The Green City Challenge Eco-Carnival on Sunday, October 11 is just a few short weeks away.  You may be asking, “So what?”  For one thing, the Eco-Carnival will be fun! This family oriented event will not only be educational, it will be enjoyable as well.  For example, you can try the Recycling Challenge.  In this challenge, you have to sort 20 items into the proper bins in 3 minutes.  This may sound easy, but most adults do worse than children with this challenge! Even if you do well, you will learn something and will have fun doing it.  Every New Yorker thinks they know how to recycle but very few people really know what they are doing.

Of course, recycling isn’t the only thing we need to do to be environmentally responsible.  Of the 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, recycling is the least important thing to do.  The most important thing for all of us to do so that we can lessen our environmental impact is to reduce waste of all kinds.  This means that we avoid buying stuff that we don’t need.  It means that we buy things in bulk whenever possible.  It means that we rent, borrow, share, and buy used stuff whenever possible.  It means that we think before we make any kind of purchase because everything you buy or acquire was made from natural resources that are limited such as oil, wood, metal, coal, water, etc.

Many neighborhoods of New York City are implementing a residential composting program.  If you live in one of the selected neighborhoods, you have to separate your food scraps and put them in a bin to be collected by the Department of Sanitation.  Food scraps consist of something like 80% of all our household waste and most of it ends up in landfills or incinerators.  Basically, it’s a big waste of food and resources.  When we compost our food scraps, the end product is a rich and natural soil that can be used in parks, community gardens, street tree pits, etc.  Even if you do not live in one of the selected neighborhoods where composting is taking place, you can take your food scraps to a Greenmarket or to a community garden.  If you are really daring, you can set up a worm compost bin in your house or apartment and make your own compost.  This is also called vermicomposting.  The Lower East Side Ecology Center offers workshops on vermicomposting and will have a table at the Eco-Carnival.

Residential trash collection in New York City is the responsibility of the New York City Department of Sanitation.  Even though the Department of Sanitation is far from perfect, its workers are unionized, they get fair wages, they have health insurance, and they have respectable jobs.  Commercial trash collection from small and large businesses is the responsibility of more than 200 private waste hauling companies.  The commercial waste hauling system in New York City is like the Wild West!  Every day, thousands of old, diesel spewing private waste hauling trucks cross the five boroughs, often on the same streets, over and over again.  This contributes to our extremely high rates of asthma and poor air quality in New York City.  Additionally, the workers who collect commercial trash are mostly not unionized and they have little or no health insurance and very low wages.  The recycling rates for commercial waste are very low because commercial waste haulers are not required to recycle and they have very few incentives to do so.

There is a campaign in New York City to change the commercial waste hauling system to make it more environmentally responsible and fairer to its workers.  This is the Transform Don’t Trash NYC Campaign and its goal is to pass legislation in the New York City Council that will create commercial collection zones throughout New York City which would be bid on by hauling companies.  Once a company would win a contract for a particular zone, it would be required to recycle a certain amount of the garbage it collects, operate trucks that are safe and environmentally responsible, and offer health and other benefits to its workers. The Transform Don’t Trash NYC Coalition is led by Align NY and includes the local Teamsters Union, BJ32 (the union for building superintendents and maintenance workers), the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Environmental Justice Alliance, and other civic, labor and environmental organizations.  You can learn more at the website www.transformdonttrashnyc.org

Whether you are a life-long environmentalist or you are new to the idea of being environmentally responsible, you will find something interesting and fun at the Green City Challenge Eco-Carnival on Sunday, October 11 2015 at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden on Avenue C at East 9th Street from 12 – 4 pm.  We hope to see you there!