|A can collector cycles through downtown Temple Valley|
The Price of Redemption
The rate for redeeming aluminum cans tends to move up and down with the general economy and since there is no deposit law here, payment is based on weight. Recycled aluminum is used heavily by automakers in Japan as well as abroad. The metal is considered scarce, and the price paid per can higher, when auto manufacturing is up and the jobs associated with the industry are relatively plentiful. When the auto industry turns south so do the jobs as well as the value of some raw materials like aluminum. This means that as unemployment trickles down in a declining economy, it's likely the can collecting competition gets stiffer while the price per can dives lower.
Despite the low financial return, rain or shine, come Friday you are sure to find a half dozen middle-aged or older men plying the streets of Temple Valley on two wheels in search of what for them is no doubt a precious metal. Friday is the day that local residents put out aluminum cans with their trash and I'm always amazed to see the load these roving laborers can forage from this urban jungle and bear on the backs of their bicycles. On top of having to eke out a living by gathering sacks upon sacks of cans stacked from head to toe, I've heard that collecting the discarded containers is actually prohibited by local ordinance. Fortunately it seems to be one (of many perhaps) that has gone largely unenforced here.
The man in the photo above is new to the neighborhood and seems younger than most of his counterparts at work here. I think he is new to the "trade" too. While his bike looks stacked to capacity, veteran can miners who work the area might see room for more. The older can men are usually more economical in their methodology, taking time to crush each can with their bare hands until they are completely flat so there is not an inch of wasted space in the bags atop their bikes that are loaded to maximum capacity. He still has miles to go before he reaches the recycling center in nearby Kawasaki city and, crushed or not, he seems to have a heavy load to bear.
Further related reading: Failed Manhood on the Streets of Urban Japan (@ The Asia-Pacific Journal)
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