A Nickel of Wisdom

Where did these redeemables come from? Where will they go? Who will profit, and how?Forget about soda bottles and beer cans on the side of the road: ProJo, Boston Herald, WRNI, and, I assume, other leading news outlets, breathlessly report that desperate people are coming down your street once a week to steal stuff you’re trying to get rid of anyway.

Problem? Hey, this is Rhode Island. You better believe there’s a problem.

It wasn’t the first time Zolli had seen it happen, and she was irritated. “I called the police,” she said.

If caught, recycling thieves can face fines from $50 in Providence up to a staggering $500 for a third offence in Pawtucket. But most never get caught, and the few who do are usually let go when they surrender their booty.

To combat this scourge, recycling coordinators urge watchful residents to call the police. Cities and towns take it seriously, because they lose their share of the lucrative revenue they get through RIRRC’s sale of recyclables, estimated at $11 millon in 2007, over $2M of which was redistributed back to supplying municipalities. Why, East Providence may have lost as much as $450 last year alone! Another suggested strategy is to put out recycling just before the right vehicle comes along.

No one seems to be suggesting that Rhode Island join in the redemption fun. Probably for fear of cost. After all, Massachusetts paid for as much as 20 percent of redeemables stolen from Rhode Island last year, on top of nearly 70% of their own in-state redeembale sales, only profiting about $38 million (not including their own resource recovery sales).

Heaven forbid we follow their long-proven success, co-opting the unpaid force of tens of thousands of residents in putting recycling where it belongs and keeping riff-raff off our streets and out of our bins.

7 thoughts on “A Nickel of Wisdom”

  1. I too got spoiled growing up in Canada where a 12 pack of beer bottles could be returned for $1.20 cold hard cash. A few returned cases of my Dad’s beer would by me slurpees and wine gums for a week. Later on they even made beer cans worth .10 cents. Working at a golf course, we’d collect about $1200.00 worth of beer cans a season and throw a hell of a party.

  2. The thing that struck me the most was that had the guy not woken her baby, she probably would have never called the police.

  3. joe bernstein

    I don’t mind the can scavengers.Who are they hurting?As long as they don’t make a mess(they never have where I live)I say live and let live.It certainly is a waste of police resources to bother them.Anyway,how likely is it that someone who collects cans to get by can pay an exorbitant fine?Right out of Les Miserables.There are armed robbers and burglars and sexual predators in more than enough abundance to keep the cops busy.

  4. I may be spoiled by growing up in California, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in recycling in Rhode Island except when it’s losing us money. There are almost no public recycling bins; in fact, there are hardly any public garbage cans. You have to make a concerted effort to hold onto your soda bottles until you get home. Are we only going to pay attention to it when we’re trying to stop poor people from making a few dollars?

  5. Annie Messier

    To argue your last sentence, Wesli, in a couple different cities (also spent 29 years in redemption state), I’d see and hear people digging through neighbor’s recycling bins early mornings (don’t worry, no one called the police on them) and making off with shopping carts of cans and bottles. We were usually one of the only houses that scavengers couldn’t score on.

    In RI, take a walk through a neighborhood like Smith Hill (only picking on it because I lived there and know this) the night before trash pickup and you’ll see garbage cans overflowing with recyclables like newspapers, glass jars, milk cartons, etc. that could easily have been put in recycling bins, but weren’t. Redemption money on cans and bottles can’t be a magical solution when people and communities just don’t care. How do we make people care?

    (I know, I know—money, which is where the redemption conversation started….)

  6. Calling the cops on someone taking cans and bottles from recycle bins is a rat bastard thing to do.

  7. Having lived the first 29 years of my life in two states with bottle/can redemption (Iowa and Massachusetts) I can say that such redemption laws make a huge difference. I was shocked upon moving to Rhode Island six years ago to see the number of cans and bottles lining the streets and the sides of highways. I especially found this to be true in neighboorhoods such as the Southside, Elmwood, and Olneyville.

    During the past five years I have lived here I have wondered why this issue almost never seems to be discussed. Less litter is a good thing. And I think I have heard something lately about the state government needing money. It seems to me this is a no brainer. Then again so is lifting the over night parking ban (It’s off topic but I couldn’t resist).

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