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Pandemic may mean bigger paydays for some 'binners', but they can be at higher risk

Last Updated Apr 27, 2020 at 9:47 am PDT

(Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

There are concerns 'binners' may be putting themselves at higher risk of contracting COVID-19

The pandemic has actually increased the amount of refundables in recycling bins in Vancouver, the Binners’ Project says

Supporters are being encouraged to sort refundables into bags to help binners avoid looking through bins

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Some of the people who pick through recyclables to make money say they’re seeing better days during the pandemic. However, “binners” may be putting themselves at higher risk of contracting the virus, and some of the programs meant to help them are temporarily on hold.

Ed Hawkey is head coordinator for The Binners’ Project, a group in Vancouver for people who rely on the income they make as waste-pickers.

He says the COVID-19 outbreak has actually increased the amount of refundables in recycling bins in the city.

“It’s going pretty good. There’s actually more out there now because everybody is drinking at home, self-medicating,” he tells NEWS 1130.

Hawkey says he is seeing a big increase in glass bottles in particular, and because he owns a vehicle – which he used to live in – he is able to earn a little more as a binner these days.

“I go [to the recycling depot] about five time a week and I probably average $80 per load.”

Hawkey says he is concerned about contracting or spreading COVID-19 as he sorts through bins and back alleys, but he is following social distancing guidelines.

“Usually when I go out, I’m by myself and there’s nobody around me. I social distance pretty good.”

Landon Hoyt is director of the Binners’ Project, created to support and advocate for waste-pickers. Support staff and binners meet weekly to help improve their economic opportunities and work to reduce the stigma they face as informal recyclable collectors.

“We have heard from a few of our members that there are more bottles and refundables available right now. Restaurants and bars are closed so more people are drinking more at home,” says Hoyt.

“Residential recycling is more accessible to binners … so we have heard from some of our members they have been able to cash in more. With the refund rate going up back in November, they are getting more cash for recyclables than they were a year ago as well, so that’s also a positive.”

However, Hoyt points out binners are often some of the most marginalized people in our society, and there can be challenges in getting people to adhere to social distancing or other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a new reality we are all facing and we are taking every precaution in all of our programming to wear proper PPE and all that. But when it comes to actually picking up refundables, we are trying to make our supporters aware that when they put their refundables out to try to sanitize them if they can. Even if it’s just spraying them down with a bleach solution or something like that, it’s what we are suggesting.”

Hoyt says members of the Binners’ Project are also asked to observe proper social distancing, but admits it can be tough.

“Something like that is hard to control, especially when you are dealing with a population that has been rejected from the system a lot of times and doesn’t trust the situation or advice from authorities. We’re doing what we can but, of course, it’s a concern.”

Adding to the difficulties for some, the Binners’ Project has also put some of its projects on hold during the pandemic.

“We actually have a number of contracts with big organizations in the city to do their ‘back of house’ waste sorting. All of that is on hold right now because of COVID-19 and so we have been pivoting some of programming to focus on areas where we can actually support binners to get more money, like residential pick-up,” explains Hoyt.

“We are encouraging people to put their bottles and cans out and trying to set up regular pick-ups. And then we have a ‘binners hook’ program — it’s a little, metal hook that we invite residents to install in their back alleys that has our logo on it.”

Refundables can be sorted into bags – preferably clear plastic – and hung on the hook so pickers don’t have to sort through bins.

“We’ve been going back to some our ‘old school’ ways at the Binners’ Project to support our members any way we can.”