Is NYC Sustainable?

Currently, Valentine is in Manhattan, New York City.

While out of her usual routine, she is attempting to ascertain the viability of a zero waste lifestyle while traveling. She is often forced to think outside of the box and notice the state of each city she visits. The amount of trash more on the sidewalk, the inaccessibility of being sustainable in an era of convenience, or the effectiveness of the public transportation that is heavily relied upon for traveling.

To keep up with zero waste grocery shopping, local bulk stores are an excellent option. If there are no bulk stores nearby, Whole Foods is an alternative which has a reliable bulk selection. They had an exciting selection of local pasta available, which is hard to come by. They also held bagels out of packaging along with other loosey goosey baked goods.

For her three month trip she decided to take six reusable bags, an 8-ounce collapsible coffee cup, two small containers and one medium sized container that could be used for snacks on planes and while wandering around the city. These all doubled as containers for any bulk items she bought, for snacks when out, and leftover food.

Whole Foods also has a compost bin that was located next to the recycling and landfill bin in their store, which is always a good alternative if a city does not have a composting option. Due to many active members in the city, there are various composting sites where residents can drop off their compost. There is a push for residents to start composting from the city as well, promoting the organics collection program.

New York City is not the best for sustainability, given its dirty demeanor due to a large population—millions of people bring millions of automobiles, attempting to get everyone from one place to the other. Many people take the public transportation provided, specifically the subway, but it has its cons when there are maintenance issues or delays. Proper funding could help the efficiency of the subways in New York City, yet instead there are “congestion fees” for cars who enter certain areas, which is effective as carbon tax—it does not properly address a big part of the congestion.

While New York has taken strides to utilize sustainable urban planning and environmentally conscious measures, underprivileged communities continue to be victims of environmental racism.

Priya Mulgaonkar, from the NYC Environmental Justice alliance, stated in an article that, “right now, the vast majority of waste in New York City is trucked to and processed in just a handful of low-income communities of color.” Many of the waste facilities around the city are truck-intensive and privately owned—copious amounts of them are located around schools, parks, and residences.

Additionally, these privately-owned companies have historically come under fire after a ProPublica investigation found that they harbor dangerous and low-paying worker conditions. In November of 2017, an employee for one of these waste facility companies was killed by the driver of a truck he was working for. The firm, Sanitation Salvage, has deep political ties in the Bronx, and allegedly attempted to cover up the death, according to reporting done by ProPublica.

Fortunately, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law the “Waste Equity Bill” last August, which would reduce permitted capacity of waste transfer in the city, with its proponents claiming it will help underprivileged communities. However, acts of environmental racism continue to be prevalent.

One organization, New York Restoration Project, is a non-profit that is dedicated to restoring parks, community gardens, and open space in under-resourced communities throughout the city. They bring private resources to spaces that lack adequate municipal support in order to fortify the city’s aging infrastructure and create a healthier environment for those who live in the most densely populated and least sustainable neighborhoods.

This particular organization allows for community involvement in gardens, ensuring that all interested members have say in what is planted. Oftentimes, measures that attempt to green a community leave vulnerable members out of the conversation. This is an important factor which dismantles colonialism in environmentalism.

Does your town have a community garden? If they do, and you have the time, consider volunteering! It’s always fun to get your hands dirty and plant some veggies! If not, get members of your community together and start one! Its an excellent way to build community, especially in a densely populated city akin to New York.

And, as always, mobilize members of your community around a Green New Deal and other local initiatives that tackle environmental racism. The only solution to the climate crisis is collective action.

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