The Hudson River Park Trust has announced an effort to dramatically reduce the use of disposable plastics by the park's vendors, restaurants, and other tenants, with the intent of becoming what the trust says will be the first public park in New York City to gradually move toward a “plastic free” environment.
Under the initiative announced Monday, “Park Over Plastic,” tenants of the 550-acre waterfront park—which runs from West 59th Street to Battery Place—are being asked to stop buying and using disposable plastics, including plastic bottles, straws, stirrers, and flatware. Instead, the park is suggesting they substitute environmentally friendly products like biodegradable water bottles and recyclable paper utensils and straws. Going forward, park officials say, they will stipulate the elimination of disposable plastics as part of future lease negotiations.
"We really see this as a living project, a work in progress," Carrie Roble, Hudson River Park's director of science and stewardship, told Gothamist. "This is a feature of becoming a tenant in Hudson River Park."
Hudson River Park, which sits on both city- and state-owned land, is not controlled by the city's Parks Department. The park is managed by the Hudson River Park Trust, a nonprofit that raises operating revenue through fundraising as well as leases to tenant operators.
Roble said park staff members began reaching out to tenants this past winter. She said the responses were generally positive.
To date, 13 out of 31 tenants have signed the agreement with the Hudson River Park Trust. They include Blazing Saddles, a bike rental and tour operator, which has switched from single-use plastic bottles to ones that are biodegradable.
Roble said many who did not join the initiative cited logistical issues, such as having already purchased a large supply of plastic utensils. Others had questions about what alternatives they could use.
For vendors, the switch will likely affect their bottom line. A BBC analysis last year found that the costs of "green" packaging and utensils are significantly higher, citing, as one example, a biodegradable takeout fork that costs nearly four times the cost of a plastic one.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all solution," Roble acknowledged, but added that the park has helped tenants research alternatives.
To help parkgoers with the transition, park officials have installed additional recycling bins as well as water fountains and portable hydration stations to encourage the use of reusable water bottles.
The Trust said that last summer alone, staff members "led the cleanup of close to 1,000 pounds of plastic debris from our shoreline." In 2016, an environmental group studying New York harbor found that the waters in and around New York Harbor have at least 4.6 million plastic particles per square kilometer floating within them.
Originally designed to be indestructible, most plastics break down but do not completely biodegrade, leading them to land up in landfills and waterways, where they can be ingested by marine life.
In 2018, a video of a plastic straw stuck inside a sea turtle's nose sparked broad public outrage and led Starbucks to announce it was phasing out the use of single-use plastic straws by 2020.
This is not the first effort to reduce the use of plastics in the city's parks. In 2018, Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal Jr., a Democrat from Brooklyn, and Councilmember Ben Kallos, a Democrat from the Upper East Side, proposed a bill banning the sale of disposable plastic bottles at city parks, beaches, and golf courses. To date, the proposal has only five sponsors.
"New York has a lot of work to do to get this done," Kallos told Gothamist. "Hudson River Park is proving it's possible."
A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation said, "We don’t have a policy to announce right now, but we are exploring measures to find a solution that is both environmentally sustainable, and cost effective for our concessionaires."
Last month, New York state passed a long-anticipated ban on plastic bags, becoming the second state in the nation to enact such a measure. Around the same time, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order that will prohibit city agencies from buying single-use plastic food containers and cutlery.