URBAN MINERS: Oakland's Pushcart Recyclers Take Their Work Seriously
A Photo Essay
by Daniel McKinney
Early in the morning, dozens of them pull hundreds of pounds of glass and aluminum in rickety shopping carts over miles of suburban streets. Known as "buggy recyclers" by those in the business, many begin their work day around 6am and haul loads up to 10 miles -- some coming from as far as the UC Berkeley campus or East Oakland. Their final destination is Alliance Metals and Scrap, Oaklands largest buy-back center. Depending on how much the recyclers find, they average $20-$50 for a single haul of cans and bottles.
in the morning, it sounds as if a riot is breaking out at Alliance Metals.
The buy-back center is crowded with recyclers sorting brown glass from
clear or green and then smashing glass bottles into barrels to be weighed.
The sound is deafening and the work is intense. The theory held among
some is that the bottles weigh more broken. Not everyone believes it,
but most still find the smashing a satisfying release at the end of their
The buggy recyclers are unlikely entrepreneurs. Some are alcoholic, but rarely heavy addicts, most have homes, families and regular jobs. One thing that they all have in common is their sense of independence. Recycling makes them their own bosses, living on what we throw away.
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