A Bottle and Can Collector Can Make $400 a Week

That's about as much as what fast-food workers make

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Meet John Culpepper, bottle and can collector extraordinaire. Today The New York Times highlighted this 35-year-old Brooklyner in its piece on the beverage-container scavengers who frequent the borough's Thrifty Redemption Center, which entices customers by offering 6 cent instead of the standard 5 for each empty can or bottle redeemed there. The entire article is worth a read, but what stuck out from the piece was just how much Culpepper makes foraging for old soda cans.

Laid off two years ago from food preparation at La Guardia Airport, Mr. Culpepper, 35, said he had turned scavenging into a full-time job paying $400 most weeks, more on holidays. That goes toward the $1,159 rent on the one-bedroom apartment on Ocean Parkway where he lives with his wife and their 2-year-old son. He also does part-time work as a porter in his building, mostly for the stash space.

He has to earn that $400 a week at 6 cents a pop, or 6,600 bottles and cans. He figures he's making the equivalent of what a $10-an-hour fast-food job would bring in. If Culpepper can keep that average going for a full year, and never gets sick or takes a vacation or stays home in a blizzard, that's about $20,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that's about $1,400 higher than the average pay for fast-food preparation and service workers earn. It's also in the ballpark of what cashiers, restaurant hostesses, dishwashers, lifeguards, fitness trainers, and farmworkers make. But this statistic probably says less about the lucrativeness of can collecting than it does about the meager wages of working-class jobs.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.