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The 5-cent deposit imposed 37 years ago is outdated and should be raised.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

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