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.