Lawrence aluminum can recycling group has now donated more than $250,000 to local nonprofits

photo by: Contributed Photo

This contributed photo shows a Cans for the Community "can house," where people can donate their aluminum cans.

As a founding member of Cans for the Community, Linda Klinker knows that aluminum cans can add up to big cash.

The Lawrence group, which collects aluminum cans, recycles them and donates the proceeds from the recycling to local nonprofits, celebrated its 16th anniversary in May. It also reached another milestone recently: It’s now donated more than $250,000 to local nonprofits.

Klinker said Cans for the Community passed that mark with a recent donation to the DARE Center, the local drop-in center for the homeless.

“With the donation, we have now donated more than $250,000,” she said. “It’s all from aluminum cans. I think we’ve donated to just about every nonprofit in town.”

Klinker is one of six board members who have been with Cans for the Community since its founding, and she said the group’s mission and principles had been as steady as its leadership.

“When we first started, we decided we would collect aluminum cans, donate all the money we made to nonprofits, not have an office and nobody would get paid,” she said. “That hasn’t changed 16 years later.”

One thing that has changed since the group’s inception is recycling trends, Klinker said.

Some of the group’s cans come from bars and restaurants, but the group also relies on its blue recycling “houses” in 12 high-traffic locations around Lawrence, including stores and churches, where members of the public can drop off their cans. But when the city introduced a curbside recycling program, Klinker originally worried that it would be the end of Cans for the Community. She feared that residents would prefer to just leave aluminum cans with the rest of their curbside recyclables instead of separating them out and taking them to the Cans for the Community collection sites.

But she said her prediction ultimately didn’t come true.

“When curbside recycling started, I thought that would be the end of us,” she said. “It did hurt us the first year or two, but we just had our most successful year.”

The COVID-19 shutdown may have hurt businesses, but Klinker said it was a boon for Cans for the Community, which collected a record 38,400 pounds of aluminum cans in 2020.

“We had a record because everybody was drinking at home,” she said. “We had a record, and we didn’t do our big things like football games and the food-truck event where we collect the most cans. We look forward to collecting cans from tailgaters at KU football games again.”

Klinker said she was also worried donations would drop off as the pandemic waned, but the group had a record for its April collection that ties in with annual Earth Day observances. The goal as always was to collect 5,000 pounds of aluminum cans during the month.

“We always struggle to get to 5,000 pounds,” she said. “This year, we had 5,750 pounds. It just climbed right over the top.

“I was looking at some old articles when we celebrated our 16th year,” she continued. “There was one story when we donated our first $20,000. It was a real big deal. I ask people to keep separating aluminum cans from their recycling and dropping them off at our blue houses. Those cans add up.”


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