#DonateDontDump: The ‘Trash Walker’ Campaigning Against Excess Waste
Anna Sacks, AKA The Trash Walker, took to Instagram just over five years ago to start documenting the things we throw away. The environmental activist has since become a social media phenomenon, taking over TikTok and amassing a combined total of over half a million followers. Her premise is simple: each night, she strolls the streets of Manhattan, rifling through rubbish bags and turning up heaps of perfectly good, usable and unopened products that have been discarded. She posts the images and videos to her accounts, tagging the brands responsible, to raise awareness of the harmful effects of their excess waste.
Sacks became attuned to the problem after attending a sustainable farming programme in Connecticut. There, she learned regenerative agricultural practices, and how to live without producing much waste. She came away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for composting. “It made a lot of sense to me, returning the nutrients in food scraps back into the earth to grow more food,” she says. Chickens on the farm would also eat the scraps, bringing the process full circle. Her experience prompted her to think: why aren’t these practices more widespread?
Alongside encouraging less consumption, Sacks is also campaigning for corporations to stop overproducing. “We’re living outside the bounds of what this planet can sustain and regenerate in a year,” she says. Her proposal is a #DonateDontDump law, which would block major retailers from destroying merchandise, and compel them to donate it instead. To support this effort, she started a change.org petition, which now has almost 500,000 signatures.
Large corporations routinely instruct employees to destroy usable, unsold products, so changing this practice would be no small feat. But Sacks reminds us that it would only be part of the solution. “The majority of emissions come upstream from the creation of the product,” she explains. “It’s water use, land use, transportation across the world. That’s where source reduction [the elimination of waste before it is created] is the most important thing we can do.”
As individuals, there are also plenty of things we can do to lower our carbon footprint. Buying second-hand whenever possible and swapping single-use plastic for reusable alternatives, for example. Sacks’ hope is that if we manage to exist within the bounds of our planet, it will lead to people “living happier, more connected, more fulfilled lives”.
Suzana Vuljevic is a culture writer, editor and translator, and her work has appeared in Artforum, Eurozine and more