Photo: David Tan/ Flickr

The New York City municipal government would like for the city’s hordes of can collectors to stop collecting cans from curbside garbage. Hey: just let them collect the damn cans.

It makes very superficial sense that a city government would want to discourage poor people from pulling valuables out of recycling bins and garbage bags before the city picks them up, because it makes sense to imagine that the city just wants the money that those things are worth for itself. In that case, it is possible to argue that the city is being not just greedy, but inefficient—it will collect the recyclables and go to all the trouble of sorting them and recycling them and presumably get some money in return and that money will go into the city budget and then somewhere down the line some of that money will be appropriated to city services designed to help the very sort of poor people who are out collecting cans on the street in the first place.

Hey, save us all some time: just them collect the cans. They can turn em in for money and pay for food and whatnot. Take it easy.

But if you closely read today’s New York Times story on the city’s ongoing efforts to dissuade “scavengers” from picking up bottles and cans, you’ll notice that it’s so much the pure profit motive that the city complains is being disrupted; rather, they complain that scavengers are fucking up the city’s ability to measure how much recycling it’s doing. “[Sanitation] officials say that if the city is going to reach its goals, then it must be the one doing the recycling,” the Times writes; “Recycling theft does impact the city’s ability to track our curbside diversion rate,” a spokesperson for the mayor says; “The city’s got goals, and the only way we know how to meet those goals is if we have control over the commodity,” a Sanitation Department spokesman adds.

So to be clear on what is happening here: the City of New York wants to prevent the city’s neediest and most hardworking segment of the population from making a few extra bucks by recycling things that are meant to be recycled anyhow just because the city wants to be able to hold up a respectable number to show that it is recycling enough stuff so it cannot be charged with failing to meet its arbitrarily selected “goals.” It is, in essence, seeking to block poor people from making a meager living that does not menace society in any way so that they can gain a measure of municipal prestige.

Go out and look at someone collecting cans all day. Look how hard they work. They work all day doing that. For not too much money. And they don’t hurt anybody. People who do not really the need the money to do not spend their days collecting cans. They need the money. Consider the alternatives.

Let them have the cans. Don’t be a prick, De Blasio.

Update: We received this email from Vito Turso, spokesman for the NYC Sanitation Department:

FYI: NY Times story ‘kind of ‘ got it a little wrong. Video [ed: referred to in the Times story] was prepared in 2012 and is outdated (from a previous admin) and was pulled out of circulation. Yes. Bottles and cans are a valuable commodity as far as recycling is concerned, but the ‘theft’ of bottles and cans by scavengers is not considered a major problem. The theft of recyclables law primarily refers to stealing large white goods from the curbside, like refrigerators, stoves, air conditioners, etc. , and then transporting them in a motorized vehicle. We can write significant fines and impound the vehicles. Bundled and baled corrugated cardboard and paper also are stolen and are subject to the same law. But the theft is all market driven, meaning that if the price of metal is UP, the theft for scrap generally increases. Likewise with the price of paper. (Both markets are down right now.) But please be assured that there is no concerted effort against people with bags of bottles and cans and we don’t consider them to be, as the NY Times implied, common criminals.