Happy Earth Day!

“New York is the greenest community in the United States. The most devastating damage that humans have done to the environment has arisen from the burning of fossil fuels, a category in which New Yorkers are practically prehistoric by comparison with other Americans.”
David Owen, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability                        

Let’s begin by owning that as a city we’re already doing a surprisingly good job of keeping our footprint low by simply living in NYC, driving less, living close by to where we want to go, and walking more.  Happy Earth Day!

Now–  let’s talk about garbage!

If you didn’t know already, garbage in NYC is transported to landfills outside of the state.  Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all have landfills full of old clothes, packaging, paper, the contents of our last closet purge, and lots and lots of food waste.  This last one is the most unfortunate, because food was meant to compost back into the earth and enrich the soil for the next growing cycle.   If we can keep food out of landfill and find a way to send it back to the soil that grows our food, we’re giving our future food the opportunity to be at least as nutritious as the food that came before it.  It’s a simple concept.  However, when you live in New York City where backyard gardens and opportunities to compost are scarce it seems like the only option for our food waste is to throw it into the landfill with the rest of the garbage.

So here’s a happy story about what we’re doing here at the 14th Street Y, a Jewish community center in the East Village of New York City.  Most of the people who walk through our doors are small apartment urban dwellers.  Their days are full and they are busy, either with family life, crazy jobs or a combination of those.  The Y is a place that serves the community.  We’d been composting within the building for about a year (afterschool snacks and banana peels had a different place to go than the trash can) but this March we chose to begin a community composting pilot—an opportunity for our members and patrons to sign up and drop off their own food waste with us.

Like composting itself, the concept is simple.  After signing up with us, people were asked to save all their food waste; this includes the usual stuff like fruits, vegetables, peelings and cores, but also meat, bones, grains,  dairy, even wooden chopsticks and paper take out containers.  They bring their food waste in used milk cartons or paper bags, both of which are compostable, or in compostable bio bags. We used a waste hauling company, IESI to take the compostables to a plant where they would be processed into composting soil and made available to local farms.   We made a goal to divert 1 ton of food from landfill by Earth Day 2013, which we easily achieved.

It’s been amazing to see how many people would like to compost and will compost when there are sustainable ways of doing so. Would you like to compost with us?  Contact Camille_Diamond@14StreetY.org to sign up!

If you’re not currently a member or patron of the Y but want  to get into composting yourself, there are other options available.  Here’s a list of some of the best of them. Every composting program has a list of what they can and can’t take, so please make sure you double-check their lists before dropping off your compost.

  • NYC Greenmarkets have drop off programs for organic food waste, and it’s easy to remember to bring your food waste when you’re going to purchase more fresh, local food for your family.  http://www.grownyc.org/compost/locations
  • There are experts in composting at Lower East Side Ecology center.  They can show you how to do your own composting…with worms!  http://www.lesecologycenter.org/index.php/composting.html
  • Vokashi is a home composting service that lets you compost in your own kitchen with a special fermentation process in an odorless bucket.  Then…they pick it up!  http://www.vokashi.com/
  • You can get involved with your local schools by creating and registering a school garden!  Composting can be a great part of a garden like this, and an opportunity to compost and learn together!  http://growtolearn.org/view/registergarden

Finally, if you would like to start a community composting project like we did at the 14th Street Y, Please let us know!  We’ll put you in touch with the right people and cheer you on from our downtown corner in the East Village.  For more about our program, just visit www.14Streety.org/compost.          


Sustainable Summer

As you probably know, the Y has made a lot of changes in the last few years to increase our awareness of our carbon footprint and become a more sustainable place.  To name a few, our catalogs are printed on 100% recycled FSC certified paper with soy based inks, we put renewed energy into our recycling program to make sure you can recycle cans, bottles, paper and food in our building, we have a CSA that anyone can join, and our Afterschool program began composting their snack cups and leftovers.

Summer is one of our favorite times because it’s the growing season!  If you haven’t joined a CSA like ours, (mountain view farms provide shareholders with fresh veggies right from the fields every week), be sure and take advantage of the rich and varied farmers markets in our city.  In our neighborhood alone we have so many options!  It’s a great way to not only support local farmers but to also acquaint yourself with what’s fresh right now.   When you know what is available locally and seasonally you’re more likely to enjoy the freshness of what you’re eating.  It also helps us understand better what it takes for non-local, non-seasonal food to get to us.  For starters…lots of gasoline!

Here’s a few pictures of how the Y is helping our community eat sustainably this summer.  Take advantage while you can!

These blueberries are part of the SUSTAINABLE SNACK that our New Country Day Campers get to eat.  Fresh fruit from a local farm!

Here’s a picture of the CSA share from last week.  What would you cook with these fresh vegetables?  They come with recipes to show you how! 


GREENING at the 14th Street Y

On this ECO MONDAY post Earth Day, we’re reflecting on the work we’ve done over the last 3 years to become a greener, more sustainable building.  Today we’re sharing with you our greening timeline, which we hope will grow more and more as we find ways to be a more sustainable contribution to our neighborhood and community.


Jewish Greening Fellowship, a project of the Isabella Friedman Center, established by the United Jewish Agency

Associate Executive Director, Wendy Seligson, Facilities Manager Ann Marie Grace,  and LABA Artist David Tirosh selected as fellows to participate with 18 other professionals from NY Jewish Organizations

The Y embarks on an Energy Audit with funding from JGF

The Theater installs a new lighting grid utilizing reused lights and piping

256 compact, energy efficient lights are installed on the 1st floor

Low VOC paint is used to repaint the 3rd floor, which is then expanded to other floors in the building

Thermostats and controls are installed in the theater and on the fourth floors to control the use of the heating and cooling system in the building, saving energy

The bright yellow lobby chairs are installed, they are made from 100% recycled materials


The theater begins its wood recycling program using the wood from the dismantled stage to build a storage unit, provide wood to renters for the creation of their set pieces, and donates the rest of the wood to “Broadway Goes Green”, an initiative that uses donated wood from shows to create wood chips for city playgrounds.

The Y engages in the energy audit process to identify new ways of reducing energy in the pool, with heating and cooling systems and lighting throughout the building

A dishwasher is installed in the kitchen on the 4th floor

The Y discontinues the use of Styrofoam and other paper products in favor of cups and plates made of recycled materials

Facilities management begins using washable, reusable rags to clean windows and other surfaces

The Y switches the printing of its’ catalogues to 100% recycled FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper

Low VOC paint is used to repaint the 3rd floor, which is then expanded to other floors in the building

Non-toxic cleansers are introduced


We get funding for a GREEN ROOF for the roof above our Theater

The Preschool begins a unit of study on the environment, looking at natural materials

The Afterschool program begins using recycled paper for homework

The Afterschool program embarks on a study of the building for sustainable practices, including the electrical usage and the alternative of solar energy

New Country Day Camp learns about the environment on the Staten Island Campus

New Town Campers plant and tend to a garden on the roof

The Y staff Green Team begins meeting

A building-wide recycling program is started

A Wearable Collections bin in our lobby

The Y collaborates on our OPEN green HOUSE with organizations like Solar One, GrowNYC, and local, sustainable businesses.


-We begin composting in our building through IESI.

-The Afterschool program begins using compostable cups for snack

-We produce our “That’s Why I Go Green” song with a lyrics contest for kids.

-We’re a part of Ethikus “Shop Your Values Week

Let us know if you have ideas for a greener Y!