most frequently polluting our shorelines and waterways, but did not provide a clear snapshot of the location itself, or a detailed look into the composition of marine debris in the Hudson River Estuary.

To get a better sense of the types of trash in the estuary, Riverkeeper partnered with four local schools and the Guardians of Flushing Bay in a hands-on data collection effort at four Sweep locations throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley. Students from the Masters School worked in Hastings; Vassar College students on the Casperkill; The Mount Academy on its shoreline in Esopus; Storm King School and Cornwall High School at Plum Point in Cornwall; and a boat building club on Middleground Flats in Hudson. The Guardians of Flushing Bay collected data on the shoreline of Flushing Bay in Queens. Each data collection participant matched up with one to three cleanup volunteers to record each piece of trash collected for disposal or recycling.

View the 2016 Sweep Data.

The students were educated by Josh Kogan, coordinator of the Trash Free Waters Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2, who provided background on global marine debris, and the importance of local efforts to combat this issue as well. The data collection effort followed a survey protocol developed by the Ocean Conservancy, tallying each cigarette butt, plastic bottle, and candy wrapper recovered during the cleanup.

As a regional snapshot, the results were, as expected, high numbers of beverage bottles, single-use plastic bags, cigarette butts and foam items, along with hundreds of pieces of “tiny trash,” smaller than 2.5 centimeters.

clearingfoamatSweepOn a local level, the Guardians of Flushing Bay encountered foam pieces above all else, finding 477 pieces of foam (larger than 2.5 centimeters), and so many pieces of foam under 2.5 centimeters they stopped counting at 370. The 5th Annual Riverkeeper Sweep took place as two crumbling barges were still left abandoned in Flushing Bay, shedding Styrofoam and other contaminants. Almost three weeks after the Sweep, and after a year and a half of pressure from Riverkeeper and local grassroots advocates, the barges were finally dismantled and removed.

In 2017, Riverkeeper hopes to expand the data collection effort to 10-15 locations throughout the estuary. If you are interested in leading a Sweep site, or assisting with this data collection effort, please e-mail Jen at sweep@riverkeeper.org.

For full results, e-mail Jen Benson at sweep@riverkeeper.org.

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See photos from Sweep 2016 on Flickr:

Riverkeeper Sweep 2016

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