Homeless in Vancouver: Binners eager for Friday raise, even though economically, they're worse off than 19 years ago

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      Many Vancouver binners are hoarding nickel-value beverage containers in anticipation of a big windfall come Friday (November 1), when British Columbia’s refundable five-cent bottle deposit doubles to 10 cents.

      Last week’s announcement, on October 23, by the B.C. product stewardship group Encorp Pacific (a.k.a. “Return-It”), that nickel deposits on all non-alcoholic beverage containers up to a litre will shortly jump to a dime has predictably galvanized binners. Many live day-to-day on what they collect from cashing in returnable beverage containers.

      All of the binners I spoke to on Vancouver’s West Side Tuesday (October 29) morning knew about the increase and were impatiently waiting for November to arrive.

      Quite a few, however, weren’t idly waiting.

      Most of those binners with housing told me they were actively stockpiling nickel pop, juice, and water containers to cash in at the higher 10 cent deposit rate on Friday.

      Some binners talked of making twice as much from the deposit increase—echoing what the Downtown Eastside Binners Project publicly predicted last week.

      I’m not that optimistic but I’m not as conservative as my homeless friend Henry—an experienced binner going back more than 15 years.

      Henry told me that he expects the higher deposit value to increase his income from returning bottles by only about 25 percent.

      Doubling deposit won't double my income

      Itemized receipt for my average haul of bottles and cans Tuesday.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      When I blogged last Thursday about the Encorp announcement, I predicted that it would likely mean a one-third increase in my binning income. My haul of returnable beverage containers Tuesday did not make a liar out of me.

      Composition-wise, the load of containers was a fairly typical one for me—heavy on light stuff, such as aluminum and plastic and very light on heavy glass.

      Out of 474 beverage containers, only 10 were glass, while 322 (or 67.93 percent) were aluminum and 112 (23.62 percent) were plastic.

      More to the point, 252 (53.16 percent) of the total were non-alcoholic containers up to a litre and therefore in line to have their deposit value doubled on November 1.

      Exactly 223 containers (47.04 percent) were either alcohol or over one litre and therefore unaffected by the coming change. This portion (at 10 and 20 cents each, depending) came to a value of $25.40.

      At today’s five cents-per value, the affected portion came to $12.60. At Friday’s 10 cents-per value it comes to $25.20.

      So the total value of the beverage containers I returned on Tuesday was $38.00. On Friday they would be worth $50.60. This is an increase of 33.15 percent, or almost exactly a third—as I predicted.

      The only binners who will see their income doubled by the announced deposit increase are those who only collect non-alcoholic containers up to a litre in volume.

      I am certainly not in that category and neither is any other binner that I know of.

      And to be blunt, this effective deposit value increase of between a quarter and a third still leaves B.C.’s binners materially poorer—deposit value-wise—than they were 19 years ago, when the current deposit system was created.

      Deposit increase is not linked to inflation

      Last week’s increase is the first change in deposit levels for used, single-use beverage containers in B.C. since the reorganization, in 1998, of the then-four-year-old Encorp Pacific.

      This reorganization, 19 years ago, resulted in many more beverage container-types being covered by a sometimes lower deposit value—as some old-time binners will still complain.

      Prior to 1998, for instance, plastic two-litre pop bottles had a deposit value of 30 cents. After 1998, all containers over one-litre covered by the program—alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike—had a 20-cent deposit value.

      It was in 1998 when the deposit value for all non-alcoholic beverage container types up to a litre was set at five cents. At the same time, equivalent volume (but higher-cost) alcoholic containers were given a higher deposit value of 10 cents.

      And then the deposit values stayed the same for the next 19 years—nominally, at least but not in terms of purchasing power.

      Says one online CPI inflation calculator:

      “According to Statistics Canada consumer price index, today’s prices in 2019 are 46.11 percent higher than average prices throughout 1998.”

      Year-by-year inflation has steadily reduced the true value of Encorp Pacific’s antiquated bottle deposit payouts until now, they are effectively worth a little over half what they were 1998.

      The increase in the up-to-a-litre, non-alcoholic, deposit value means that binners (already a very impoverished group) are no longer being treated quite as poorly by B.C.’s bottle deposit system. (Or, should I say, exploited to the same degree?)

      Doing any or all of the following would help give binners a real raise and, at the same time, significantly improve waste diversion and recycling in British Columbia:

      • Doubling the deposit on wine bottles.
      • Expanding refundable deposits to cover the Tetra Pak containers for popular milky plant beverages (such as those made from soy, almond and oat), as well as single-use paper coffee cups.

      Despite its somewhat degraded status as a poor thing for poor people to do, binning has still managed to have a remarkably positive impact on recycling in British Columbia.

      Further modernizing deposit values and increasing the license for binners to hunt down more kinds of single-use waste would only increase the benefits of binning to both British Columbia’s economy and its environment.

      Just as importantly, binning could be transformed from the subsistence trap that it often ends up being now, into a real way for some of the most impoverished British Columbians to help lift themselves out of poverty.