PODCAST: What Philosophy and Psychology can tell us About Trash in New York City

After living in New York City for a few years, walking past insurmountable heaps of trash soon became the norm. As a curious student and a current resident, I wanted  to uncover more about the prevalent yet unrecognized issue of litter. Why is New York City more littered than other cities around the world? And if trash cans are plotted all over the city, why do they so often go unused?

I decided to ask travelers about their impressions of the city's trash and litter to gather insight on this epidemic. In addition to making observations on the city I call home, I also draw from psychological studies on the social implications of littering and the transactional cadence of the litterer, litter, and potential litterers. Understanding why people feel inclined to litter is rooted in psychology and philosophy, thus providing context to an action that otherwise seems mindless and mundane.

Robin Nagle, Professor of Environmental Studies and Anthropology at NYU and an Anthropologist in Residence with the New York City Department of Sanitation, appears throughout the podcast. She contributes insights that further explain the problem and shares recommendations on how to mitigate it. Listening to her and others, we can understand that though litter in New York is widespread, it is ultimately not as simple as it seems.