Wasted Industrial New York



The BBC has a three part documentary on Netflix about Paris, London and New York transforming from waste lands of human muck into modern cities. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/filthy-cities/

New York Harbor, The Hudson and the East Rivers became such successful trade routes and a gateway to America’s resources that tens of thousands of immigrants from Europe came to be part of its wealth and success.  America was the link between the old and the new.  If you were one of the lucky three who survived the trip, you were destined to be crushed into the slums and poverty of a Lower East Side Tenement like Five Points.

What may have originated as a sizable apartment built for the 1000, mostly Irish, arriving every day, would soon be overwhelmed with multiple families, doubling as businesses and housing animals (like pigs) in order to afford the staggering rents demanded by corrupt and greedy landlords.

Tenements are buildings, five to seven stories high, filling up to 90% of a 25 foot by 100 foot lot that became the high land use grid New York is known for.  In 1865, 500,000 people lived this way in buildings with no heat, no refrigeration, no running water, gas lights and no sewers.  With 18 rooms per floor, only two would have windows.  Very little air and no sunlight entered those interior rooms.  They quickly became smelly hotbeds of disease and death.  Cooking and heating fires easily went out of control.  If you were lucky, a privy or outhouse was located behind the building and shared by all occupants.  If not, you shared one down the block.

3787397049_737bce47e5So many people died that the population reversed, if not for the extraordinary numbers still coming.  And there was no sanitation, no food safety, no rules, hands waiting for every dollar you could earn and an awful infestation of insects, rats and bacteria.  That anyone survived this waste is quite remarkable.  One article of clothing could house 50-70,000 lice all capable of giving you typhus.  Their bodies contain the bacteria.  It is its excrement that you scratch into your skin after being bitten, that manifests a disease where 1/2 the people infected would only live 2 weeks.  Death was literally piling up in the streets until someone with a cart could be summoned into service to dump it into the rivers.  The famous image below depicts the commonality of the city’s working horses dying by the thousands and being left where they ended their lives.


The butchering of animals was done just about anywhere.  Unregulated, the putrid remains were discarded just about anywhere, until it was discovered that borax could cover up the rotting smell.  Arsenic or clothes dye would return the meat to a healthy red color that got squeezed into pig intestines and sold as sausage.  Borax is a very effective cleaner and pesticide.  It is not known to cause harm to humans unless it comes in contact with the eyes or is ingested.  These economic additions to the butchers’ livelihoods were making a lot of people very sick.

Even with the marvels of humanity being created, like Croton Reservoir, which would transport fresh water over 40 miles to New York City, there was no place for the millions of gallons of used water to go except into the streets to stagnate or fill up low lying areas, like cellars under the buildings, where people lived.

Building the New York County Courthouse was an architectural marvel that should have created some hope for divying out justice.  Instead it was a symbol of corruption costing New Yorkers twice what it cost the United States to buy Alaska.  Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall political machine pocketed over half of all monies destined for city projects.

Along comes Jacob Riis!  A crime investigator, lecturer, photographer, Jacob grew up in some of the worst slums and vividly photographed How The Other Half Lives.  It became a best seller and an out cry forced New York to clean up its streets and its politics.  Out went Boss.

Called to clean!  Colonel George E Waring, was appointed NY Commissioner of Sanitation, after Roosevelt declined.  The Colonel applied his military discipline, drainage engineering and organizational skills to getting New York City clean.  His methods formed modern day recycling, sewer design, and sanitation practices.  His White Angels set an example of professionalism.   They were courteous, informative, helpful, non drinking, horse loving civil servants dressed in clean white uniforms clearing the shin deep waste off the streets.

After a fated summer when Coney Island became coated in raw sewage, New York realized it was floating in its own filth.  Richard H Gould became the hero of waste water treatment at Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant.  Built to process the city’s sewage,  high volumes of fast moving waste water enters the plant, gets raked of all the big stuff, has activated sludge added plus air to reduce the processing time and turns into bacteria laden waste that sinks to the bottom of the tank.  Clean water is easily separated out.

Then there were the goofballs, like Mr Thomas Midgley, who managed to market two of our world’s most polluting substances.  Leaded gasoline and freon, the first ozone destroying chlorofluorocarbon.  Fortunately, those finally got banned.

America’s increasing wealth and ingenuity created sanitation, electricity, alternating current, the automobile, vacuum cleaners, the light bulb, railroads, The Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, refrigeration, food safety regulations, and all sorts of thinking that keep us safer and healthier.

So readers!  There is hope!   150 years ago your life expectancy in New York City was 35 years.

How You Can Help:

  • Help keep our streets and public areas clean.
  • Support and encourage programs that improve our air, water, and food.
  • Quickly deal with lice, bedbugs and rodents.
  • Live healthy and lightly on our planet.
  • Give your Sanitation Workers a smile of encouragement!  They are our modern day heroes!

Until next week,images-1

Garbage Girl




Butts Not Wasted



Butts represent the most numerous form of trash that volunteers collect from the world’s beaches on the Ocean Conservancy’s cleanup days according to the Ocean Conservancy Trash Index.  ocean conservancy coastal cleanup

Sorry readers!  I am still in the fashion business and the butts were literally coming out everywhere!  Even inspiring Our Waste Matters this week.  But seriously….

More than two million cigarette butts were collected from our coastal areas in a single day—double the amount of both food containers and beverage containers.

  • Cigarettes/Cigarette filters 2,117,931
  • Food wrappers/containers 1,140,222
  • Plastic beverage bottles 1,065,171
  • Plastic bags 1,019,902
  • Caps and lids 958,893
  • Cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons 692,767
  • Straws and stirrers 611,048
  • Glass beverage bottles 521,730
  • Beverage cans 339,875
  • Paper bags 298,332

Along America’s roads, cigarette butts account for 37%  of all litter retrieved (by number of units).  This tiny, but huge, nuisance is made of a wood-based plastic fiber that takes generations to decompose, while leaching concentrated nicotine and tar into the ground or water and often times being fatally eaten by fish or birds.

The transparent crustacean Daphnia (often called a water flea) are planktonic animals which occupy a critical position in aquatic ecosystems, as they transfer energy and organic matter from algae to higher consumers.   The presence of one cigarette butt per two gallons of water was enough to kill 100% of the water fleas.  One half smoked cigarette butt can kill a goldfish in its standard sized bowl of water in a few days.

Cigarette butt consumption by small children and animals is a frequent source of concern and attention for poison control centers, parents and pet owners cautioning smokers to treat cigarette butts as toxic waste products and take more care in discarding them.

New York State Assemblyman and environmental leader, Michael DenDekker, crafted a bill to collect and recycle cigarette butts, giving collectors a penny per butt, paid for by a penny deposit per cigarette. The bill  aims to set up collection facilities around the state for the redemption of cigarette waste.

EcoTech Displays  created an outdoor advertising receptacle for cigarette butts currently being installed near restaurants and bars all over NYC, Chicago and Washington DC. http://www.eco-techdisplays.com

Terracycle is a very cool organization who turns all sorts of stuff into recycled products.   You purchase a box from them, fill it up, and send it back.  They make stuff from it.  Sponsored by National Geographic, the following video supports them turning butts into benches.  http://www.terracycle.com/en-US/

How You Can Help:

Until next week: bird nest

Garbage Girl



Bead Waste Cycles Back to Bite

I have been using Neutrogena Face Scrub for years only to learn the disturbing ingredient that feels so good rolling around my face is plastic and creates a real environmental problem.  Awhile ago, I stocked up on the stuff when I found it at a discounted price.  Now, I need to throw all those tubes away which is really hard for me since they are unused.  So, in my guilt, I did the only sensible thing and wrote to my senators, Kirsten Gillibrand http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/ and Charles Schumer http://www.schumer.senate.gov/contact/email-chuck   protesting the microbead!  You can do this too.  The Story of Stuff Let’s Ban the Bead site has a great letter for you to copy and send. http://storyofstuff.org/movies/lets-ban-the-bead/

Cosmetic, body wash, toothpaste and nail polish companies use plastic microbeads in their products.  You will note invigorating words on nature sounding labels like “scrub” and “exfoliating” to entice you towards a cleaner, smoother self.   There’s nothing natural about the ingredients polyethylene and polypropylene though.  They are the plastic microbeads that become plastic soup in our oceans.

The following brands/companies contain microbeads in their products as of February 2015:

  • Aveeno/Johnson & Johnson
  • AXE/Johnson & Johnson
  • Acne Free
  • Ayur-medic
  • Ahava
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Biore Skin Care/Kao USA, Inc
  • Bliss
  • Boots
  • Caress
  • Caudalie
  • Champneys
  • Clarins
  • Clean & Clear/Johnson & Johnson
  • Clearasil
  • Clinique/Estee Lauder
  • Colgate
  • Crest/Proctor & Gamble*
  • CVS Brand/CVS Pharmacy
  • Dermalogica
  • Dior
  • Equate Beauty/Walmart
  • Every Man Jack/Every Man Jack, Inc
  • Guerlain
  • Heel To Toe
  • Hempz
  • Kate Someriville
  • Kiehl’s
  • Laura Mercier
  • L’Oreal
  • Mur Ad/ Mur Ad, Inc
  • Neutrogena/Johnson & Johnson
  • Olay/Proctor & Gamble
  • Peter Thomas Roth
  • Rite Aid Renewal/Rite Aid Pharmacy
  • Simple
  • Spa Touch
  • Tree Hut/Naterra Int.
  • Unilever Products Dove, Vaseline, Pond’s
  • Up & Up/Target Brand
  • some Vistoria’s Secret Brand Products
  • some Walgreens Brand Products

This list was initiated by Plastic Soup Foundation and North Sea Foundation.  www.beatthemicrobead.org   Some companies on the list are getting press for phasing out or promising to phase out their microbeaded products by 2017.  Beat the Microbead is an organization that updates its international product lists constantly, flagging them red, orange or green for their progress, and will send you an app that helps you make good choices at the store.

*Crest Toothpaste Products became the hot topic on ABC News when the little blue specks were sighted on patient’s teeth during their dental appointments.  Investigations discovered Proctor & Gamble puts microbeads in their Crest Products.  I guess they think your toothbrush needs help exfoliating your teeth!

How You Can Help:

  • Contact your senators.  Its easy.  Just Google  Senator and your State. The Story of Stuff has a letter all ready written for you to send.  Their push and your support can create a greater impact if we act all at once.
  • Read the content labels on products you buy. Avoid polyethylene and polypropylene.
  • Click on www.beatthemicrobead.org to get the app!  It IDs products with microbeads in real time before you buy.
  • Beat the Microbead also has a letter you can use when you send back offensive products to the company that makes them.
  • Look for natural ingredients such as crushed walnut shells, 
sea salt, coconut husk and coffee for your face and body scrubs.
  • A teaspoon of bicarbonate soda mixed with a little warm water makes a great face scrub.

Until next week:

Don’t let this                                                      become this!






Garbage Girl

UNESCO and World Waste


Copyright © 2015 Alejandro Duran. All Rights Reserved.

Click  http://blog.bricartsmedia.org/featured-artist-alejandro-duran/   for a slideshow of this amazing work or visit Alejandro’s website http://www.alejandroduran.com

Sian Ka’an reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site distinguished by pre-Columbian archeology and the second largest coral reef in the world.  Its beaches, however, are the recipient of the northeast Caribbean Current that carries the plastic debris from over 50 countries as photographed and documented by Alejandro Duran.

His work is on display at Brooklyn’s Habana Outpost so Martin and I went.  Alejandro is one really great guy!  Award winning, enthusiastic, sensitive, generous and well versed in the subject of waste awareness.  He cleverly transforms this pristine natural landscape with compositions of the international plastic waste that is destroying it. His landscapes capture our careless disregard for what happens to our waste when we don’t responsibly discard it.  The series of large format photographs is called Washed Up.  

Alejandro’s foresight into the evolutionary outcome of our consumerism highlights an ironic message.  This is our Heritage.  The contrast between the unpolluted environment of Sian Ka’an; home to vast populations of “protected” flora and fauna, and the currents of inherited, colorful, fossil fuel derived stuff is most apparent in a short documentary film by Stefanie Durán that accompanies the exhibit.  At one point in the film a hermit crab is trying to escape a ziplock plastic bag.  The clear bag depicts the sights and sounds of the crab’s domain trapped amongst trash instead of the sand, shells and seaweed of this otherwise pristine secluded coastal environment.

UNESCO is obviously a victim of pressures beyond its control.  It sponsors The Garbage Patch State to bring awareness to the fact that the Garbage Patch (referring the the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) is one of the most serious forms of pollution caused by humankind.  With artist, Maria Cristina Finucci, UNESCO launched this ambitious project announcing that the Garbage Patch will be recognized as a federal state with a “population” of 36,939 tons of garbage. Discovered in 1989, it covers an area of 15,915,933 square meters, and its flag is blue, like the oceans it pollutes. The nation is large but inhabited.  Would you like to visit?  ©M. C. Finucci – The Garbage Patch State


UNESCO will help bring information to the public, with particular emphasis on pollution, sustainable development and education.  Alejandro will present Washed Up and continue to infect us with his captivating vision. His next project will involve our very own Brooklyn!

How You Can Help:

  • So much needs to be done.  Support trash art, trash teaching, trash reduction, trash awareness.
  • Learn about our garbage problem and get involved.
  • There are probably cleanup efforts happening near you.
  • When you go to the beach make sure you pick up after yourself.
  • Avoid using single-serving plastic items and replace them by reusable items.
  • Follow and share blogs about waste awareness.  Like ourwastematters.com!
  • Avoid products with plastic exfoliating beads.
  • Refuse excess packaging, re-use and recycle as much as possible.
  • Remember that very little of the plastic produced each year is actually recycled and much of it finds its way to the ocean.

Until next week,   Unknown

Copyright © 2015 Alejandro Durán. All Rights Reserved

Garbage Girl