While we are all excited for flannel plaid jackets, pumpkin-spice everything, and that familiar smell of turning leaves in Prospect Park, the cool air of fall also ushers in some not-so-sustainable lifestyle choices. In the summer you might have gone out to eat and sat outside, but as the weather changes ordering in sounds better and better even with its superfluous packaging and utensils. Sure, you know it’s expensive and inefficient to take a cab, but sometimes it’s chilly and home is just too far away.
Bloomberg’s “Recycle Everything” campaign launched this past July in an effort to do exactly that. The hope is to double the recycling rate by 2017. Though it’s been going strong the past two months, it can be easier to remember the environment when you’re spending as much time as possible outdoors – making the upcoming “R” months more of a challenge.
To understand how to be better in greater detail, I spoke to Lauren Singer, an urban sustainability promoter, who runs a blog called Trash is for Tossers. The site features Singer’s tips and discoveries while she works for a zero-waste lifestyle as an active resident in a wasteful city.
1. The “Recycle Everything” campaign focuses a lot on food composting and organic waste. How would I do that best in the city?
Composting in New York City could sound like an oxymoron, but in reality it’s not as daunting as you might think. It might not look like throwing your food scraps into a huge steaming pile of dirt and worms, but it turns into the same thing: Nutrient-rich, healthy compost.
The easiest way that I have found to compost in NYC would have to be the freezer method that can be found on my blog here. I collect all of my food scraps and put them into upcycled containers (like a plastic soil bag or a leftover paper bag) in the freezer, which prevents smell and keeps insects and mold away. Then I bring it to a GrowNYC Food Waste Drop-Off site once a week or so. NYC Recycles provides a list of what is acceptable to compost and drop-off locations throughout NYC here.
If you are one of those people lucky enough to have a yard in NYC, first off, I want to be you. Secondly, there are household sized composting bins available through NYC Recycles or at your local hardware store that you can use outdoors. Can’t get much easier than that! Except, well, if you like the idea of compost pickup which is rumored to be mandatory in NYC by 2016!
2. If my building only has one big bin for recycling, is it good enough to just toss all those items in there? Should I be separating further? And if so, where do I go with recyclable items that don’t fit the general categories?
If your building has only one big bin for recycling I might question if they were actually recycling. I would definitely ask the building super if the recycling was hand separated and put into clear bags or containers that are labeled either “PAPER” or “METAL, GLASS & PLASTIC”. This is because NYC’s recyclables are collected in two separate streams: paper & cardboard in one and metal, glass, plastic, and food cartons in the other. So, technically, you should be dividing your recyclables like that.
If you are not sure what to recycle or how to recycle an item, a list can be found here. Also, for items that do not fit in the general categories or for items that you are not sure about, NYC Recycles has a “How do I get rid of…” page that lets you type in household objects to see how to dispose of them or if they can be recycled.
3. Plastic bags from grocery stores – obviously, we shouldn’t use them, but what about when we do? Do we recycle those? Do they just go in the plastics bin?
My first suggestion is, although it might be difficult at first, refuse to take plastic bags and always bring your own reusable tote wherever you go. Plastic bags are a large percentage of New York City’s residential waste stream, almost 3 percent! If you have plastic bags in your home that you don’t want to throw out, you can recycle them. Under the New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling Act, certain retail stores in NYC are mandated to accept plastic bags. You can often find these bins in the front area of your local grocery store. But again, first and foremost is refusing to even accept plastic bags. It took me a little while, but I am now in the habit of having a bag with me throughout the day.
4. I would like to do more than just make sure I’ve got a tote bag for groceries and different bins for different items. What about on a bigger scale? Are there any petitions someone could sign to support having more recycle containers around the city?
Finding a petition should be easy so it can be accessible to everyone. I could not find any online petitions that specifically targeted having more recycling bins in NYC… hint for anyone that wants to start one!
5. What are your thoughts on the “Recycle Everything” campaign? What measures are they taking that you personally endorse?
The Recycle Everything ad campaign is a great first step towards decreasing the 11,000 tons of landfill waste that is generated each day in New York City and will help motivate people to recycle. According to City sources, the initiative will help to reach NYC’s goal of diverting 75% of solid waste from landfills by 2030 and will save taxpayers $600,000 each year.
However, I definitely believe it is better to prevent problems before they start than figure out how to solve them. While I think that recycling is a really great anecdote for our waste problem in NYC, I don’t think it is the solution. I believe the solution to NYC’s waste problem lies in making smart choices as a consumer and being conscious of your household and individual waste streams.
6. Do you have any tips specific to fall regarding sustainable urban living? How will this zero waste lifestyle change as the weather changes?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the change of weather is fall clothing. Sweaters, jeans, scarves, the works. That to many could conjure thoughts of heavy shopping bags and low bank accounts. This isn’t the case for a Zero Waste gal! I get all of my clothing secondhand. NYC boasts some of the best secondhand stores in the world carrying every designer under the sun. It is baffling that people will spend so much money on designer or new clothing when spending a little more time at a consignment or thrift store gets you the same results for less: Less money, and less of an ecological footprint. So I suggest checking out your local secondhand stores to stock up on your fall and winter essentials or revisit your closet to rework some of the pieces you already have.
The second thing that I would suggest, as a self-proclaimed fall food addict, is to shop at your local farmers market. The apples, the cider, the pies, and pumpkin flavored everything. There, in my mind, is nothing better. (But don’t forget your reusable bags!)
The final thing that comes to mind is the weather. As it becomes cooler, walking and biking can become more leisurely and less, well, sweaty. There is nothing more sustainable than getting places on nothing but “natural ass” as my friend from Pedal Power NYC says. I suggest walking, biking, running, boarding, skating, etc., everywhere. Not only will you look good and feel good, you will be doing good.
So remember to compost your pumpkins this year, check out her blog to get more advice on zero-waste living, and stay tuned for other autumn updates.