plastics trash national park
Campground at Grand Canyon NP; (photo/ National Park Service)

Campaign Will Reveal Data on Plastic Pollution in National Parks

A new initiative seeks to eliminate single-use plastics from America’s national parks — but only with your help.

The 5 Gyres Institute issued a statement Friday calling on outdoor recreators to help gather data on plastic pollution in U.S. National Parks. The nonprofit asks willing participants to use its research platform, TrashBlitz, to organize cleanup events and submit open-sourced information about the most common plastics they find on public lands.

With data collection planned for July 1 through September 30, the 5 Gyres Institute will leverage the information to write a detailed report. Nonprofit leaders felt compelled to action after the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) recently announced plans to phase out single-use plastics in parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands.

artistic illustration of national park landscapes inside drawings of plastic bottles, bags, and cups
An illustration for the Plastic-Free Parks campaign; (illustration/Kika Macfarlane)

5 Gyres Calls For More Urgent Phase-Out

The DOI order calls for reducing the procurement, sale, and distribution of single-use plastic products and packaging on the affected lands. Its overarching goal is to phase out single-use plastic products by 2032.

But Alison Waliszewski, Policy and Outreach Manager at 5 Gyres, said action should be taken much sooner.

“While we applaud Secretary Deb Haaland for her leadership and commitment to reducing plastic waste on public lands, a 10-year timeline is far too long,” Waliszewski said in a statement. “We hope that the data can help to identify the top items and brands that are polluting national parks to determine where we need to shift our focus first.”

How You Can Help

Federal officials took action after nearly 70,000 people and 300 organizations petitioned the DOI to stop selling single-use plastics in national parks. And July 2021 polling showed Americans overwhelmingly support the idea.

A poll by Oceana discovered that 82% of American voters support a ban on sales of single-use plastics in the parks. In addition, 83% said it’s important to keep the national parks free of all plastic trash.

(Photo/creative commons)

TrashBlitz will help gather and catalog data that to measure progress and motivate further action. With the app, users can register their own cleanup event in locations from Acadia National Park to American Samoa. From there, open-sourced data becomes available to anyone interested — for instance, the DOI.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that there’s too much trash in America’s parks. According to numbers from the DOI, the department produced 80,000 tons of solid waste in 2020. Much of that waste was plastic, according to 5 Gyres Institute; and the U.S. recycling rate has fallen to around 5%.

At least 32 outdoor brands and nonprofits have partnered with 5 Gyres, including Costa, Klean Kanteen and Prana.

To register to participate and learn more, visit the campaign’s webpage. Need another reason to help and participate? All participants will be entered to win an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass.

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Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, which he uses as a home base for adventures throughout the Americas. When he's not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he's hanging out with his dog Campana.