UPS driver donating cash from 1,500 pounds of collected cans


Sandi Putnam always knew when Larry Nitka was the UPS driver delivering her packages.

If it was Nitka, the bag of aluminum cans in front of her house would disappear.

“If I was expecting a package, I would make sure those cans were out,” says Putnam, 76. If the cans were still there, alongside the package, “I knew it wasn’t Larry.”

Nitka, 54, started picking up cans in the streets of his east-side delivery route about five years before he retired near the end of 2014. Nitka worked for the United Parcel Service of America Inc. for 28 years.

He originally planned to recycle the cans for cash and put the money toward the college education of his kids, Tyler, 8, and Alyssa, 7.

But when customers along his route started pitching in, Nitka knew he wanted to donate the proceeds to a local charity.

Based on the 27 large boxes he filled — many of them for bass drums — Nitka estimates he, his customers, a few neighbors and others collected around 1,500 pounds worth of crushed cans.

The cans filled more than half of a mini roll-off Tuesday.

“People are so cool to say, ‘Hey Larry, we’ll collect cans for you,’” Nitka says. “They did it religiously.”

Mike Caldwell, 63, started helping Nitka after he found the UPS driver rummaging through his recycling one day.

“I don’t like throwing stuff away,” Caldwell says. “That’s just stupid, and if you can do some good with it, that’s the way it should be.”

Nitka isn’t sure how much he will get for the cans — he is hoping 85 cents to $1 per pound, if a recycling company is willing to donate.

Several Tucson recycling businesses, such as Arizona Recycles and Can-It Recycling, pay about 50 cents per pound, though Arizona Recycles prices vary based on how the can was smashed.

Whatever money the cans bring in will be split between the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Gospel Rescue Mission, Nitka says.

To crush the cans, Nitka loaded Tyler and Alyssa into the family’s Toyota RAV4, tossed the cans onto the driveway and ran over them repeatedly. The kids hung out the windows to see the cans smashed.

He once did the same with his dad — collecting used cans, smashing them and then exchanging them for cash. As a teen, $25 from picking up crushed cans was a good deal.

Nitka knows he couldn’t have collected so many this time around without the help of customers.

“I was lucky enough to be on the east side for 15 years,” Nitka says. “And on that east side of Tucson, there are a lot of good people.”


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