the numbers

by anthony

1 Standard (Large) Clear Recycling Bag filled = 145 cans (approx)


145 x .05¢ each (deposit) = $7.25


A few weeks ago, I was walking to grab a beer and I passed these two Mexican women, much older (60s or 70s perhaps), collecting the clear bags of bottles and cans from the sidewalk.  It was a Thursday night, which is “everything” night for trash.  All recycling, garbage, toilet bowls, whatever.  They had approximately six bags already on their cart and after I passed them, I realized how many bags were strewn across the sidewalks of this small neighborhood this Thursday night.  I then began thinking how restaurants need to recycle every night and how many thousands of these bags get discarded every week in a city of 9 million people.


Well, I get bored very easily, especially when my mind is quiet, so I started putting numbers together and this strange thought occurred to me.




Here and in Los Angeles, there is a large population of Mexicans who survive fiscally by recycling.  The guys with their trucks and flatbeds are everywhere and the women are all over the street. I have always perceived what they do in two manners.  First, I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of them (I’ll get to this in a minute).  But, secondly, I appreciate the service they provide, and appreciate the benefits that we receive as a result of their work.


Recycling glass, plastic, cardboard, metals and wood is one of the easiest ways for us to reduce our carbon footprints.  It is mandatory in NYC and “free” to all residents, an entitlement of the city, for lack of a better word.  Is it a perfect system?  Well, what system is?  But, “recyclables are considered a commodity — a good that can be sold.”   Which means, companies buy  cheap materials for their products.  So, it’s a sure bet that recycling works more than we think.


Getting back to the Mexican immigrants, I am sure their intention is to bring in money for their families, and not to save the planet.  I feel that’s obvious, but I might be obtuse for thinking that.  Regardless, whatever their intention, they do provide a service.  I have seen these people dig through garbage bags for cans and bottles, clear out slums and unkempt parts of neighborhoods by stripping aluminum and cardboard and hauling it all away out of view.  With awareness or not, they clean our towns and our cities, if only a few pieces of scrap at a time.


As for their entrepreneurial spirit…


1 bag = $7.25


Let’s assume they average that between all the cans and steel and cardboard and whatever else.


According to the US Dept of Labor, as of 1 Jan 11, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr.


Keep that in mind.  Let’s assume one of these hard-working individuals collect 40 bags-worth in a 7-day period (not entirely unreasonable given the amount of trash a major city excretes).


Minimum wage… $7.25/hr x 8 hr workday = $58.00/day

$58/day x 5 days (40 hr workweek) = $290.00/wk

$290/wk x 4 weeks (your average month) = $1160/mo


There is a very large debate going on right now in DC as to whether or not the government should keep the minimum wage.  There are a lot of Congressmen and Congresswomen who believe small businesses cannot survive because of the amount of salary the government requires them to pay a minimum wage worker and that people getting minimum wage, statistically, are not poor.


(I could go into everything incorrect in this but this is not about that.  Besides, do some of the research yourself.)


No taxes taken out = $1160 a month

Entire Check: Taxed at 10% = $261/wk or $1044/mo

Taxed at 15% = $246.50/wk or $986/mo

Taxed at 20% = $232/wk or $928/mo


I just looked at a past paycheck.  It was a small one. $176.00.

Total taxes taken out = $31.13

Percentage of tax withdrawn = 17.69%


So, let’s assume our minimum wage worker, working full time with no benefits, takes home between $928 and $986 a month.  Let’s also assume this person has a wife and a child (the wife making the same).  $1856-$1972 a month for a family of three.


Checklist:  Rent, Groceries, Gas or Public Transport, Utilities, Baby Supplies, Insurance, Misc.


Hypothetical Additions to the Previous Checklist Due to Hypothetical Government Eliminations:  Healthcare, Trash, School, School Lunch Subsidy, Clean Water


How much do you think is left?  How short do you think they are?  I wouldn’t really call that Middle Class.




Trash in NYC is “free” because it is paid for through taxes.  AND, it’s generally known that there is a very near unanimous if not substantial majority of people in this country who do not want Mexicans here illegally because they take all the jobs, all the entitlements, all the benefits and don’t pay taxes on anything.  Yarg!


Here’s how I see it, though.  Everyday, they work the same if not more hours than the minimum wage worker, and they do it for roughly the same hourly wage.  They don’t pay taxes on this “income”, true, so they get to keep all of their money (people say they send it all back to Mexico, but, they still need to purchase everything mentioned above so, not that much could be traveling across the border).  But, they also eliminate, literally, tons of rubbish each year, rubbish the city doesn’t have to hire $25/hr workers for (and all the other of the government’s financial waste that goes along with it), thus helping to keep taxes where they are and preventing them from rising exorbitantly more.


So, you see, in a way they are performing a service by helping the environment and providing us some, though small, tax help.


And, they are entrepreneurs, in the true, original American style.  So many of us citizens are fighting over limiting government yet not actively being a part of the Capitalistic Democratic system which is the skeleton of the United States of America.  Can we blame our Mexican neighbors for understanding our system better than we do?  Besides, what American would ever do the work the average Mexican immigrant does for the amount of money they do it for?


After-all, as far as I can understand it, this government and the people who support it feel a person’s time and contributing value and worth is seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour, anyway.




145 Cans.


That’s reality.