So, on to Binners. Binners and us. A very politically loaded topic. Political because of class, race, and property values. Right from the title, I have already separated Binners from us. And yet, it is a fact that presently in Canada many of us are ONE paycheque away from Homelessness. Or, as some people say: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” All over the world - and in B.C. - the ranks of the homeless are only increasing due to insufficient minimum wages, too low welfare payments, unaffordable housing, and greed. In some countries, you see whole families living on the sidewalk.
So, why do we begrudge these people such a meagre living? People who have nothing? All over Canadian cities public benches have been removed or now have dividers so the homeless can't sleep on them, bus shelters have been so minimized they barely shelter the smallest senior waiting for a bus, let alone the homeless overnight, and fear and hostility greet them in many public places - which then deserve to lose the denomination of public - because public means everybody.
Have you cursed binners as they throw cans out of your building’s garbage bin and wake you up at 6 am? Have you stopped people in your building leaving cans and bottles out for binners because it would “attract them”?
Why are the people putting RECYCLABLES in the GARBAGE not the ones being stigmatized?
There would be no binners if there was nobody consistently not recycling. It just shows what kind of society we are, and what we value. Despite the superficial lip service paid to being green, here we are not valuing the TRUE recyclers - we are valuing our sleep, appearances, and property values. Metro Vancouver BANNED putting recyclables in the garbage many years ago. Binners are a symptom that shows the extent of the problem - we are into the 21st century, we know all the environmental problems, yet the percentage of recyclables actually recycled is very low. Many buildings, especially Stratas, are now locking their garbage bins -- so we don’t even SHARE our GARBAGE with these people (despite all the lip service about learning to share in Kindergarden), thus ensuring these recyclables are NOT recycled! It defies logic.
We also have to consider other issues involved in all the hostility towards the homeless and binners. A percentage of people on the street have mental health problems - there is not enough affordable, supported housing for this population. A provincial government decision turned them out of institutions some years ago, without adequate supports, adding a sizeable percentage to the homeless population of that time. Mental health issues require our maturity and informed understanding. Any one of us can have mental health issues at any time, especially if stressed by unemployment, or homelessness.
A percentage of those on the street are members of First Nations, having also to deal with racism, ignorance, and the legacy of the Residential Schools. Too many Canadians remain ignorant of the full extent of the impact of racism and colonialism on First Nations peoples, thus maintaining the inequality. For example, members of First Nations have the lowest income of ALL groups in Canada, and therefore a higher risk of homelessness.
Not all binners are homeless, some live in the Downtown Eastside (another topic) or elsewhere. Not all homeless are binners. United We Can is a fantastic agency in the Downtown Eastside, supporting those who collect recyclables. Its forerunner, S.O.L.E., was an environmental group started by binners. In the early 90’s, S.O.L.E. was a voice pressuring the government for a recycling, and a deposit system. They were instrumental in the systems we have today. They are part of our environmental history. Today, United We Can offers all kinds of services to local businesses, creating jobs for its demographic. This is wonderful Social Sustainability.
Check out United We Can and its history at: http://www.unitedwecan.ca/
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