New England Aquarium and retail partner Event Network take significant step to remove plastic from gift shop

Aquarium gift shop plush
A display in the New England Aquarium gift shop. CREDIT: New England Aquarium

BOSTON, MASS. (April 22, 2024) – In an effort to take its environmental commitment and stewardship to the next level, the New England Aquarium, in partnership with their retail partner Event Network, has taken a significant step to remove plastic from the Aquarium gift shop. This commitment goes far beyond removing single-use plastic by replacing all plastic products with those that are plastic-free, biodegradable, or constructed from recycled plastic materials.


The effort, part of Event Network’s Plastic S.T.O.P.S. Initiative*, took hold in 2023 after a five-year process that began with the removal of plastic pellets from the assortment of plush animals. It evolved further with the move to recycled/post-consumer fill for these items in 2019 and when the Aquarium and Event Network pushed back against the industry standard of individually bagging souvenir items in plastic for shipping. This collaboration has included the honest, transparent sharing of data as well as on-going discussions about the reality that a truly plastic-free environment is an evolution, not a revolution.

“The Plastic S.T.O.P.S. Initiative is a journey we are taking together, and we’re not at the finish line yet,” shared Julie Ricci, vice president of purchasing at Event Network. “We are upfront about items that don’t currently have a viable alternative, but we all celebrate together when we can introduce a process or product that gets us closer.”

Ricci noted that the Aquarium gift shop is not yet 100% plastic-free. Apparel manufactured with polyester is an area where the Event Network team is looking for responsible solutions.

“One of the reasons our longstanding partnership with Event Network is so successful is because we share similar institutional values, especially around sustainability,” said Suzanne Liola Matus, vice president of marketing, sales, and visitor experience at the Aquarium. “We knew there was some financial risk involved but were mutually driven by our shared commitment to the environment, as well as the challenge and reward of reaching this milestone together.”

As plastic items were phased out at the Aquarium gift shop, replacement options that were plastic-free, biodegradable, or constructed from recycled plastic materials were ordered. By January 2024, the gift shop completed the initial plastic purge. While the toy department, which had a disproportionate amount of plastic, showed a significant revenue decrease, visitors connected to items in other departments instead, like those sourced from local vendors and artists like Maritime Tribes, Mystic Knotworks, and Beacon Designs as well as merchandise created in partnership with local Boston artist Silvia Lopez Chavez. Ultimately, there has been no downturn in overall store revenue.

“I was inspired every day by the conviction and courage of our partners at the New England Aquarium,” Ricci said. “To see many of the Aquarium’s revenue-driving bestsellers flagged for removal, and the willingness to try going forward without them, took a great deal of trust and faith that we could affect the purchasing habits of the visitors.”

Early results include more than 26,000 reusable bags sold in 2023, which is the equivalent of saving nearly 1.4 million plastic bags from landfills over a year of usage, and more than 380,000 plastic bottles were recycled to create and fill the plush assortment. The Aquarium also instituted a new process to address plastic abuses in the “back-of-house” shipping process by flagging products that arrive at the store packaged with plastic in the receiving system. Candy and snacks are now sold in packaging that can be composted commercially or at home, and a plastic-free replacement for one of the Aquarium’s former bestselling toys, the animal rescue kit, is also in the works. Products, packaging, and processes have been, and will continue to be, improved to be more environmentally responsible and emphasize the commitment of the institution to protect the blue planet.

“As an ocean conservation organization, removing plastic from our operations is an expression of our mission. We must model the behavior we work to inspire in our more than one million guests who visit us every year to protect the blue planet,” Matus said.

*Event Network’s Plastic S.T.O.P.S. Initiative focuses on five key areas: Strategize plastic sell-through, Track plastic items, Order the best and newest alternative products, Promote adjacent product departments, and Share results with transparency and integrity.


MEDIA CONTACT: Pam Bechtold Snyder,; 617-686-5068