BUFFALO, N.Y. — According to Ocean Conservancy, volunteers removed more than 107,000 items of PPE from beaches and waterways worldwide. That was just the second half of 2020. Here at home, within its Spring Sweep alone, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper collected 914 masks and disposable gloves. That doesn’t include the trash and recycling found in our waterways.

Canalside’s Commercial slip is the place Wendy Paterson with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper decided to do our interviews. We knew there would be water, but the amount of pollution we found, was overwhelming. 

“This mass right here, you can see a Styrofoam cup,” Wendy Paterson, program manager a Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper pointed.

This is just a small glimpse into what Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has found just thing spring.

“Single-use plastic water bottle, and behind that a plastic film, the bubble wrap,” Paterson pointed at.

For example, for its Spring Sweep, volunteers collected 13,915 pounds of trash and 1,440 pounds of recycling.

“It makes me sad because our waterways are drinkable, fishable or swimmable,” Paterson said.

It’s not that we are actively throwing our trash into the Buffalo River or Lake Erie. Paterson explains land pollution is washing into our water systems.

“It’s getting out of the trash bins when the wind blows, it’s flying out of the trash trucks, people are throwing things out of their cars,” Paterson explained.

Since last spring, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has noticed something else floating along Buffalo’s shoreline; PPE. Over Earth Day weekend, they held a spring cleanup. It was the first time; they counted just how much PPE was in our waterways. Overall, 914 disposable masks and gloves were collected. That’s no doubt just a fraction of what we can see. It’s posing a danger to our wildlife.

“So this goose is going to try and eat vegetation,” Paterson said. “And it’s going to try and eat that vegetation on the ground, but there is also plastic that it can eat.”

“We are seeing that the birds are building their nests with the masks,” Gary Carrel, a solid waste recycling specialist with Erie County said.

This is where we bring in Carrel, to share a few tips.

“Do not litter, and reusable masks fit right in with bringing your own,” Carrel said.

Carrel is part of Erie County’s Bring Your Own Bag Coalition. The celebration they had over the statewide ban, was short-lived. The pandemic started and single-use plastics, in general, were used more.

“This is now costing municipalities more money because they have to pay people to deal with this garbage,” Carrel said.

The solution he says is simple.

“Just be aware of this,” Carrel suggested.

And take a good look at the plastics you use each day.

“A reusable water bottle is a great example,” Paterson pointed out. “One of the number one things we collect is single-use bottle caps.”

One other thing Carrel brought up is if you’re a hunter, a fisherman, really a meat-eater, there’s a good chance we are eating this plastic waste, too, through those animals consuming it. Also, keep in mind what you recycle. Not everything goes in that bin. That information is on the can, or on your sanitation provider’s website.

Erie County has a free app called "Recycle Coach" that can help you as well. If you want to help clean our community, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper's Buffalo River Sweep on June 26.