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The Mall, Central Park
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Gus Taf

12 eco-friendly things to do in NYC

It’s easy being green with this list of garden tours, foraging hikes and volunteer opportunities at your fingertips

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Written by
Annalise Mantz
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Make every day Earth Day with this list of eco-friendly things to do in NYC. Despite the near-constant traffic and bustling urban landscape, New York City is surprisingly sustainable. Think about it: We’ve got more than 28,000 acres of NYC parks to explore and rooftop gardens popping up everywhere you look. Still, we can all do our part to care for the environment. Whether you’re all about shopping at local farmers markets, volunteering with sustainable organizations or just checking out the best things to do outside, you’ll find that going green is a lot easier than it looks.

Eco-friendly things to do in NYC

Though more than 600 community gardens dot NYC, the highest concentration is in the Lower East Side. In many cases, gardens like La Plaza Community Garden and El Jardin del Paraiso aren’t just plots of land—they're hubs of culture and activism. Walk through some of the neighborhood’s most vibrant gardens on this two-hour tour to discover how these reclaimed urban spaces have changed the residents’ lives.

  • Things to do
  • Schools and universities
  • Battery Park City

The Institute of Culinary Education puts a lot of emphasis on quality ingredients—so much so that it started a hydroponic farm inside its building in the Financial District. Farm.One produces more than 50 varieties of rare herbs, greens and edible flowers. Visitors can taste the goods every Tuesday and Thursday on hourlong tours, and the farm also offers classes in microgreens and hydroponics.

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  • Restaurants
  • Eclectic

It’s all about sustainability at this 20-seat restaurant inside Tribeca’s Duane Street Hotel. Chef Jehangir Mehta focuses on underutilized seafood and “ugly” produce—think malformed eggplants or scarred apples—that would otherwise end up as food waste. His Persian and Indian heritage also influenced the vegetable-forward menu, which features dishes like zucchini-hummus pizza and scallop brulee with cauliflower-wasabi yogurt.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Queens

This 9,000-acre refuge in Queens spans salt marshes, freshwater ponds, upland woods and a massive expanse of the bay. The avian life is just as varied, with more than 330 species represented in the park. Join a ranger-led nature walk, or just bring a pair of binoculars and copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide and look for glossy ibis and nesting osprey on your own.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/A. Drauglis

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  • Shopping

Thrifting isn’t just for fashion plates looking for a pristine pair of Levi’s 501 jeans from the ‘70s. It also reduces pollution and waste in one fell swoop. The concert tee you’re buying secondhand won’t end up in a landfill and the demand for mass-produced fast fashion decreases slightly. Plus, you save a little bit of cash. Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?

  • Restaurants

You won’t find fresher seasonal produce anywhere in NYC than at the 50-plus Greenmarkets. Shop for just harvested peaches in the late summer, turnips and Swiss chard in the fall, beets and carrots in the winter and delicate lettuces in early spring. Not only does eating seasonally and locally support area farms, but it also reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to ship produce across state lines.

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Start composting your food scraps
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Lindsay

Start composting your food scraps

Much as we would applaud the effort, starting a compost bin inside a shoebox-sized NYC apartment probably isn’t going to go over well with your roommates. Luckily, GrowNYC offers an easy way to prevent your food scraps from ending up in a landfill: Just turn them in at a participating Greenmarket, Fresh Food Box or commuter drop-off center and the pros will use the resulting compost in urban gardens around the city. Check the GrowNYC website to find the scrap collection site closest to you.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Lindsay

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Visit Queens County Farm Museum
  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Queens

Make the trek out to the far edge of Queens to find the city’s oldest continually operated farm. Queens County Farm Museum uses a four-season growing program and rotates the livestock through different pastures to reduce the impact on the land. Come in the spring to feed and pet the newborn sheep and calves, then return in the fall to pick a homegrown pumpkin and find your way through a devilishly tricky corn maze.

Volunteer with an eco-friendly organization
Photograph: Laura Burns

Volunteer with an eco-friendly organization

There’s no shortage of ways to give back to the community and the environment in this city. The NYC Parks Department always needs helpers to weed and beautify gardens and parks. Harlem GrownProject Eats and other local organizations that teach the next generation about nutrition, farming and urban gardening are also almost entirely run by volunteers. You feel good about doing your part and the city gets a little greener: Everybody wins!

Looking for more things to do outside?

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