I am sitting in the car at the lights. The radio is on and afternoon talk back shows are creating a bit of light noise. Then, without warning from the back seat my son yells,"STOP!"
I ask why in a panicked way, expecting to hear something to the effect of, we left his school bag on the footpath when we were getting into the car. No, nothing that disastrous was about to be the answer. It was, "There is a can in the gutter and you have to let me out to get it. I can get money for that."
It all started about 6 months ago when I began bringing the can collection from work home because the previous collector had decided it wasn't worth it any longer. I just couldn't see the cans go in the bin, even if it was the recycling bin, and I knew my 7 year old nephew was collecting cans for pocket money. For a good couple of months, I brought cans home and my sister came and got them.
My sister hadn't been around for a couple of months and we were accumulating an impressive pile of can bags when I decided that if she wasn't keen to come and get them I would take them to metal recyclers myself. My memories of collecting cans and picking up some extra pocket money as a kid surfaced but time warps reality and while I was driving to the metal recyclers I was thinking perhaps I might get enough money to put diesel in the car. That boot load of cans may buy some groceries. Why are people are throwing these things away?
My son and I lob in with the 4 garbage bags of cans and I get a total of $3.75. The guy could see the stunned look on my face, my exaggerated dreams of financial independence based on my aluminum can empire were dashed. He said, "you'll get more if you crush them first. More will fit in the bag."
I gave my son the $3.75, his eyes lit up, he just got gold coins. The can collecting monster was created. While I got a harsh dose of reality my son saw dollar signs. That $3.75 was the beginning of his 6 year old financial freedom. In my son's mind it is going to pave the way to toy stores and access to all the Avengers merchandise he can get his little hands on. We headed back to the car and on the drive home the high level negotiations began.
The deal I struck with the 6 year old entrepreneur is that I will continue to bring the cans home from work (we have a terrible sugar-free soft drink caffeine addiction problem in my staffroom and I must admit to being one of the main participants) on the condition that he crushes them. He has to earn the money and if I am essentially collecting them he has to crush them. I invested a further $15 into his business plan to get a budget entry level can crusher (thanks Ebay!) as putting on a pair of heavy shoes and jumping on the things proved too time consuming when there were 100 or more cans at a time. The can crusher has been modified slightly to make it more durable under the pressure of above average domestic use.
Crushed cans from the modified can crusher (c) Camille Newlands 2016
Modified $15 can crusher (c) Camille Newlands 2016
I said earlier that I couldn't bear to see the cans go to the recycling bin. Think about the energy lost putting them into the bin, transporting the mixed recycle waste etc., when it can be done so easily at the household level and we can get money. I know it is better than cans going into landfill and I hate the thought of recycled materials being buried as rubbish but I will repeat it, we can get money. Getting the money is not that hard either as there are can recyclers everywhere. You are probably driving past one every day and don't realise it.
The place I go to, Scott Metals, is smack bang in the middle of Woolloongabba. I make a slight detour on my way home from work, no need to pack a lunch and drive out of Brisbane. Doing a quick web search there are plenty of places prepared to take cans. Here is just a sample.
So next time you are out for a walk and you see a can in the gutter. Pick up that can and start your own collection or give it to an entrepreneurial kid who is trying to save up for their next action figure. It will give you that good feeling of doing your part to help the environment. More recycling means less mining and less materials in landfill, and you may get a small financial reward. Let's face it, every dollar counts.