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Green NYC: Recycling, composting, thrifting and more ways to go green

With just a little bit of effort, every day can be Earth Day.

We get it: Lifestyle changes can seem like monumentous tasks that just aren't worth doing but here's the thing: making minor changes can add up to a lot over the course of a lifetime. It takes a village, as they say.

Recycle everything

In 2013, the city started accepting many more
Photo Credit: NYC Mayor's Office

In 2013, the city started accepting many more items into its recycling program -- and good thing, too. According to city stats, the average New Yorker throws out about four and a half pounds of waste each day. And that's just too much.

In addition to the basics -- glass and aluminum cans and bottles, milk, soy and soup cartons, plastic bottles, cardboard, newspapers and magazines, pizza boxes and paper of all colors and shapes -- the city also now collects yogurt and hummus containers, "clamshell" lunch containers and other plastic take-out containers. View the full list here.

Recycling is easy and it's the law too. If you feel your building (commercial or residential) is not doing enough, you can file a complaint with 311.

Plant plants and flowers

Planting flowers, herbs or creeping plants in tree
Photo Credit: FlatbushGardener via Flickr

Planting flowers, herbs or creeping plants in tree beds and yards not only beautifies the area but also helps keep the air clean by absorbing toxins and carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The city encourages property owners to maintain the tree beds in front of their homes. (If you rent, check with your landlord before planting anything.)

Reuse plastic bags

Plastic bags can be very convenient, we know.
Photo Credit: Ege Soyuer via Flickr

Plastic bags can be very convenient, we know. Beyond groceries, whenever New Yorkers get take-out, it arrives in both paper and plastic bags. Even if a bill currently being debated in the City Council, which calls on businesses to charge a dime for a disposable bag, becomes law, there will still be billions of bags to contend with. The bill's sponsors say 10 billion single-use carryout bags are used each year! Here's our suggestion for ways to deal with the glut: reuse them.

Do you have a cat or dog? Reuse bags to pick up their droppings.

Do you compost? Reuse a plastic bag or two to store your food waste before you drop it off. (See next picture for composting tips).

Of course, you could skip plastic bags entirely -- except when it comes to take-out-- and get a reusable bag. Or, recycle them. By law, large retailers like Duane Reade must collect plastic bags for recycling. So save them up and drop them off when you've got a bunch.

Stop throwing away food -- compost it!

Composting is a lot easier than it looks.
Photo Credit: otto-yamamoto via Flickr

Composting is a lot easier than it looks. And this is where you can really make a huge difference. According to the EPA, food scraps are the #1 item sent to landfills. But most unused or uneaten food can be composted, thus diverting tons and tons from landfills. In NYC, a compost pick-up program is currently underway in some neighborhoods. The pilot program is called NYC Organics Collection. If you don't live in one of those areas, you can collect your compost and drop it off at one of the many collection locations.

Here's how to do it: collect fruit and vegetable scraps, stale grains and breads, nuts, soiled paper towels and napkins, coffee grounds, eggshells, cut or dried flowers and other organic matter in a plastic bag or sealed container. Store in fridge or freezer. When full, drop off at collection site. Do not add: meat, cheese, greasy, oily foods, glossy paper, kitty litter, charcoal. Details at nyc.gov.

Ride a bike

Everyday bike commuting isn't possible for everyone for
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Everyday bike commuting isn't possible for everyone for many reasons, but even the smallest commitment to riding a bike instead of taking a car or bus will make a difference in the long run. And don't underestimate the power of riding only occasionally. The more bikes on the road the more aware of bikers both the city and automobile drivers become. This leads to change. According to Transportation Alternatives, the city has more than doubled its bike lanes networks since 2006.

Eat local food

There are so many reasons to support local
Photo Credit: Randall's Island Urban Farm

There are so many reasons to support local farms. They stimulate the local economy, turn blighted land into viable green space and provide educational and professional opportunities to our neighbors.

From an environmental perspective, the reason to buy local is much more concrete. Much of the produce we eat is transported from far away, requiring tractor trailers to drive long distances, emitting fumes the whole way. Luckily, locally grown is becoming more than a buzz phrase. Farmer's markets are more popular than ever and even major grocery stores are starting to make an effort to stock and label locallygrown food.

NYC-based farms are also making inroads. Major producers like Gotham Greens grow large amounts of produce at the Whole Foods in Gowanus, which then sells the greens. The Brooklyn Grange grows and sells to restaurants and at Farmer's Markets. Smaller farms like the Youth Farm in Crown Heights have a member-based CSA program.

Kick your plastic bottle habit

You've likely heard about the Great Pacific garbage
Photo Credit: mr_t_in_dc via Flickr

You've likely heard about the Great Pacific garbage patch. No? Well, it's a giant patch of non-biodegradable plastic whirling in the ocean just north of Hawaii. No one knows how big it is. The concept is hard to comprehend, but what's easy to take away from it is this: plastic never breaks down, it just breaks into tinier pieces. The only way to keep plastic out of the ocean and landfills is to reduce our reliance on it. It will be tough, but an easy way to help is to switch to reusable bottles. Stop drinking bottled water and instead keep a reusable container in your bag, filled at all times. Like to drink water all day at work (as you should?) Get a glass and keep it at your office. Fill it whenever you're thirsty. Another benefit to kicking your bottled water habit: Tap water is FREE.

Skip the K-Cups

Sure, they're easy, but K-cups can't be recycled
Photo Credit: m01229 via Flickr

Sure, they're easy, but K-cups can't be recycled and aren't biodegradable. On top of that, they're expensive and the coffee they make isn't even that great. For more delicious, cheaper and eco-friendly coffee, consider carrying a reusable mug after brewing some beans at home.

Buy vintage and used clothes

Be stylish and cool while also working to
Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

Be stylish and cool while also working to save the environment. That's a win-win. Chiara de Blasio likes L Train Vintage in Gowanus. "Eventually, I want to only buy thrifted clothes because there's so much waste in the world," she told amNewYork.

For more on shopping with Chiara, check out amny.com/lifestyle.

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