photos: Megaphone vendor and binner Hendrik Beune. Photo submitted.

Coffee Cup Revolution

Viewpoints: Megaphone Vendor Hendrik Beune reflects on the Binners’ Project’s latest social innovation

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By Hendrik Beune


The 4th Annual Coffee Cup Revolution happened this past October at Victory Square in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

I “binned”—scavenging the public waste receptacles from Victory Square going east along Hastings to Granville, then south to Davie, east to Burrard, north to Robson, east to Hamilton and back north to Victory Square again.

It took me two hours to complete the circuit on foot, covering both sides of the street as I moved along. My “take” was not great, 108 cups, which at 5 cents per cup yielded me $5.40. That’s for two hours of steady walking and picking through trash.

Last year I did twice the amount on the same route! The reason: last year I collected a few days before the event and had no competition. This year, a lot of the bins had already been discovered, evidenced by loose liquids and leftover lids

Living wage
Could I make a living doing this? Not the way I went about it, but I did something useful and it was good exercise! I gave the money I made to a friend too sick to walk.

Hypothetically, if I wanted to make minimum wage ($11.35/hr) the cups would have to net me 10 cents each by last year's going rate and 20 cents per cup at this year’s slower pace. I asked some people who had just purchased their traditional morning office perk, if they would pay that. Yes, they said!

For a living wage of $22/hr, a binner like me would have to collect 20-40 cents per cup. Such a high surcharge would be discouraging, but not unreasonable as portrayed in Europe. People there are more motivated to bring their own re-usable cup, which is the custom.

It seems reasonable to levy a 10 to 40 cent surcharge for the “privilege” of tossing a disposable (nay recyclable) coffee cup away, just so another person (a binner) can return it to a recycling centre.

Makes you think, eh? Pause at this thought and see what other recommendations you may come up with.

The 2.6 million so-called “polycoat” paper cups are thrown in the garbage in Vancouver each week. Disposable cups and take-out containers make up about half of the volume of all items collected in public waste bins.

Almost a quarter of litter found loose on the streets is paper beverage cups, such as lids and sleeves. They comprise 63 per cent of industrial, commercial, and institutional garbage. Some numbers!

Better for the environment
Cities around the globe are taking action to address single-use item waste. Vancouver is committed to become a zero waste community by 2040.

There is a five-year target to reduce half the amount of disposable cups and take-out containers going to landfill or the incinerator. Ideally all cups are recycled and there are various ways to accomplish this.

Cups should be placed in the blue bins, marked “mixed containers” which are provided at various indoor locations. They are also being introduced at major intersections, to facilitate habits of separating litter into its several useful components.

The province is urged to establish a province-wide surcharge (deposit refund) system for paper cups, as there are for refundable beverage containers (bottles and cans). All members of the Binners’ Project and all who brought cups for cash to Victory Square signed a statement supporting such a system.

Coffee shops, offices, residential and street collection bins can assist with the collection. The Binners’ Project has offered to administer the collection and return of the cups to specialized depots (membership is free and open to anyone).

This seems like a fair system, where the user pays for the service. Most significant is the social impact, the opportunity for low-income earners, many entrenched in deep poverty, to earn some much-needed additional income.

Final remarks: As in previous years, there were three roundtables set up at Victory Square, seating 15 people each.

A good diversity of people ensured that different interests were represented and discussions were lively.

A deposit-refund system, mandatory recycling and education/behaviour change programs can bring about marked improvements for a wasteful society.

A cleaner future
Coffee shops are encouraged to provide reusable cups for in-store use and only provide disposable cups upon request. Recycling/composting receptacles will become mandatory on the shop’s premises, although it is expected that many customers will bring their own re-usable cups.

Similar arguments can be brought on to reduce single-use food containers at take-out food kitchens and replace them with reusable containers. Plastic shopping bags are heavily targeted in the strategy: two million are disposed in the garbage each week!

The aim is to supplant a “dispose, recycle, and energy recovery system” with a “reuse, reduce and avoid” model.

Elements that are severely toxic, with high environmental impact—such as Styrofoam—will be eliminated from use in the near future and they already are banned from some venues like the PNE.

A summary report, following the survey, will be presented to Vancouver City Council with recommendations in January 2018.


This story also appeared in the winter issue of Right to Food Zine.


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