Plastic-free Philly, Philly’s Solution to Plastic Pollution

Plastic litter makes up more than half of the trash removed from the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers in Philadelphia in a single year.

Now the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Philadelphia Water Department and BOMA Philadelphia are teaming up to put a lid on single-use plastic water bottles. 

Plastic-free Philly, Philly’s solution to plastic pollution, is a volunteer effort led by the Academy that aims to reduce the flow of single-use plastic water bottles and replace them with environmentally healthier, more affordable options. These options include drinking tap water and using reusable bottles.

“That Sinking Feeling” by Aymar Ccopacatty. See it at 1900 Market St.

“We are calling on everyone to join our movement in a sincere and sustained effort to reduce our plastic pollution, starting with our use of water bottles,” said Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper. “Each and every one of us can make a difference in helping keep our rivers clean, our wildlife safe and our communities healthy.” 

Ongoing surveys conducted by the Philadelphia Water Department and University of Pennsylvania indicate that 40% of Philadelphians drink bottled water at home, with many believing it is safer than tap water.

But while municipal tap water is subject to rigorous testing by the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, bottled water — which is many times more expensive than tap — is not.

And as much as 40% of bottled water is simply municipal tap water bottled up and sold. 

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Randy Haymann, Esq spoke at the unveiling of the artwork behind him: “Forest” by Kate Dodd. See it at 1500 Market St.

Turning Discarded Plastic Bottles into Artworks 

The Academy, in partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department and BOMA Philadelphia, kicked off Plastic-free Philly today in front of “Forest,” a sculpture of vertical tree trunks made of plastic bottles and newly installed in the lobby of 1500 Market Street.

The artwork by Kate Dodd of Orange, N.J., is one of 10 original pieces by mostly Philadelphia-area artists commissioned by the Academy and set up in prominent Center City and University City buildings to raise awareness about the issue. 

Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper urges “join the movement!”

The temporary installations evoke the natural beauty of the Delaware River Watershed and examine how people’s habits positively and negatively impact the ecosystem. 

“BOMA Philadelphia is pleased to support the efforts of the Academy and Plastic-Free Philly, as the goals of the program directly align with our goals to create comfortable, healthy and sustainable working environments for the tenants in our buildings. What a terrific way to promote the reduction of single-use plastic water bottles!” said Deanna Ballinger, chair, BOMA Philadelphia.

“We’re honored to host the beautiful work of the artists affiliated with this program in our member building lobbies and spread the word to use less plastic in our office buildings through their creative and thought-provoking installations,” Ballinger said.

“Plastic Waterfall” by Sarah Peoples. See it at 2929 Arch St.

Join the Movement, Make the Pledge 

There are many ways for people to participate in Plastic-free Philly. First, go to the Academy’s website at and make a pledge to drink tap water instead of bottled water. You can also access the pledge via a QR code at each of the 10 art installations. The website also contains information about watershed cleanups and videos of the artists and their installations. 

“Many people are looking for things they can do on a personal level to help the environment,” said PWD Commissioner Randy E. Hayman, Esq. “One of the easiest ways is to make a big impact on the amount of plastic waste you generate by switching from single-use plastic bottles to filling reusable bottles with tap water. It is sent directly to our homes and offices, so it is right at your fingertips without all the waste and pollution that goes into producing, packaging and delivering single-use bottles. Going reusable is just the smart choice.”

“Schuylkill Plastiglomerate” by Hannah Aya Alpert. See it at 3025 Market St.

Plastic waste accounts for 56% of trash removed in a single year from a 32-mile stretch of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. These rivers flow through the Delaware River Watershed, which provides drinking water to 15 million people. Americans purchase about 50 billion plastic water bottles each year, averaging 13 bottles per month per person, according to Green Cities

“Plastics in our waterways are harmful in many ways to people, fish and animals,” said Roland Wall, director of the Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research, which has studied the interactions of people and the environment for nearly 80 years and is a leader of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. “Plastic slowly breaks down into tiny pieces which are often ingested by fish and other wildlife, putting them at risk for choking and suffocation. These microplastics pollute the earth, and their effects travel through the food web, harming human health.”

“Plastic Tides” by Christopher Hardgrove. See it at 2929 Walnut St.

Here’s where to visit the Plastic-free artworks through July 30 and two for longer: 

“Forest” by Kate Dodd of Orange, N.J., at 1500 Market Street 

“Choking Hazard” by Kate Leibrand of the Philadelphia area, at 1515 Market Street

“That Sinking Feeling” by Aymar Ccopacatty of West Kingston, R.I., at 1900 Market Street

“Fountain of Life” by Emilio Maldonado of Philadelphia, at One Commerce Square, 2005 Market Street

“Schuylkill Plastiglomerate” by Hannah Aya Alpert of Philadelphia, at The Bulletin Building, 3025 Market Street

“156 Handmade Clay Bottles” by Benjamin Peterson of Philadelphia, at Three Logan, 1717 Arch Street

“Plastic Waterfall” by Sarah Peoples of Philadelphia, at Cira Centre, 2929 Arch Street

“Waterline” by Silas McDonough of Philadelphia, at The Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Through Jan. 8

“Plastic Tides” by Christopher Hardgrove of Philadelphia, at FMC Tower, 2929 Walnut Street

“Schuylkill River Trash Quilt” by Celia Jailer, Eli Kleinsmith and Pierie Korostoff, all of Philadelphia, at MacAlister Hall, Drexel University, 3250 Chestnut Street. Through Sept. 30 

For video stories about the artists and artworks, visit


Banner photo: “Choking Hazard” by Katie Leibrand. See it at 1515 Market St.

By Carolyn Belardo, Photos by Ramon Torres 


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