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September 10, 2007


Seeking redemption:
Groups want expansion of bottle, can deposits
by amy zimmer / metro new york

MANHATTAN. Charles Kelly earns his living rummaging through trash. With bottles and cans of soda and beer, he carts them around to collect the 5-cent-each deposit.

He’s been a full-time “canner” since 1984, when he lost his job at the Board of Education. That’s almost as far back as when New York’s “bottle bill,” enacted 25 years ago, put the deposit on beer and soda containers.

For the last several years, many environmentalists and homeless advocates have been pushing Albany to pass what’s known as the “Bigger Better Bottle Bill.” The proposed legislation would update the law to include bottled water and other non-carbonated beverages that have since exploded on the market.

Kelly and other canners who meet at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem call themselves “redeemers.” They, along with Bronx-based group Picture the Homeless, support the expanded bill, but also want to open their own mobile redemption center.

“Redemption centers treat us with disrespect,” Kelly, 58, said. “The stores make 8-cents a bottle. We make a nickel. No one is getting a free ride.”

Stores are supposed to take up to 240 bottles a day per person, which is $12 worth, even though Kelly says many redeemers collect $40 to $50 worth of cans a day.

The city used to have a redemption center called We Can, but it closed down a few years ago. Now canners must rely on grocers, who often view them, and the bottles, as a burden. The new bill would limit 72 cans or bottles a day per person since the expansion could potentially cause bottlenecks at collection sites.

By starting their own mobile center, Kelly believes “the redeemers will take it in our own destiny.”

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group, believes the new bill, coupled with the mobile redemption center, would be a boon to the Bloomberg administration’s agenda on tackling homelessness, waste management and green initiatives.

“On a social level, look at all the homeless people who collect bottles and cans. It’s hard work. Right off the bat, you’re talking about a raise for them,” she said, adding that 80 percent of bottles end up in the garbage if they don’t have a deposit. “If you look on the street, there are mostly water bottles. People buy them on the go and throw them out on the go.”


Jean Rice, 68, a canner for more than two decades and organizer with Picture the Homeless, said, “The most frustrating day in this canner’s life is the New York City Marathon. When I walk down Central Park West and I see all those water bottles and non-carbonated beverages. [The Dept. of Sanitation] picks them up and we pay for it to go to New Jersey’s landfill.”


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