Elderly ‘Canners’ Prove it’s Time to Raise the Bottle Deposit [OP-ED]

Posted on: November 7th, 2019 at 5:05 am by

Canning. It sounds like a job in a processing plant, or maybe a sport. But it’s not; it’s a legit side hustle for many seniors to supplement social security or other benefits.

We’ve all seen them on the downtown streets of the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and the financial district, lugging bagfuls or pushing heaping shopping cartloads of bottles and cans. Most pedestrians barely notice.

“Canners” are like postal workers, trudging through heat, cold, rain, and snow to earn that extra nickel income. From dumpster diving to redemption. On a good night of rummaging, they can collect an extra $10 or more. But more importantly, their efforts result in the recycling of tens of thousands of discarded cans and bottles citywide.

The 5-cent deposit on bottles and cans was imposed on soft drink and carbonated beverage containers as a result of the “Recyclable Container Act,” commonly known as the “Bottle Bill,” back in 1982. Though admended in 2013, it fell short by not increasing the deposit to 10-cents (or more) to encourage recycling, and effectively give canners a raise for keeping the trash out of landfills and waterways. Lawmakers seem split on whether to increase the deposit, with some proponents even expressing interest in legislation. But it’s going nowhere. Could it be because the city has claim to all recyclables left on curbs; or maybe the large supermarkets who complained of “dirty” canners queuing for redemption machines?

The 5-cent deposit imposed 37 years ago is outdated and should be raised. Whether the state legislature will act this upcoming session remains to be seen, but activists will continue to lobby and raise awareness on the issue. New York state and city have strived to reduce the carbon footprint, and cannot ignore the fact that many still do not recycle.

Meanwhile, an exhibit on Canners and collecting is headed to the Chinatown Arts Center at 78 Bowery this Sunday. Local artist Siyan Wong and filmmaker Alvin Tsang will display “5 Cents a Can, Making the Invisible Visible,” pairing paintings with photographs.

The show runs through December 1.

Recent Stories

Chinatown Asks, Where’s the Beef? [OP-ED]

In scenes reminiscent of life in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, where long lines were the norm for basic necessities and food, the past couple weeks of coronavirus quarantine have shown a crack here at home. Despite federal and state leaders’ calls to remain calm and reassurances that there are bountiful supplies of meat, vegetables and […]

The Crazy Line Outside Trader Joe’s on Grand Street

This is the queue outside Trader Joe’s on Grand Street. Distanced six feet apart, the line of shoppers snaked around onto Clinton Street and up to Broome. It’s a scene that plays out daily amidst the COVID-19 shutdown, as residents scramble for groceries. We were told that management allows a store occupancy of fifty to […]

DOB Unveils Real-Time Map Plotting Essential and Emergency Construction Sites

At the end of March, Governor Cuomo froze almost all construction projects statewide in response to the fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic and its infection of 19 workers around the city. Only essential projects are granted a pass – infrastructure and transportation projects, emergency repairs, hospital building, and work on affordable housing. It is these exception jobs […]

Pickle Guys to Close Next Week, Hope to Reopen in May

Some sour news indeed for Lower East Siders: The Pickle Guys are going on hiatus. Indefinitely. The brine stalwarts of Grand Street announced the closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover. The pickle peeps hope to return at the beginning of May. The store will remain open […]

Straphanger at East Broadway Station Chases Down Mugger to Retrieve his Wallet

Criminals are still out there, in spite of the COVID-19 lockdown. Especially in the largely empty subway stations. East Broadway station again lives up to its dangerous reputation with a mugging there last week. According to police, a man entered the station at Rutgers Street and East Broadway at 8:45pm on March 24 to purchase […]