The New Economy

There is a city-wide rule that to live in New York is to become accustomed to the sounds radiating from a garbage truck. The crunching and smashing noises that come right after heaps of dark plastic bags are thrown into the beasts’ hungry mouth is something that sooner or later becomes background noise to our moving lives. The economy of our America has stranded many people, causing them to seek out other ways of making ends meet. The days of drug trafficking, stealing from the local bodega, or even pawning our most valuable goods has not left us, but the days have neither changed for the better nor for the worse. People still sometimes turn to those old ways in hard-times, a sad reality. But today, a new entrepreneur way of life has surfaced – pickers, people searching through your daily discards for valuable pieces of recyclable waste.

These people spend their days, and sometimes nights, moving from block to block searching through countless bags of garbage to seek out anything that can be recycled and turned into cash. Such a simple concept and one that I am sure existed since the word “recycle” hit the air waves. But, never until recently has it become a full-time gig for many New Yorker's. You probably have seen them walking down the streets – mounds of cans and plastic bottles perfectly piled evenly in a shopping cart (or two), rolling from block to block, on the hunt for the mother load, reduced to scavenging for the next five cent fix. They have developed an art form to picking, mastering the quick two second glance at a bag to see if it’s worth their time to sort through it or just keep on moving. If something does catch their eye, they can sort a large 30 gallon bag in less than three minutes, their hands moving as if there are magnets attached to it, attracted only to the valuable, disregarding that which is not.

Jobs just don’t pay what they use to. Milk costs about double what it did when I was growing up. And today, the words inflation, depression, and crisis are thrown haphazardly throughout the media. We are in the middle of a financial down spiral (or so that’s what many allege we are in), and people have become creative in the ways of gaining a little extra something on the side. There is a no doubt that many people may get annoyed at the intrusion of privacy – having a stranger search through your disposals, which if placed on a table and thoroughly examined by a forensic team, can outline the in’s and out’s of your life for a specific time frame. Yes, I see how that would make many feel uncomfortable.

Let’s look at this on a more positive note shall we. For one thing, these pickers are helping out our environment – they are properly disposing of items that in reality may have never been taken care of correctly. Secondly, these individuals are not really out to scam fellow New Yorker's by selling their identity, outlining someone’s day to day life, and if people do happen to get a hold of more information then you’d like about your life then I suggest you invest in a better shredding machine. Pickers have only one goal – making a buck. It is an honest trade to turn one’s trash into gold. There are reality shows about it, there is a season for it, and above all, it helps people survive.

As for me, my boyfriend and I have joined the club. For the last 7 months or so we have been saving empty bottles and cans in order to fund an upcoming vacation. We have even asked some of our family and friends to hold onto their recyclables for us. In this new world economy, nothing is considered unreachable or too low in standards.

Picking cans helps families in so many ways. So next time you drink a can of soda or bottle of water, don’t think of just throwing it away. It may help you out in the long run.