Let me tell you—we’ve got to clean up our act, New York

“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Wednesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, Things To Do Editor Rossilynne Skena Culgan shared how to conquer your resolutions in NYC.

The biggest culture shock I endured upon moving to NYC: The amount of garbage at the curb. The towering trash bags and chest-high recycling didn’t offend me much (there are a lot of people here, after all), but the amount of perfectly good furniture on the street horrified me. 

I quickly joined my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Group (shout-out to Buy Nothing Midtown West) and followed along with several Stooping groups around town, which soothed me for a bit … until last week. 

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As I looked out my apartment’s window, I noticed the heaping piles of furniture on the sidewalk below. The word must’ve spread about this haul because people pulled up in taxis and cars to pick through the pile and take home some treasures. But as the night wore on, the mountain barely reduced, a garbage truck arrived and tossed the rest into the back. I had to look away as these perfectly good items were crushed.

All that furniture would now be destined to sit in a trash heap and decompose (or not) for years to come. But while these once-loved pieces waste away, those who ditched them likely won’t give it a second thought. Out of sight, out of mind. 

It’s our responsibility—all of us—to be more conscious of our waste, especially on this tiny island. In a place with a massive income chasm—the largest income gap in the nation, in fact—neighbors in our city could likely benefit from the second-hand items that are now being thrown into the garbage. In a progressive city like New York, we can become a sustainable model for the rest of the nation. Yes, it’ll take some work, but we need to go greener this year. Here are five tips to get started right now.

A pile of garbage on the street, including a table and chairs.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan / Time Out | That tulip table just needed a little TLC, but it was sent to the curb. Another trash heap spotted on a recent walk.

1. Reduce

The beginning word in the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” is first for a reason. Reduce what you buy. Do you need a brand new couch or could a slipcover solve all your problems? Could a quick trip to the hardware store for some new drawer knobs spruce up that old cabinet? Do you need a new coat or could you sew that tiny tear? If you do need to replace an item, is it possible to buy it second-hand? Speaking of which … 

2. Join your local Buy Nothing group

If you’re new to Buy Nothing, here’s how it works: There’s likely a Buy Nothing Facebook group for your neighborhood. Once you join, you’ll be united with a community of your neighbors who post their unwanted items totally for free. When someone wants the item, they’ll comment on the post, then make a plan to arrange pick-up. 

I’ve given away USB cooling fans, a hamper, a garbage can, a set of dishes, a citrus zester, a calendar, a webcam, hot sauces, sneakers and screwdrivers, all in good shape, just things I didn’t need anymore. I know these items went to someone who can use them, which gives me the satisfaction of helping somebody out. And I know these items will stay out of the landfill for at least a little bit longer. 

Also keep in mind that even if you can’t fix something, maybe a neighbor can. I once gave away leather bar stools that my cat scratched (thanks, Cleocatra). Even though I couldn’t repair them, a neighbor was elated to receive the otherwise perfect chairs and re-cover the scratched seats in a fun fuzzy fabric. Just be honest in your posting so others know what kind of project they’re getting into. 

3. Donate

Before you toss your stuff on the curb and hope for the Stooping Gods to take it away, make an effort to find a new home for that nightstand that reminds you of your ex.

In addition to Buy Nothing groups, try second-hand shops across the city to donate your items in good condition. If you’ve got bigger items, fear not: Housing Works will pick up furniture, apparel, lighting, housewares and more. Plus, StreetEasy has a long list of other second-hand stores where you can donate items.

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4. Stoop 

You never know what you’ll find on Stooping NYC’s Instagram account, from paintings to a shuffleboard table to plants and even mannequin parts. The delightful account posts photos of these items on the curb in hopes someone will dash over and pick them up. For those new to the concept, the account offers tips and tricks to make the most of the phenomenon. 

I’m so happy an account like this exists, but of course, it’s impossible to catalog every item on every curb in NYC. Plus, it’s not possible that every stooped item finds a taker. NYC’s bulk refuse program allows people to put bulk items (meaning big stuff like wooden tables, sofas and rugs) out the evening before their collection date. That doesn’t leave much time for people to find, photograph and pick up the items, and that’s an especially fraught process if the pieces get wet in the rain or snow. 

5. Go further with recycling and composting

New York City offers a robust recycling program, and we’re lucky for it. Be sure you’re separating your recyclables into the right bins (no plastic in the paper bin!). And if you’re not composting already, get to it. The city is expanding curbside composting, which will keep even more kitchen and yard waste out of the landfill.

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