Summer 1986 – Our first recycling machine compressed the cans into 24-inch long, rectangular blocks (or something like that). We raked the cans from the caged wagon into a large pit. Then we ran them up a conveyor to drop into our compacting machine. The last step was a little door opening, and a block would come out. We stacked a hundred or so of these blocks into a large bale. We banded them together and used a forklift to place the bundles on a tractor-trailer. From there, we shipped them to Tennessee.
Now For the Good Part
Before making the cans into blocks, we ran them across a big magnet that would pull out all the steel and other items our customers tried to sneak into their bags to get more weight. They were sneaky. I used to say that they brought in everything but the kitchen sink. Then one customer tried to sneak kitchen faucet parts into his bag. Wet jeans and books were popular.
Then they went through a “pre-crusher.” This process caused many of the pop-tops to snap off and fall into a 55-gallon drum underneath. The steel and other debris, i.e., paper, cigarettes, and dirt, were also collected in the barrels. Once the barrel was full, I would haul it to the back and dump the debris on the floor. This process happened every day or two, depending on the traffic.
James, my non-smiling predecessor, taught me how to sift the pop-tops to make a profit. It was one of the ways we stayed awake. After he went back to Louisiana, I spent my first summer salvaging pop-tops. It worked like this.
Profiting from Pop-Tops
I had a frame, like a tabletop, which was on four wooden legs. But instead of a solid table, there was a steel mesh that sifted the cigarettes, dirt, paper, and other debris. I shoveled all the debris out of the barrel, and onto my makeshift mesh table. After filtering the junk through the mesh and onto the floor, the only things that did not fall through were the pop-tops and cigarette butts.
I scooped the butts and tops into another drum that was full of water. The butts would float, and the pop-tops would sink. I hand-scooped the butts from the top of the water and threw them on the ground with the other debris. I used the forklift to pick up the barrel of water with clean pop-tops and poured them back onto the wire mess table. I then sifted out any remaining debris.
Yes, it was a huge mess.
And it smelled to high heaven.
I then put the clean pop-tops in large, plastic bags, and stacked them in a corner. Each bag was five feet tall, which was significantly heavy when filled with metal pop-tops. I have no idea how many zillions of pop-tops I sifted and cleaned that summer. I do remember it being more than 600 pounds when we loaded them into the van to take to the recycler.
It took all summer but well worth it. We made over $300 cash from my part-time pop-top job, which we used to buy a piano.