Bottle Entrepreneurs

New York State has a bottle and can return law, five cents on beer and soda. There’s conversation about expanding it to bottled water, bottled iced tea and other beverages.

The return rate for these containers is about 70 to 80%. Shockingly (to me), people I know actually THROW AWAY these containers. (Shocking, because these people drink a LOT of beer.) This is problematic for a couple reasons. One issue is that the behavior adds waste to the landfill. The other is that it fuels unfortunate behavior in those people I call the “bottle entrepreneurs,” those people who pick up the cans that other people throw away.

In general, I believe the bottle entrepreneurs perform an important public service. After a concert I attended at Washington Park in Albany, the BE were out in force picking up redeemable containers. I swear that the city officials actually waited for them to come through with their bags and (presumably stolen) shopping carts, before starting the clean up. And why not? It creates less work for the city people to do, and less waste to go to the ever-burgeoning landfill.

In the city, municipal trash is supposed to be separated by the homeowners and renters. Newspapers, recycled aluminum cans, and bottles (only the #1 and #2) are supposed to be placed in blue plastic containers issued by the city. Lawn waste (leaves, e.g.) goes in long paper bags. The rest goes in the regular garbage.

The problem occurs when the BE come down the street on trash night, looking for returnables. They look in the blue containers, which sometimes HAVE returnables. They even go through some trash that ins put in clear plastic bags when they can see potential nickels in waiting. One of my neighbors has a note on her blue container, not a handwritten note, but a an 8” X 5” message on a label maker that says:
This Container Does Not Have ANY Returnable Bottles or Cans. KEEP OUT!

Another neighbor saw a man walking onto her porch; she was across the street at the time, and yelled, “May I help you?” The BE said, “Oh, I ring the doorbell here all of the time.” The neighbor disputed this report, when ANOTHER BE shouted, “Oh, give him a dollar, he’s hungry!” The neighbor, not liking being lied to, declined the offer.

I have no solution to the problem unless people start returning bottles at a much greater rate, rendering the garbage picking behavior unprofitable. I mostly favor the expansion of the Bottle Law to include other containers. I figure that the BEs will merely have to make fewer stops before their carts are full. At the same time, it’s really annoying when your recycles are rifled through so that containers are all over the lawn and the city fails to collect what you put out.

I guess this is meant by “The joys of urban life.”


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