Inside Press is pleased to shine a spotlight once again on Sweep–Riverkeeper.org’s annual mega trash-collection May event. Each year, eager volunteers from all over Westchester County gathered at designated spots to help clean the Hudson River and its tributaries.
“I’m so grateful to and impressed by the more than 1,200 people who showed up in what may have been the worst Sweep-day weather we’ve ever had,” said Katie Leung, the new Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for Sweep.
Volunteers could select the area they wanted to work in and were responsible for their own transportation. The actual sites varied. Volunteers worked along the shorelines, in nearby parks, along roads or used kayaks, whether on a lake, a tributary or the Hudson River.
“Projects lasted for two to three hours…. Most started in the morning and extended into the afternoon,” said Leung. If a volunteer signed up for a “shoreline project,” only a low tide offered safety and the promise of “more trash pick-up.”
On this most recent Sweep Saturday, protective rain gear was a necessity. “Sturdy shoes, long pants, and a hat were also most recommended,” said Leung.
With Covid-19 still a serious concern, it was important to minimize the sharing of such tools as shovels. “If any tools were to be shared,” explained Leung, “volunteers had to wear gloves or disinfect them [tools] between uses.”
Of course, other Covid-19 protocols were put into effect, and volunteers also needed to bring their own masks, hand sanitizer, and a filled, reusable water bottle. Riverkeeper provided additional masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, if needed.
The romanticism of doing something good for the environment aside, Sweep day is not for the faint hearted. Leung said, “Volunteers also had to be aware of slippery rocks, poison ivy, and ticks,” plus there was “the potential for trash to include hazards, such as discarded needles. Hazards needed to be reported to the leader.”
Quite A Haul
This most recent group of volunteers managed to gather an astonishing 19 tons of trash from the Hudson River watershed, which includes New York City and the entire Hudson Valley.
As might be expected, the most common types of trash were: plastic bottles and bottle caps, followed by food wrappers, other types of beverage containers, cigarette butts, straws, and pieces of plastic and Styrofoam. Tires constituted around two out of the nineteen tons.
Croton Point site leaders Lisa Amberger and Chris Grieco, who have participated in Sweep every year since the first event eleven years ago, said, “There always seems to be new junk washing up on the shoreline.” Their most memorable “catch” was a gigantic stuffed teddy bear.
When Leung was asked about the most unusual items gathered this past event, the list was borderline humorous, but also sobering: “… a box of 2011 SpongeBob SquarePants ornaments, a bucket of tar, a sleeper couch, a cornhole board, smart tablet, a washing machine, a heating system, and a message in a bottle. Some of the larger items included scrap metal, car and boat parts, Styrofoam blocks, bed frames, mattresses, 50-gallon barrels, and propane tanks.”
The real question is “How were those 19 tons of trash disposed of?” Site leaders made the decision whether to “contact local municipalities to schedule trash hauling” or to have dumpsters brought into inaccessible areas and later removed. Either way, the collecting and disposing of such a prodigious amount of trash is truly noteworthy. To encourage potential volunteers, Amberger and Grieco said: “We take everyone’s safety very seriously, and one person can make a big difference in cleaning up the river.”
Sweep 2023 was held Saturday, May 6. riverkeeper.org/sweep. For more info about the event or to be a site leader next year, contact Katie Leung at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suzie Ross, co-organizer of the very first Sweep and a member of the Westchester County Climate Task Force, perhaps said it best:
“Sweep has become more than a fun community clean-up day. It’s grown into an opportunity for education, and to inspire advocacy and lifestyle changes. Participating in Sweep can become a starting point for individuals to think more deeply about their impacts on their community and waterways.”