I was hosting some friends from out of town and, while they had a lovely time running around the city, they could not get over the amount of trash that littered the streets and subways. They described it as unlike anything they had ever witnessed before and likened it to the conditions of third world countries. It was mind-boggling to them that this kind of pollution – this intrusive filth – was tolerated, especially in a city that’s home to some of the greatest minds and some of the grandest bank accounts.
It’s true, though. I’ve been to other cities – LA, DC, Boston, Montreal, Florence – and there’s nothing quite like NYC. While I mean that in the best way, in some senses, I also mean it as my guests put it. Every day I witness the garbage that is literally everywhere; it’s saddening, infuriating, and, above all, disgusting. Yet, my day moves along as planned and I forget about the trash until my next encounter with it. It’s not that I don’t want to elleviate the problem, it’s just that at this point, what can I even do?! Blame it on socioeconomics, blame it on poor city planning – whatever the “reasons” are behind the litter piling up, there’s only one real reason it exists: we put it there. Whether intentionally littering or not, by disposing of trash we are just adding to a pile waste that doesn’t disappear just because it’s “thrown it away.”
So while it may be futile (and unsanitary) to peel the damp wrappers off the sidewalk and sweep up the subway tracks on your own, there are some things you can do, everyday, to lessen your contribution to the city’s garbage issue. Whether you adopt all of these practices at once, do one once a day, or add a new one to your regiment one by one, they are simple, easy, and will bring good karma into your life. I try to do them as much as possible and I’ve found that in turn, these behaviors have led to better eating habits and a healthy lifestyle as well as an overall good feeling that I’m lessening the load our planet has the burden of carrying. Try these:
- If you bring your lunch to work, use Tupperware instead of plastic baggies or tinfoil. This one’s a no-brainer: it will save you money, it will keep your sandwich from getting squashed, and it allows for more creative meal options.
- If you’re eating out on your lunch break, opt for cafes that serve fresh meals on reusable dish ware instead of fast food places or shops with pre-made foods; if you’re in a rush, consider the option with the least packaging and packaging that can be disposed of in a recycling bin or even reused at a later time.
- Invest in a to-go mug and a water jug – no more plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups. This one is HUGE. Read these facts before you reach for your next Poland Spring.
- When grocery shopping, try to buy foods that aren’t packaged at all, i.e. fresh produce. You’ll notice that foods that come in a lot of packaging, especially ones that are individually wrapped within a larger container, are also the least healthy options. They likely contain preservatives that makes them last a long time when kept wrapped. They are also likely produced by companies who aren’t as considerate of sustainable practices, which means there’s a chance they don’t care as much about other food related issues, like sanitation, the integrity of the ingredients, and the health of their consumers.
- At home, buy a smaller waste basket for the kitchen. It will fill up quicker, which is an annoying chore to take care of. You’ll find yourself hesitating to throw things away as often just to avoid taking the trash out!
- When cooking, pay attention to recipe ingredients, portion sizes, and serving yields; only cook what you need unless you intend on saving leftovers. This will help shape a healthy appetite and improve portion control for dieting.
- And finally, for goodness sake, it’s 2015 people – recycle! If you’re not sure what to separate from your trash, take five minutes to educate yourself and start this habit NOW. If you’re walking down the street and need a recycle bin and there’s none in site, DO NOT just use the trash – you are becoming one of the biggest offenders in the crime of littering. Walk the extra block until you find one or a store that has one – the fresh air and exercise will do you good while you do right by the environment.