Homeless in Vancouver: Go Green recycling depot is up for sale—again

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      I was shocked to learn Friday (December 20) that the Go Green recycling depot business at 2286 Ontario Street is up for sale for the second time in less than 18 months.

      Today’s asking price is a cool $1.1 million.

      In July 2018, after operating Go Green for 18 years, Kathleen and Anthony Ryder sold the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood depot—originally started by Kathleen’s family in 1995—to Roy and Julia Song, for an undisclosed sum.

      The new sale listing for Go Green went up October 31. For what it’s worth, that was five days after Return-It, the industry-based beverage container recycling nonprofit that controls British Columbia’s provincewide recycling depot network, doubled the minimum refundable container deposit from five to 10 cents.

      Family-run bottle depot sells…to another family

      Anthony and Kathleen Ryder spent their last day at Go Green saying goodbye to their regular customers.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Friday, July 6, was Kathleen and Anthony’s last day as owners of Go Green and they marked it with a characteristic show of gratitude to their extended family of regular customers—many of them impoverished and homeless—by rolling out their barbecue to hold one last last free hot dog giveaway!

      Since the Song family assumed ownership and Roy Song and his cousin Huey took over daily operations, the interior space of the depot has been gradually but substantially renovated. The customer space has been completely partitioned from the warehouse space and made more inviting and less cavelike, with brighter lighting, new stainless steel sorting tables and a fresh coat of bright paint.

      There is also a very fancy new, touchless faucet in the customer wash-up area!

      Recycling depots are also about people helping people

      In July 2018 James had worked at Go Green for eight years. I first met him in 2003 when he worked at the United We Can depot, then located in the Downtown Eastside.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Since the Songs took over in July 2018 Go Green has seen some staff turnover as well. Three of five of the Ryder’s full-time employees have been let go and one new full-timer and a part-timer (both binners) have been hired.

      One long-time employee who made the transition from the Ryders to the Songs is James. He is a most equitable fellow who has worked at sorting, warehousing and packing in recycling depots for the better part of the last 23 years.

      For the last nine years James has worked at Go Green. Before that, from 1997 to 2004, he worked at the United We Can depot, when it was located in the Downtown Eastside. A few months ago he was promoted to become Go Green’s manager.

      Another valuable holdover from the Ryder era is “Nas” (short for Nasruddin), who has expertly counted returnable beverage containers at Go Green’s front counter since he was snapped up by the Ryders in 2013, when the West Side depot, where he had worked for 11 years, lost its lease and closed.

      Belated history of a Mount Pleasant institution

      Go Green was founded in 1995 by the parents of Kathleen Ryder (née Robertson).

      It opened for business in a small, second floor space at 7 East 7th Avenue, on the northeast corner of Ontario Street. This was a mere two months after Vancouver’s very first recycling depot—United We Can—opened on Carrall Street in the Downtown Eastside.

      For the first five years, Go Green was operated by Kathleen’s brother Tom, Jr. But in 2000-2001, the business passed to Kathleen and her husband Anthony Ryder.

      Probably by 1997 but certainly by 2000, the depot had moved to its current, much-larger quarters at 2286 Ontario Street—which was still in the same building but on the main floor and easily accessible through two large loading bays from the back alley.

      In July of 2018, Kathleen explained to me how shocked she was in 2000 to see the large number of homeless people who were cashing in beverage containers at Go Green. And, of course, the number just kept increasing, year by year.

      She quickly came to see how important the recycling depot could be in the day-to-day life of her often destitute customers.

      Bottle deposits and self-empowerment

      Aaron is a formerly homeless binner who has been cashing in the bottles at Go Green for over 15 years. In June I photographed him beside his likeness, included in a mural on the Ontario Street side of the depot.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      It’s almost impossible to overstate the positive impact on poverty and homelessness of B.C.’s 25-year-old system of refundable beverage container deposits and Return-It recycling depots—all overseen by the provincially mandated, but industry-based, nonprofit Encorp Pacific.

      Beyond its stated purpose, of reducing the amount of a waste going into landfills, British Columbia’s Return-It bottle deposit program has also had the side effect of giving homeless and impoverished people a low-tech, barrier-free way to earn money—one of the few that does not require identification (easy for homeless people to lose but hard for them to replace), or a bank account.

      The no-strings-attached money that can be earned from collecting and cashing in beverage containers was especially important during the container deposit program’s first decade, when there were comparatively few other services to help homeless people. But it continues to be one of British Columbia’s most significant antipoverty programs.

      And by enabling the very poor to legally earn money in direct proportion to their effort, B.C.’s container deposit program has always worked against the tendency of society to criminalize homelessness and poverty.

      Return-It recycling depots, such as Go Green, also become a focal point of community and stability for their homeless and street-embedded customers (such as myself).

      Naturally I have to be concerned by any news that concerns my favourite recycling depot’s future.