When Josh Schleier was 5 years old and growing up in Starks, he loved to walk around and explore the outdoors.

“I ended up finding a can or bottle in the ditch and I discovered it was worth money,” he said. “From then on, I started to walk on roads and eventually, Gramp and Gram would drive me around and I’d pick up cans and bottles. It was something I liked to do.”

Schleier, now 34, has never stopped. While he works four days at Cumberland Farms in Skowhegan as a cashier and stock person, he spends a day or two a week out on the roads, collecting returnable cans and bottles in ditches from Jackman to Fairfield and everywhere in between. He’ll park his red 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt beside the road, take out his red Radio Flyer wagon and walk 2-4 miles, “picking,” as he calls it, and then cross the road and do the same until he returns to his car to dump his haul.

“I like to be outside and walk and explore,” he said. “I’m in good shape and active and it isn’t easy going up and down ditches. It’s hard work. It’s a lot of walking and climbing but I do enjoy it.”

Josh Schleier, of East Madison, scans the ditch as he bags recyclable cans and and bottles while picking up along Route 104 in Skowhegan on Tuesday. If they aren’t damaged, the cans and bottles are worth from 5 cents to 15 cents. Schleier said he starting picking up cans when he was 5, teaming up on the project with his grandpa. At 17 he’d saved about $4,000 from years of picking up, using some of the money to buy his first car, a 1996 Chevy Beretta. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Schleier spends two to six hours a day on the roads when he goes collecting, depending on the weather and how much time and daylight he has.

Last year, he got about $1,400 by returning bottles and cans. The year before that, $1,100; and $1,300, the prior year, he said. He gets 5 cents for beer, soda and water bottles and 15 cents for liquor bottles.


On Wednesday he completed the entire Middle Road from Skowhegan to Fairfield, doing it a section at a time over about five days.

“When I was younger, I’d do the whole thing, but that takes all day,” he said. “I have a whole shed full of bottles and cans I got on that road. That’s about 40 trash bags full.”

He estimated he will get more than $100 for the Middle Road haul.

“I used to do Middle Road every few months and now I do it twice a year, so I’ll go back in the fall probably.”

Josh Schleier, 35, of East Madison, is shown with some of the recyclable cans and bottles he recently picked up along Route 104 in Skowhegan. He stores the cans at his grandfather’s home in Starks, where he is shown on Thursday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Some residents of the road come out of their homes to give them their cans and bottles. Some drivers throw bottles into the ditch for him, he said. This “can man” wears a distinctive orange hat and yellow, green and orange vest and always walks facing traffic to be safe.

“There’s people that fly up that road, but I always try to pay attention,” he said. “It’s a busy road.”


His grandfather, Richard Schleier, 88, of Starks, remembered his grandson saying when he was 3 or 4 that he wanted to buy a car. So Josh Schleier started saving money from his bottle picking and his grandparents put it in a special bank account for him.

Josh Schleier, 35, of East Madison, learned about picking up recyclable cans from his grandfather, Richard Schleier, 88, at left. The pair are shown at Richard’s home in Starks on Thursday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

He recalled that when he was 17, his balance had grown to $4,000 and he bought his first car — a used 1996 Chevrolet Beretta.

He now lives in East Madison with his girlfriend and uses the money he earns from picking to help pay the bills and buy necessities such as food and gas.

“There’s a lot of money to be made, if you put the hard work and effort into it,” he said.

He also regularly drives to Starks to visit his grandfather, who helped raise him. Richard Schleier has good memories of chauffeuring a young Josh around so he could collect bottles and cans.

“Holy mackerel, I drove him everywhere,” he said. “There’s isn’t a place we ever missed. In fact, a couple of times, we got lost. We didn’t know where we were.”

Remarried 13 years ago after his wife died, Richard Schleier, who gets around the house with use of a walker, said Josh is a good person.

“He helps us out a lot now,” he said. “He shovels snow, carries wood pellets in for the stove. He’s a good grandson, I’ll tell you.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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