Anna Sacks aka The Trashwalker is showing us the treasures NYC throws away

“I always try to focus on the systems and not any individuals. I don’t want to blame any individuals. The people I want to blame are the people who have the power to change it.”

Known online as “The Trashwalker,” Anna Sacks has gone viral on TikTok for sorting through the piles of “trash” on New York City curbs. Her account, @thetrashwalker, has amassed over 7 million likes. She spreads her message of “Donate Don’t Dump” through showing the still usable items thrown away every day. Items thrown away by places like CVS and NYC Public Schools

Sacks’ sustainability journey began long before her TikTok following, though. Originally an investment banker, participating in a Jewish farming fellowship proved life changing for her. She began by exploring opportunities to work on composting, but says her interest then broadened to waste in general.

“I’ve always disliked waste, which I think is a very human thing –to not want to see food wasted, to not want to see things wasted,” Sacks said. “I’ve always also been interested in vintage and thrifting, and kind of older objects.”

In looking at the waste issues in her own community, Sacks feels strongly that the problems are systematic rather than individual. People aren’t wasting things because they don’t care, but rather because there is no more accessible option.

“I think we need to recognize our existing programs are positive, but insufficient and underfunded,” Sacks said. The systems she hopes to see improved or created range from mandatory organic waste separation and free stores in the city to changing the exchanges of the international recycling trade.

Anna calling out Coach for destroying their own merchandise

Sacks is currently working on getting legislation passed for “Donate Don’t Dump,” a campaign to make usable goods stay in use rather than end up in landfills and incinerators.

In 2020, Congress saw the first attempt at this introduced in H.R.8817, the “Preserving Charitable Incentives Act,” but it has yet to come to fruition.

There’s a myriad of reasons to support this legislation, for both constituents and those in charge. One of which is money. Waste is expensive, and if other streams of reusing and recycling were improved, millions could be saved each year, which has endless places it could go to better use.

“It’s a hidden cost, because it’s billed into our taxes, it’s not something you can see that’s metered,” Sacks said. “We don’t think of our waste as costing anything, but it costs the city for landfilling and incinerating our trash over 400 million dollars a year.”

That’s just the benefit on the city level, which is of course important, but Sacks recognizes these issues as global, too. Her audience on TikTok is comprised of people all over the world, and the things she finds in the heaps of trash are things other countries really need.

“The issues about waste –which is really an issue of material management–those are global issues,” Sacks said. “There are people from other countries who are really shocked at what, in the US, has become a very common sight.”

While her work is extremely meaningful in its large goals for the future, “trashwalks” are not just part of her environmentalist work, but truly a passion. Much of the time she finds non-expired foods and organic waste, but sometimes she finds treasures from art collections which she has turned into a “trash art wall” in her home. Her most expensive find was a 1930s Russel Wright punch bowl.

1930s Richard Wright Punch Bowl

“I love it and I’m obsessed with it,” Sacks said. “It’s genuine, I really wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love it and have fun doing it.”

Going through New York City’s trash is just one part of what makes Sacks and her work so interesting. She relates her item finding and system fighting to lifting weights at the gym, constantly pushing the limits of what you can achieve.

“Years ago I thought to myself,” Sacks said, “as an experiment, how much change can I contribute to?”

Keeping her carbon footprint small makes the one she’s creating in the world of sustainability bigger. Making an effort, she says, is as simple as putting some time toward learning more about waste, especially locally. Involvement can be as easy as saving organic waste to compost at the farmers market, or as involved as creating a waste committee or solid waste advisory board in your community. In the heart of it all, the purpose is aiding communities by connecting usable items to those in need, and keeping waste out of the environment.

Just one of many videos that show CVS throwing out things unnecessarily. Follow her on TikTok to see –and learn– more!

–Tori D’Amico

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