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Ridgewood artist helps create new educational program for city’s Department of Sanitation

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Ridgewood resident Haruka Aoki helped creatively direct and illustrate the Department of Sanitation’s new Follow Your Waste campaign. (Photos courtesy of DSNY)

A Ridgewood artist helped creatively direct and illustrate the Sanitation Foundation and NYC Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) new Follow Your Waste interactive game to promote sustainability in schools.

Follow Your Waste is a game that shows kids ages 8 and up the journey trash takes through the city. The program has a $1,000 prize to spend on sustainability programs in schools.

When playing Follow Your Waste, users learn how to sort trash and recycling then see where it goes after being collected. The game also includes facts about DSNY, the nation’s largest municipal solid waste and sustainability agency. The game is available in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Haruka Aoki, a longtime Ridgewood resident, built and designed the game with a team of other artists. Aoki said that this game is a passion project for her and her teammates.

“We all came on as volunteers so we had a lot of passion for the Department of Sanitation,” Aoki said. “This game really makes it clear how to properly throw out waste. A lot of people don’t know where the trash actually goes. And it’s very accessible — it’s been translated into Spanish and Chinese. I think it’s just a great educational platform.”

Ridgewood resident Haruka Aoki helped creatively direct and illustrate the Department of Sanitation’s new Follow Your Waste campaign. (Photo courtesy of DSNY)

Julie Raskin, the executive director of the Sanitation Foundation, said that this game is important in that it shows that trash is not just “thrown away.”

“There’s no such place as ‘away,’ and every item thrown away goes somewhere,” Raskin said. “The Sanitation Foundation is proud to be sharing this journey with New York’s youngest sustainability advocates and to be supporting school Green Teams and other projects through the Follow Your Waste prize.”

The game also introduces players to the many faces behind DSNY in the “Meet the Workers” section. There are 10,000 people who remove 12,000 tons of trash and recycling from the streets each day. 

Ridgewood resident Haruka Aoki helped creatively direct and illustrate the Department of Sanitation’s new Follow Your Waste campaign. (Photo courtesy of DSNY)

“For me personally, sanitation workers were kind of like heroes as a kid,” Aoki said. “Growing up in New York City, sometimes if you were awake late enough, you would see them or hear them. But by the next day, you see all that trash taken away. I felt so thankful that these sanitation workers were helping keep our city clean.”

DSNY and the Sanitation Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of DSNY, will be awarding $1,000 in spring 2022 to NYC K-12 public schools who participate in the new Follow Your Waste program and commit to a waste diversion project. 

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