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Can Collectors Need 60 Million Tins to Buy Redemption Site

By Gwynne Hogan | August 5, 2016 8:47am
 Sure We Can is raising 60 million cans to try to purchase the property where they currently run their redemption operation at 219 MicKibbin St. from the owners. 
Sure We Can
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EAST WILLIAMSBURG — How many cans does it take to buy an industrial lot in East Williamsburg?

Sixty million, according to the advocates at Sure We Can, a nonprofit redemption site that buys and stores recyclables for can collectors out of their McKibbin Street facility.

The organization is currently asking for the community's help in amassing that many cans to buy the property, which the owners are hoping to sell, according to Sure We Can organizers. 

"If this closes a lot of people will lose these opportunities," said Agustina Besada, the Director of Sure We Can. About 400 canners use the facility in total and around 100 people redeem recyclables on any given day, she said.

“It gives them the opportunity to have a safe job a place for them to work, to interact with other canners, to feel supported,” she said.

They've have been talking with the property's owner the Perez family who own several neighborhood thrift stores, about buying the lot.

They have a verbal agreement with the family that Sure We Can will get first priority, though family members reached at the thrift store offices didn't immediately return a request for comment. 

Sure We Can's lease expires next year, Besada added.

Two years back one of the listed prices for the property was $3 million, which is how they set their goal of collecting 60 million cans, Besada said. Each can is worth five cents.

Sure We Can have been talking with workers a 596 Acres, an organization dedicated to creating more community green spaces, and City Councilman Antonio Reynoso's office to figure out how they could turn the lot into a community land trust, that would ensure the land remains public permanently, Besada said.

On Thursday afternoon, bees buzzed around sticky cans and bottles while a dozen canners meticulously sorted their wares into various cardboard boxes. 

"I lost my job and I came here," said Latesña Quisp, 31, who had been working as a seamstress before starting to collect cans about a year ago.

Her two young children helped her sift through her recyclables. Quisp, who spoke in Spanish, said that she earns around $40 and $50 a day collecting cans and bottles.

Can collecting isn't her dream job but she said but, "It's all right, I get to spend more time with my family."

Ana Tirado, 76, who also spoke in Spanish, said she'd been bringing her cans to the McKibbin Street redemption center for the last three years and that "they're nicer here."

If Sure We Can closed she'd do, "nothing, just stay in my house," she said.

One of the organization's founders, Eugene Gadsden, 58, who was a canner for 30 years before he helped found Sure We Can nine years back said for many canners the place is "like home."

Gadsden explained that at supermarkets, pharmacies, or other places canners redeem recycles, they often get turned away, told to wait for hours while workers attend to paying customers or asked to come back during different hours.

"That's the [worst] part of it, not to be able to get paid," he said. "We [are] a home for the canners so they'll always have a constant and reliable spot to depend on."

But for Gadsden, can collecting is "important work."

"On the earth we live in we're running out of space," he said, and canners are often plucking items trash bins headed for a landfill. "We're going to run out of space to put [things] unless we recycle and use it again."

Schools and offices can sign up with Sure We Can, and they'll come over and collect recyclables. They're also accepting monetary contributions.