Today I did my shopping later than usual and it is a Sunday, not my usual day. It was a different crowd than I'm used to which made it interesting. The thing that caught my attention the most was the crowd of seemingly homeless men with carts brimming full of cans waiting so patiently for the recycle machines. Now I haven't recycled my cans for money for quite some time but it reminded me of a time last year, when money was particularly tight. I dutifully tried to gather up the stinky, sticky cans and my three "helpers" with the goal of making it a fun and profitable event for us. I promised we'd use the money to splurge and get a treat. It sounded so great; recycling, building an appreciation for money, teamwork, it had all the components to be a great experience.
First I sorted the cans, plastic and glass to prepare them for each machine. Then assigned the kids a rotation system for loading the cans, one by one into the machine.
The first child pushed the can into the machine. "NOT TOO FAR!!!" I shrieked, "That thing could take your hand off."
The machine took the can, spun it and examined thoroughly to determine if it was worthy of the refund. Is it a brand this store carries? Is it a size this store has sold? Is it in excellent condition? No crunching, squooshing or smashing? OK, 5 cents. Ch-ching. Finally.
During the examination period for the first can, child number two was excitedly beating their can into the little door hoping to get their can examined faster. CRUNCH. I pulled at the can trying to get the wrinkles out. "OK. Put it in there, not too far remember." The machine received the can but quickly rejected it, too smashed. Grr! "OK, let's try putting it in really gently with the bar code facing in to make it easier to read." The machine was not fooled. I tossed it in a bag to retry later. After giving child number two a new can to try, child number one complained that she had already put her can in it was his turn. "That one didn't count, the machine rejected it." 10 cents. 15 cents. 20 cents. Now we're on our way.
"Pay attention, it's your turn." 25 cents. 30 cents. 35 cents. 40 cents. Keeping everyone focused on putting their cans in, yet not getting their hands taken off was taxing. 45 cents. 50 cents. 55 cents. 60 cents. 65 cents. While my efforts were focused on getting the recycling party started, I didn't notice that child number three was in the back of the cart gleefully crunching and squooshing all the other cans. I got an extra cart to isolate child number three and tried to un-crunch some of the damaged cans. Meanwhile world war three broke out in the other cart because they lost track of whose turn it was to feed the machine. I got a third cart to separate the kids. I had a new plan; assembly line. "I'll hand it to you, you hand it to him and then you put it in the machine." "I want to put it in the machine." "OK. We'll switch." "NO!" I popped a couple cans in. 70 cents. 75 cents. I debated whether I should just be the one to put the rest of the cans in, I was the fastest after all, but this was supposed to be a shared experience. 80 cents. 85 cents. "Don't get your hands so close to the machine!" 90 cents. 95 cents. $1.00. What a milestone. We were cruisin' now! $1.05. $1.10. Thankfully, just in time, I saw child number three trying to climb from her cart into the first cart. "Careful!" $1.15. $1.20. By now other recyclers had come to use the machines but were unable to reach them as I had three carts blocking the way. I tried to shuffle our carts out of the way. $1.25. $1.30. $1.35. $1.40.
We were thirty minutes into this experience and had earned nearly $1.50. I could hear Andrew's words, "What's my time worth?" Certainly I'm worth more than $3.00 an hour. Yes, but you can't put a price tag on this experience for the kids. $1.45. $1.50. $1.55. $1.60. $1.65. Much to her delight, child number two discovered drips of old soda were left in some of the cans and was sipping each one before putting them in the machine. That was my limit.
"OK, we're done, throw the cans in the dumpster." Strange that it's located so close to the recycle machines.
"How much money did we make?" three little voices asked in unison.
I took our receipt in, $1.65 worth, cashed it, sanitized everyone's hands and headed to Starbucks. "I'd like an iced grande, non-fat vanilla latte... make it a venti, and three chocolate milks."
There were some great lessons learned that day, it was definitely an experience, but I don't see any reason to repeat it.