About Us


Overview, Mission and Goals


In New York State, the 1983 Bottle Bill encourages recycling by charging a refundable deposit $0.05 on most drink containers purchased. This law allows some among the homeless, particularly in New York City, to scrape together a living – albeit, a meager one – by collecting and redeeming cans and bottles discarded others. This work has come to be known as “canning.”


Due to the structure of the standard redemption process the activity of canning is so physically demanding, emotionally demeaning and logistically complex that many of New York’s homeless are effectively excluded from participating.


The overall goal of Sure We Can is to remove some of the current hardships that accompany canning; both for those who already use it as a means of survival and for those who would like to do so. Sure We Can was founded in 2007 by canners themselves, with the help of other concerned New Yorkers, including business people and members of the clergy. It supports the city's only licensed, not-for-profit, homeless-friendly redemption center. This not only provides opportunities for canners and the homeless but also encourages their self-dependence and responsibility.

 At its very core, Sure We Can is not just for canners. It is the canner community.


The problems faced by canners


Consider the enormous and unnecessary difficulties and indignities faced by canners since the 1983 Bottle Bill was passed:

  • Without a safe place to store their carts full of cans and bottles, the homeless must stay outside, unprotected from the weather, in order to safeguard their source of income. This is often exhausting, makes sleep and hygiene difficult, and makes them more vulnerable to theft and other street crimes.
  • Grocery stores often intentionally make redeeming cans demeaning, time consuming and unnecessarily difficult. For example, they often force canners to wait outside for many hours before redeeming their cans, and typically will not redeem any more cans than the Bottle Bill requires – 12 dollars’ worth per day for any individual. Even worse, many grocery stores break the law by refusing to redeem even that.
  • Selling cans to bulk pick-up redemption services requires the homeless to wait long hours, often overnight, for a truck’s arrival. Worse, many only pay $0.04 per container – less than the $0.05 required by law.
  • Canning is generally viewed by the public in a negative light. The canners, with their large plastic bags or carts piled-high, are considered a nuisance – sometimes legitimately so. Certainly, the public does not recognize canning as the honest and eco-friendly means of earning a living that it is.

The goals of Sure We Can

Sure We Can's principal goal is to sponsor and coordinate the development of mutually beneficial systems with the City of New York and local environmental organizations for the collection and redemption of containers, with the ultimate goal of making recycling a way of life while removing the unnecessary hardships faced by those wishing to participate.

Sure We Can's mission is the sponsorship and establishment of user-friendly bulk redemption centers in various parts of New York City. Prototype redemption facilities have already been established and will be expanded to other neighborhoods and allow container redemption to evolve into a honorable line of work citywide. The objectives are to provide the following services to those people making the effort to collect discarded recyclables and allow them to rely on this as a stable means of income:

  • Pay the full value of $0.05 per item for unsorted and up to $0.65 per pre-sorted container while treating clients in a dignified manner

  • Redeem recyclable containers in an efficient and welcoming way. Eliminating long wait times and demeaning attitudes.

  • Provide a safe place for individuals to sort and store their containers, allowing them more easily to find shelter for the night.

  • Offer training to those wishing to collect and redeem containers for a living by providing information such as how to identify qualified recyclables, brand sorting rules and how to collect recyclables in a proper manner, without alienating the public, etc.

  • Offer canners clean bathroom facilities, as well as a small communal space where they can rest, socialize and bond.

  • Promote from within the community those who may wish to help run the centers.

In fact, we are already on our way to accomplishing most of these goals, through the operation of our current redemption center, located in Brooklyn.


Population served directly by Sure We Can


The canners of New York City:

  • Range in age from their teens into their 90's
  • Include men and women, individuals and families, as well as most of New York’s largest ethnic groups (Hispanic, Chinese, African-American, Caucasian, etc.)
  • Fall within the city’s poorest population, with the majority being homeless; and
  • Most important, rely on canning as their only sustainable means of earning any kind of living.


Benefits for New York City’s broader population

In addition to the obvious benefits for the can and bottle collectors themselves, the work of Sure We Can serves a number of other stakeholders and goals within the City.

First, it serves obvious environmental goals. By encouraging the collection and ultimate recycling of discarded aluminum, plastic and glass recyclables, Sure We Can helps cut down on the need for landfill, while removing trash from the streets of New York City.

Second, Sure We Can improves the quality of life within the City’s neighborhoods by helping those who collect cans and bottles to better integrate into their communities.

At present, the public usually sees can and bottle collectors as a neighborhood eye soar and nuisance. Certainly, they are not recognized for the services they perform for themselves or our urban environment. As a result, these people are routinely treated in a demeaning way by others, to say the least.

As a remedy, Sure We Can aims to train participating can and bottle collectors to present themselves more professionally, to sort through New York’s trash without leaving a mess behind, and, generally speaking, to collect and transport recyclables in a way that does not alienate others.

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