These days, there are countless ways to act like an entitled jerk even if you don’t go around launching empty Turkey’s Nest cups into McCarren Park (pretty sure NYC squirrels are just paid actors anyway). For starters, Amazon Prime, Seamless, Caviar, and eBay have all contributed to a massive increase in packaging waste. But starting this week, if you live and/or order takeout food within the Greenpoint area, you can sign up for a new eco-conscious initiative that will help you hate yourself a little less. Patrons of two local restaurants will be given free takeout food containers that can be returned to the restaurant for reuse.
“We like to say it takes the guilt out of takeout,” explained Allison Currier, an environmental organizer with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), which launched the five-month pilot program.
Sign up for the Shareware program online, fill out a brief survey, and you’ll be hooked up with a BPA-free plastic container, free of charge. As of now, Shareware is limited to Jimmy’s and Annela, but after the pilot phase, NAG will have produced an open-source program for other communities and restaurants who are interested in setting up Shareware on their home turf.
There’s a bit of a quirk to Shareware, though: you’re required to drop off the container at the restaurant yourself. NAG is hoping this will be good for brick-and-mortar business. “It keeps the customers coming back, it keeps them accountable,” Allison said. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, I have to go back anyway to Anella, let me drop off my container and I’ll grab a drink, or a meal while I’m there.'”
During his tenure, Mayor Bloomberg introduced several measures to combat takeout-related waste, including a styrofoam ban. Even after Mayor de Blasio carried that torch in some ways, one by one, the policy efforts were blocked either by the State Legislature, or in the foam’s case, by a State Supreme Court judge. As progressive and green as New York City seems in some regards (particularly compared to the gritty city’s recent past), we’ve lagged behind cities like Portland and San Francisco when it comes to banning plastic bags, too. Container-maker interest groups and plastics-industry lobbyists succeeded in blocking measures that would have severely limited our intake of these outdated, wasteful materials– plastic bits that, for the most part, end up in landfills, as opposed to being reused by consumers (that goes for plastic bags especially, since they can’t even be recycled).
Finally, in June it seemed as if the City Council had finally won the protracted, vicious Battle of the Bag. But a few weeks later, the legislation was held up in Albany. Because, well, Albany. The bag fee, instead of an outright ban, which enacts a 5 cent fee for anyone who wants a plastic bag to go with their groceries or single-item bodega purchases, was supposed to take effect October 1. Thanks to our overlords in the State Senate, the bag fine won’t take effect until February 2017.
NAG, a grassroots North Brooklyn community organization formerly known as “Neighbors Against Garbage,” has never been a group to sit idly by and wait for the City or State to get going. According to Allison, the Shareware program wasn’t launched specifically in response to the bag-fine delay, but it’s definitely part of NAG’s role in filling the large gap between the government’s ability to protect the environment and what we can do to protect the Earth and the health our own communities as individuals and allied neighbors.
To launch the Shareware pilot, NAG teamed up with two more local organizations: Common Ground Compost, which made Greenpoint one of the first Brooklyn neighborhoods with a local composting program, and BABAR, or Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants. They got financial backing from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF), “which was originally for the Exxon-Mobil oil spill that happened,” Allison explained. “It’s the first time any place anywhere near the East Coast is doing this. It’s already a big thing in the world of reuse on the West Coast with a company called GoBox and they’re really successful in San Fransisco and Portland.”
Shareware follows NAG’s last major North Brooklyn environmental initiative, the Toxicity Map, which stemmed directly from the Exxon-Mobil spill, and was a way to address what many area residents felt was a lack of transparency regarding chemical spills and the cleanup programs aimed at addressing them. The interactive map can tell you if there’s a big ol scary toxic plume drifting underneath your feet (well, at least the ones we know of). As NAG became the unofficial environmental stewards of the neighborhood, they’ve been at the frontline overseeing cleanup efforts and pushing elected officials to address incidents like the Halloween rave that nearly went down at a Superfund site.
But Shareware shows NAG getting back to their roots. There’s a reason why the pilot program is focused in Greenpoint. “North Brooklyn actually processes 40 percent of the city’s waste through our various waste-transfer stations,” Allison explained. “So our community is very aware of the burden of the waste industry.” She pointed out that North Brooklyn has extremely high asthma rates, and “a lot of cancer issues,” which can be attributed to the area’s poor air quality thanks to truck traffic. “That’s why it’s relevant to what we’re doing here,” she said. “We’re trying to show that we don’t want all this waste. We’re trying not to produce all this waste.”
For more than two decades, NAG has waged against both the City and private waste removal companies and their effort to dump a disproportionate share of the city’s garbage in their neighborhood. While residents of Greenpoint and Williamsburg have managed to offset their portion of the burden in recent years, and were even gifted a beautiful, if not pretty bizarre architectural wonder with the installation of the enormous glowing poop eggs at the center of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. It’s so gorgeous that on Valentine’s Day the facility offers “the most romantic wastewater treatment plant tour ever,” which usually sells out.
However, North Brooklyn nabes like Bushwick are still struggling to reach some sort of compromise with the garbage industry. Since last year, when the community met to discuss how to go about ousting the Brooklyn Waste Transfer Facility, a notoriously derelict and super shady local trash bin, locals have continued to push the city to shut the company down. Most recently, on December 1, the leading local protest group, Cleanup North Brooklyn, released a report called “Profits Before Safety” which detailed the results of observing the facility for a six-day work week, during which the activists reportedly witnessed Brooklyn Transfer “committing over 1,200 violations of city and state code.”
In fact, Politico elaborated on the theme back in May with an article that looked at how private waste transfer industry in New York City as a whole is replete with issues ranging from worker exploitation to environmental degradation, and brazen law breaking.
Kinda makes you look at your bag of Seamless trash a little bit different now, right? For now, NAG’s approach is once again to start small. Allison pointed out that another “positive outcome” of Shareware “is, it promotes community.” As NAG has proven time and again, in order to enact change from what might seem like a powerless position for regular people who find themselves fighting back against industries with lobbyists, millions of dollars, and the power to sway elected officials – neighbors have to unite under a common cause. In its simplest form, Shareware “is all about reusing and redirecting waste from landfills.” and when you really get down to it, that’s the root of so many of these problems.