Comfortable walking shoes. Check.
These were the essential items needed for a night of canning with friends during a summer trip to Buffalo. Now, I love canning. I’ve canned jams and pickled veggies but this evening out wasn’t about food preservation. It was about collecting aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles with the goal of redeeming them for cash. New York is one of a handful of states that charges a deposit (a nickel) on most cans and bottles and to my surprise, many people don’t take the time to return their recyclables for the cash they’re due. In college, I remember my roommate and I were hungry for pizza one night and we went around the dorm picking up enough cans for a $10 pie. As an adult, money is money.
The Art of Canning
“That’s Joe, he’s a fellow canner,” my friend J. said to me as she and her boyfriend waved to the man pushing a shopping cart overflowing with bags of cans and bottles. We were in downtown Buffalo sitting on their porch building our carb intake with fuel from the neighborhood pizzeria.
This was the eve of garbage and recycling night and a weekly summer concert was playing down the street. Add to it a comfortable 70-some degrees, conditions were optimal for a fruitful night of canning.
Around 9:30 p.m. we hit the streets and drove several blocks from their home to a quiet neighborhood. The car was parked at the end of the road and we began our night as treasure hunters.
I watched and learned as my friends showed me the ropes. First, the recycling bins were checked by opening the lids and shining the flashlight in. Checking it out included a visual glance and if not too gross, reaching in up to my armpit, moving other recyclables around, and pulling out treasure.
We Were Gifted
About 75 percent of the bins held future cash. It was easy to tell if a household recently held a party or, they simply had a drinking problem. Then the garbage bins were checked and because they were usually full of gross things, of cans and bottles were not on top, we didn’t dig around.
“There’s a gift!” A friend exclaimed. “See, someone left this out for us.”
A gift is when the empty cans and/or bottles are placed in their respective carrier then left either on top of or next to the recycling bin. This saves the treasure hunter some work but even when finding these gifts, the bins were still checked.
Apparently, a few weeks before my visit, a resident saw my friends digging through the recycling bins and offered them $20. He apparently thought they needed the money. Everyone NEEDS money but my friends don’t do this to survive, they do it because in a way, it’s free money and they’re saving for their rainy day fund. They turned the $20 down and suggested the generous man donate it.
Sure, some people can because it’s their only source of income. There seems to be set territories and canners know not to tread in another’s turf but when it comes to large events and festivals, several canners come out to collect what attendees leave behind.
How Much Did We Make After an Hour?$?$
While the three of us were digging out cans and bottles from what seemed like a gold mine, across the street a young woman came out with a couple of bags of “gifts.” She stood there, looking then looking away, while slightly waving the bags. It was almost as if we were stray puppies and she wasn’t sure if we were safe or not but she wanted to lure us over to help our cause. We were occupied with clearing out as many bottles and cans and didn’t acknowledge her but she left the goods and we picked them up on our way through.
The more I dug, the more I found and I loved it! I filled bag after bag and we needed to make at least a couple of trips to the car to unload. I didn’t want the night to end and at the end, my friend’s trunk was full with cans and bottles. How much did we make? About $15 and change. What??? That’s it??? Yup. That was it and it was worth every bit of my time to spend time with my friends and learn about a new way to make money.
Tips for Canning
I am not dishing out legal advice, but from what I’ve found, trash at the curb is public property. If you plan on canning in your neighborhood, I advise:
Only rummage through trash at the curb.
Don’t make a mess.
If take trash out, replace it.
Put bins back to where you found them.
Don’t be disruptive.
If you are asked to leave, leave.
If you don’t need the money and see someone else and think they need it, leave it for them.
Remember, yes you can can. 😉 Do you can?
Note: My friend’s name has been changed to “J” in order to protect their privacy.
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links to support this blog, my travel habit, and my special-needs dog.