Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
A Danish program makes bottle collecting easier—and less dangerous—for the city’s marginalized residents.
In cities where residents can return packaging for a deposit, it’s not unusual to see bottle collectors—those who supplement their incomes by collecting and then returning drink receptacles. This is not easy work. Bottle collectors generally push their increasingly heavy daily collections from place to place, spending their entire days on their feet. They often search for bottles through packed trashcans, full of putrid garbage and sharp glass.
That’s why Copenhagen is expanding its “dignified” trash can program. Over the summer, the Danish capital installed cans with “deposit shelves” in three locations. If residents didn’t want to return their bottles for a deposit themselves, they could set them on a can’s shelf, so that those who were interested could find the bottles more easily.
The project keeps “the city clean and at the same time [creates] a little more dignity for some of our marginalized residents,” Deputy Mayor Morten Kabell told the Danish paper The Local.
Before the project, 166 million kroner ($24.6 million) of bottle deposit money went unclaimed each year—meaning city residents had purchased the bottles with an automatically added deposit, and then did not return them. Now Danish news channels report that the pilot project has cut down on the city’s lost deposits by 49 percent, and that a 500-can expansion program is in the works. It will cost the city just 1.2 million kroner (under $200,000); 95 percent of surveyed residents say they are in favor.
“We want [the deposits] to go to the marginalized,” Michael Lodberg Olsen, a social entrepreneur who headed up the pilot project, told the local news.
It seems that they will. In a 2007 case study, some park visitors “reminisced about collecting bottles as children or giving their bottles away to enterprising young Danes.” But the study found that the current bottle collectors of one Copenhagen park were a heterogeneous group of newly arrived foreigners, retirees, and the homeless. Those interviewed for the study indicated that the changing bottle collecting population points to the nation’s small but growing inequality.