In aggressively speckless Copenhagen, a city once home to the Godzilla of trash cans, it's inevitable that recyclable — and redeemable — bottles of both the plastic and glass variety wind up commingling with run-of-the-mill garbage in public rubbish bins. Boasting not-too-shabby deposit redemption rates ranging from 1 to 3 kroner (roughly 15 to 44 cents) each, spent Carlsberg bottles, Jolly Cola empties and other recyclable/reusable beverage containers can be found taking up precious real estate within trash cans across the preternaturally neat Danish capital city.
And for many, these waiting-to-be-liberated empties are a hot commodity.
As in other major cities existing in countries or states with bottle bill laws on the books, Copenhagen relies on an informal — and largely marginalized — network of urban recyclers to swoop in and do the dirty work: plucking errant recyclables from public trash cans and dutifully hauling them to Flaskeautomat automated bottle machines that, much like in the States, are found predominately at major supermarkets.
Once returned to these redemption machines, Copenhagen’s bottle collecting population — a group, diverse and “nearly invisible to the public consciousness,” that’s largely composed of homeless Danes, foreign nationals and, increasingly, pensioners — can retrieve a financial incentive that would have otherwise literally gone to waste.
In 2014 alone, an estimated 166 million kroner in bottle deposits went unclaimed. That’s a decent chunk of change.
To further make the job of these unsung recycling heroes more dignified, a trio of municipal trash cans in Copenhagen’s city center have recently been outfitted with so-called “deposit shelves” in which recyclables that would have otherwise been chucked directly into the bin are placed out for easy — read: no messy rooting around required — retrieval by bottle collectors. Previously, many Copenhagen residents would simply leave beverage bottles out on the ground next to public trash cans, knowing that eventually someone would come along and rummage through the rubbish looking for them.
Developed by KBHpant, the first three waste bins with the deposit shelves — or "pant holders" in reference to Denmark's "pant" bottle deposit and return system — are located in touristy, high-traffic areas at Copenhagen's Central Station and along Sønder Boulevard.
"It provides a higher degree of waste sorting and recycling, thus being good for the environment, keeping the city clean, and all the while making life a little easier for some of our disadvantaged citizens who rely on pant as an important source of their income. It creates a little more dignity all round,” explains Copenhagen’s deputy mayor for environmental affairs, Morten Kabell.
If both the bottle-chucking public and Copenhagen’s bottle-collecting population respond well to the initial three shelf-equipped trash cans, Copenhagen officials could potentially roll out more of the specialized bins across the city.
Seems like a simple and effective step to me — a no-brainer for a city that continues to take urban cleanliness to new heights. And Copenhagen certainly isn’t the first city to make the collection and redemption of recyclables simpler and safer for marginalized collectors. In New York City, nonprofit So We Can operates a bustling Brooklyn redemption center for the city’s sizable community of “canners" whose economic livelihood largely depends on the soda and beer bottles cast aside by others.
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