‘Canners:’ the link in recycling

Posted by Christine, November 15, 2012

Laura Shin tells the story of canners, the people who scavenge the streets for discarded returnable bottles and cans. Without them, most redeemable containers would go to the dump instead of being recycled.

New Yorkers are uncomfortable with the city’s waste. Hence the NIMBY attitudetoward a riverside recycling plant planned for Gansevoort Street at Pier 52 in Manhattan, and a waste transfer station green-lit for the Upper East Side. Hence the official, practically sterilized title for garbage collectors: Sanitation Worker. And hence the anonymity of the city’s humblest of waste workers—those who collect our discarded cans and bottles to make their living one nickel at a time.

So-called “canners” are a crucial link in a process in which most of us play an unconscious part. When you buy a beverage, you pay a five-cent deposit for the bottle—the same amount that the store paid to the distributor. After you finish your drink, whoever returns the bottle or can to the distributor gets the nickel deposit refunded. Groups that organize bulk quantities to return to the distributors can earn an extra three-and-a-half-cent handling fee per container.