This is article was originally published by Nooklyn Stories on September 28, 2017.
Over the past several years, New York City has successfully diverted large amounts of waste from landfills, revitalized neighborhoods, and established groundbreaking new recycling programs. We urbanites care deeply for our sacred green spaces; these pockets of earth remind us how important it is to preserve our environment. Read on to explore a few actions, both big and small, that you can take to live an eco-friendly lifestyle in NYC.
Be aware of where your food is grown or raised. Switching even a portion of your grocery shopping from big-box retailers slinging processed foods to locally owned and managed co-ops, farmers markets, and butcher shops can make a difference. Buying locally produced, organic ingredients in the city is only marginally costlier than the alternative, and may actually be cheaper when done right. Consider purchasing dry goods like rice, grains, nuts, legumes, and dehydrated fruits in bulk rather than in packages to cut your costs further. And if you simply can’t justify the time it takes to hit up the nearest greenmarket or volunteer at a co-op, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group that delivers straight from the farm to your home.
Discover your green thumb. There are plenty of vegetable varieties that thrive in urban environments, and growing your own can be incredibly rewarding. The cherry on top is that you unlock a level of transparency that you can’t quite get even at a local grocer. If you aren’t able to secure a plot at a community garden, start by growing some herbs inside your apartment. With a bit of sun and the right amount of watering, a small basil or parsley plant can add freshness and color to many a meal. To take your new gardening hobby even further, consider planting flowers to support your local bee population.
Don’t be afraid of second-hand shops. It doesn’t take long to hit the jackpot at a thrift shop in NYC. The city is chock-full of stores that offer beautiful and unique used items at relatively low prices. From the more mainstream Beacon’s Closet and Housing Works to upscale vintage shops like Edith Machinist in the East Village and New York Vintage in Chelsea, options are aplenty. During warmer months outdoor flea markets abound, all the way from Upper Manhattan to Brooklyn. Know also that by shopping second-hand, you’re not only lowering your carbon footprint — you’re taking a stand against unethical working conditions that many big brands have created in an effort to sell cheap, trendy, and fast.
Composting is as easy as making room for a small container or paper bag in your freezer. Contrary to popular belief, composting doesn’t have to involve pungent odors and worms. Simply place a small container lined with a paper or compost bag inside of your freezer and fill it up with items like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, nutshells, and flowers. The hardest part then becomes finding a conveniently located drop-off site near you, which, thanks to the DSNY and GrowNYC, isn’t difficult at all! Food scrap collection sites cover Manhattan, the Bronx, and much of Queens and Brooklyn. You’ll likely only fill up a bag every 1–2 weeks, so there is little to no time commitment involved — the only commitment lies in changing your habits slightly and educating yourself on what can or cannot be composted.
Be conscious of where you donate used goods, and consider recycling or repurposing. Whether you’re an avid Marie Kondo follower, swear by minimalism, or grudgingly go about your Spring cleaning once a year, it’s important to think about what you do with things you no longer want. Donating gently-used clothes, shoes, and home goods can be a great way to pay it forward. However, if your items (particularly textiles) are torn, stained, or otherwise not fit for reuse or reselling, they’ll oftentimes end up in landfills anyway. Locating organizations in your area that separate recyclable items out before donating them can make all the difference. An example is Green Tree Textiles, which partners with Down to Earth farmers markets to make textile recycling more convenient. Check here to find the drop-off site closest to you.
Choose where your electricity comes from. As a consumer, you have the ability to switch your energy source without changing your electricity provider. For instance, if your electricity company is Con Edison, you can tell them that you want your power to come from sustainable sources like solar and wind. Electricity companies work with Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) such as Green Mountain Energy that actually provide the electricity. This means that you can change where your energy comes from without affecting how it is delivered. It is a fairly painless process, though you should monitor any cost fluctuations and determine if this option is right for you. Making this kind of change signals to energy companies that consumers care about what kind of energy they’re using.
Grab your friends and volunteer at your local beach, river, and park clean ups. You don’t have to wait until Earth Day — numerous local non-profits host regular efforts to keep our city clean. New York Cares, as an example, offers ongoing volunteer opportunities in parks, community gardens, and schools across all boroughs. They also organize a massive “Cares Day” event twice a year, during which thousands of New Yorkers convene across hundreds of locations to work on volunteer projects. Attending events like this is a fun way to get together with your friends or colleagues and contribute to something positive for the community and environment. Other local entities to keep an eye on include NYC Service, NYC Parks, Riverkeeper, and the New York Restoration Project.
Invest in reusable versions of items that you would normally dispose of. You’ll save money and may even be rewarded for it. New eco-friendly, design-forward products are released onto the market all the time. Whether it’s a more ergonomic water bottle, a techy temperature control to-go mug, or a canvas tote sporting a snarky quote, these items are good for the environment and objectively cool. Even things like plastic sandwich bags, paper towels, and straws can be replaced with reusable versions. Most of these items are affordable and easy to locate via online retailers including Amazon and Thrive Market.
In NYC, we’re lucky to have an abundance of choice across all aspects of life, but with that luxury comes responsibility. You can vote with your dollar and make lifestyle decisions that will push our communities forward in a positive way. Concerned residents only need to take a few painless steps to contribute to a cause that has implications for years to come. If every commuter in your subway car this morning made just one of the changes we’ve outlined in this piece, we’d already be lightyears ahead.