At 5 cents each, redeeming bottles and cans is how some New Yorkers make ends meet.
"I am retired already, so this is like a supplement for my check,” says one bottle collector.
Dozens bring their containers here to a recycling center in Bushwick called "Sure We Can." Located on a 15,000-square-foot lot, the site collects more than 10 million cans and bottles a year. It's the city's only nonprofit redemption center, and says its mission is to empower the community by fostering inclusiveness and environmental responsibilty.
But now, the center is in jeopardy of being evicted.
"Compared with the area, we cannot find such a place at all,” says Executive Director Ana Martinez de Luco. “Impossible with this rent at this point. So it's impossible, yes."
The facility pays $5,500 in monthly rent. Organizers say the model is self-sustaining at that rate. While the so-called "canners" make a nickel for each return, the beverage companies pay eight-and-a-half cents when they recover them. The extra money goes to paying rent and keeping a handful of people on staff.
The group has been successfully operating for 10 years. But the neighborhood is being gentrifed. On the same block, there are old industrial buildings converted into artist lofts and trendy bars. The property owners are looking to cash out.
“Even in 2013, they started to tell us they want to sell. So since then, they told us they would like to sell to us, but we need to find the money," says Martinez-de Luco.
The pricetag for the property is $3 million, which is the equivalent of 60 million free cans.
"Last February, when we paid the rent, they gave us a letter saying April 30 should be the last day. So we panicked,” says Martinez-de Luco. “The coronavirus saved us in a way."
Now the group is hoping to get the money it needs to buy the site with the city's help. They say they've been lobbying their City Councilman, Antonio Reynoso, and the Brooklyn Borough President for one-time funding to come from this city budget, which has yet to be approved.
"It's just once. I mean, we live without the money of the taxpayer. So we just hope they will consider it,” says Martinez-de Luco.
Right now, the recycling center's lease has only been extended until June 30.