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Waste has always bugged me...so I decided to fix it

Posted by Henry Lihn on

When I was in elementary school, my Uncle Leo (one of my favorite people on the planet -- took me to ball games and on camping trips) took me for a walk around our neighborhood in New York’s Upper West Side.

It was the early ‘90s and the city reeked of drugs, lawlessness, and trash -- it was a dump, but I loved my city. While walking, I stopped to pick up a piece of trash on the street, and Uncle Leo asked me (in his awesome Brooklyn affectation), “Kid?! What are you doing?” To which I replied, “Uncle Leo, if we all picked up one piece of trash a day, this city would be clean.”

He laughed in my face and wished me luck. Seriously -- one of the best on the planet.

At the time though, I was 10, and indignant. So I stopped again, picked up two more pieces, then another four, and finally he conceded, grabbing some himself and shooing me along. He later apologized and told me that if I really wanted to change the world, he would do everything he could to help.    

In high school, I started a recycling program (full disclosure: I was not the coolest -- see below for proof). Our school was already pretty mindful about recycling and welcomed my initiative, but the superintendent and board of education were a different story . After two years of lobbying them to adopt the program (with plenty of help from Uncle Leo), it happened, and the program eventually went city-wide.

OF COURSE Taylor was my favorite Hanson brother. And clearly it worked (shoutout to my BFF Mike Chernow for the intro in 1995).

Later, I worked for four years with Jacob Yazejian at Sunrise Trading Company, a used clothing recycler in New Jersey. Jake was (and is) a second father to me, and he taught me the entire trade. He called reusable goods “gold” and spoke about the universe in the best terms, like, “love is love.” Bonus: he even taught me to drive stick on a vintage BMW.

Eighty-five percent of Americans do not donate their old clothes, and today, 10.5 million tons of textile waste goes into landfills every year (that’s seven Dallas Cowboy Stadiums worth PER YEAR!). I truly believe that we can change that, together, by becoming more passionate and educated about our planet, each other, and our individual purposes.

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