Systems of dignity: How recyclers are making cents of the bottle bill

The New York State Bottle Bill financially incentives collectors to recycle wasted cans and bottles. Westside Value Redemption in Buffalo, NY provides a safe and dignified center for collectors to trade in bottles for compensation. (Eva Sideris)

For some, recycling is all about being environmentally conscious. For others, it is a means of survival. Recycling is becoming a way of life and the benefits reach beyond the individual doing it. Although it is often promoted as a way to save the environment and rescue the planet, recycling can also give hope and a helping hand to so many impoverished communities.

Given that can-collectors often experience 24-hour workdays, sifting through trash on the street, and no guaranteed income; can-collecting is often considered the lowest form of work. But for many canners, recycling is an opportunity to take what they can get when more conventional opportunities are inaccessible or not available.

Recycling helps individuals feel pride in their work which is honest, difficult, and gives them some financial power to pay for food, housing, and transportation. Because there is a stigma around can-collecting, it is important to note that how collectors choose to spend their earnings is their business, as is the case with any line of work.

Can-collectors/recyclers/canners are improving recycling initiatives and materials management in New York State. By sorting and taking cans and bottles directly to recycling facilities, they are preventing recyclable goods that have been mismanaged and littered from entering landfills and burn facilities. If you recycle one plastic bottle, that is one less piece of non-biodegradable plastic that will end up in a landfill or as litter in the ocean.

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