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The 5-cent deposit imposed 37 years ago is outdated and should be raised.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

Good News/Bad News for East River Park [OP-ED]

The following editorial was written by Pat Arnow, a photographer and writer on the Lower East Side who helped found East River Park Action in 2019.  East River Park will remain entirely open and untouched by construction through the end of the year. The latest delay in the massive flood control project – the $1.45 […]

Peppa’s Jerk Chicken Scouts Stanton Street for Expansion

A popular jerk chicken spot in Brooklyn is headed to Hell Square on the Lower East Side. Crown Heights counter-service spot, Peppa’s Jerk Chicken, is currently eyeing 90-96 Stanton Street. The multi-storefront space previously hosted the short-lived Falafix. News of their likely arrival is confirmed by liquor license application materials submitted to Community Board 3 […]

One Week After Reopening, Nathan Straus Playground is Again Locked

Not so fast. One week after the Parks Department unlocked Nathan Straus Playground to the public, it’s again gated. Readers report that the padlocks returned on Tuesday without any communication from the city. As reported, the Lower East Side park, which abuts the Attorney Street cul-de-sac, had been closed without notice for nearly a month […]

Parisi Bakery Building on Elizabeth Street Listed for $5.99M

The NoHo building housing Parisi Bakery is up for sale, and the store may not survive. Robert Parisi – building owner and former head baker of the family business – listed 290 Elizabeth Street on the market. He’s seeking $5.99 million for the seven-unit, mixed-use tenement. Parisi purchased the property in 1983 for $200,000, property […]

Astor Place Hair to Close Permanently Next Month Due to Pandemic

You’ve seen, you’ve read, you’ve heard. News broke over the weekend that Astor Place Hairstylists, a bastion of affordable cuts, is closing down for good. Barring some miracle, the 74-year-old business will be another victim of this dreadful pandemic. Apparently, management informed staff last Friday. Its final day on the namesake block is at the […]