Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Can Lady

I'll admit it. I'm obsessed. And shameless. About aluminum cans.

The recycling center currently pays 55 cents a pound for aluminum. It takes approximately 32 cans to make pound. That means that each can is worth 1.71875 cents at the moment (aluminum prices have ranged over the last few years between 30 and 85 cents a pound). Today my three trash bags of cans brought me $7.70 .

The price board at the recycling center.
You pick up pennies when you see them on the ground, don't you? Ok, maybe you do it for the luck more than the monetary
value but you still do it!

And how often have you heard someone say, "If I had a penny for every _____, I'd be rich!"?  So, cans are worth a penny and a HALF -- almost three-quarters! Which makes them even more valuable than pennies. And they are EVERYWHERE -- just laying there waiting to be picked up and recycled! And they give me MONEY for that! Where else can you just pick things up and get money for doing so that 's not stealing? So, if I had a penny and almost-three-quarters for every can I see laying on the street... Imagine the possibilities! That adds up!

Ok, so it's not THAT much money. My average trip to the recycling center with a couple of trash bags of cans nets about $5. But that's $5 I didn't have before. I certainly wouldn't refuse if someone wanted to GIVE me $5!

I once picked up 154 cans at one truck stop. At the time, aluminum was up to 80 cents a pound so that little walk around the truck stop paid $3.80. Most of the time I walk for free (and for my health). It's kind of nice to earn a little money in the process!

Lately I see cans everywhere I go! At nearly every street corner they get my attention as they shine in the sunlight. Almost every time I park in a parking lot I see one conveniently pre-flattened into a shiny silver square. When it's convenient and not too horrifying to my children, I pick them up and toss them in a bag I keep in my car.

When I drive on the highway I refrain from stopping to pick up cans. It's just not efficient. But I will admit there have been times that I watch them go by from the passenger seat and I pretend to reach out and snatch them up! Just to soothe my soul. And to drive Mark crazy!

I 've come to think of abandoned aluminum cans as mine. I've come to view them as gifts just for me. God may not have granted me the winning lottery ticket, but He gives me these little gifts everywhere I go. And they add up. And they remind me to count little blessings. I'm probably the only person I know that sees a can on the ground and thinks, "Oh!  Wow!  For ME?  Thanks God!"

By leisurely recycling cans, over the course of the last year or so, I have made $80 for my FreeSourceFull house budget. In the beginning, I fretted about how I might be able to make a little bit of money for this project to pay for the things I can't find.  I LOVE having this slow, steady, ongoing accumulation that is one of the sources that goes toward that end.  Every single day a can or two or more go into my stash. 

I heard on the news recently about a couple who paid for their $2800 honeymoon by recycling cans. Of course, they cheated -- they had the whole town involved and piled like a million donated cans and their front yard and, at the end of their month-long campaign, they had to have a front-end loader come and scoop up the cans into dump trucks. That's cheating BUT it shows the power of cans. BTW, if you want to donate your cans to my cause, feel free!

And I'll confess. I DO pull cans out of the trash at work. Doesn't hurt anything except maybe my pride. Or my reputation. Which I would hope would be "green" rather than "cheap and trashy"!

My can stash in the garage is my little next egg (ok, VERY little, like hummingbird eggs... or pennies!). But I get comfort knowing it's there. There have been times when I was completely broke and overdrawn and had already emptied the coin jars so I cashed in the cans and put the resulting $5 or so toward food or gasoline. So I know that having cans in the garage means that I will, in an emergency, have enough gas to pick the girls up from school or buy milk and eggs or whatever little thing will get us through a pinch.

Now, there ARE a few hazards to picking up cans. One could get hit by a car. One could encounter a snake while tromping through tall grass to retrieve a shiny cylindrical prize. Sometimes cans still have liquid in them which is gross (I was going to say "usually quite gross" but it's basically always gross). And I suppose there is a slight risk of cutting oneself on a jagged edge of a torn can. However, unlike my daughter fears, you cannot get AIDS from aluminum cans. Just for the record.

A carload of cans!
But there is one more hazard to gathering cans. Many cans discarded on the side of the road are beer cans. And they are discarded on the side of the road because of open container laws. "Finish that beer and throw the evidence out the car window before you get pulled over and charged with open container and before any suspicion about your blood alcohol content arises!" is the drinker-and-driver's mentality! So the beer cans are on the side of the road. And, when I pick them up, I have all these open containers in MY vehicle! I am greatly amused by this because I am a freak of nature and I have never been drunk. And it would be particularly amusing to be charged with open container for recycling. Frankly, I would welcome the opportunity to go round and round with a law enforcement officer about how my environmentally-responsible recycling differs drastically from being under the influence. Just let them try to lock me up! I am so incredibly, perpetually innocent! Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't have had that poppy seed bagel for lunch either!

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