The Great American Bottle Drive

I’m sitting here at my kids’ swim practice bemoaning the loss of the charity bottle drive. Not that this was one of the greater American institutions, but in its current incarnation the name is clearly an anachronism.

I recall a few bottle drives from when I was a kid. Saturday afternoons rummaging through people’s garages. Fighting bees for bottles and loading them into the truck to haul them to the store. At the end of the day your organization had a few extra dollars, and your dad had a pick-up bed full of soda-syrup sticky 11-year olds who smelled of stale beer and B.O. The point being, there was sweat equity in the fundraising.

A few years ago, I noticed groups setting up drop-off sites where people could clean out their own garages. At least the kids still hauled the bottles to the store.

More recently, groups would ask that you haul your own bottles to the store and the kids collected the bottle machine receipt tapes to redeem for cash. I suppose there was always the risk of a paper cut, and the kids did have to go all the way to the store for the money.

But now we’ve taken the final step. On the swim team’s bulletin board is a flyer announcing the bottle drive. The instructions are to take your bottles back, get the money, and send it in. Maybe I’m missing something, but what exactly makes this a bottle drive? And how are the kids involved? Isn’t this really just a “bring us cash” drive? With this basic premise you could hold an EBay Drive. Sell stuff you don’t need on the internet, bring us the cash. Or why not get more to the point with a Scrounge Around in Your Couch for Change Drive. The really progressive groups will probably just hold a Checking Account Drive.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think there was value in the kids having to earn the money. They felt more invested in their groups. Somewhere we’ve lost that, and I think as a society we’re poorer for that.

Besides, my dad has a basement chock full of bottles and a soft spot for kids’ causes.

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