Hackensack Riverkeeper Uses Small-Scale Cleanups to Make Big Impacts

Hackensack Riverkeeper won the 2020 National River Cleanup photo contest with a clean sweep in both categories. This is an interview with Tyler Tierney, Hackensack Riverkeeper’s Outreach Coordinator.

Newark Bay Bridge, Confluence of the Hackensack & Passaic River | Photo courtesy of Flickr

Twenty years ago, Tyler Tierney, River Cleanup Program Coordinator at Hackensack Riverkeeper, remembers cars being pulled out of the river during litter cleanups. Thanks to Hudson and Bergen County community efforts, this memory is no longer a reality.

Hackensack River Cleanup | Photo by Caitlin Doran
Hackensack River Cleanup | Photo by Caitlin Doran

Hackensack Riverkeeper believes cleanups are successful because they are coupled with a heightened awareness of the impacts of litter within the communities Hackensack Riverkeeper serves.

Around 90% of litter collected during Hackensack River cleanups is Styrofoam and single-use plastics originating from a variety of locations. Understanding that litter ends up everywhere no matter where it starts encourages volunteers to be more cognizant of their everyday actions.

The goal of Hackensack Riverkeeper’s River Cleanup Program is to connect community members to their watershed. Tyler remarked, “The stronger our volunteer’s bond is with the Hackensack River Watershed as a whole, the more likely they will implement best management practices in their communities and continue participating in these types of events.” He wants to show volunteers they are part of the same community, regardless of municipal boundaries.

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When asked about the most exciting part of a cleanup, Tyler mentioned the interesting debris generally found at the sites. Among the interesting cleanup finds were a collection of weathered dolls and an entire mismatched dining room set.

In 2021, Hackensack hosted 25 cleanups and removed over 34,000 pounds of trash from the river. Tyler believes there is no shortage of potential for Hackensack Riverkeeper’s River Cleanup Program.

Hackensack River Cleanup | Photo by Caitlin Doran
Hackensack River Cleanup | Photo by Caitlin Doran

Despite holding smaller events with fewer participants due to COVID regulations, Tyler said he had no problem recruiting volunteers. He remarked, “In fact, through the height of the pandemic, it seemed that even more people than usual were looking to spend their time helping the environment!”

Moving forward, Tyler hopes to incorporate more small-scale cleanup events into Hackensack Riverkeeper’s River Cleanup Program. Specifically, he wants smaller groups to target less publicly accessible entrances to the watershed where cleanups are not usually held due to limited parking and distance to spread out. Tyler said, “Filling these gaps along the river would significantly decrease the number of plastics found downriver and lessen the chances of the tide carrying it through our watershed and out to the Atlantic Ocean.”

Want to get involved? If you live in the area, sign up to receive updates about volunteer opportunities. Don’t live in New Jersey but still want to contribute? You can use the link below to donate to support the River Cleanup Program. Congratulations to Hackensack Riverkeeper, winners of the 2020 National River Cleanup® Photo Contest. Thank you for your commitment to clean water and trash-free rivers!

One response to “Hackensack Riverkeeper Uses Small-Scale Cleanups to Make Big Impacts

  1. Congrats to Tyler and Hackensack Riverkeeper. Hackensack Riverkeeper clean ups and clean ups by other groups in NJ are posted in New Jersey Litter Picker on Facebook.

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