Homeless in Vancouver: Let’s be honest about the city's new cigarette butt recycling program

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      Never mind second-hand cigarette smoke, Vancouver’s poorest smokers care about finding second-hand tobacco, in the form of cigarette butts. Now those poor nic-heads doing their butt runs downtown have a potentially new obstacle or opportunity, thanks to the City of Vancouver’s pilot program to recycle cigarette butts.

      Yesterday, the Cigarette Waste Brigade pilot project began with the installation of 110 recycling receptacles in four areas of the downtown business district. These will naturally be the areas identified as being commonly littered with the most butts—and, they will, just as naturally, be well-known hot spots for people looking for butts for the tobacco. Now some or all of that potential bounty will be in locked, steel receptacles—bad for the casual seeker, but good for the hardcore picker who’s “handy” with locked boxes: “Thanks for keeping our butts dry, suckas!”

      Really though, if this pilot project is considered successful, and expands throughout Vancouver, it will hit directly at one of the prerogatives of the very poor—to extract some value for themselves from the garbage people throw away. If it happens—if cigarette butts largely disappear from the streets of Vancouver—under the guise of litter prevention—it will happen at the expense of the very poor, but to the profit of the city and its business partner TerraCycle. Many of us won’t be surprised; it’s what’s already happening with returnable beverage containers.

      Too valuable to be left to the poor

      As long as recycling was seen as only marginally profitable, then bottles and cans could be left to the very poor and the homeless. Now that recycling is finally maturing as a business model and promising predictable, steady revenue streams, it’s being forcibly taken away from the very poor by the not-poor and the downright wealthy.

      I’m referring to car binners, building managements, and big business. In the case of returnable bottles, everyone wants in on that cash cow. There is no longer any social stigma in collecting bottles and cans. Why not take the Blazer out on the night before recycling collection and load up? If “Joe Sixpack” doesn’t get it then dirty old “Joe Rubbing Alcohol” will, and just blow the money on drugs, right? And on up the food chain. Many large apartments and condos sell their returnables to commercial bottle pickup companies for a percentage.

      At the top, the B.C. government’s newest private industry stewardship group, Multi-Material BC (MMBC) is, by provincial law supposed to take over as the de facto head of all recycling in British Columbia, thus taking away any revenue streams recycling provided—or could provide—from the municipalities who actually pioneered the systems which have helped make recycling look attractive to private industry. The municipalities are supposed to collect the recycling for MMBC as contractors.

      The municipalities, like Vancouver, don’t like it one bit. I feel their pain, or they feel mine. Recycling is too lucrative now for big business to leave it to the cites, just like returnables can’t be left to homeless binners. And now they want to take away cigarette butts. And make no mistake—you may think it’s about littering—but it’s about money also.

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




      Nov 13, 2013 at 3:14pm

      Only in Vancouver could discarding half a cig onto the sidewalk be considered charity. Don't worry dudes, there will be PLENTY of people still littering.

      John Merzetti

      Nov 13, 2013 at 11:53pm

      It is unfortunate that the group of volunteers in the West End Cleanup (http://www.westendcleanup.com @westendcleanup) were not invited to participate in this event.

      We conducted a cigarette buy-back program at West End Car-Free Day on Father's Day and it was a rousing success. I know it was a success based upon the media coverage, plus the fact that, on the Early Edition two days later, a certain Vision Vancouver Councillor pretty well took credit for all of the hard work done by our group (even BSing about our fund-raising technique when asked how we managed to spend over $600 when our grant was only for $500).

      I had been in touch with the organisers of this news conference from the very beginning asking that we get included in the program and suggested that it would be great to do the roll-out in the West End (where it all began). Nowhere in the press release was our group included (and I know this as I was sent a copy of it).

      While I accepted the fact that Georgia & Granville was a far more suitable spot for all involved, the fact that we were not invited to officially participate is truly a despicable shun on the part of the organisers.

      Having said that, I sincerely hope that this second pilot is a success. It is just important, though, that credit be given to the volunteers that made it happen and not well-paid politicos (for that is their job).

      One final thing ... why was it nowhere mentioned that the funding for this whole thing came from "Big Tobacco"? Unless I completely misunderstood information given to me by Terracycle, that is where the funding comes from. I cannot not understand the secrecy around this. Perhaps someone from the CofV or Terracycle can explain.

      Mike Wilson

      Nov 14, 2013 at 8:24am

      You're a reporter, I imagine; or at least you would like to pretend that you are one. Perhaps you would do better to cover an issue from all possible angles instead of dreaming up an angle and ignoring the rest of the facts that don't fit in nicely with it.
      Tell me, how sanitary is it for the homeless to be discarded cigarettes? What are the ramifications of discarded cigarettes luring the homeless into areas that do not support them, like other areas do?
      Why do we, as a society, have an obligation to feed addiction to the homeless of Vancouver, instead of dealing with it.
      You write as if cigarettes are a right.
      Imagine what actually important stories you could be writing about instead of this non-issue. Imagine how much time and energy was wasted talking about something that doesn't matter.


      Nov 14, 2013 at 12:50pm

      Acting as if a big favour is being done "for local disadvantaged people"; but no mention of the wage. The project smacks of arrogant charity and typical disrespect and lack of understanding. It has nothing to do with concern about people's health nor respect. The "less advantaged" who will be hired are just a handy group who can be used to do jobs at low wages that the people who arrogantly and ignorantly think they are better. However, as comments show, who cares about the poorest; they don't matter and there is no need for respect, right?
      So what is the wage? Hopefully at least $15.00 an hour.


      Nov 14, 2013 at 1:33pm

      I would do some more research before talking about profitability


      Nov 14, 2013 at 1:55pm

      How cynical of an article. Do you not realize how many THOUSANDS of butts are thrown onto the street currently? (please refer to John's comment previously regarding the city-wide cigarette butt count that was done, and which I was a part of as well). These cigarette receptacles will do a very small part to help clear up the disgusting, polluting, waste of many smokers. The idea that this is an attack on the poor, is ludicrous and far fetched.


      Nov 16, 2013 at 5:22am

      tobacco , marijuana , cocaine , sex should be free and paid for by the corporate and political scum that infest vancouver , canada and most of the planet...i suggest 150% tax on all people i do not like.