New York, NY – They call her the “Trash Queen of Hell’s Kitchen” which is a lot better than it sounds. Catie Savage gained the nickname after she took an initiative to clean up the neighborhood streets of NYC. The pandemic brought out more trash than usual in New York. With masks and gloves strewn across the streets, Savage decided to take charge and clean up after *cough cough* litterers.
“I collected two to three bags just on my one block in Hell’s Kitchen,” Savage told Upper West Side’s neighborhood paper The Spirit. After a few weeks of going at it alone, Savage decided to recruit others to help with the cause. She posted to social media encouraging others to join her effort. At first, a few showed up and then the group, later named the “Hell’s Kitchen Litter Legion” grew to over 25 people. Now, they meet every Sunday.
Savage reported seeing masks and gloves discarded all over the city and feared they would end up in the sewage system and eventually out into the ocean and rivers. As a volunteer for the Manhattan Community Boathouse at Pier 96, Savage knew how the sewage system worked. “If we have a heavy rainstorm, especially in the spring — all of that stuff that’s on the street and collecting by the storm sewers gets washed into the sewer and gets let out into the river to avoid overflowing the treatment plants,” Savage said to The Spirit.
Once people were allowed outside during the pandemic, the garbage began to pile up to more than gloves and masks. Savage knew she had to step up and start collecting more. With her new cleaning group, Savage passed out bags and gloves and everyone would get to work.
Savage went on to create kits that anyone can pick and use to collect trash off the streets. They are currently located in 10 different locations across the city, like restaurants and bakeries such as Empanada Mama, Amy’s Bread, Sullivan Street Bakery.
“The kit is comprised of two trash bags and two pairs of disposable gloves and it’s wrapped with a little info sheet on what to do. So it has my Instagram handle, email address, and lets people know some best practices,” said Savage to The Spirit.
There are more groups out there like The Hell’s Kitchen Litter Legion. To name a few — Proud Astorian out in Astoria, Clean Up Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Renegades of Trash in Bed Stuy, Anti Litter Project in the Bronx. They all started on social media, like Savage, and they saw the need to do something during the pandemic for their community. All of the groups are working to help the workers for the Department of Sanitation and the NYC Cleanup Initiative which took major budget cuts during the pandemic.
Savage works to remind people the importance of taking care of your neighborhood and keeping your environment clean. Living in a city, residents tend to take for granted the sanitation workers. “People just think, ‘I put my garbage on the street, and the garbage fairies come and they make it go away,” she said to the The Spirit. “And no one thanks them for doing it, but when the trash doesn’t get picked up, people get very upset.”
If you’d like to join Catie Savage’s clean up crew or just follow along for support, she’s on instagram @litter_nyc.