Girl by Trash

Experimenting with Low-Waste in New York City

There is an urban legend floating around that New York can sense when you are stressed. When you’re stressed, all the trash in the city piles up for days at a time only to solidify the feeling of messiness in your soul.

Whether this myth is true or not, it has one thing correct, an ungodly amount of waste is produced in this city.

How Mid-Terms Are Going Right About Now

Have you ever wondered why smell-a-vision never caught on? It is because all the beautiful movies based in New York City would completely lose their appeal. This city smells. So bad.

While some of the odor can be attributed to both human and animal excrements, the undoubtedly hazardous steam wafting through subway grates, or the general staleness caused by close contact with strangers, much of the smell comes from the 10 feet high piles of garbage lining every other street corner. [To be fair, it’s not this bad throughout the whole city. I’m mostly throwing shade at my street that you can smell from the 19th floor.]

Growing up in the suburbs, I really only thought of waste on trash day when I would be asked to empty the garbage cans throughout the house. We would throw the weeks worth of trash into the dumpster provided by the HOA. Every Sunday night the matching suburban streets with cookie-cutter houses would have uniformed dumpsters lined up in front of the driveways. And every Monday morning, I would be rudely awakened by the garbage trucks at 7:05.

Waste had always been a compartmentalized aspect of life. I went about my life, mindlessly creating waste that would disappear to who knows where every week. Only four days out of the year would I suffer inconvenience by the garbage, but federal holidays also meant no school so the heavy black bags piled in the garage was quickly forgotten.

Big Oof

Since moving to New York, trash day is no longer one day out of the week. Trash is never simplified to uniformed canisters. It is tall and messy and smelly.  Seeing just how much waste is piled up outside my street alone has prompted me to become more mindful of my actions.

This isn’t to say I’m joining Greenpeace or signing any petitions in favor of the “Green New Deal.” I don’t think an organization or the government should tell me, as an individual, how to go about fostering the environment.

Rather, I am coming at this more from the idea that we humans have been given dominion over the earth; we are supposed to be its caretakers. I wonder if I am taking care of it well.

I am well aware that as one person I can’t make a huge impact. The waste that I produce in a single day has no bearing on the amount of trash shuttled to the landfills in Upstate New York and Jersey.

As a disclaimer, I am going low-waste not zero-waste. Being a college student in NYC is difficult and time-consuming. There are times that I have to prioritize convenience and relationships and so am incapable of producing absolutely no waste.

Who knew you could compost things in NYC

But at the end of the day, I am carrying out this experiment, dare I say, for the fun of it. It is fun to be making small life changes and learning to plan differently. College is a time to try new things, and I feel like low-waste is a pretty innocent life change.

This post is kind of a life update but also kind of a word-vomit for me to process what has been going through my mind for the last month and a half. I’m thinking about doing a small series about going low-waste; like how my roommates and I have a compost pile in our apartment and where I go grocery shopping. Just thinking out loud at the moment.

Anyway. That’s all for now. I will leave you all with an absolutely beautiful picture I took from my living room window the other day.

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