Our Oceans, Your Impact
Sometimes buzzwords like “sustainability” and “conservation” leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, and like a David Blaine magic trick, you suddenly have a gob full of crunchy granola. However, when faced with the impending doom of climate change, maybe renewable isn’t so ridiculous.
In the city that never sleeps, no one and nothing grinds harder than our waterways. Our oceans, rivers, and watersheds are the heart of our city, and like a heart pumps blood, they connect people across all boroughs and the world. It regulates climate, produces oxygen, provides valuable medicines, and so much more!
Good news! According to the NYC’s most recent Harbor Survey Report, the Harbor is cleaner now than at any time in the last 100 years. Bad news: there are still currently 165 million plastic particles poisoning the waters of New York City at any given time. Our harbor and surrounding waterways are literally choked with plastic—Get it? Litter-ally—from takeout containers and plastic bags, to Styrofoam and microbeads that end up in the food supply, according to a February report by NY/NJ Baykeeper, an environmental group.
It’s no secret that as these plastics breakdown, they leach cancer-causing chemicals, including PCBs and dioxins, into the ecosystem, causing crippling ecological and economic damages. In order to ensure the health and safety of our communities and future generations, it’s imperative we take responsibility to care for our waterways as they care for us.
Follow along as we cover a variety of mostly free, simple, everyday changes for more efficient water usage and conservation. Who knows? You might even save a little money on your next water bill!
You might be saying, “Wow, our waterways are gross. What can I do to help?” Well, let’s start with some basic vocabulary to explain the different types of water that contribute to our water system.
Water-borne litter and debris, mainly from street litter, that ends up in NYC storm drains and sewers. These are all the items that wash ashore on the beach, form trash-bergs in the river, and aids in brewing those unappetizing stews in the ditches between subway rails. During heavy rainstorms, floatables are discharged into the surrounding waters when the water flow into treatment plants exceeds capacity.
How can you help?
- Don’t litter or throw trash into storm drains, especially coffee cups and napkins. Wait for the next wastebasket!
- Don’t pile wrappers or fast-food packaging onto garbage bins awaiting collection.
- Do place garbage out for collection in cans with tightly fitting lids or heavyweight plastic bags.
- Do use outside wastebaskets only for pedestrian litter, not household or commercial refuse.
- Behavior is learned. If you see littering, tell your friends, family, children, and even total strangers that garbage belongs in the garbage.
Rain and melting snow conveyed over impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, streets, and sidewalks. These surfaces cover approximately 72% of NYC’s 305 square miles and generates a large amount of stormwater.
Stormwater poses challenges to the City by triggering combined sewer overflows, washing pollutants into our waters, and causing flooding, which is usually compounded by storm drains packed with litter.
How can you help?
- Clear your storm drain. Sanitation does its best to keep drains clear of debris, but we can all chip in. Dispose of any debris that may accumulate at the catch basin, and be sure to check the guidelines and dates of the city’s free leaf collection program in the fall.
- Conserve water. The less water we use, the less sanitary flow we create and the more space there will be for stormwater runoff during heavy storms. Reducing our waste flow also has the added benefit of curbing greenhouse gas emissions!
Our city’s 14 wastewater treatment plants treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater daily. This system combines everything from tap water, water from washing machines or flushing toilets, and runoff that enters sewers from weather.
FOG – Fats, Oils, and Grease:
Fats, oil, and grease found in food ingredients are major concerns for New York City’s sewers. Petroleum-based oils can also cause sewer-related problems. How?
- Car washing can result in soap and oil residue entering the storm sewers.
- Runoff from your sprinkler, watering hose, or from the rain can carry yard waste and fertilizer into storm sewers.
- A gallon of oil poured down a storm drain could contaminate up to 1 million gallons of water.
How can you help?
- Do place cooled cooking oil, poultry, and meat fats in sealed non-recyclable containers and discard with your regular garbage. DO NOT pour them down the drain or into the toilet.
- Do use paper towels to wipe residual grease or oil off of dishes, pots, and pans prior to washing them.
- Do recycle used motor oil. Put your used oil in a sturdy container, such as a plastic milk jug, and take it to your local service station for recycling. DO NOT dump it into street or house drains. It builds up in the sewer system and constricts flow, which causes sewer backups into homes and overflow discharges onto streets. It can also interfere with sewage treatment.