By Willem Thomas
VANCOUVER – The term binner is defined by the Binners’ Project as “a person who collects redeemable containers and other things from bins to sustain their livelihood and to divert waste from landfills.” In terms most people don’t consider, the binners are providing a community service, self-employed in what’s thought to be a non-traditional source of income. Since 2014, the Binners’ Project (founded by Ken Lyotier, who was also the Executive Director of United We Can) has been engaged in innovative social and economic work with and for binners. They’ve launched a number of programs, such as Coffee Cup Revolution, dedicated to providing binners with a sense of community and support, while also raising public awareness of the judgement and exclusion binners can face.
BeatRoute spoke with the Binners’ Project’s Programs Manager Gabby Korcheva about Coffee Cup Revolution and the Binners’ Project as a whole. “Our mission is to de-stigmatize binning so it’s recognized as a source of income and a service to the city,” she says. “The heart of our project is that we have meetings with binners. They guide the direction of every project. It’s about having your voice heard and respected.”
Now in its fourth year, Coffee Cup Revolution is a one day pop-up depot where binners can return discarded coffee cups for 5 cents apiece. The program serves a dual purpose, not only showing what a coffee cup refund system can accomplish, but also opening a dialogue about binning contributing to an eco-friendly city, and vice versa. 175 binners took part last year and Korcheva predicts the number will be around 250 this year. “Every year it’s grown and gotten more support,” she says. “People are already asking us on the street about it. Coffee Cup Revolution proves a refund system can work, not only cleaning up the streets but also generating new income streams.” There will also be roundtable discussions on topics relevant to binners at the depot, which are free to attend and engage in by anyone.
After speaking with binners about what was most often found in waste bins, the Binners’ Project launched a waste characterization study that found many bins in Vancouver contained upwards of 90% coffee cups. Not only does this contribute hugely to landfills with what could have been recycled, it creates overflowing waste bins. “With coffee cups having no value, they’re just left like any other garbage,” Korcheva says. In regards to the work the Binners’ Project does though, she’s looking forward positively. “People are becoming more conscientious. We’re showing the public that binners do a service for the city.”
Coffee Cup Revolution takes place on October 16 at Victory Square.