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Unsung warriors of urban environmental drive – Metro US

Unsung warriors of urban environmental drive

I was driving up a steep stretch of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver recently when I witnessed a man tearing down the hill in the opposite direction — riding a grocery cart. A cart that was filled with empty beer cans and pop bottles.

He must have lost control of his ride, because in a split second he had swerved onto a side street, causing his makeshift cruiser to tilt sideways, scattering some of his recyclables across busy Lonsdale in the process.

What happened next was encouraging.

Instead of the usual horn honking and passive-aggressive sulking that typifies Metro Vancouver road rage, the held-up drivers waited patiently for the man to pick up his returnables and be on his way.

Traffic delays be damned, they were showing some respect for the man — and his line of work. With good reason.

Bottle pickers and binners are the unsung warriors of the urban environmental movement.

They are a force in global mega-cities like Mumbai and Sao Paulo. And their numbers are growing in Metro Vancouver, as well.

Research from Crystal Tremblay, a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, has focused on the economic and environmental significance of “informal resource recovery” — what the rest of us refer to as dumpster diving — in Vancouver.

What she found is that binning in the city not only reduces the amount of waste heading to the dump, but also creates jobs for otherwise marginalized individuals.

Mind you, some folks associate dumpster divers with vagrancy and crime. But as Tremblay was quick to point out when I spoke with her recently, “They’re just trying to make a living.”

Tremblay, who also works with binners in Brazil through UVic’s Community-based Research Laboratory, is adamant that working with, not against, binners is the smartest move a community can make. It’s hard to disagree.

Green economic development
A new breed of green enterprises are focused on both the environment and social change. But a longstanding leader in this area has been United We Can, set up 15 years ago on East Hastings Street to serve area recyclers. In addition to beverage container recycling, the firm has undertaken projects devoted to cleaning back alleys, rescuing discarded computer equipment, and fixing bikes and carts.

By providing work for local binners, the organization has become a poster child for green economic development — while improving the quality of life for many of the struggling residents of the Downtown Eastside.

– Derek Moscato is a writer with a focus on urban issues, transportation, architecture
and economics; dmoscato@yahoo.com.

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