Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Matter Very Close to Home: Bottle returns in NYC

Before coming out to New York City, I spent much of the 1990s living in Michigan, land of the ten cent bottle and can deposit.  Being a frugal sort I've never been one to let spare money slip through my hands, especially when it adds up as quickly as it does in Michigan, and I brought that habit with me when I moved back east, even if the payout was half what it was in Michigan.  

Even in Michigan I generally preferred to let a few six packs accumulate so that I got a couple of dollars back, but it soon became apparent that this was the only way for it to make sense in my neighborhood here in NY.  Our main local store only accepts bottles during the week, and like everybody else in NYC has limited space, which bottles fill up quickly.  What is more when the bottle station is open there is a line of can and bottle people who have scoured the neighborhood and filled up one or sometimes two carts with bottles and cans. A bit further afield there is a somewhat larger supermarket with a battery of machines that accept plastic bottles, cans, and glass bottles.     Here too there is often a line and when the machine fills up it can take quite a while for the supermarket employee  to empty it.  Nonetheless, for these near ten years in New York I have put up with a growing pile of beer bottles until my wife could take no more and then going through the ritual of taking the bottles to the machines and hoping the line wasn't too bad.  

My one concession over the years is that I stopped storing large beer bottles that I occasionally bought and dropped them off in our apartments recycling bins as a gift to the local bottle scavengers, but as of Friday, I give up.  The scavengers will start getting all my bottles, because my experience Friday demonstrated that returning bottles here just isn't profitable unless you even when surviving on a very restricted income.  On Friday, it took me over two hours and visits to both the above mentioned supermarkets to get rid of about thirty bottles, and still left me with about 12 bottles the machines would not accept and the other store had refused because they had no room.  The net result $3.50 -- the extra fifty cents coming from a guy who lived one block away from the supermarket, who had given up on getting rid of the bottles himself long ago.  So do the math, $1.50 an hour plus fifty cents in tips and a heck of a lot of waiting and frustration.  It's just not worth it, and I'll just have to accept that my weekly six pack of beer is thirty cents more expensive than I've been reckoning comfortable knowing that I'm actually employing a local bottle scavenger with that surcharge.

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