BINNERS' PRO­JECT

Re­fund de­posits on sin­gle-use cof­fee con­tain­ers would help curb waste, says Van­cou­ver non­profit

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - > BY LUCY LAU

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased by the City of Van­cou­ver this sum­mer, a stag­ger­ing 2.6 mil­lion cof­fee cups are sent to the land­fill ev­ery week. That amounts to over 135 mil­lion cups per year, which, when com­bined with take­away con­tain­ers and plas­tic bags, costs cit­i­zens ap­prox­i­mately $2.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally to re­move. It’s a dif­fi­cult fig­ure to com­pre­hend—es­pe­cially in a city with such am­bi­tious “Green­est City” goals as Van­cou­ver—but the num­bers come as lit­tle sur­prise to the lo­cal bin­ner com­mu­nity.

Davin Boutang is an out­reach co­or­di­na­tor at the Binners’ Pro­ject, a lo­cal non­profit that works to en­gage and sup­port waste pick­ers and break down the stigma sur­round­ing them. “When you walk around, you see a whole bunch of cof­fee cups lay­ing in the garbage can,” he tells the Straight by phone. “You rarely see more than a half a dozen pop cans, wa­ter bot­tles, or beer cans.”

Boutang, who worked as a full­time bin­ner for many years, says bin­ning—in which peo­ple re­move re­cy­clable items from pub­lic, com­mer­cial, and res­i­den­tial garbage cans to ex­change them at bot­tle de­pots for money—is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive. Given this, he would love to see a civic cof­fee-cup-re­cy­cling pro­gram im­ple­mented as part of the City of Van­cou­ver’s Sin­gle-use Item Re­duc­tion Strat­egy, which was pro­posed in Fe­bru­ary and is now in the con­sul­ta­tion stage.

“It’s a form of rev­enue for most peo­ple,” Boutang says of bin­ning. He ex­plains that adding a five-cent re­cy­cling de­posit to throw­away cups—like those ap­plied to alu­minum cans and plas­tic bot­tles—would also en­cour­age cit­i­zens to dis­pose of them prop­erly. (Be­cause pa­per cups are lined with plas­tic or wax, they are only ac­cepted in res­i­den­tial re­cy­cling streams and se­lect Re­cy­cle B.C. fa­cil­i­ties. This in­evitably means that, at the mo­ment, many of them end up in the trash in the pub­lic sphere. Lids are also re­cy­clable, though they must be sep­a­rated from the cup be­fore­hand.)

Anna Gode­froy, direc­tor of the Binners’ Pro­ject, agrees. “If the prov­ince or city put a re­fund on cof­fee cups, that would mean more of them are be­ing re­cy­cled and it would also mean that binners could make ex­tra money by help­ing to re­cy­cle them,” she ex­plains in a sep­a­rate phone in­ter­view.

It’s a model that the Binners’ Pro­ject has tested first­hand through its an­nual Cof­fee Cup Rev­o­lu­tion event. Since 2014, the eco-friendly func­tion has at­tracted hun­dreds of Van­cou­ver’s binners to Vic­tory Square, where they’ve ex­changed mountains of pa­per cups for cash in a pop-up de­pot on-site. Last year, 175 binners traded in 49,060 con­tain­ers re­cov­ered from the streets in only four hours.

Binners are of­fered five cents for ev­ery cup they col­lect and bring in. These throw­aways are then trans­ported to des­ig­nated Re­cy­cle B.C. de­pots by the Binners’ Pro­ject team. The money is raised through the Cof­fee Cup Rev­o­lu­tion’s spon­sors, which in­clude or­ga­ni­za­tions such as B.C. Hous­ing, Vancity, and the Cen­tral City Foun­da­tion. The event also in­cludes round­table dis­cus­sions, where Van­cou­verites are in­vited to join city plan­ners, com­mu­nity mem­bers, and oth­ers in con­ver­sa­tions that ad­dress top­ics such as so­cial hir­ing and sin­gle-use-item re­duc­tion. Ad­mis­sion is free, and at­ten­dees are welcome to bring their own dis­pos­able cups—whether from home, work, or else­where.

“The binners al­ways say that when they go through bins…of­ten they’re com­pletely full be­cause of used cof­fee cups,” says Gode­froy. “So for them, it’s an is­sue be­cause they have no value. It pre­vents them from ac­cess­ing valu­able ma­te­rial such as cans, alu­minum, glass, or plas­tic that can be re­cy­cled.”

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing binners an ad­di­tional source of in­come—and pre­sent­ing the City of Van­cou­ver with a vi­able ap­proach to min­i­miz­ing sin­gle-use items—the Cof­fee Cup Rev­o­lu­tion of­fers res­i­dents a chance to in­ter­act with waste pick­ers from around town. Al­though binners are fre­quently stereo­typed as noisy, messy, and in­tru­sive, many of them are re­spect­ful and play a large part in di­vert­ing much of the city’s re­cy­clables from land­fills, as­serts Gode­froy.

Not all of them fit the pic­ture of some­one strug­gling with men­tal­health is­sues, ad­dic­tion, or phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties that many peo­ple have painted in their heads, ei­ther. “Some peo­ple have part-time jobs, some peo­ple have kids at home…and just need a few dol­lars ex­tra at the end of the month,” says Gode­froy. “And then there are the hard-core, full-time binners that get up ev­ery morn­ing and walk tons of kilo­me­tres a day.”

By join­ing the Binners’ Pro­ject, some of those who were pre­vi­ously strug­gling even be­gin to build im­por­tant skills, such as us­ing a com­puter or set­ting up an e-mail ac­count. “They’re these small lit­tle things that most peo­ple take for granted and most peo­ple know,” says Boutang, “but I didn’t know them and most binners don’t.”

The Cof­fee Cup Rev­o­lu­tion takes place on Mon­day (Oc­to­ber 16) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Vic­tory Square.

Last year, the Binners’ Pro­ject re­cov­ered nearly 50,000 pa­per cups from the streets in a pop-up de­pot. Jackie Dives photo.

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