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Ten Ways Residents Can Reduce Waste In NYC Apartment Buildings

Free Stuff box makes it easy to reuse

Every NYC apartment building, office, dorm and senior center can have a Free Stuff box, making it easy to ‘take’ and ‘leave’ stuff for others.

There’s a lot that we as individuals can do to cut down on NYC’s massive trash heaps – like bringing our own reusable coffee cups, water bottles and shopping bags. But there’s even more we can achieve when we join with neighbors right in our own buildings. The black bags that pile up on sidewalks emanate from residential buildings. (Commercial waste is picked up separately.) So, it’s up to us residents!  If you’re tired of seeing the mountains of black ‘sausage’ bags on trash night – and sometimes piled even higher with tons of still usable bookcases, chairs, lamps, framed pictures, and everything dumped from Granny’s old kitchen en masse – take these simple steps to reduce waste in NYC this year. You’ll make a difference to our environment and to yours and your neighbors’ quality of life.

1. Encourage neighbors to recycle more. A full 74% of everything New Yorkers throw out is recyclable, but only 17% of that is collected so it can be turned into new stuff. Remind neighbors and friends that recycling bottles, cans, paper, cartons, hangers, and other items is the law! Dispel myths that what winds up on landfills will eventually ‘biodegrade’. Remind the skeptics that what gets set out for recycling by DSNY does find its way to Sims, Pratt and other facilities. Finally, motivate others to reduce waste in NYC by underscoring how recycling saves energy, materials and creates local jobs — in addition to keeping down the trash and traffic associated with transporting waste to upstate and out of state landfills via transfer stations at a cost to the city of $400MM per year.

reduce waste in NYC by composting

Author Jacquie Ottman kicked off a composting program in her NYC building this year.

2. Collect Food Scraps for Compost. The most important thing any building can do to reduce waste in NYC is get the food scraps out of the chute and into a compost or waste-to-energy stream. That’s because food scraps, plants and other organics represent a third of the waste stream and degrade in landfills into a greenhouse gas that 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. For this reason, diverting food scraps is high on the Mayor’s list of things to keep down the carbon.

If you live in a building with 10+ units, you can start collecting food scraps right in your building and help to build healthy soil via composting. Get the details HERE.

3. Recycle E-Waste – It’s against the law in NY State to throw used electronics in the trash. Representing just one percent of everything we throw out, TVs, computers, cellphones and other e-waste contain heavy metals, making it the most hazardous component of overall waste. Some local retailers collect ‘e-waste’, and the Lower East Side Ecology Center conducts neighborhood drop-off events. But it’s even more convenient to work with the city to get a free ‘E-Cycle’ cage that lets residents in buildings of 10+ units to conveniently drop-off items to recycle right in lobby, garage or other public space. Learn more HERE.

4. Give Clothes a New Home – Stuffed inside those black trash bags are a whopping 200,000 tons of still usable clothing, towels, blankets, shoes and other textiles and apparel. To make it easier for apartment dwellers to capture this waste, DSNY partners with HousingWorks to collect reusable and recyclable clothing and textiles right in 10+ unit buildings. Get more info about the RefashioNYC program HERE.

5. Move Trash-free. Moving in and moving out of NYC apartments take a toll on trash. If you’ve got still usable furniture, appliance, housewares, musical instruments, collectibles and more, try passing them along to neighbors and save on transportation costs. Post sign on that bulletin board in your laundry, or explore high tech alternatives like the Marketplace feature on one’s own electronic “BuildingLink” platform. Alternatively, search at this DonateNYC site to find vendors and charities who will take them.

6.  Free Books and Lots of Other Stuff – Who doesn’t love getting free stuff?  Books, knick-knacks, kitchen and stationery items lend themselves to easy pass-along. Create a FREE STUFF box for your laundry or other public space by simply repurposing a carton or other container and watch your neighbors immediately and happily start to ‘leave stuff’ and ‘take stuff’ for others.

Create a FREE BOOK EXCHANGE. Even if it’s just one shelf in a building’s laundry or lobby, more NYC buildings than you can imagine have a little free library. Start one in your own building by repurposing a used bookcase — and discover the thrill of finding an unexpected title at just the right price.

Reduce Waste in NYC by Sharing the vacuum with neighbors

With space so tight in NYC apartments, why not share the vacuum with a neighbor?

7. Swap Don’t Shop – Organize a clothes, food, or kitchen swap with neighbors and friends in your lobby or on your block. Attend a free community Stop ‘n’ Swap reuse event in your neighborhood — and leave stuff and get stuff — all for free.  Contact Grow NYC to learn how.

8. Repair Broken Stuff – With repair shops rapidly disappearing due to high rents, spread the word that fixing is getting easier in NYC with the help of pop-up type shops like Fixers Collective and FixUp (formerly Popup Repair), with even more locations in more boroughs.

Got tinkerers in your building? Folks who love to sew and willing to teach others? Host a Repair Café in your lobby or community room — learn how HERE — and spread the word that IFixit videos can help anyone fix just about anything.

9. Junk Mail – Still getting too much junk mail? Make the call now to save trees and paper by getting off the lists. HERE’S HOW. Post a sign in your mailroom encouraging neighbors to do the same.

10. Share and Share a Like – Every other Friday a.m., my neighbor knocks on my door to borrow the vacuum. With space so tight in NYC apartments, why not share vacuum cleaners — as well as irons and ironing boards, fondue pots and more?  While you’re at it, start an Umbrella Share in your lobby. Do you really need a wet umbrella in your apartment?

Get the ball rolling in your building. Slip a note under doors or post a list letting neighbors know what you’re willing to share. Join Nextdoor.com and start asking neighbors on your block and zip code what you can borrow rather than have to buy this year.  (Caution: they may think you’re weird only until they need something.)

Reduce Waste in NYC Apartment Buildings: How To Measure Success

What gets measured gets managed. In addition to tracking what we buy new (if we track it at all), and what percent we recycle, consider other measures of living more sustainably here in the City, especially in high rise apartments.

How about keeping tabs on the percent of our consumption that represents items that we acquired as used rather than buying new?

How about being conscious of making what we do buy last a long time by buying quality in the first place, keeping items in good condition, and repairing them when they break?

Consider how many items you don’t even have to own – challenge yourself to use as many items that are shared with others as you can.

And finally, be conscious of how connected you are to the neighbors. How many of your own neighbors right on the corridor of your own building do you interact with on a weekly or monthly basis? What senior or single person can’t use more friends? What parent someone to watch the kids in a pinch?

Click The Icon Below for More Tips on How to Reduce Waste in NYC

Visit our NYC Zero Waste Resources page and learn how to reduce waste in NYC

Posting Guidelines – This and other stories published on WeHateToWaste.com are intended to prompt positive conversations about practical solutions for preventing waste. Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors, and WeHateToWaste implies no endorsement of any products or organizations mentioned.

Thanks to Lillibeth Liriano for contributing to this post.

About the Author
A waste watcher since age four, Jacquie Ottman is on a mission to change consumption culture in NYC through the prism of zero waste. A noted consultant and speaker, she volunteers as the chair, Residential Recycling and Reuse Committee of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board. Since 1989, she has been showing Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government how to develop and market products that can meet consumer needs sustainably. An expert on green marketing and a certified creative problem-solving facilitator, she's the author of 5 award-winning books. Read more about Jacquie HERE, and check out her other posts.
  1. Lillibeth Liriano Reply

    I love this list! Everything listed is easy to do and truly generates an impact. Imagine if everyone in NYC adopted these ten practices? So much waste would be reduced and prevented.

    I’m hoping to find a spot in my building to introduce a “Free Stuff” box this year. It’s such a great idea!

  2. Nicholas Gigot Reply

    The mention of e-waste reminded me of the importance of properly disposing of electronics. It’s easy to forget about the dangers of heavy metals, but as electronics are increasingly prevalent, it becomes increasingly important to pay attention to e-waste. I wonder how college campuses can encourage proper e-waste disposal.

  3. Irene Reply

    I’ve actually been toying with the idea of putting a box in the lobby of my apartment for all the excess clothing items I’ve been meaning to donate. But, I hesitated to do so because I wasn’t sure if my neighbors would trust that someone would give away good free clothes like that. Any tips for how to start this, especially in an apartment building that doesn’t have a strong neighbor-to-neighbor bond?

  4. Scott Reply

    This article is great for day to day living in NYC apartments and is actually applicable to many of us living in dorms in NYC as well. Students can make a huge impact on waste reduction in their dorms by going to their universities to implement ideas found on this list. Right now, many university dorms struggle to do anything sustainable/ waste reducing other than recycling and I believe it is imperative for students to take the initiative to remedy this.

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