Getting your neighbors to go green

Christopher Herz’s book ‘The Last Block in Harlem’ is a good guide for the green community

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Photo credit: Paul Szewczyk/Unsplash

No matter where you live, there will always be that one neighbor who simply doesn’t give a damn about upkeep of the building. This is someone who has zip zero problems with trash on the lawn, putting recyclables into the wrong bins (whatever is closest gets the garbage), stomps all over the freshly mowed grass, and will let his kids leave chalk and silly string all over the communal area. It happens.

It usually annoys tree huggers, condo association boards and property managers far more than it’ll ever affect the carefree neighbor. But if you’re serious about a neater living environment, you may want to check out Christopher Herz’s book “The Last Block in Harlem” for inspiration. The main character went on a cleaning spree in Harlem and became famous for caring for his neighborhood. Although the actual book is fiction, it can clearly become real life. Take a casual stroll throughout various neighborhoods or a cruise in your car — public shaming and tidy neighbors who unite work well at keeping a condominium and/or apartment in better condition. If enough owners and tenants try to get a multi-unit home in order, there’s a pretty likely chance that most neighbors will follow suit.

Keep your lawn and stairs free of debris. Trash stands out in front of a clean house. But if passersby see a lawn that is full of trash on it already, what is one extra chip bag? Set the tone. When you see trash on the front lawn, pick it up and discard it on your way to your car or a nearby trash can. Make litterers have more of a guilty conscience about leaving their trash on your lawn.

Volunteer to help clean up your communal areas, especially if you cannot afford a regular maintenance team. Hiring a maintenance engineer would be the easy answer. But if your building cannot afford to have someone there daily, get involved. Sweep your own decks. Team up with each other on a weekly basis to decide who is in charge of sweeping sidewalks, mowing the lawn and/or picking up gangway trash. If you live near a viaduct, that’s a constant source of stress and trash. If you want to see a clean neighborhood, get involved instead of just complaining about “this dump.”

Stop smoking. Yes, this one will be a struggle. But it’s pretty obvious which neighbors sit on porches, decks and stairs, and leave all their cigarette butts behind. The maintenance engineer can spend more time picking up leftover cigarettes than cleaning up the rest of the area. If you know the chain smokers who keep leaving cigarette butts in the yard, consider investing in a cigarette receptacle. Or, pick up a few smoke-free vases to line up near the porch area. This way, the smokers may be more likely to douse their cigarettes before leaving their hangout areas.

Contact your aldermen about blue bags and blue garbage cans. Depending on the location, these may not be blue. But if your local politician does not already have a system set up for recyclables and trash to be set up, now is as good of a time as any to write and/or call about it. Start a petition, and let him/her know your neighbors are interested in having a recycling option. Make sure to tell neighbors what can(not) be recycled, too, to avoid additional fines from recycling companies who charge more for sorting. Plastic bag codes 1–7 are especially tricky, even if they do have the recyclable triangle image on them.

Recommended Read: “Paper, Plastic or Package Waste: Breaking Down the E-Shopper’s Rubbish

Support companies that do recycle or create your own at-home recycling initiative. Although retailers don’t always do the best job of highlighting what they do with their recycling, old plastic can be used for a variety of things — making decks, benches and children’s playground sets. Reprocessed as small pellets, the old plastic can also become new bags, containers, crates, pallets and pipes. Post signs about it in your communal laundry room, lobby area and/or by the mailbox.

If you cannot get your neighbors to drop their plastic bags or other plastic off at department stores like Kohl’s or grocery stores like Jewel and Target (where bins are plentiful), consider creating your own recyclable box by your door. If you’re already dropping off your own bags, drop theirs off too. Convenience is half the battle with getting people to recycle. The other half is making them wonder or care about what happens when it leaves their homes.

Public shaming works — and get your neighbors to do it too. Yes, you may look like the old, crabby “get off my grass” neighbor on the block. But getting someone’s attention and handing him/her back the trash or picking it up as soon as he/she does it will probably make that person more likely to not want to be bothered with you. (As much as I may not want to admit it, NextDoor complainers made me more conscious about where I empty dog poop bags.)

Recommended Read: “Dog poop bags in neighborhood cans: Yay or nay? ~ Should dog owners and walkers return home to throw away dog poop bags?

In Herz’s book, people looked at the main character like he was nuts for walking outside to sweep up all the trash — especially with no pay. But eventually they got so used to seeing the results of his hard work that they also wanted to get involved, or at least make it less hard on him to clean. While your neighbors may not appreciate you being the Litter Police in the beginning, I’ve yet to meet anyone who complained about living in a clean neighborhood later on.

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Check out her five Medium publications: Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit to read about her.

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