New York City is positioning itself on the cutting edge of the zero-waste movement—an attempt to stop generating garbage in order to fight climate change and conserve resources. The municipal government hopes to reach the goal by 2030.
Many shops, bars, restaurants and other attractions located across NYC are also working toward this objective; we’ve chosen some of our favorites for you to check out as you aim to reduce your carbon footprint during your travels around the City. These places do, of course, produce some waste—but they’re all trying to create less of it.
If you’re interested in the topic, you may want to attend NYC’s first ReFashion Week (February 22–28), filled with activities, fashion shows and swaps aimed at recycling clothing.
Brooklyn Navy Yard
In an example of adaptive reuse, this former shipyard and historic naval base has been converted into a center for light industry, shopping, dining and all things green. Among the draws are rooftop farming; an artisanal distillery that has a small on-site farm; a brewery; and a film studio and school. Start at the visitors’ center in Building 92, which has a guide to all the Yard offers along with exhibitions on the site’s shipbuilding past, sustainable present (including extensive use of wind and solar power) and future zero-waste practices. The latest addition is a huge Wegman’s, a chain grocer noted for its sustainable practices.
This cluster of formerly decaying industrial warehouses has been reborn as another major achievement in adaptive reuse. Its 35 acres—spread across 16 buildings in Brooklyn’s waterfront Sunset Park neighborhood—have come alive with factories (such as Li-Lac Chocolates), massive stores (ABC Carpet and Home Outlet, for one) and food halls (like Japan Village). Summer brings free outdoor events and performances, including some dancing.
Bars and Restaurants
Owner Claire Sprouse looked at every possible way to make her bar’s practices sustainable, such as using seasonal vegetables (a carrot-based bloody mary in winter) and sunflower seed syrup (a more sustainable alternative to almond-based orgeat). Her Crown Heights boîte also has a hydrator that turns leftover citrus peels and herbs into a spice blend for later use in cocktails.
Jenny Cooper turned her Boerum Hill garage into an eco-friendly café that encourages patrons to bring in reusable coffee cups (they’ll clean them for you; compostable takeaway cups come with a surcharge). Coffee subscriptions are offered and kept in a Rolodex, eliminating the need for loyalty cards. They sell vintage clothing and some sustainable goods as well.
This homey Williamsburg bar-restaurant has a seasonal menu with ingredients grown in the City and/or purchased at local farmers’ markets. On the beverage front, they serve organic, biodynamic and natural wines along with regional craft beers. They also recycle wine corks, return oyster shells to the ocean and compost waste.
Rhodora, which aspires to become New York’s first zero-waste wine bar, opened in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood in fall 2019. In addition to a focus on encouraging suppliers to reduce waste, owner Henry Rich uses machinery like a cardboard shredder, a composter and a dishwasher that turns salt into soap.
Founded in 2015, this Nolita seafood restaurant (now with additional locations in Chelsea, Dumbo and elsewhere) is focused on increasing the types of fish people eat and reducing overfishing of depleted stocks. The latest part of owner Michael Chernow’s green campaign, Dish the Whole Fish, features four menu items that use parts of the fish left over after fillets are cut out.
This progressive beauty brand looks to nature for the ingredients in its hair, skin care and makeup products. Their West Village flagship has a spa, where the plant-based skin and facial treatments are natural.
This next-wave laundromat in Williamsburg was founded by two sisters. They dispense free soap that has just three ingredients (baking soda, washing soda and castile soap) and run an adjoining sustainable café with organic coffee, snacks and kombucha.
This retailer has made a major nod to greener practices with See You Tomorrow. Located on the mezzanine level of Nordstroms’s new NYC flagship, the resale shop offers curated high-end brands at lower prices.
Zero-waste blogger and entrepreneur Lauren Singer says her online retailer is guided by the ethos of making the world “less trashy.” At NYC stores in Chelsea Market and Williamsburg, Package Free sells items meant to help people to reduce waste. Among them: an oral hygiene kit with a bamboo toothbrush and refillable dental floss.
At this Brooklyn shop, inspired by NYC dry goods stores of yore, you can buy the likes of pasta, nuts and beans; just bring your own container, fill it up and pay after you weigh. Precycle also carries free-range eggs, spicy pickles and, on the weekends, fresh bread.
Zero Waste Daniel
On the forefront of sustainable fashion, Brooklyn-based designer and maker Daniel Silverberg creates clothing from sewn scraps for a line of gender-neutral pieces. He makes and sells the pieces at his Williamsburg store and showroom.