Homeless in Vancouver: From the fridge straight into the blue bin

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Here’s a photo of the rather photogenic insides of a Container blue bin I looked in on last night.

      The shiny blue plastic bin really showcases the nice selection of recyclable containers. Seems a veritable advertisement for urban recycling—neat, clean, attractive, and effective.

      So what's wrong with this picture?

      Almost none of the containers are empty.

      What the city wants and what it gets

      Someone appears to have thrown out the contents of their fridge—someone is always throwing out the contents of their fridge.

      Usually this stuff gets bagged and thrown in the Dumpster after which time Dumpster divers cherry-pick what they want.

      But this particular someone has done what people only occasionally do: they have just dumped everything straight into their building’s Container bin.

      This is, I think, the result of a pretty transparent thought process that ends with: “They’re containers. They shouldn’t go into the Dumpster, they should go in the Container bin.”

      You and I both know—and I think they know also—that only empty containers are supposed to go in the Container bins. This what the City of Vancouver says about preparing mixed containers for recycling:

      1. Rinse all containers clean.
      2. Remove and put container lids in the garbage.
      3. Flatten all containers as much as possible.
      4. Leave labels on containers.

      The first three rules have been in place since the beginning of Vancouver’s residential recycling program.

      Rule number four was an early reversal of policy; originally the city asked for labels off.

      I remember the arrival of apartment recycling some 18 years ago; how I dutifully followed the city’s instructions: peeling all the paper labels off my rinsed tin cans, which I then flattened before putting them gently in the blue bin.

      The problem with rule four was probably that people wouldn’t be bothered but it also kind of screwed binners (excuse my French) by invalidating returnable containers.

      A wine bottle has a refundable deposit value of 10 cents. A wine bottle with the label removed could be a balsamic vinegar bottle or home-brewed wine, neither of which have a deposit value.

      Plastic milk jugs have no deposit value; however, the same kind of four-litre plastic jugs used to bottle water have a 20-cent deposit value—but only if the label is on so you can tell they aren’t milk jugs.

      Once rule number four told residents to do nothing about labels, it became the only rule residents had no trouble following.

      When no one follows a rule, often the rule is at fault

      The complaints of binners may have caused rule four to be changed. If it was due to lack of compliance, a person has to wonder how rules two and three have survived so long.

      I mean, what kind of idiot wastes their time flattening their cans…? Virtually no one does anymore.

      And rule number two will come as a surprise to the majority of Vancouverites. It’s stupid, isn’t it?

      The city accepts bimetal food cans. Why then do bimetal jar lids have to be removed and thrown in the garbage?

      At Encorp Pacific Return-It bottle depots, why do the caps from plastic bottles have to be removed and discarded? Apparently cap plastic is different than bottle plastic and clogs the recycling machines—sounds just dumb enough to be true.

      Mind you, the metal caps do not need to be removed from glass containers, but that’s just the bottle depots again. Remember, the city wants them off and in the regular garbage.

      The number one rule of recycling is wasteful

      Rule number one is generally followed. Containers are almost always empty.

      I think the majority of residents do rinse out their empty containers, with a determined fraction actually appearing to run them through their dishwashers before putting them out in their blue bins.

      A sizable number of containers are as empty as when you can’t easily get any more product out (see peak oil).

      It’s understandable why the city doesn’t want container bins full of full containers or even containers with food residue in them.

      Firstly, the cleaner the input into the recycling system, the less separation and hygienic issues during the throughput.

      And secondly, this recycling system was designed around first-world assumptions that everything should and would be clean, tidy, and well-ordered.

      Act local, think global? It's called immigration

      It can’t last, though. Compliance with the rules has and will always been an issue.

      More than that, I think immigration will increasing bring real-world thinking to bear on our first-world assumptions of perfection in all things.

      The water that comes out of our taps has been systematically and expensively ensured to be clean and safe for human consumption.

      We enjoy constant access to safe drinking water for all our needs—an estimated one billion people (one in seven people on Earth) do not.

      Military planners around the world are bracing for the coming days when drought and water shortages become so dire they lead to wars.

      What do we do with our perfect tap water? We use it to wash our garbage.

      C'mon, that's funny!

      People who emigrate here from any number of countries are right if they think we’re insanely wasteful.

      The time will come when we have to get real

      Real-world thinking says garbage is garbage and it’s either recyclable or it isn’t. If it is, then recycle it.

      Quit being so squeamish and saying it’s only recyclable if it’s spotlessly clean. No matter what, recyclables shouldn’t go into the landfill.

      Only in the West would we make recycling a kind of beauty pageant for garbage.

      As for the rinsing, that should be done using grey water as part of the recycling process where economies of scale can come into play.

      And properly speaking, the recycling system should, in the fullness of time, move to less and less pre-sorting. Ultimately little more division than Organic, Paper, and Everything Else.

      It’s almost entirely a technological challenge. But isn’t technology what we first worlders are supposed to be good at?

      So basically, what I’m getting at is, the resident who dumped the contents of their fridge straight into the container bin had the right idea after all.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.


      We're now using Facebook for comments.



      Jun 8, 2014 at 4:51pm

      No mention of the wasted food and helping the homeless?

      True Moo

      Jun 8, 2014 at 8:21pm

      As someone who searches out a meal each and every night (I sleep on a Los Angles sidewalk), I'm curious what (other than blatant click-bait), this article is: A call to arms... more CDN (a self-professed gift to the world) propaganda (the guy who wrote this is a total loser.)

      This sentence makes no sense: '..More than that, I think immigration will increasing bring real-world thinking to bear on our first-world assumptions of perfection in all things...'

      The entire piece makes no sense. No one cares what Canada does. So you recycle, so what? You can't even tell a story or make a movie that does not beg to be turned off five minutes in. You can make music... that's it. All your good writers are dead (or DOA at the bookstore.) The best part of your nation (Quebec), is shunned throughout your little hobby shop country.

      I lived in Van for a while (I was h/less there: lived like a king); and you guys go on and on about saving the world, etc., and your silly car plate: The most beautiful...' Down here in L.A. we laugh at you self-righteous Canadians. We laugh at how special you think you are: 'I'm Canadian. I'm special...'

      I'd say you're 40 years away from having any sort of important global impact in world affairs. You're good at making rules, at acting outraged, etc.;but a passive/aggressive disposition only gets so far.

      Vancouver used to be a cool place to live... and then you went vertical and destroyed your city - so now you live under 'condo rules.' Even if you don't own/live in a condo in Vancouver-- still subjected to these rules.

      The above piece is nothing but a declaration of modern Marxism. You should worry more about repatriating Quebec and getting a real constitution; and making a positive contribution.

      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Jun 8, 2014 at 9:22pm

      @ So

      Actually there is a mention of homeless helping themselves to the "wasted food" when it is bagged and tossed in dumpsters. I would have thought it went without saying that the food food containers in this blue bin were equally accessible to binners and dumpster divers.

      @ Moo

      I'll get right on that constitution thing immédiatement!


      Jun 9, 2014 at 9:41am

      Considering the point of this article is so muddled I have no idea what the guy's talking about, I'll come up with a point of my own: as is implied by the author, it's ok to trespass, rummage through private property, and steal materials designated to generate revenue for municipal waste & recycling programs? Many "Binners" as you call them use scavenging cans and bottles as a means to commit other property crimes. Further, scavenging is a subsistence lifestyle that promotes drug and alcohol use and other poor life choices. Don't be fooled thinking scavengers are "just trying to get by."


      Jun 9, 2014 at 1:13pm

      Yeah, LA has it all figured out - truly a shining beacon for Vancouver to aspire to.


      Jun 9, 2014 at 5:39pm

      I understand that that you don't understand the point I'm trying to make but -- not to steal your thunder or anything -- I don't understand your point either.

      We'll both just have to try again another time.