Have you seen those folks sorting cans in trash?


There certainly are more degrading enterprises than picking through trash bags to extract bottles and cans from them.  But the effort is way down there, you must agree.

Perhaps you read the New York Times story on New Year’s Day about such “canners.”  The column by Francis X. Clines is what has motivated me to write this post and e-mail City Council members Christine Quinn and Gail Brewer, who represents my district along with State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, with the suggestion below.

Brewer and I have traded phone calls and e-mails for a week, but we haven’t connected.  An e-mail from Rosenthal’s office says that her legislative director, Funsho Owolabi, would investigate statutory approaches to the issue, though it’s hard for me to imagine that the matter will be at the top of anyone’s list in Albany.  I’ve heard nothing from Quinn.

We’ve all seen those men and women raking through the contents of recyclables to collect a few cents for each can, filling their own bags and trudging to heaven knows what distant parts of the city, their backs bent with their burdens.

(As Gail Brewer points out, the law requires grocery stores to accept the discards, but some refuse with impunity to do so or find ways of discouraging canners from going there.)

Canners-2They work even in the worst weather, in biting cold and blistering heat and soaking rain, lurching with the weight of the detritus of our lives, determined to scrape up a few dollars to buy morsels of food or to rent or even assemble rude shelter.

It is one thing to see photos of impoverished individuals combing heaps of garbage in the dumps of Third World countries in Asia, Africa and South America.  But here?

It shouldn’t be so.

Let me propose an easy way to help them out.  Your participation would be nothing less than a humanitarian gesture.

Every building and its residents in Manhattan and wherever else those unfortunate souls go about their work can do the sorting for them.  All it would take is putting the cans in separate recycling bags and an organized campaign to promote the idea.

How hard can that be for any building and its tenants, shareholders or owners lucky enough to live there?

“I know that some of the smaller buildings do separate the cans/bottles and leave the bag open for the canners,” Brewer writes, “but I don’t think the supers in the big buildings do it.”

Although the concept may not be difficult to implement, I believe there could be unintended consequences yet to be considered.  I’ll leave it to others to debate them.

Whatever the consequences, the fact is that the neediest cases aren’t only those who populate the pages of the Times during its holiday fund-raising campaign.  They are all around us.

Let us help!

Tomorrow: Give yourself credit

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Malcolm Carter
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