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Friday, August 28, 2009

Trash and Treasure

What, in most places, would be an occasional chore or the domain of established businesses often becomes a cottage industry in New York City for the poor, homeless, disenfranchised, unemployed, or those living an alternative lifestyle: selling umbrellas on rainy days, sidewalk book selling, street vending, dumpster diving, and can/bottle collecting. Many of our problems or unfortunate circumstances in New York City become an Opportunity.

Contrary to one's intuition, can/bottle collecting is not necessarily the exclusive realm of the homeless. After reading about a man living in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, supporting himself and maintaining a small apartment on bottle/can collecting, I will no longer assume anything about those pursuing this activity. And those who are homeless can not so easily be characterized as a class of human which is insolent and indolent. Many are quite hardworking and ambitious. I would venture to say that "keeping busy" keeps a person sane and also gives a sense of self-respect, societal value, and entrepreneurial independence.

I caught this older woman on Spring Street in SoHo during rush hour, her bags of bottles balanced on poles across her shoulders. This mode of transport is not often seen in the city - can collectors typically have smaller caches or use carts when their booties grow.

At one time, recycling in New York City was threatened - analysis showed that recycling was a net loser from a financial point of view. A well-known cover article appeared in the New York Times in 1996 - Recycling is Garbage by Jack Tierney.

In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg suspended plastic and glass recycling, which, of course, incited outrage. In 2004, the decision was reversed. Since 2008, NYC has passed a number of recycling bills, making the city's recycling program one of the most comprehensive and aggressive in the nation, including electronics and plastic bags. Rag picking, can collecting, dumpster diving, or eBay trading - times and techniques may change, but opportunity always lurks for those who seek it. For now, bottle/can collecting looks secure - as always, one man's trash is another man's treasure...

Note: In researching this article, I came across a very interesting blog: Here, you will find the stories of many homeless who have startling stories and backgrounds which may challenge stereotypical views of the homeless.


Naomid said...

I wish we could find out what happens to our recyclables after its picked up.Textile recycling is really growing in popularity. Its an excellent way to get rid of worn no good clothes, sheets, towels, even shoes.

Anonymous said...

In my country, this job often very poor people take, but some earn a lot from something called garbage like that.
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Thérèse said...

Too bad that, in many cities, the price of recycled items being so low because of the lack of demand, particularly these days, the items end up in a waste management facility.

Erinn Driscoll said...

I wish NYC had a better recycling program, as I oftentimes find myself confused as to what I am allowed to recycle and what the city won't even take. DiMola Bros is a great rubbish removal company to use, and they are all about recycling and taking care of business. Check out DiMola's antique blog at He loves to collect items on the job and recycle them by displaying them in his office -- and on his blog.