“Unnecessary waste has always bothered me,” Anna Sacks says. The New York City resident has long noticed the way the streets can fill up with perfectly good furniture, clothing, and food cast aside for garbage disposal. “I started walking around the neighborhood, taking things out of the recycling. Then I started posting on Instagram to document what I was finding and to motivate myself to keep it up.”
Sacks now carves out time each week to walk through her neighborhood, looking through recycling bins to find things that simply don’t warrant disposal. On her Instagram account, @thetrashwalker, she’s shared some shocking finds: a red Le Creuset Dutch oven, plastic children’s toys, framed art prints, and countless still-fresh bouquets.
The lesson here: A lot of people are throwing out things that can easily be kept or donated. And that means a lot of unnecessary things are finding their way into landfills.
Not only are many of these found items not recyclable (plates and bowls, for example, can’t be recycled because the glass in dishware is treated in such a way that it can’t be melted down like glass bottles and jars can), there are tons of things that could simply find a second life under new ownership. Combustion and landfill—the two methods we use for trash disposal—are connected to global warming. By reducing the number of things we place in the trash, we can limit our carbon footprint and even lend a hand to others in our communities. Below, Sacks shares her best tips to step closer to a waste-free lifestyle.
“About a third of the waste we create is compostable: napkins, paper towels, food scraps,” Sacks says. This applies to the still-good food that many grocery stores and restaurants toss, as well as the egg shells, coffee grinds, and kale stems that you might end up tossing after whipping up an at-home brunch. All of it can go in the compost in order to help generate clean energy and nutrient-rich soil.
Food waste—when not composted—is a major contributor to global warming because of its methane emissions. Getting your own compost bin doesn’t have to be hard, either. There are plenty of chic options that look great on a countertop (and won’t emit unpleasant smells). If you live in a city, chances are you have a curbside organics program and if you live in a smaller town, you can easily drop off compost at a farmers market or use it to create fertile soil for a garden.
Get to the Thrift Store
“When you throw something out, that means there’s nothing useful left for it to do,” Sacks says. “Sometimes, people are embarrassed about donating or they say that a shirt has a hole in it or a bowl has a chip in it, but someone might actually be able to work around those things or not mind that they have those imperfections. It’s still better to donate even if things aren’t in good condition.”
Sure, it takes extra effort to lug unwanted belongings to the thrift store post-Kondo, but a few extra minutes from your day can save plenty of things from going into a landfill. The planet will thank you for your time, and so will whoever scoops up your cast-offs.
Be Mindful of Garbage Days
“You can leave furniture outside, but do it on a non-trash day so it sticks out more, along with a free sign so people know they can take it,” says Sacks. “I leave stuff outside for anyone to take rather than bringing it to a thrift store to encourage a gifting culture in my neighborhood.” Whether you’re feeling generous or you just don’t have the time to drop by your local thrift store, look up your garbage collection days to ensure your cast-offs have plenty of time to be picked up by someone else before the garbage truck arrives.
When in Doubt, Turn to Craigslist
There are plenty of local accounts—like @curbalertnyc, which Sacks recommends for New York City residents—that can alert you to cast-off furniture and home goods in your area. In addition, local Craigslist free pages make for an accessible resource, whether you’re looking for some free finds or you just happen to see a great kitchen table on the curb as you’re walking around: Just take a photo of it, note where it is, and list it on Craigslist so someone else can grab it.
Go on Your Own Trash Walk
“Trash walks aren’t for everyone,” Sacks admits. But, to be clear, it doesn’t have to involve actually looking in the trash. “I focus a lot on recycling since it’s in clear bags, but if it looks like someone has cleared out an apartment, I’ll look in the trash. I’ll often find whole bags of books in recycling.”
Most of all, it’s important to increase awareness about how many things in the trash simply don’t belong there. Whether you opt to save things from the landfill yourself, post a few finds on Craigslist, or become a bit more mindful of your own waste production, you can make a difference. It’s an issue of awareness that results in unnecessary waste, Sacks notes. Above all, she advises: “Don’t just let the trash sink into the background.”
See more ways to be sustainable:
15 Easy Swaps You Can Make Right Now for an Eco-Friendly Kitchen
The Most Eco-Friendly Place to Find Furniture Isn’t a Store
Want to Be More Sustainable in 2019? Make This One Simple Step