Brooklyn, N.Y. — Her gloved hands deep in buckets of fruit pieces, vegetable peels and other food dreck, Sr. Ana Martinez de Luco flashes a smile as she mixes what will become Sure We Can's own brand of compost.
She then tosses clear plastic bags bulging with cans into piles that tower above her head. She hops on a forklift to move wooden pallets, clearing a new spot for the vegetable garden sprouting in an industrial site in Brooklyn. And as she weaves her way around bins, bags and crates, she greets each of the more than a dozen people -- often known as "canners" -- who are there to count, sort and redeem what they've collected from the endless stream of cans and bottles that New Yorkers discard.
As the only nonprofit redemption center in New York City, Sure We Can is an economic lifeline for more than 400 canners. They can cash in what they've gathered -- in small amounts or bulk -- for the state-mandated 5 cents per piece, or they can earn a bit more by counting and sorting, which helps Sure We Can reduce its costs.
The organization, co-founded in 2007 by Martinez de Luco and Eugene Gadsden, has become a community. Canners serve on its board of directors, and intertwined with Sure We Can's mission of promoting environmental sustainability is helping its clients feel supported and respected.