Today, we’re celebrating Earth Day – and in a time where our society has had to completely restructure and reimagine the world of work and how we relate to one another, something amazing has started happening.
Venice’s canals have cleared, and air pollution is down in major cities around the world, including Vancouver. The Earth is taking a moment of reprieve to breathe, recalibrate, recover.
This Earth Day, we are celebrating the movements that have happened in the last 12 months, including the climate strikes that happened around the world including right here in Vancouver.
We’re also celebrating the tireless work of Vancouver binners, and waste-pickers around the world who do the gritty work of separating and sorting recyclable materials sometimes for little to no pay.
Our social enterprise programs were designed to provide binners with fair and reliable income opportunities, and although they may have halted, binners are more resilient than ever. They have been heading to your back alleys to pick up the bottles and cans you have been leaving out for them. To those of you who have been helping them in this regard – thank you. It has not gone unnoticed.
Please consider supporting local binners by continuing to leave out your bottles and cans and purchasing a Binners’ Hook.
Director, Binners’ Project
I thought I would touch base on how things are shaping up here at Binners’ Project.
We had another outdoor Binners’ Meeting on Tuesday and I got a chance to chat with the binners about how things are going for them. Overall people are doing OK so far, which is good to hear. They’re anxious about what might happen over the next few weeks, but everyone is healthy and they’re really grateful for the income replacement we’ve been giving them.
Thank you so much to those of you who donated over the week. Brianne told me that 37 of you donated $1,905, which is amazing. If you haven’t donated yet, you can do that right here.
This money is going towards our Binners’ Meetings stipends, which we’ve upped from $5 to $20 after our social enterprise programs were cancelled. Cancelled programs means lost revenue, which is why we’re looking for donations to help us cover these costs. What you’ve donated so far gives us about 2 weeks of ‘income replacement’ for about 50 binners.
Help us get to $5,000 so we can continue income replacement through to May. Pitch in now.
We’ll be in touch as things continue.
Stay safe out there,
PS: Donate now to help us continue giving binners income while they’re not able to work!
What a challenge the past week has been.
First off - I hope you’re well and staying home as much as possible. Our responsibility to folks who are most at risk of needing medical care during this outbreak is paramount.
With this, and through discussions with our social enterprise partners, we have made the decision to suspend all back-of-house waste sorting, public representation and event programs effective today and until further notice.
So, what does this mean?
Well most importantly, it means the binners will not be able to work during this time. As you can imagine, this was a difficult and emotional decision to come to as we sit with the massive disruption in fulfilling our mission to increase binners’ economic opportunities.
But, this doesn’t mean we’re letting our members go completely empty handed, as providing safe and stable income opportunities for our members is key to that mission.
Last night, we switched up our Binners’ Meeting by gathering outside to better abide by social distancing practices. We met with our volunteer members to give them a small stipend in recognition of lost shifts. These volunteers generally receive an honorarium in compensation for participating in our programs.
Casual staff members will receive a similar amount on their next paycheque.
Right now, we are doing this ‘income replacement’ out-of-pocket as our social enterprise program revenues have halted. In order to continue this work in the coming weeks, we need your help.
$20 may seem like a small amount, but it will bring a bit of financial support in this time of crisis while maintaining engagement with the Binners’ Project community – please donate now.
We continue to look toward the Provincial and Federal governments as they consider financial support to people living in poverty who are not eligible for Employment Insurance. We expect to hear more on this by the end of the week.
We know you care about the binners, and many of you are donors who support our programming. We will keep you updated about the steps we’re taking to ensure the binners are safe, healthy, and financially stable as this pandemic continues.
Please consider donating today.
With the massive public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to let you know how we’re looking ahead to what an outbreak could look like in the Downtown Eastside. We’re thinking largely about the impacts on our members, the majority of whom are over the age of 50 and have pre-existing health issues – which as we know are the virus’ most likely victims so far.
We’ve also been talking about the impacts this might have on our social enterprise programs, and had a conversation yesterday with other DTES social enterprises to discuss potential action plans.
As we’re keeping a close eye on the situation in Vancouver and across the lower mainland, we’ll be re-evaluating our weekly Binners’ Meetings regularly to ensure the safety and wellness of our members. Already this week, we instituted a handwashing station with education on proper respiratory hygiene, and are encouraging people to stay home when they are sick.
However, we know that the public health structures put in place to prevent the spread of disease, like self-quarantine and handwashing, won’t be easy to implement in the DTES. How can you afford unpaid sick-leave when you supplement your government benefits with vending, binning, and honoraria? How can you self-quarantine when you share a bathroom with 15 other people? Or even more, if you’re staying in a shelter?
In our communications with our members, we will continue to inform and educate them on best practices as recommended by our local health authorities, knowing there barriers may exist that prevent them from receiving and acting on up-to-date information about this situation.
We are also working on being present at the table with the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health to ensure that binners and DTES residents are at the forefront of a coordinated community response.
While we recognize that the risk associated with COVID-19 to the public is still considered low in BC, we continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds and will be taking additional precautions as necessary.
Director, Binners’ Project
Dear friends and partners,
It is with great emotion that I am finishing my work with Binners’ Project today.
From the beginning, five years ago, every day I’ve showed up to work to find inspiring people filled with dreams, hope and excitement. This project has shown me that with passion and dedication we create real impact. I often think of the beginning...I was naive, and things appeared simple. My only thought was: “we’ve got to do something to help these guys out.” With Ken Lyotier’s network and experience, One Earth’s support, and McConnell Family Foundation seed funding, the natural first step was to meet with binners and ask them what they wanted.
Five years forward, I feel like I’ve done my part. I’ve done everything I could to improve the binners’ livelihood, and raise awareness about their important role in cities. With the help from all of you, we fundraised over $1.5 million and created thousands of opportunities for binners to be financially independent, learn new skills, and equip themselves with the tools to build their own community from the bottom up. I never knew it was possible to create change that.
I’ve personally witnessed people change over the years. A lot of people. It is slow change, but steady. I’ve seen people’s faces looking healthier, and colour coming back to their face. Smiles getting bigger week after week. It became routine to have members coming to us and saying that Binners’ Project was changing their lives. For instance, they hadn’t worked for 20 years or so, and that having a weekly moment of connection and a couple of shifts a week had a ripple effect on their life, and their self-worth was coming back. Several members found the strength in themselves to reconnect with their families, often children or parents, that they hadn’t talked to in years. And they will tell you -- they wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that without Binners’ Project.
It’s been a real honour to work alongside binners, and I am forever grateful for the experiences that I’ve had working with all of you. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help get us where we are today.
I am feeling confident about leaving Binners’ Project in Landon’s hands. The team continues working on destigmatizing the work of binners, achieving zero-waste, and growing economic opportunities in this community. There is a lot of work still to be done, and I hope you’ll keep following along – I certainly will.
I’m here to share a bit of news. After five years with Binners’ Project, I have decided it is time to move on to new pursuits. As you will see in our annual report which will be ready in a few weeks, the Project is on an incredible trajectory – binner involvement, partner investment, and stakeholder engagement are at all-time highs – and I feel that it is an appropriate time to step aside and make room for fresh leadership.
Since we launched Binners’ Project I have learned so many things: my passion for working with community and partners such as yourself, to launching and sustaining groundbreaking new initiatives such as the Universal Cart – which will be up and running before I leave. I am incredibly proud of the Binners’ Project’s hard-fought and well-earned success and I am excited to translate my experience to new settings and communities when I officially leave my post in September.
Until that time comes, we are committed to finding someone who will lead Binners’ Project to even further heights. The job posting is now live on our website, so if you know someone we should consider, please share it with them.
I am not going anywhere for a while yet, but I want to take this moment to acknowledge your support. I know that with continued support and donations from people like you, the binners, our support staff, and Binners’ Project will be in great hands.
Director & Co-founder of Binners’ Project
For 6 years, Mike took his weekly commute to the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club where he waited for the weekend waste to be brought out to the black bins in the parking lot next to the seawall. He would meticulously go through each bag searching mostly for bottles and cans. But every week, he would go home with a little something extra.
“I didn’t buy groceries for 6 years. What I stored up from the summer at the Yacht Club lasted me through to the end of winter, and then it started all back up again.”
Mike hasn’t been able to bin regularly since suffering a heart attack earlier in the spring, but recalls in detail the kinds of things he would take home.
“I’d get at least 5-6 steaks a week, dozens of unopened bags of potato chips, and infinite amounts of cheese and cheese blocks – expensive stuff too. Over the course of the year I probably would find 5 to 10 gallons of unopened alcohol. One time we found 12 bottles of unopened wine in one week.”
Not everything found its way back to his fridge, however. Mike says he was pretty picky about what he took with him.
“You have to be really careful about meat and know what’s good and what’s bad. I wouldn’t take anything that’s not wrapped and still sealed. It had to be contained and unopened. I also wasn’t big on cooked food because you didn’t know how well they cooked it or how it was prepared. It’s hard to tell if it’s gone bad or not.”
“But I will say this, I have never ever gotten sick - but I was very particular about what I took.”
Not every binner has this experience finding high quality foods in the amounts that Mike did at the Yacht Club.
“By no means was the average binner getting what I was getting in terms of food. The Yacht Club was special. These boats would come in, and since there was such little space in their fridges and freezers, when they were done they threw everything out.”
“It makes a bit of sense to me how these guys can throw their food away, because they think they have nowhere else to put it, but what really gets me is when I see food in the bin outside apartment buildings. I used to see that all the time when I was binning bin in Kits and North Van.”
Mike says there’s much better use for food that you have at home that you’re thinking about throwing away.
“Give it away! I did that a lot with people in my building. I shared an incredible amount of what I brought home – one of my neighbours didn’t buy condiments for 3 years.”
“People at the Yacht Club would know I was waiting out there when the trash came out. So they’d set their leftover food off to the side in a tied up bag, sometimes with a note on it or something.”
“If I could give any advice, I would say if you want to leave food out for someone in the alley, make sure it’s frozen first. Then you are giving that person a better chance of being able to get use out of it.”
And what does Mike think of all the food that is being wasted in our city? He’s not impressed.
“It’s disgusting what’s wasted in Canada, our grocery stores included. We should be giving food that’s not expired to the Food Bank or to someone who needs it. People earning $10 an hour can’t afford to buy groceries. Don’t tell me you feel good about throwing something good out of your fridge. Someone can use it. We do use it. Whether you find it disgusting or not, we do eat out of the dumpster.”
Today is our Coffee Cup Revolution event, and we’re talking about plastics and packaging. Bev and Kelly bin regularly, and have been with Binners’ Project since its inception.
They sat down with us to talk about what they like to find, and their favourite spots to look out for coffee cups.
You bin mostly at night, why does that work better for you?
Bev: It’s quieter, and there’s less people around so it makes it easier.
Kelly: We have flashlights so it makes things easier. The only thing we see sometimes are skunks, but we know to stay away from each other.
When do you usually go, and for how long?
Kelly: We have a route in Kits that we do, so we always go when we know it’s going to be garbage day. That way the bins are always out in the alleys. It takes us about 7 or 8 hours in total, with a little break in the middle.
What’s the most challenging about picking out bottles and cans from the bins?
Bev: It can get pretty messy, especially if the recycling isn’t sorted or anything. Sometimes I take some time and sort out the paper from the plastic and stuff if it’s really messy.
Kelly: It makes it easier when people put the cans outside of the bin in a bag or box for us. Out it Kits we see a few of the Binners Hooks around, and people hang bottles from there, which is helpful. It’s nice to know they’re expecting us to come, and it just makes it easier, and it’s quieter.
You both have been to many Coffee Cup Revolution events. How do you bin for coffee cups? Is it different than bottles and cans?
Kelly: We have been collecting some when we’re out on our regular runs at night, whenever we see them.
Bev: The best time of day for cups is lunch time, and we have this one block in Yaletown we like to go to. We’re usually picking them out of garbage cans, but they’re hard to get into now because they’re the bins that open from the front. It makes them difficult to reach into.
What are some things you would challenge others to do to help make sure their bottles & cans, and other packaging like coffee cups are getting recycled?
Kelly: It’s hard for us to get into the bins if things are really messy. Sometimes compost is mixed in with all the containers, and it’s hard to get things out. I think it’s what I said earlier - it’s helpful when people use a bag and put the can on the hook. It makes us feel like people are looking out for us.
Bev: We are all accountable to make sure things are going in the right place. From the person who throws it in the bin, to the janitors who are cleaning things up, to us binners who are putting things in the right place and recycling the cans. We all need to do our best to make sure things are being recycled.
Today in Waste Reduction Week we are celebrating Champions and Innovators in the waste reduction community. Part of Binners’ Project’s work in innovating in this sector is legitimizing the work binners do as informal recyclers through ensuring they are adequately compensated for their work at above minimum wage. Now, we offer a sorting service to buildings and events to ensure that binners are paid for their work.
On of our binner-staff Sam is an avid binner, picking up bottles and cans where he can, but also has a huge passion for recycling and cleaning the streets.
“I lead by example, If I’m walking by the garbage, I pick it up. I was taught that. This is my neighbourhood, my front door, my back door. Same as your front door, your back door. It’s all the same. Doesn’t matter if you’re on the other side of the world, we’re all part of the same society.”
Sam is our champion today because out of his passion for recycling, he does waste sorting for businesses beyond his paid work with Binners’ Project, with his only payment being the bottles he picks up along the way.
“I give them credit for allowing me to do it for them. If they can’t pay for the service, it’s better if I get to do it for them, instead of everything going into one bin.”
Sam’s challenges to you:
Let’s all work together to keep our streets clean!
-- Binners’ Project
Welcome to Textile Tuesday!
Jon is one of our newer binner-staff and is well known for his quirky style and making his own clothing. We sat down with him to hear more about how he finds and makes clothing.
What kind of things do you usually like to make from the items you find?
I really like making hats from scratch like this leather one I’m wearing. I also refurbish hats a lot if I find old ones, I’ll replace the plastic part in the brim and fix it up a bit.
What kind of material do you like to work with the most?
Usually leather - I love finding things made of leather like jackets and purses. But I also really like patterned things because they’re fun.
Sometimes I make jewelry out of old computer parts and other things I find, I like working with that kind of stuff too.
How do you make things?
I have a sewing machine and like to take what I find apart and make new things out of it. Like this leather hat I have, I made this out of a leather jacket that I found in the alley. I took it apart and made it into a hat instead - it took me about 6 months to make. I like to take my time.
Where do you normally find used clothing?
Sometimes things are just in the street, must most times I find them in alleys. I find people tend to put things outside of the bin if they think someone might be able to reuse them. That’s how I find most of my stuff, I never go inside the bins.
Why do you like to make things out of something old?
Everything has a purpose, and everything can be made beautiful again. I like spending time making new things out of something that's been used.
What would you challenge others to do when it comes to getting rid of their old clothing?
Don’t throw it away, or even put it in the alley. There’s tons of people who would love to make something new out of it, so you could either sell it online or give it away for free somewhere. If you want you could give it to a thrift store, sometimes I go there to find things for myself.
Here's some tips:
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