Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Which I Rant About Garbage and Attempt to Save New York City

The big event in my life right now is that my boyfriend is moving into my apartment August 1st, and my longtime roommate and good pal is moving out. With a move always comes the purging of many belongings from clothes and books to furniture and household goods and many things in between.

But what to do with all of this perfectly good stuff?

A) Spend the time and effort to hold a stoop sale hoping to make a little moo-la and find loving homes for your stuff
B) Donate it to a charity that will put it to good use
C) Put it all on the curb and hope someone takes it before it ends up in the trash
D) Throw it all away— the planet is already screwed and they’ll figure out how we can live on the moon soon enough!

At first I thought (A) was a good idea, but we are so hectic with the move, plus there’s not a lot of space or foot traffic on our street so I’d probably waste a lot of time to make $5 and still be left with tons of stuff. So I decided to opt of (B), which should be an easy enough thing to do right? Not in New York City.

Back in Michigan (and I’m sure in many other car-centric places in the US) when we wanted to donate things, we’d load up the car and drive to the local thrift shop where they’d always gladly take it. And here in the city there are plenty of places that will take your stuff but most New Yorkers don’t have a car (which is a good thing, right?!) which means in order to donate in person involves lugging bags and boxes of items and/or furniture on the subway or renting vehicle to haul it – both unlikely and totally cumbersome options.

So I searched for an organization that would come and pick up all of our great stuff. There were woefully few. I finally found one—the Salvation Army—after two days of trying to get through, I attempted to schedule a pick up for July 31, only to be told they are booked until the end of August.

Which means I’ll have to opt for option (C), which according to the city really amounts to option (D) in most cases. I hope that if someone does come to take our stuff they aren’t driving, because as came to light this week it’s illegal to pick up discarded items on the sidewalk if you're driving a vehicle at the time because once something is set on the ground it becomes city property. This has been in the news this week after a man is Queens was fined $2,000 and had his 73-year-old Aunt’s car impounded for attempting to take an AC some one was throwing out. Even the MAYOR of the city didn’t know about the law and thought it was insane.

(Image from NYT “freegan” article)

Recycling is not only mandatory in NYC because it’s good for the environment; it’s actually a revenue source for the city. And yes there’s a list of places to donate useable items on the Department of Sanitation’s site but again, good luck getting someone to pick it up.

And yeah there’s special events/locations/days when you can recycle un-useable hazardous things like electronics/light bulbs/batteries. But how realistic is it to expect people to store a bunch of old light bulbs and batteries for six months in their already cramped apartments and then remember which day and location to take these things?

Mandatory recycling is such a beneficial idea for all involved. (Speaking of Michigan, 95% of the people I know there don’t recycle because it’s not as easily available)
Sure people in NYC still throw out tons of easily recycled stuff, regardless of how required or easy it is to put glass/plastic and paper in separate bins. It’s impossible to make everyone responsibly dispose of items they no longer need, but the lack of options for passing along perfectly good stuff is a glaring opportunity for the city.

So here, free of charge, is my solution:

Once every other week, deploy a fleet of trucks to pick up useable unwanted items. Residents would put them on the curb just as they do now, but instead of the things that don’t get taken by passersby ending up in the landfill (which is totally costly for the city), they’d go to locations in each borough where they could be distributed to non-profits.

The same could go for hazardous/non-traditional un-useable items: every month (say on the 1st) there could be a collection of these items. Both of these options involve additional cost and infrastructure, but I think the benefits outweigh the costs, and with the right investment could turn into a program just as lucrative as the recycling program has been. Otherwise I’m just going to have to open that store that sells their neighbor’s garbage to yuppies that I’ve been talking about for years…

**Update: I put a bunch of clothes, jewelry, books, etc. out on the curb this Saturday and within an hour everything was gone, I was joyful...until I opened the garbage can and found all of my lovely and totally usable belongings covered in smelly trash--thrown there by the insufferable woman who lives in the front apartment of my building.