Friday, December 1, 2023

Waterkeeper in step with state to eliminate plastic litter

 By Angela Caico

     In the latest step towards cleaner waters, a lawsuit against PepsiCo Inc.  was filed by the New York Attorney General on Nov. 15 for playing a significant role in the plastic pollution of the lake bordering Buffalo.

     The lawsuit is the result of extensive research done by the Attorney General in collaboration with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, an organization that seeks to restore and maintain Western New York’s freshwater shoreline. Each spring, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper works with hundreds of volunteers to conduct a shoreline sweep, and the majority of the litter they recover is composed of plastic. Last year, that plastic was predominantly traced back to PepsiCo.

    “People shouldn’t have to worry about microplastics in their water, garbage in their communities, and a lower quality of life all because of rampant trash and plastic garbage throughout the Buffalo River,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

     Assemblymember Jon Rivera said that he remembers coming to Canalside when he was a kid, and it’s one of his favorite places to take his children to now. He credits the work of Waterkeeper for making it one of Buffalo’s most beautiful sights to visit. He agrees that also includes the help of policy leaders and holding contributing corporations accountable. 

    “At the end of the day, people that produce things have a responsibility for the things that they produce,” Rivera said.

    The lawsuit is the most recent action taken in Waterkeeper's commitment to its vision of a litter-free water source in the city. Emily Dyett, Waterkeeper community engagement project manager, said that the two key components of accomplishing this goal are data collection and policy.

    Dyett said that the West Side is especially affected by this pollution because it is one of the most densely populated areas next to the water. The mouth of Scajaquada, just off Niagara Street on the West Side, is one of the most polluted sites due to sewer overflow and trash coming down from four municipalities including Lancaster.

    During the sweep and all year round, volunteers are encouraged to track the types of trash they recover within the Clean Swell app, a mobile app started by the Ocean Conservancy. This collection of data infinitely equips organizations like Waterkeeper with the numbers needed to fight for things such as policy changes.

    For example, in 2020 New York State banned plastic bags. Prior to this, plastic bags were one of the most collected items from the Buffalo River. Now, Dyett said, it’s one of the least.

     “The power of litter data can be used well beyond that one day that you pick it up,” Dyett said.