How to be Eco-Friendly and Have a Zero Waste Home in New York

eco-friendly new york

How to Be Eco-Friendly in New York!

If one of your resolutions this year was to be more eco-friendly, you might have started off by buying a reusable water bottle, picking up some stainless steel straws or investing in your own coffee cup for your daily latte. If you’re truly trying to go green though, it’s worth bearing in mind that the classic adage to “Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle” doesn’t mention BUYING MORE STUFF anywhere. As natural-born consumers, our instinct is to solve all our problems by consuming more, but when we’re trying to reduce our impact on the planet, we need to do the opposite! Here are some ideas on how to go green in NYC without spending a single cent.

Clothing Swaps

The fashion industry is a huge source of pollution (ranked as the 5th most polluting industry worldwide) and lots of our fast fashion, impulse-buy items end up in landfills. What’s the solution so we can still scratch our itch for new-to-us items and clear out our closets at the same time? Clothing swaps! Grow NYC organizes regular swaps across New York City, and they are free to attend. Just bring clean, reusable, portable items such as clothing, housewares, games, books and toys, and take home new-to-you items. Check out Grow NYC’s website for dates and locations of upcoming swaps. You can also take a look at which is home to a huge and varied selection of clothing swap meetup groups.

Optimize Your Utilities

If you’re lucky enough to have central heat, try turning the temperature down by one or two degrees, and encouraging your kids to grab a sweater or wear socks indoors instead of hitting up the thermostat. You can also turn the heat off once everyone is in bed and on again at breakfast time. If you’re in an apartment building where the communal areas are sweltering, call your super and gently encourage them to adjust the heat. These measures will also help to save you dollars and cents off your electricity bills.

Check Craigslist’s Free Page

Craiglist’s “free” page is filled with all kinds of weird and wonderful items people are giving away. If you have your own transport for picking up large furniture items and if you’re happy to get your hands dirty to “upcycle” pieces, you can furnish an entire apartment just with freebies! And on the other side of things, if you have items you need to get rid of, consider posting them here or on your local parenting Facebook page before you put them out on the sidewalk.

Cut Down Your Food Waste

New York sends an astounding four million tons of waste to landfills every year, and almost a third of that is food waste. Although most of this is generated by grocery stores, manufacturers and the restaurant industry, individual households can still do their bit to help. Meal-planning and keeping supplies of easy-to-cook staples like rice, beans and pasta in your pantry can help you to avoid ordering take-out or doing a hungry bodega dash. If you find yourself regularly throwing away uneaten fresh produce, consider switching to frozen vegetables especially when it comes to broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, peas and green beans which are just as good frozen as fresh.

Eat Less Meat

Whether it’s trying out “meatless Mondays” or transitioning your kids’ sandwich fillings from deli meats to cheese or PB&J, you don’t need to go full veggie or vegan to have a big environmental impact with your diet. We love following plant-based Instagram accounts from New Yorkers like @veggiekins and @bonberi for inspiration for our meat-free meals! 

Don’t Let a Nice Gesture Turn into Trash

While we’re big fans of New Yorkers’ habit of leaving books and other small belongings out on the sidewalk for passersby to pick up, please check the weather forecast before you do this! We see so many sodden books and pieces of clothing which then just end up in the trash. If you have kids’ books in good condition to give away, consider asking your local school’s Parent Coordinator if they take library donations.

Bring Your Own Bag

Keeping a tote bag in your handbag or laptop case will save you picking up the plastic. And we all have tote bags we can press into service as in New York they’re given away with so many purchases. Pop one in each of your bags (we like to zip them into our inside pockets) so you won’t forget.

Mason Jars for Your Takeout Coffee Habit

Like a good hack? Wrap rubber bands around a mason jar and voila! You have the perfect reusable coffee cup which won’t burn your hands when you fill it with hot coffee.

Creative Composting

Want to try composting in New York City but your apartment building doesn’t offer it? Don’t be discouraged! Grow NYC has more than 70 food scrap drop-off locations around the city where you can bring fruit and vegetable scraps, non-greasy food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, cut or dried flowers and much, much more. Just avoid meat, fish or daily products and check out the full list of do’s and don’t’s as well as their list of drop-off locations on the Grow NYC website. You don’t need a dedicated composting receptacle either — you can compost in a paper bag lined with newspaper, and keep your compost in the refrigerator or your freezer to avoid bad smells.

Volunteer to Garden

New York has tons of opportunities to get your hands dirty, even if you don’t have a garden of your own. Check whether your local public school has a gardening program, or get involved with the Governor’s Island Teaching Garden during the open season (May 1st to October 31st 2020) where your kids can take part in gardening workshops, take tours and learn about nutrition. You can also visit NYC Service to search for volunteering opportunities at your local park or playground. 

Consolidate Your Amazon Deliveries

We’re all hooked on Amazon, but getting single items delivered separately uses unnecessary resources when it comes to both packaging and delivery vehicles. Use the “Shopping List” feature or fill your cart and only checkout once a week to make your Amazon habit more eco-friendly. You can also choose to select an “Amazon delivery day” so that all your packages arrive on the same day of the week.

Trash Facts

The average American generates 4.5 lbs of waste every day

• New York only recycles about a fifth of its garbage (18% from homes and 25% from businesses) lagging behind cities like San Francisco and Seattle

• About a third of residential waste is made up of food scraps and yard rubbish, which can be composted but which when it ends up in a landfill it can generate harmful methane gas

• Most public housing in New York City does not have easy access to recycling services. New York’s nearly 400,000 public housing residents recycle less than 2% of their household waste

(source: The New York Times Jan, 2020)