Creative Destruction: Post #4

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.


Creative Destruction: Post #3

It’s incredible to believe we are already at this point of our research. I don’t think anyone who is a part of this program will disagree with me when I say that it’s gone by extremely quickly. As far as the research itself goes, it honestly, hasn’t gone exactly as planned. Just in the past month or so, we were forced to refocus the specific objective of our research and adjust our methods. We are still in the process of gathering data and are forming a tentative theory based upon our findings. However, I remain optimistic because the images, theories, and raw data I’ve been researching get more interesting every day. I’ll spend one day looking at the economics of recycling bottles and cans, and the next day I’ll find fantastic pictures published in the New York Times, or through other means. Like I said, we’re still gathering data and it remains a little scattered, but I am still confident that we will achieve a successful outcome.

The most important challenge I’d say was the one that made us refocus our goals. It took me a little too long to realize how quickly this time was flying. I failed to apply for IRB approval early enough that we would obtain it in time to do something substantial with it. On the brighter side, it’s given me the opportunity to hone my literature review skills, and I was able to discover how to make the most of preexisting information on the gathering of bottles and cans.

Just as an example, let’s reflect on the process of manually recycling bottles and cans. Most places offer 5₵ per bottle or can, which is the standard deposit on each beverage container. It takes 2000 bottles to make 100 dollars. But there’s one place in Brooklyn that offers 6₵ instead. That means it takes between 333 bottles less to reach 100 dollars. But its location might deter people from picking it. Because of this, the communities of people that go to this place are different from those that go to other redemption spots. How exactly to categorize the difference, however, is yet to be determined in the upcoming final stretch of the research: the analysis.

Creative Destruction: Post #2

Because our research is anthropological, it involves people. As such, it was important that when planning our research out, our first step was acquiring NIH certification and IRB approval or exemption. As of right now, we are both officially NIH certified, which means we passed a course involving a lot of information on the history, ethics, and implications of researching humans, whether it be their behavior or otherwise. In terms of obtaining approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) we are motioning for exempt status.

Due to the administrative obstacle, our research thus far has been limited to observations and secondary research. Fortunately, this does not mean that we haven’t been able to gather any data. However, it does mean that it is limited to what we can see and what preexisting research.

We haven’t gotten very far with preexisting research unfortunately, but my observations have already begun to give me an idea of what to look for. They also tell me that it is unlikely that there will be one simple answer to my questions. I have yet to notice a trend in the demographics, in the locations, in the styles, and in the times. While I have noticed predominantly South East Asians doing the collections, I have also seen several Caucasians. Out of these people, some looked homeless, while others seemed decently dressed. Some are collecting in the morning and others during the day or in the evening.  Some collect on the streets, but I saw one man going around the tables in Grand Central Station collecting what people left on tables. Some pick up in plastic bags and others in shopping carts. I’m still looking for a pattern, or something that will help me break the next step.

Since beginning to pay more attention to my surroundings in terms of bottles and cans, I’ve taken a particular interest in the origin of all the bottles and cans, and why these people that sort them out are necessary in the first place. It came to my attention that many people, myself included prior to this project, take bottles and cans for granted. I’ve witnessed many people just leaving them on trains, street corners or classrooms, putting them in normal garbage bins, and recycling. When at Pace itself, I witnessed the normal trash and the recycling be combined by the staff at the end of the day before being brought out. This left me worried about all the recyclables just sitting in a landfill or going through an incinerator somewhere. It’s when I actually realized the full impact of the service these people provide.

Once all the permissions are in place, the next questions I hope to tackle are who they are, and how they got to where they are. Are they doing it for a little extra on the side, or is it a comprehensive lifestyle and community? I’m interested in the how, but also the history of this mechanism we know nothing about. Since when did it begin? Are there any relations to similar processes in different places?

Creative Destruction: Collecting Bottles and Cans in the Informal Reycling Economy in New York City

What exactly happens to all of our waste? More specifically, what happens to the bottles and cans that we could, but sometimes don’t, recycle? One of two things could happen. First, the city comes in and takes care of it, which we know. What we don’t know much about is the second option; when people come in and get take care of it before the city can get to it. The purpose of this anthropological research is to learn more about them, where they come from, what they exactly they do, and why they do it.

One of the important things that we hope to establish by conducting our research is that they are not scavengers who live on waste. Instead, they are entrepreneurs, providing a service that is extremely necessary, yet underrated and even illegal. Even more, it is a job that either we, or the city, should be doing in the first place. On a broader aspect, we are trying to learn as much as we can about the people themselves. This is necessary because if we understand who they are and how they function, they may be able to better integrate into our society and our economy and perhaps take us even closer to an efficient recycling system.

We will mostly be doing ethnographic fieldwork. We will try to be in direct contact with the people, this being an anthropological effort. We will be collecting empirical data on both individuals and groups, as well as relating what we can witness from a neutral point of view through a process known as participant observation. Guided by theoretical framework based on entrepreneurship, we will take this data and make sense of it.