From money bags to trash bags, Jewish activist works to reduce waste

Formerly an investment banker, 28-year-old Anna Sacks left her job and began her "Trash Walks."

Garbage dumped in the Old City (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Garbage dumped in the Old City
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Think reverse grassroots.
While more average Americans have been disposing waste in an environmentally friendly manner since the 1990s, corporations don't share the same predilection. In fact, many corporations and retailers produce an absurd amount of waste that isn't disposed properly.
Tackling this problem is the mission of 28-year-old Jewish activist Anna Sacks.
Formerly an investment banker, Sacks left her job and after joining a Jewish farming fellowship, returned to New York City with a newfound perspective. Suddenly, the severity of unnecessary waste was far more prominent – as were the still usable items in the piles of garbage.
This inspired her to begin sifting through the garbage to find the usable items, uploading her findings onto Instagram, TODAY reported.
"Instagram was a way for me to get into this field initially," Sacks explained to TODAY. "It was a way for me to establish my credibility, establish something I really care about, even though my resume didn't reflect that."
Sacks has been going on her self-described "Trash Walks" since 2017 at least a few hours a week, and since 2018 has dedicated her Instagram solely to uploading her Trash Walk findings, posting with the hashtag #donatedontdump, with the goal of encouraging social and legal change in waste disposal policies.
While they initially focused on smaller, local trash from residential areas, Sacks shifted her focus in 2018 to the corporate sector, sifting through the trash of retailers and schools.
Her biggest focus of all, however, is CVS, the single largest chain of retail pharmacies in the country.
CVS has over 10,000 retailers, spanning throughout the US, Puerto Rico and Brazil, and the waste they produce is unbelievably uneccesary, according to TODAY.
Numerous posts on her Instagram feed deal specifically with the pharmacy chain. At one New York retailer in September, Sacks found 43 pairs of reading glasses, averaging $25 per par amounting to around $1,075.
View this post on Instagram

43 pairs of reading glasses found in @cvspharmacy’s trash tonight. They average $25 per pair, amounting to around $1,075 of merchandise deliberately discarded. • A lot of people talk about the time associated with donating as a barrier for corporations to do so. What people don’t know is that employees still spend time dealing with this merchandise. They need to scan it out, and then often are ordered to destroy it so no one can use it, as what happened here. And so instead of simply setting this merchandise aside for donations, employees must spend extra time deliberately destroying this otherwise usable merchandise. • I’m not sure what to do with these. Besides for the ones that are twisted, most of the reading glasses are missing a screw, and then hopefully could be reattached. If anyone has ideas about what to do please let me know

A post shared by Anna Sacks (@thetrashwalker) on

At another CVS retailer in Indiana in November, Sacks found a massive amount of unopened food, all of which were still safe to use.

And on December 25, she managed to recover – among other things – 17 full boxes of tampons and pads, all still usable.
"I hope that in 2020 we’ll see #donatedontdump legislation in the US to prevent this unnecessary waste," Sacks said in her post.
View this post on Instagram

The bad news is that we’ve created systems that don’t make sense. The good news is that we can fix them through public pressure and/or laws. • Here are 17 boxes of tampons and pads that @cvspharmacy tossed, among other donatable items (unopened pregnancy test, unopened honey, unopened toothpaste etc). • They all have excessive amounts of external packaging damage, which makes me think that an employee was ordered to first destroy all these items before tossing them. • Whatever the case, since the tampons and pads are individually sealed in plastic wrap, they’re still safe to use despite the external packaging damage. • Tampons and pads are some of the most requested items for shelters. They’re a basic necessity. • I hope that in 2020 we’ll see #donatedontdump legislation in the US to prevent this unnecessary waste

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A major part of the problem, Sacks notes, is that usually the last place something might go before the trash is a thrift store. The problem with that, however, is that thrift stores only take something deemed "sellable," which significantly limits what is accepted.
"Ultimately, we need to create laws preventing the destruction of usable items," Sacks told TODAY. "France does that. It could start off with food, and then it could expand to all other usable items.
"It can be a voluntary thing, but it would be more effective if this becomes a federal law."