A grandmother’s dream of sharing her ancestral homeland with her family is coming to fruition, thanks to a few hours of work every week.
Every Friday, Lisa Sigurgeirson Maxx and her grandson Jordan Krayenhoff hop in Maxx’s van and drive around the island collecting people’s recycling for $5 per blue bin or equivalent. They call their initiative JÁ! Recycling Initiative. JÁ! works because it means both means “yes” in Icelandic and also is a combination of Jordan and “amma,” which means ”grandmother” in Icelandic. All of the funds raised are going to a future trip to Iceland to give Krayenhoff the chance to experience the country his family comes from.
“I’m third-generation Icelandic-Canadian and Jordan is fifth,” Maxx said. “I’ve been to Iceland twice now, and I really really want to go back and take my grandchildren.”
Maxx estimates that the cost of the trip will be around $5,000. Maxx has wanted to take her grandchildren to Iceland for years, but the cost was too much of an obstacle after living for years on a disability income. The two originally planned to save the money by returning bottles, but the small refunds from bottles and cans meant that the work would take years to complete. Instead, Maxx’s daughter suggested that they pick up all of their family’s recycling, not only the returnables. The idea spread and soon Maxx and Krayenhoff had a dozen customers and a bi-weekly pick-up route.
“People basically put their stuff at the end of their driveway. Then we come in. We’ve got the van all organized with our bins and boxes for sorting it onsite. We pick their stuff up, sort it there and leave their bins and boxes for them,” Maxx said. “Some people have $15-$20 [worth of recycling] every week, some people have $5 every week, some might even have $35 one week. It totally varies.”
The two started working in June 2018 and have raised approximately half of their goal. They visit homes on the south end of the island one week, and alternate to the north end on the next. They work about three or four hours each Friday. The demand grew to the point where Maxx had to purchase a van to be able to fit all of the recycling.
“I had a borrowed car for a while before I bought the van,” Maxx said. She explained that on one particularly big pick-up day, they “couldn’t fit another thing in the trunk and the backseat was filled to the roof. It was crazy.”
Raising the money for the trip is only one benefit of the system they have set up. The weekly work has also brought the two of them closer together.
“We may have even gotten closer,” Krayenhoff said. “For a while I wasn’t going over to her house to hang out very much, and recently I’ve been going over there a lot more.”
“We’ve been pretty close for Jordan’s whole life, but they lived away for six months last year. We got out of our sync,” Maxx added. “Sometimes Jordan hasn’t been overly pleased about doing recycling. It’s not the sweetest job right? . . . When we actually counted our money a couple of months ago for the first time, that was exciting. We realized that we are actually making money here. Something happened and now we’re listening to tunes and having good conversations and that kind of thing.”
The initiative benefits more than just Maxx and Krayenhoff. Their customers also appreciate the service.
“People are really grateful. A bunch of the customers are super nice and sometimes they even help when we’re loading up at their houses,” Krayenhoff said. “One of our pick-ups this morning, she’s said that she’s always hated and tried to avoid recycling and that she’s really glad that we’re doing it for her.”
If demand picks up, Maxx said she would be willing to figure out a way to do the extra work and raise more money. She also helps those interested in visiting Iceland plan their trips for a small fee that will go towards the big trip.
Maxx and Krayenhoff aim to visit Iceland sometime in the summer of 2020. Their trip will include renting a van and driving around the island camping along the way. They plan to take advantage of Iceland’s geothermal hot pools and waterfalls.
“It’ll be a grand adventure. It’s amazing there,” Maxx said. “We’re a good team.”
Those interested in their services can contact Maxx at firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have an account at the Return-It centre under “JÁ! Recycling & Returnables Initiative” if people would like to donate their empty bottles to the cause.