What do you do when you see a homeless person rummaging through a garbage bin? Helping them pick up cans is probably not your answer. But Ana de Luco probably would. She is the founder of Sure We Can recycling center and is a compassionate and giving person. She doesn’t judge. She helps. Rumor has it she’s related to Santa or Mother Theresa (or both). Either way, we think she’s amazing.
Without the help of Sure We Can’s canners we wouldn’t have been able to build our Plastic Bridge. They collected over 5,000 bottles to build our replica of the Brooklyn Bridge with! It feels like serendipity that we met Ana de Luco when we were working on this project. Dopper and Sure We Can are actively reducing plastic pollution in New York, so it felt really natural to team up for this project. But Sure We Can’s story goes beyond the plastic. It’s about the people.
Trash or treasure
For most people an empty can equals trash. Something which has served its purpose. But if you live with the people from the streets of New York, you understand that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Ana De Luco experienced this first hand. When she was working on a project for the UN in February 2005 she became part of the homeless community. In New York City, there are more than 5,000 “canners” who contribute significantly to recycling. And she joined them on their daily route. Ana: ‘There was a not for profit organization called ‘We Can’ which would give you some money when you turned in cans or empty bottles. This was the way they could get a cup of coffee, save some money to make rent, or indulge in their addictions.’
Ana saw the importance of such a facility. So she was shocked when it shut down. ‘People were scared. They went from a dollar to nothing. Who could they turn to? That’s when I decided to do something myself. Together with Eugene Gadsden, a retired canner and dear friend, I talked to a broker and a lawyer to see if we could start a similar facility. This resulted in Sure We Can.’
Coins for cans
Sure We Can operates under the Bottle Bill – how fitting for a Dopper partner-in-crime. Here’s how that works: on most beverage containers, there is at least a 5- cent deposit. The distributor reimburses the deposit plus a 3.5-cent handling fee to redemption centers like Sure We Can for each empty beverage container returned. Ana: ‘Sure We Can pays every canner 5 cents per can and the 3.5-cent handling fee covers our operational costs. If a canner helps out sorting the cans, he or she receives an extra 1,5 cents per can. We have about a hundred canners coming in every day to sort all beverage containers. In total we have about 700 canners in our community.’
The Plastic Bridge
Building an art piece with single-use water bottles is something different for the canners. ‘When I first heard about the Plastic Bridge, I was intrigued,’ says Ana. ‘An art piece made from the materials we work with everyday, that’s something special. Nature is a part of our work. Apart from reducing plastic pollution, we produce compost and grow our own foods. So sending a message about protecting our planet makes sense. Especially because we’re using our own bottles. So when the Plastic Bridge Project is finished, we are more than happy to offer it a home a Sure We Can.’
The master and the student
Even though the Bottle Bill ensures a 75% reduction in container litter on average every year, Ana’s purpose is related to people rather than plastic. ‘Everybody in New York is rushing, thinking about their problems, the bills they have to pay. The people at Sure We Can are supposed to have the toughest lives, but they’re the most relaxed and most grateful people I’ve ever met. Even if someone else steals their cans. They shrug and continue. They know there’s enough to go around and don’t mind sharing. They are my teachers in that way. I learn from them.’