Brooklyn-based recycling coalition calls for funding from City Council

Child recycling plastic bottles in a machine
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A group of low-income recyclers is calling on the City Council to include support for their coalition in the city’s post-COVID-19 economic plan.

Members of Sure We Can, the city’s only nonprofit redemption center, are requesting $2.3 million from the capital budget, saying that if they don’t secure the funding, they will have to close the Bushwick location they’ve occupied for ten years — where hundreds of canners gather each morning to sort and redeem their bottles and cans. 

“Now more than ever, we need to keep our doors open,” said Ana de Luco, who co-founded Sure We Can in 2007.

According to de Luco, most supermarkets have shut down their can and bottle redemption machines during the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaving the city’s estimated 10,000 canners in the lurch.

“We are praying that the city will allow us to make this space a permanent resource,” she said.

Citing a recent report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, de Luco noted that unemployment among foreign-born workers increased in May to 23.3 percent, including undocumented immigrant workers who have been excluded from receiving unemployment benefits under COVID-19 relief programs. “Sure We Can expects many more people will have to rely on nickel deposits as their main source of income,” she said.

“We never get any respect from the city,” said Chicago Crosby, who has collected cans in Bedford Stuyvesant for close to eight years. “Now is the chance to change that.”

Crosby recently testified in front of the City Council in support of the Community Organics and Recycling Empowerment (CORE) Act, legislation currently pending which would establish recycling hubs in neighborhoods across the city.

According to the group, Sure We Can diverts approximately 12 million bottles and cans from New York City’s waste stream every year, distributing over $700,000 to more than 800 canners who are overwhelmingly low-income immigrants and people of color — some of whom are homeless or have a disability.

In February 2020, Sure We Can received notice from their landlord demanding that the organization vacate its lot in East Williamsburg if it can’t come up with the $2.6 million purchase price. Their capital funding request to purchase the site is being supported by their area rep, Councilman Antonio Reynoso, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

State Senator Julia Salazar has also expressed support for the program.

“So often, our most vulnerable communities get left behind at budget time,” she said. “I hope the City will put its support behind community-based programs, like this one, that build sustainability from the grassroots.”

This story first appeared on AMNY.com