Pennsylvania state parks are making a move to go plastic-free and reduce waste, starting with their concession stands, to help meet the Commonwealth's sustainability goals.
By the end of this year, more than 15 state park food concessionaires will have updated contracts, including eliminating plastic straws, cutlery and food packaging. The renewed agreements also require vendors to convert to using compostable or paper-based products when a park offers on-site composting.
Shea Zwerver, executive policy specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), said cutting down on litter also helps the overall park ecosystem.
"How we can reduce our amount of waste from the beginning?" Zwerver remarked. "That's eliminating these avoidable items, but then also, transitioning to those bio-based or paper-based compostable options, because they can be broken down and returned back into nutrients."
The department is also adopting solar energy, transitioning to electric-powered vehicles and pursuing LEED-certified buildings as part of its sustainability efforts.
Pennsylvania parks saw a 26% increase in visitors from 2019 to 2020 as more people looked for outdoor activities in the pandemic.
Ben Monk, manager of Beltzville State Park, said the spike in visitors also led to more trash left behind. He pointed out the new paper product requirement at Beltzville can help address it.
"I think as the technology progresses, doing these things all of a sudden are easy," Monk asserted. "And I think as these, switching over to compostable materials and things like that, as they become easier, I think people will adopt them more, and we'll be much better off in the long run."
Beltzville made the switch to paper products during last Memorial Day. As future contracts with vendors expire in other state parks, DCNR will update them with the new requirements.