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Vancouver binners unite to talk trash with city

No one knows Vancouver’s garbage better than its hundreds of binners. Now, they may be lending their voices to decisions…

By Natalie Walters , in Environment Feature story , on November 26, 2014 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Alan has been collecting recyclables out of Vancouver dumpsters every day since 1993.
Alan has been collecting recyclables out of Vancouver dumpsters every day since 1993.

No one knows Vancouver’s garbage better than its hundreds of binners.

Now, they may be lending their voices to decisions on waste-management policy.

A new group dedicated to bringing binners together could become “like the canaries in the coal mine,” says founder Ken Lyotier, an advocate who has spent decades empowering the city’s binner community and has now helped launch the Binners’ Project.

“The only people I see that are engaged directly at the source dealing with [waste] are binners,” said Lyotier. The Binners’ Project will explore how they can become more socially involved.

Some binners have already taken to the idea of the project, which involves monthly meetings to plan the creation of a formal group.

“When we work together as a team we are recognized more easily and more approvingly,” said Garvin Snider, who has been collecting recyclables out of Vancouver bins for many years. The positive public recognition binners could stand to gain if they were to formally organize themselves is his main motivation for supporting the group.

Fellow binner Lee Gledson also sees the potential an organization of binners could have. He suggested putting an advisory board in place to gather peoples’ ideas and determine the best ways to put their suggestions into action.

Raymond and Will have been sorting through back alley bins since the 80's.
Raymond and Will, binners since the ’80s, make a living off what other people throw away.

Started with coffee cups  

One such idea has already been a success. The Coffee Cup Revolution, which took place on Oct. 6, was inspired by binners’ concerns over the number of coffee cups ending up in the garbage. In response, the Binners’ Project ran a pop-up refund depot out of Victory Square in Gastown.

Binners received five cents for every coffee cup returned and, in one hour, roughly 300 people brought over 45,000 paper coffee cups to be recycled. (The money was donated by a number of corporate sponsors.)

Anne Godefroy, a volunteer with the Binners’ Project, explained that the project is “a way to see how we can seize what [binners] are already doing and make it more productive.”

Listen:
Godefroy: A place for binners to share their ideas (0’36”)

[audio https://thethunderbird.ca/files/2014/11/Anne-Godefroy-Audio-Clip.mp3]

Experts in garbage 

Face to face with garbage every day, binners have a unique understanding of the city’s waste. They know what gets thrown away that doesn’t need to be. United We Can bottle depot, a social-enterprise project that Lyotier founded in 1995, collects on average 50,000 containers each day from binners who have dug them out of the trash.

Vancouver’s engineers recognize the intimate knowledge binners have of Vancouver’s garbage. Director of waste management Albert Shamess identified binners as possible consultants for policies on new recyclables like coffee cups.

“There’s a real important role for the binning community to play in that situation.”

Besides coffee cups, binners have also found large quantities of plastic bottle caps in the trash. While the bottle ends up in the recycling, the cap is often left behind. Binners have reported filling whole shopping bags with bottle caps.

Recycling is changing

However, the future of recycling in B.C. is undergoing a fundamental change. Under the new recycling regulations, the responsibility for recycling collection is being transferred from the city to the companies who are producing the recyclable products.

Ken Lyotier
Lyotier has been working to empower Vancouver’s binner community for more than 30 years.

Multi-Material B.C.  is the not-for-profit agency that will be overseeing this new collection system. They hold contracts with the private haulers that will now provide collection services. The Binners’ Project members will need to establish a relationship with MMBC if they want their suggestions heeded.

Lyotier’s more than 30 years of experience working to improve waste management policy will help him build a new relationship with MMBC.

United We Can bottle depot was the first manifestation of these efforts and Lyotier has since maintained a long and productive relationship with the city. With Lyotier at the helm, The Binners’ Project has the ear of city hall.

Shamess confirmed this, saying the city could play a facilitator role to helping the Binners’ Project establish contacts with companies such as MMBC. The city played this same role in connecting United We Can with B.C.’s deposit-return company Encorp and would welcome continued work with Lyotier.

Change takes time

Despite this support, not all binners are sure if they want to organize as a formal group.

At the Binners’ Project’s November meeting, about 20 binners had an animated discussion about their experiences and many had suggestions for how the recycling and refund system could be improved. However, when asked whether they could imagine passing these ideas on to the city or directly to collection companies, not all were convinced.

So for now the goals of the Binners’ Project are simple. Lyotier and Godefry just want to get binners together, get them talking, and gauge their interest. “We want it to come from them,” said Godefry, “and so it takes time and there’s a trust to build.”

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