Homeless in Vancouver: Couldn't Go Green so I went United We Can

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      I was dumb on Friday. I got the hours of the Go Green bottle depot wrong. When I showed up at 4:50, the doors were closed.

      In fairness, on regular days they’re not supposed to close until 5 p.m., and as it turned out, this was a regular day for them. They should have been open for another 10 minutes—I could have cashed in five or six pop cans.

      My mistake was assuming I knew what their special summer hours were. For years it has meant they were open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

      When they went to summer hours late last month, I should have read the accompanying sign they put up saying that this summer they would be open till 8 p.m. only on Saturday and Sunday. Instead I took it as read that I knew already. And boy was my face red today when I discovered that I didn’t.

      There was nothing for it but to continue east to the new location of the United We Can bottle depot, now in full operation at 455 Industrial Avenue.

      Just like a bottle depot only much bigger

      Inside United We Can. Big, bright, and it doesn’t even smell like a bottle depot!
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The trip there is a breeze. Most of the way is downhill; I just flew down Ontario Street until I reached 2nd Avenue and I could fly no longer. Then a short dogleg east to Main Street and finally two or three blocks north on Main until I reached the intersection with Industrial Avenue.

      Once you’re on Main Street, the remainder of the trip is on level ground.

      Industrial was broad, clean, perfectly paved, and comparatively devoid of any traffic—well, compared to Main Street at 5:15 p.m. with the evening rush hour in full swing.

      United We Can is impossible to miss. The signage is strong and anyway, you can just follow the binners.

      The entrance is reached by a long, two-lane, sloping walkway—obviously planned for a mixture of pedestrians and people pushing shopping carts or their bikes (with or without trailers).

      The interior is cavernous, newly painted, well lit, and very clean.

      There were about nine other customers when I was there, a number that would have filled up Go Green, but the 10 of us, including our various binning contrivances—shopping carts, bicycles, and in my case, bike and trailer—didn’t make a dent in the square footage. It was also quite quiet and peaceful.

      Most of the floor space was actually behind the barrier of the counting stations, set aside for the storage of recyclables.

      Sorting was accomplished on new two-level wheeled stainless-steel trolleys. Containers were separated as usual into blue plastic trays or tubs. In this regard, United We Can does things like Regional Recycling on Evans Avenue.

      I personally prefer the large sorting tables Go Green has, along with its red sorting trays.

      Once you have finished sorting your containers at United We Can, you load all your filled trays onto the wheeled trolley and roll over to the “checkout” or counting station.

      My counter person emitted a steady verbal stream explaining what he was doing.

      It was designed, I think, to be reassuring to a paranoid crystal meth-head, but that's me being judgemental. It might have just been this particular counter person’s unique “bedside manner”.

      The counting ended with my being handed a printed receipt footed with a bar code.

      Payment came out of a sort of cash machine on the other side of the room: a bar code scanner and bill and coin dispensers, all mounted in a piece of plywood mounted on the wall.

      It worked perfectly the first time. I don’t know why the person using it was kicking and cursing it while I was sorting.

      I would have liked to get a photo of the cash machine but a security guard materialized after I took a photo of the checkouts and asked that I not take any more photos inside.

      Process of elimination

      The new United We Can bottle depot already appears to be pulling customers away from Go Green.

      The bottom line is Go Green currently pays a bit less than full deposit on refillable (“domestic” screw top) beer bottles and beer cans: $1 a dozen versus $1.20 they are worth. United We Can pays full deposit on everything.

      As a rule, all bottle depots with convenient inner-city neighbourhood locations have paid less than full deposit on domestic beer bottles and beer cans. The old Kitsilano bottle depot paid even less than Go Green.

      United We Can was the one exception to that rule; a non-profit operation started by binners, it offered full deposit even though it was located in the heart of the downtown core.

      But for people in Kitsilano and Fairview, it was all the way downtown in the Downtown Eastside, and it was an awful zoo surrounded by a constant trade in drugs and merchandise of questionable provenance.

      Prior to last year's closure of the Westside bottle depot in Kitsilano and the relocation this year of United We Can, each Encorp Return-It bottle depot served a logical area.

      Like locations of the same fast-food-restaurant chain, they each had their own catchment area. They weren’t out to take business away from each other and as time showed, there was more than enough business to sustain each of them.

      The City of Vancouver, by deliberately relocating the Hastings Street bottle depot to (I think) allow for accelerated gentrification of the Downtown Eastside, has thrown everything out of whack and really put the cat among the pigeons.

      There are now three bottle depots along a 1.7-kilometre line. Time will tell how long that continues to be the case.

      And sadly, I do not think we will ever see a new bottle depot in Kitsilano.

      Left to right: Go Green, United We Can, and Regional Recycling.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.


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      Jun 15, 2014 at 11:38pm

      Stanley, I went to your blog and found it refreshing. You have more spirit and life than many individuals who have a home and a full time job. I hope that you find your passion again soon if that's what you're looking to do but wish you well down the road. Your writing and perspective is special, please keep writing. Your sarcasm is also quite hilarious! :)

      16 9Rating: +7

      No Name Thanks

      Jun 16, 2014 at 9:45am

      To me this is sort of useless information, but at least the chap is writing (and some find it informative); the writer needs more confidence; the piece needs more pics. I am sure if you asked management (that you wanted), to take a pic of the interior they would accommodate. Don't listen to some two dollar security. This piece could use an edit at the beginning; and the Can place on Hastings was a disgusting eye sore - happy to see it go. Even if it means putting in a Wal*Mart so be it - the place was undignified; and let's be truthful: an incredible amount of illicit activity going on at its doorstep. More pictures please - get yourself a camera, don't rely on a camera phone.

      Good luck to you.