How did you earn “The Trash Queen of Hell’s Kitchen?” What inspired you to create Litter Legion?
This all started in April 2020 when I got frustrated seeing all the masks and gloves discarded on the street.
As an avid kayaker, I am well aware of the city's combined sewage system and the impacts overflow events have on our waterways. Since this was still in the beginnings of the Covid lockdown, there wasn't much other litter on the ground, so the masks and gloves were my main focus.
Following a brief stay in New Jersey in May and June, I came back to see how the impacts of pandemic-related budget cuts to the Department of Sanitation started to impact the community. I started going out more frequently to clean up my block and eventually began to post on social media to see if anyone wanted to help.
In July 2020, I came up with the title "Trash Queen of Hell's Kitchen" during my first interview with local magazine W42ST about the volunteer cleanups. Hell's Kitchen is a mecca for drag artists and the LGBTQIA+ community so "Trash Queen" felt very fitting.
As we started to grow in volunteers, the Litter Legion was formed. Prior to 2020, I had been volunteering with the Manhattan Community Boathouse since 2014. MCBH is an all-volunteer run non-profit organization that provides free public kayaking on the Hudson River. That experience gave me a good base for how to organize volunteers and get this whole thing going. In April 2022 we incorporated and in September 2022 we received our 501c3 status from the IRS.
Where do you see Litter Legion growing in the next year? Two years?
Over the next year, I hope to continue to expand the Litter Legion's reach by partnering with local schools to get more young people engaged in cleanups. I've connected with a few local educators to get this going and currently have a few students from Beacon High School who regularly volunteer with me as part of their required community service project.
Beyond cleanups, my goal with the Litter Legion is to get communities more engaged on the local level and provide information on getting involved with your Block Association or Community Board to be a part of the important decisions that directly affect us as residents.
I would like to help other neighborhoods form groups like the Litter Legion and provide tools & support for them to get going.
What types of policy do you recommend for minimizing plastic pollution (and otherwise) in New York City?
One of the biggest things we can do to minimize plastic pollution is to enact End Producer Responsibility legislation.
Currently, the producers of all the products we use on a daily basis have no responsibility for what happens to their products (or packaging) at the end of its life-cycle. The cost of disposing this waste gets passed on to the consumer and local governments to deal with.
We also have no standards on how packaging is manufactured and what types of materials are used. This lack of standards makes it increasingly difficult to recycle anything that is composed of mixed materials that cannot be taken apart for disposal.
A perfect example of this would be a Planter's peanuts container. The bottom is metal, the sides are multilayer paperboard with foil covered interior and the lid is plastic. The lid can be removed for recycling, but if you wanted to recycle the container, you would have to cut the body from the metal bottom. The bottom can then be recycled but the foil lined paperboard would still end up in the trash.
What is one trash collection event that is very memorable/stands out to you?
Our most memorable cleanup event is our first Earth Day Costume Cleanup in April 2021.
We had close to 30 participants, many of whom dressed in eco-themed costumes! Of course, I had a "Trash Queen" look made from garbage bags and actual trash. Another volunteer made a brown bin compost costume and we even had Captain Planet and a Planeteer!
It was a lot of fun for all involved and we are now working on our third annual Earth Day Costume Cleanup taking place on Saturday, April 22 at 12pm. Following the cleanup we have a costume contest and mixer with food and drinks. (Included image from that first event in April 2021)
What would you say to someone that wishes to start an environmental nonprofit such as yours, but doesn’t know where to start?
I'd suggest starting small and building a volunteer base first. There is a lot involved in the non-profit formation process and it's helpful to have a group of like-minded individuals who have the same passions and goals. Then it's about defining your mission and putting together a budget and goals.
There are a lot of options when it comes to soliciting donations such as retaining a fiscal sponsor, filing a 1023 EZ or going for the full 1023 long form. The 1023 is the IRS document needed to request a 501(c)(3) non-profit designation.
There are pros and cons to all of these options and it really depends on the size and scope of your group as well as the types of funds you have to put into this process. Minimum fees to incorporate in NYC are about $500 and filing with the IRS can be between $300-$600.
If you go for the 1023 long form, like we did, you may want to hire a non-profit consultant to help you fill out all the forms and ensure your organization is in compliance with all rules and regulations. Of course, this comes with its own fees, but ensures that everything is done correctly.
Depending on the scope of your group, becoming an official non-profit may be more of a long term goal. Fiscal sponsorship is when you partner with a larger non-profit organization who accepts tax-deductible donations on your behalf and reimburses all eligible expenses from those donations.
I highly suggest looking into all of these options to see which fits best with your mission.
How can people support the Litter Legion?
There are multiple ways to support the Litter Legion.
We are always happy to have more volunteers attend our events since that means we can cover more area and collect more litter!
If that's not your thing, we also accept tax-deductible donations to help us purchase supplies and plan fun events for our volunteers. We recently launched our official merchandise store following a successful T-shirt design contest. There are four designs available in multiple style and color options and a portion of each sale will be donated to us.