Parks & Recreation in the Plastic Age

As humans, we have lived through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, but now have unofficially entered the Plastic Age.  Unfortunately, because plastics are so resistant to decomposition, archaeologists may be studying all of the water bottles, dental floss and disposable diapers that we leave behind.  

Our use of plastic can have a negative local and global impact as evidence by this albatross’ consumption of many small bits of plastic.

We know plastics are everywhere, but how prevalent is it in the parks & recreation world?  Probably more widespread than you realize. The majority of your equipment and tools are primarily made of plastics or have elements of plastic in them.  Your programs?  Many of them rely heavily on a single-use plastic items.  Events?  I’ll just say balloons and bottles of water.  What about in your parks?  Check your trash & recycling cans and the edges of your woods because I’m sure you’ll find evidence of visitors bringing and leaving items behind.  

There is no doubt that plastics aren’t going away, but much like naturalizing our neighborhood parks, the parks & recreation field has an opportunity to lead by example and reduce its use of plastics for the betterment of everyone.  At the same time, this approach could save your department money.  

Simple ways to get started:

  • Buy high quality, commercial grade tools and supplies to reduce the frequency of breaking and needing to be replaced.
  • Borrow instead of buy.  Reach out to departments in your area and see if they have what you may need for that one-time use.  
  • Attempt fixing an item instead of just tossing it.  Some employees may like the challenge of making the repair and it shows you value reuse.   
  • Instead of cheap, plastic giveaway items, focus on bettering “the experience” of your participants at your events and avoid those items all together.  Those participants will remember what they did and felt well after that item has been thrown away.  
  • Avoid working with instructors that offer programs that rely on kits with excessive waste.  
  • Provide a cooler of water and encourage BYOB (bottle) at your park clean-up events.
  • Strive for at least one waste-free event a year.  Promote it as that and solicit the community for ideas of how to achieve that status. 
  • Install bottle refilling stations at your most popular parks and don’t forget to publicize it.
  • Consider and purchase products that are made of plastic alternatives such as hemp, paper or bamboo.  

While we each have the pleasure of hosting thousands of people a year at our parks, programs and events, we also have an obligation to do so in a way that shows thoughtfulness towards our environment and lessens our impact as much as possible.   

Author: Derek Dureka

Upper Dublin Township Parks & Recreation Director, CPRP

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