'Trash walking' uncovers usable products in NYC garbage piles

NEW YORK (PIX11) — Anna Sacks is an environmental activist living in Manhattan, but she’s better known on social media as “The Trash Walker.” She spends most nights sifting …

Nov 26, 2022 - 03:00
May 17, 2024 - 07:23
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'Trash walking' uncovers usable products in NYC garbage

NEW YORK (PIX11) --- Anna Sacks is an environmental activist living in Manhattan, but she's better known on social media as "The Trash Walker."

She spends most nights sifting through curbside garbage, saving stuff destined for life in a landfill. 

Her trash hauls have amassed millions of social media views, uncovering everything from vintage designer ties in residential waste, to graphing calculators tossed by New York City public schools, to bags of drug-store staples. 

“That’s very typical of CVS and Walgreens,” said Sacks. “If an item is approaching the best-buy date, if the item is no longer in season - so it’s related to past holidays - they toss it.” 

PIX11 News went on a trash walk with Sacks, where she salvaged several items from a CVS’s trash, including damaged boxes of tampons, bandages, and over-the-counter medications. None of the products were close to expiration. 

At the trash outside a nearby Walgreens store, Sacks also found cans of unexpired beer, candy, chips and soda, socks, eyeliner, tape, and hair clips. All items were in original packaging. 

“Retailers arbitrarily get to decide, ‘this thing is no longer in season, it’s no longer in style, let me destroy it and then count it as a loss and lower my taxable income,’’ said Sacks. “It’s extremely common. This is the way of doing business.” 

Sacks said destroying products is common practice for drug stores and high-end designers alike. A viral Tik Tok video she made, showing deliberately damaged Coach bags, even forced the company to change its policy. 

The root of the problem, she believes, is simple: we have too much stuff. 

“We currently are using two-and-a-half times what the Earth can regenerate in one year,” said Sacks. “So we are in debt - a deep debt - to the Earth. And we know scientifically that we can’t continue consuming and overproducing in this way. It’s a physical impossibility.” 

CVS released a statement to PIX11 News, reading:

"We work with nonprofit organizations to arrange for damaged or near-expired goods from our stores to be donated to communities in need. To help ensure that unused products are donated in a safe manner, most consumable products must be at least one month from its expiration date to be eligible for donation.

Our product disposal guidelines and procedures comply with applicable state and federal regulations, and they are consistent with that of the retail industry. In 2021, 50% of all waste was diverted to recycling or reuse and we donated about $140 million worth of product to charitable organizations across the country, including Feeding America.

We also have initiatives in place to reduce the amount of waste generated at our retail stores and other facilities. Our approach optimizes the liquidation, donation and recycling of unsalable products and works to reduce the number of these products that come into our stores.”

When asked about specific items Sacks recovered - all individually sealed, with 2024 expiration dates - we did not hear back. 

PIX11 News also reached out to Walgreens.

"Walgreens works diligently to divert from landfill unsold or discontinued products such as food, toiletries and household items," a spokesperson said. "We work with numerous partners to donate and liquidate a wide variety of products. In fiscal 2021, Walgreens (which includes Duane Reade) donated 10 million pounds of product and liquidated 7.7 million pounds."

Sacks said that she often experiences an initial willingness to change or talk about it, but then no real action.

For now, her trash walks will continue. And, she finds a home for everything she recovers - whether that’s with herself, a friend, or a neighbor in need. 

“If it’s usable, it should continue to be used,” said Sacks. 

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