An Illustrated Inventory: New York Versus Aarhus

In the spirit of Paris Versus New York, Florine Hofmann of The Wasted Blog and I wanted to compare markers of sustainability in our respective cities (I live in New York and Florine is studying in Aarhus). We chose to look at access to things like bulk shopping, as well as city funded programs like green markets and transportation — necessarily, some industries like energy fall to state management. Read on to see how the two cities stack up!

New York City passed a plastic bag tax in 2016, which Governor Cuomo later vetoed. There are currently no restrictions on single use plastic bags and really nowhere to recycle them. Many people reuse them as pet waste bags or trash bags.

The European Council cited Denmark as being one of the most progressive in the EU when it comes to reducing the use of the bags per capita, supported by the EU Plastic Bags Directive which aims to reduce the use of plastic based packaging and carrier bags. In Denmark, plastic bags are no longer available for free in grocery stores, and in Aarhus plastic bags cost around 2.5 Danish Krones.

Bulk options are not excessively difficult to find in New York City, but may require a trip to a shop a little farther away for just those items. Many co-ops, health food stores, and bigger stores like Fairway and Whole Foods have bulk bins of items like grains, nuts, flour, beans, and granola. Some shops even have bulk soap, maple syrup, spices, teas, and oils available. As with many things, there is more access in Manhattan and Brooklyn than the other boroughs.




Finding bulk options like rice, pasta, nuts, and beans is quite a challenge in Aarhus and close to impossible if you don’t want to spend your day going from store to store for only one bulk item. Aarhus used to have its very own bulk pop-up store that would provide people with options once a week, but it closed down 4 months ago. Løs Marked, a zero waste shop from Copenhagen, is planning on expanding to Aarhus in the following years but there is no concrete plan in place. Supermarkets occasionally offer coffee and tea in bulk but when it comes to other dried goods it's pretty much 'håbløs,' as the Danes would say. There has been a zero waste experiment with the supermarket chain Føtex, where people could bring their own bottles and fill up their milk — but sadly this concept was not successful.  

Organic health food stores, however, are moving towards providing more sustainable zero waste items like stainless steel straws, glass jars, wooden alternatives to plastic, and more and more things are sold in recyclable packaging.

  • RenKost | They have a little bulk section with dry goods, sell 2 kinds of bamboo toothbrushes and have a great selection of delicious bulk candy.

  • Ganefryd | My favorite place to shop for gluten-free bread (I am not gluten-free but the bread is so good that I buy it anyway), delicious sugar-free vegan sweet treats, and ingredients to make my homemade products.

  • Ingerslevs Boulevard Marked | In my opinion, the best market in town. They have a fantastic range of fruit and vegetables and you can even find dried tomatoes, filled olives, cashews, almonds, etc. in bulk.

Depending on where you live, you can find unwrapped and bulk fairly easily. Every borough has its own greenmarket and green carts, which expand access to fresh produce in low-income areas. Most grocery stores also carry unpackaged fruits and vegetables (just put them directly in your basket instead of in a plastic produce bag). GrowNYC offers its own Fresh Food Box in addition to a large number of CSAs available in the area. If you are buying pre-washed or cut produce, it will come packaged in plastic.

Even though you can find organic produce in every store — Denmark has the highest organic share in the EU ( 8%) — almost every item in the produce aisle is packaged in plastic. From individually wrapped grapefruits to individually wrapped apples, it can get quite frustrating to look for unpackaged produce in regular supermarkets. This problem can be avoided by primarily shopping at the farmers markets around town. There is also an option to order a food basket, that is delivered right to your doorstep. However, the produce comes in a big plastic bag, but the people from Aarstiderne are happy to remove it if you request it in a nice email.

In my building, I only have access to trash and recycling. Depending on your superintendent or building management, your options may include compost and even textile recycling. The city is expanding their compost program slowly, but compost drop off is already available at most GrowNYC greenmarkets (textile recycling too). I just drop my food scraps off every Sunday when I go to the market. GrowNYC also runs borough-wide Stop n’ Swaps for other unwanted, but useable items. Building materials can be donated to Big Reuse or Habitat for Humanity.

Even though recycling has recently been made possible all around Aarhus and has been highly requested and very well received, it is still not a common thing to do here. According to the Danish Minister for the Environment almost 80% of the household waste in Denmark has been incinerated. Most people recycle plastic bottles and aluminum cans, as there is deposit paid on almost all of them, but generally, most things get thrown into one trash can. In the past few months, Denmark has put up new recycling bins all over the city for glass, plastic, paper, steel, and batteries, yet, still not enough people have jumped on the bandwagon of actually using these new options of cutting down on waste.

Something I wish we could have more of are composting bins. In Aarhus, if you don’t have your own garden, the only way to compost your food scraps is either to start a worm compost in your apartment or compost at the closest community garden, which is what I do.

I have never lived anywhere with so many transportation options. I do not own a car and use the subway or walk to most destinations. Trains can get you around the northeast corridor via the Metro North, Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, PATH, and New Jersey Transit. We have city buses as well as private ones for getting to other cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and D.C. Access to city taxis and car services abound in Manhattan and get more sparse as you get further out in the boroughs. Bicycling on your own bike or with a membership to Citi Bike is becoming more popular. New Yorkers walk an average of about 8,800 steps daily in the summer and 7,700 steps daily in the winter, according to a study by Fitbit.

For their every day commute, most Danes choose to go by bike. There are clear rules and hand signs for bikers and the bike lanes are very well structured and therefore safe and convenient to ride on. The city also provides free city bikes in every public place that work with a shopping cart-like system. According to the Cycling Embassy Denmark, the average person in Aarhus cycles 2.5 km a day. As most people in Aarhus don’t own a car (the tax on cars is currently at 180 %) car-sharing is getting more popular and shared rides are the go-to for many students if they want to go to other cities, as train rides are very expensive.

Aarhus also just added a light rail to its public transport options, which is also a really good and efficient way to get around.

In 2015, 64 natural gas plants produced almost half the electricity in the state. Another third was produced by 4 nuclear plants (one of those, Indian Point, is set to close by April 2021). One hundred and eighty hydroelectric facilities produce 19% of our electricity. Less than a quarter of our electric energy comes from renewables, a number Governor Cuomo wants to increase to half by 2030 — it would be produced here or imported from places like Canada and New England. Thirty wind farms are already planned for upstate, along with the nation’s largest offshore wind farm built off Long Island. The 2014 Draft State Energy Plan reports that in 2011 most of New York's renewable electricity (approximately 80%) was generated by hydroelectric stations, with 9 percent from wind and the remainder from biomass, biogas, and solar. Con Edison allows you to purchase renewable energy through their grid, which is as simple as enrolling through your account.

In terms of sustainability within the energy department, Denmark is at the forefront of the spectrum worldwide. Especially with wind power which makes up almost 45% of the total electricity consumption.

Denmark plans to be 100% fossil fuel free in 2050.

Even in common households, energy efficient living is encouraged and every new building is designed with environmental sustainability in consideration.

Let us know in the comments if you have tips or recommendations for being green in NYC or Aarhus!