Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng

The Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility processes roughly 18,000 tons of the city’s recyclables every month, but the state-of-the-art plant is not the only thing working to make your trash disappear. Local recyclers, also known as canners, earn their daily bread by collecting cans and bottles from New York City streets and redeeming them for five cents apiece.

For some, it’s a day-to-day routine, yet many of us rarely get the opportunity to see this process from start to finish. That’s why School of Visual Arts graduate students, Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng, have conceptualized Walking Tour with Your Local Recycler, a unique event that will give participants a behind-the-scenes look at a hidden recycling hub as local recyclers share details about how the recycling system works and their journey to recycling. The free event takes place this Saturday, April 7th at 11am (RVSP here)!

Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng
Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng

Developed as a project for Jain and Geng’s master’s thesis at the Design for Social Innovation program at SVA, Walking Tour with Your Local Recycler has a specific mission: to change the way New Yorkers see local recyclers. In seeking ways to get more residents to understand canners’ contributions to the city’s recycling, they quickly realized that they needed to bring together the right people and provide them with an exciting stage. What better way than to go canning with your canner?

Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng
Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng

The goal of the initiative is to reduce the criminalization that informal recyclable collectors might face by offering a different perspective on their life and work. Jain and Geng hope to spark conversations around the relationship between social inclusion and environmental sustainability in New York City. By helping to shift preconceived attitudes people might have, they believe that New Yorkers will be less likely to discriminate against canners, choosing instead to support them for their work.

The tour is currently hosted by Pierre Simmons, a canner and board member of Sure We Can, a Brooklyn-based recycling center, community space and sustainability hub, as well as an early partner in the project. In addition to a tour of the facility, guests will learn about container deposit recycling, the context of canning, and the non-profit redemption center (aka recyclers’ hub).

Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng
Image via Ishita Jain and Chuyao Geng

The first tour not only attracted policy researchers and environmentalists, but engineers and social designers. “The walk helped shift the narrative to look at local recyclers as allies rather than violators and it sparked a ton of interest in research and study on local recyclers from the participants,” Jain and Geng tell us. After receiving great feedback about their first event, they’ve organized a “new and improved” version of the tour for this Saturday. Register here for the event.

Next, read about how New York City recycles and discover 10 of the Most Exciting Sustainable Energy Projects in NYC.

 Sims Municipal Recycling Facility, Sure We Can, sustainability

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