Getting New York City’s garbage where it’s going has always been a massive and complex challenge. While the story of New York is often told through its captains of industry, artists, and politicians, the story of the people who have handled its waste is uniquely revealing in what it tells us about how the city has evolved to support such a dense concentration of life.
In the city’s early days, New Yorkers dumped their waste into the rivers to create new land, taking the idea of hyperlocal waste management to the extreme. Today, in our highly industrialized consumer society, we produce vastly larger quantities of garbage per capita than we did in the past, but we send it all to distant landfills hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. Eliminating our reliance on a landfill-based system is critical, but to truly become a zero waste city, New Yorkers will need to re-think the systems of production and consumption that gave rise to it.
On May 1st, join us for a talk by NYU professor and DSNY anthropologist-in-residence Robin Nagle, author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, to learn about the evolution of the city’s waste infrastructure over the past four centuries: where we’ve sent our waste, how it got there, who carried it away—and how it could change.
This program is part of Getting to Zero: New York + Waste, a year-long series of tours and talks exploring New York City’s waste system.