Cling, clank, smash – the noise at Edmonton’s Strathcona bottle depot is deafening. The small building is stuffed with noise, bottles and people. My husband and I have picked the worst time to bring back our recyclables: right when students are cleaning out their homes. Twenty-five years ago, I was doing the same thing.
The line-up today, a rainy Saturday, is three people deep. In front of us are 20-year-olds with sweatshirts that say MacEwan (a university in Edmonton) and UofA (University of Alberta). In front of them, are layers of cans and bottles and a few (very few) milk cartons. One guy cashes in over 100 bucks of bottles. He didn’t make as much as my roommate and I did with our bottles in 1992.
When I went to university at Acadia in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, I stayed in residence. Seminary (Sem) House has high ceilings, beautiful hardwood floors and huge house parties once a month. The beer bottles from the bashes were piled into a closet and over the year, added up and up and up. Something else that added up and up and up was the phone bill. My roommate and I had our own phone in our room, otherwise you had to use the payphone in the hall.
At the end of exams and April my first year, it was time to pack up and head home. That’s when my roommate and I came up with an incredible business idea. Why don’t we take the bottles back for a refund? That way we could pay that #$@ phone bill.
We asked Sem’s live-in don, Carol, if we could take the bottles. She said yes. Then my roommate and I got a vehicle (maybe my parents, maybe her parents, I can’t remember) and loaded up the bottles. It wasn’t backbreaking work but the bottles were stinky and some were leaky and we got very sticky. It took several trips to drive the five minutes from Sem to the liquor store in downtown Wolfville but it was worth it.
We had struck gold with the amber bottles. Not only did we cover our phone bill but we had money left over. There had been over $200 in the closet. We told everybody about our haul and some weren’t so impressed with our entrepreneurial spirit. The next year in Sem, the bottles weren’t up for grabs anymore. I don’t recall what happened but I do know the bottle count was never the same after my first year. My roommate and I had had the last of the motherlode That next year we found out Sem wasn’t supposed to be having house parties once a month – it was against school policy.