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Bottle Collectors vs. Sanitation Workers

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It looks like the city is cracking down on the bottle and can collectors we all see roaming the streets on the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

Friday afternoon, Grand and Orchard streets. Photo by Shadi.
Friday afternoon, Grand and Orchard streets. Photo by Shadi.

Over the weekend, TLD reader David Perez Shadi sent use this photo from Friday afternoon, at the intersection of Grand and Orchard streets, along with this caption (which you can also see on his Instagram feed):

In Chinatown where I live I see a lot of elderly and poor Asian people collecting cans and bottles all day and night to make ends meet. They keep their shopping carts locked to street poles because they mostly live in walk ups too high to carry up and they do it so often that it makes life easier to lock up for a few hours while they rest. For the first time ever today I find New York city sanitation workers with bolt cutters clipping theirs carts off of poles and crushing them. No notice no warning, just discarding them. What’s up with that? Since when do sanitation (workers) decide what gets locked to a pole? This really pissed me off. I can’t stay quiet about this.

The Sanitation Department has been focusing in recent years on the theft of recyclables, including bottles, cans and paper. While it’s illegal to remove these types of items by car or truck, the city’s own web site states that the Sanitation Department does not act on complaints about “individuals on foot scavenging small quantities of recyclable material.”  The issue of carts being chained to street signs and traffic signal poles is apparently.a different matter.

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  1. I definitely want to get an update on this story. What right do they have doing that? Can they cut bikes off of poles too?

  2. First off most of the people who collect these bottles and cans are not poor. They do this because in my culture we are known as wasteful Americans. And yes it’s personal knowledge of individuals around and about nyc in all three Chinatowns. That most have children who support them and they receive social security. When their children find out that they do this. They tell their parents to stop.

    Also it is against the law to touch garbage from residential buildings once they are on the street. It is nyc property. It’s also an extreme nuisance when they do not re-tie the bags and then the garbage falls all over the place. And we as residents of nyc complain about the sanitation department and leaving trash on the streets.

  3. Wasn’t it Anatole France who said that “the law in its majestic equality forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under a bridge, steal bread, or beg on the streets”? These actions seem reminiscent of southern fireman just decades ago, who hosed and injured children during civil rights demonstrations, but received not a peep of well-earned condemnation from mainstream media…

  4. There is a documentary that disagrees with your perception.”Redemption” traces bottle collectors in New York City. For some it makes up that small bit that pays the rent.
    ….from the director:

    “…Lilly…used to have a job in Chinatown. …work[ed] in a restaurant. Now Lilly is on the street 20 hours a day working….Lilly..’s willing to put in that sort of work ethic and those sorts of hours. … she never stops…he main redemption center in Chinatown got destroyed by Hurricane Sandy…”

    When asked what most surprised him as a filmmaker “…I’ve gone all over the world. And one of the first places—it’s almost a cliché—…where reporters go is … the dump. … the documentary, Garbage Dreams,.. in Egypt;…. Smokey Mountain in the Philippines, … those reports were part of the pushing of the Marcos regime out, because of inequities that they showed. And to see this in my own country shocked me, that we have an army of people who glean through the garbage. I still get chills when I think about them.”

  5. There’s actually a book by robin nagle. She actually goes through the history of the sanitation department and cleaning of nyc. The coast line of manhattan was built upon landfills, and how people lived in these landfills picking foods and other valuables. Yes it’s an honest living but like I said MOST not all have money from various sources and even their own savings. They do not need to do this. Plus it’s illegal.

  6. You should walk around the streets at night sometime. To see the arguments and fights that happen over these cans.

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