As I currently stand, I have learned a lot about the works of the city recycling system, beyond even my research topic. For instance, who knew that up until several years ago, the garbage scene was largely run by a mob! Within the topic, I discovered the legislation involved in the redemption of bottles and cans, and its role in the history of New York City “canners.” It is a history that began as soon as legislation was approved in 1982. Familiarly referred to as the Bottle Bill, this law was the turning point in recycling policies that first allowed these entrepreneurs to create the informal economy. Originally written with the primary aim of providing financial incentive for reducing litter, the bill was an apparent success. But upon closer observation, the success wasn’t brought about in the manner originally intended—through government funded departments. Instead, individuals began redeeming bottles and cans, and then communities. These people work outside the system—I attempted to create a working theory to incorporate them into the system. I based it on the diversion of funds from municipal recycling programs towards hiring the canners. It remains a working idea, perhaps with more time it could become something more tangible.
Aside from the classic rewards you can earn from conducting research like this—experience, hands-on practice in your field, or connections for future academic plans—I walk away from this project more certain about my choice of careers than before. I absolutely hope to remain in academia and further research in many more topics. Being able to make sense of preexisting information and data and recycling it into a subject that hasn’t necessarily been explored before was such a gratifying experience that I have to do it again. It’s difficult to put into words how intense it can get the moment you begin putting your thoughts on paper after spending so much time gathering information. This makes me never want to stop pursuing knowledge!
Despite this realization, there is always something you can work on. I certainly need to work on my time management in such a way that it doesn’t negatively affect any further research I decide to take on. I learned to be more aware of the research timeline. There is the day it begins and the day it ends, and within that time there are certain fixed points that you can’t change. In this project, that translated to applying for IRB early enough before they went on break for winter, which is something I wasn’t able to achieve. I realized that there are more aspects to research that I can control than I had originally thought.