Random Harvest

Americans throw away about 40 billion soft drink cans and bottles every year. Placed end to end, they would reach to the moon and back nearly 20 times. Each with a 5 cents redeemable deposit in Manhattan, it is like picking coins up off the street.  Each and every day an army of bag carrying collectors begin their search through the trash of the better off or the just don’t care. A recycling frenzy, not done with an eye on environmental issues or some divine quest to save an ailing planet but just to make a little cash to get through the day. Picking and sorting with a well trained expertise, bag after bag is filled and ferried through the streets and exchanged for dollars. This ‘random harvest’ is now an established part of New York city subculture.

‘Wide Load’ 60th Street

‘Wicked Indeed’ 8th Avenue and 57th

‘Overtaking’ 1st Avenue and 72nd Street

‘Shopping for a bargain’ 57th Street

‘Cashing in’ 3rd Avenue, Upper East Side

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21 thoughts on “Random Harvest

  1. Another insightful look into the personalities that make up this great, and often sad, city. Unfortunately this one income source for the homeless is being usurped by others who have begun to see it as a cottage industry, and swarm the streets, getting to the cans and bottles before the homeless can. Very sad. Welcome back, Lust & Rum. You have been missed.

    • Thanks, and you are right. What was once a ‘perk’ for the needy of the city has now been taken over by vast hoards of individuals who treat the ‘harvest’ almost like a business.

  2. Oregon tried to double the deposit amount. I think California and maybe other states did so. I’m not sure why the measure failed, but I do know the merchants don’t like dealing with the process. Out here in the boonies, collecting has its challenges with a more scattered population and greater distances. Then the stores put a limit to the number of cans that can be turned in at a given time. Seems like there should be a better way…

    • Thanks Gunta, great comment. I think the maximum exchange in New York is 240 cans or bottles at any one time. Seems like an amazing amount of work for $12.

      • I actually remember when Oregon first passed the bottle bill back in 1971 when a nickel amounted to something. It made a noticeable impact on the amount of litter along the highways. Sadly we haven’t kept up with inflation and it certainly is an amazing amount of work for a measly amount. Our limit is 144 bottles ($7.20); or 50 ($2.50) for a smaller store. Hardly worth the effort unless you’re absolutely desperate. The fact that there are, indeed, folks that desperate is a sad commentary on the state of our nation.

        Thanks, again for the great work you do in giving these issues the attention they need so badly. Too much ‘out of sight, out of mind’ can’t be a good thing.

  3. Yo soy de las que reciclan, papel por un lado y latas y plástico por otros, aquí no nos pagan nada al revés pagamos nosotros, yo reciclo porque me da pena tirarlo cuando se que se puede reutilizar, pero mucha gente que conozco no lo hace, porque encima que nos cobran impuestos y no nos facilitan la labor………..
    Me encantan sus fotografías, estupendo blanco y negro, abrazos

  4. It’s fine that unemployed can earn a little collecting plastic bottles. But I do not understand why you do not use a return of deposit on the bottles (and cans!) as ours here in Denmark?? (Almost 100 % of them are recycled)

    • I think the post intro says they do have such a deposit, which is why the cans are collected. Nothing changes very much; I used to make s.ome pocket money collecting glass bottles and jars when I was a child.

  5. This was a really interesting read and a compelling project! Good work! I always wondered how much trouble people go through to sort out all of the cans to make a dollar or two

  6. Interesting observations and great shots. People shouldn’t need an incentive to recycle, but at least the incentive is providing the hard-up with a way to make a little money and help the environment.

  7. Hi. Thanks for the ‘like’ on my attempt at a short story. When I’ve a mo’ I’m going to have a go at editing it. Yesterday I found a place here in Romania where they’ll develop and scan my XP2 film so I’ll know whether the cameras are working or not – I haven’t used the rangefinders for so long. How’s New York summer for a tyke? It’s bloody hot here – 38deg C and 41 is threatened for today. Apart from the heat, the sun is so bright that contrast is extreme. Look forward to your next pix.

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