Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 31: The Future of the Binners' Project — with Landon Hoyt and Anna Godefroy

Speakers: Fiorella Pinillos, Am Johal, Anna Godefroy, Landon Hoyt, Milena Droumeva, Brett Ashleigh

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Fiorella Pinillos  0:05
Hola, mi nombre es Fiorella Pinillos y trabajo en SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Bienvenidos a Below the Radar. On this episode, we sit down with Landon Hoyt and Anna Godfrey of the Binners Project, a social enterprise dedicated to improving the economic opportunities and reducing stigma of waste pickers. This unique organization works to combat environmental and social injustice. Anna, the co-founder and Landon, the current director, chat with our host Am Johal about the unique and powerful work of the Binners Project.

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Am Johal  0:43
Welcome to Below the Radar. We're joined by Anna Godefroy from the Binners Project and the incoming executive director Landon Hoyt. Welcome to both of you. 

Anna Godefroy  0:56

Landon Hoyt  0:56
Thanks for having us.

Am Johal  0:56
Yeah, it's really quite an interesting time now that you're in your last few weeks, Anna, in a project that you've been building for a number of years. And I'm wondering if we can sort of begin with how you got involved in the project and kind of how you've been developing the organization over the past few years.

Anna Godefroy  1:16
We started almost over five years ago now. And initially, the idea was to connect the binners, which means the waste pickers, the local recyclers, to get them to connect to each other. And help them having a more collective voice and hearing what their needs were, and what could be done to support their work. Recognizing that they recycle waste, they help clean up the streets. And so the whole idea was how do we support a group of people that's pretty invisible, not really — we don't really talk about them. So that's how we started, just a really simple idea, listening to the Binners.

Am Johal  1:59
A number of years ago when United We Can was starting out in the 90s. There's people like Ken Lyotier around, and I think he's probably involved around the start of this project, as well. But there's, you know, over time been a real kind of maybe a change of practices and approaches to understanding the economics of waste collecting, and picking, and recycling. And in ways that also make sure that there's earned income for people who are engaging in that type of activity. And  I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how you see, over time how that process has changed and evolved and gotten more complicated in ways that have supported the incomes of people in the neighbourhood here.

Anna Godefroy  2:43
So I think we — our initiative, we kind of came at the right time, in the sense that there is a bit of a trend around finally coming back to us looking at what we throw away, and realizing that there's a lot of things that go to the garbage that still has value, and could be reused by somebody, or re resold, or fixed, or eaten. Like a lot of food is being thrown away. And so we heard that from the binners, that that was one of the first things they told us, was there is so much that we throw away that we want to recycle, and reuse, sell, whatever. And so, and I think it's kind of coming back to old traditions — where people used to use things until they're very much completely done, or fix their stuff. And so, there is a bit of coming back. I don't know how you call that, but it's a bit of a trend to look back at that. And being a bit nostalgic to those times where things were not made of plastic, not everything was made of plastic. And often a lot of the binners we work with are a bit older, and they've been around the block — I think it's an expression. And so they kind of re-took that, and almost everyone in the project — in the Binners Project is from a younger generation. And so it was kind of nice learning, and then in terms of just the whole recycling industry — is the technology is advancing really fast. And a lot of material that wasn't even recyclable two years ago is now — like we're not able to break it apart and recycle so many plastics and things that were not even compostable. And I can be like, there's just a lot of changes in the recycling industry. And that's why that's what I mean when I say we came at the right time, is we just kind of just surf on that wave. And so we've been able to train the Binners. They already know how to recycle, but we've been able to like keeping them up to — and we are working on that, keeping them up to date in terms of recycling rules. And so that's how we develop some of our programs, it's around that — it's the idea that recycling is very complicated at this time, and we train people to be able to do that.

Am Johal  5:10
Yeah, great. Landon, most recently worked at SFU Public Square, but before that you were Executive Director at Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, which has a kind of social enterprise mandate. And if I remember correctly, you were with Sustainable SFU —

Landon Hoyt  5:27
The sustainability office, yeah.  

Am Johal  5:29
Where were your first interactions with the Binners Project in the past? 

Landon Hoyt  5:34
Yeah probably, first interactions were when I was still at SFU in my first job at the tail end of that. And I think when you were probably just becoming a project, and, you know, the opportunity maybe existed to explore how SFU could be involved, or how the Binners Project could be involved in other sort of zero waste initiatives at the university. But primarily, when I started working closely with Anna, and the project was when I was at the BA, and our role there, aside from being a BIA setup as a BI to support business and property owners in the Downtown Eastside. But actually, our role was really to connect businesses with social enterprises and nonprofits in the community. And so one of those sort of key groups that we, that we kind of referred a lot of businesses to, in a lot of ways was Binners Project. And we were just talking about it this morning in a separate meeting that we had, but we would have groups come to us a lot for sponsorship money at the BA, or to support an event going on in the community or something like that. And a way for us to cite it, to sort of attach a few strings to that sponsorship would be 'okay, well we'll support you, if you use x percentage of the funding to support or to bring the Binners Project to your event,' for instance. And more often than not they were happy to do that. And now, there's a couple of events that we do annually, at Binners Project now that were a result of something like that being arranged. So yeah, my role there was, you know, having been at the table for a lot of community meetings that we had, but also like, bringing them into partnerships with different businesses and events we had going on in community.

Am Johal  7:24
Now, when you have big institutions, even public ones, like universities or government agencies, procurement practices are set up around certain structures, which are publicly mandated. And oftentimes, they come from a kind of risk management point of view. But it really kind of tends to work against community development or community engagement in a kind of way that's meant to actually support projects like Binners Project. And I'm wondering for either of you, what are some of the strategies and approaches you use to interact with larger businesses or public institutions, and also where the barriers are in terms of advancing the types of things that you're working on?

Anna Godefroy  8:06
So it's exactly that — if it's very big, like an institution like a university, it's just very hard because we're very much — a little globe, and we're trying to knock on doors. And they don't, you know, nobody's really picking up. And especially, I think it's especially true for us, because we are dealing again, with waste. And it's not something that even exists — like sorting waste is not even a service that really exists anywhere, or in some very innovative places, but it's kind of a new need that often big corporations or institutions don't even know they have. Yeah, so it's really like, it's even harder, because we have to tell them, 'hey, this is what we do. And this is why you would need that.' It's not even obvious to them. But then yeah, I mean, Vancouver is a a good size, like in terms of networking. So I found Vancouver is small enough that once people work with you, and they're happy with you, they can talk about your services to others, and it's kind of a snowball effect. So I really like that. And I think what Landon mentioned earlier with the BIA is a perfect example, where they would sponsor event organizers and they would kind of pressure them maybe to work with community. And they will work with us once they're happy with it, the next year, they put that into their budget as like, 'okay, now waste cost money, you can't just waste you have to pay, there's a price tag that comes with producing waste at an event and we're going to hire local people to help us deal with that.' So yeah, so I think that's, that's how you overcome. And so it's all about piloting things, I guess.

Landon Hoyt  9:51
Yeah, I mean, going back to your question a little bit. Another way, I think that's sort of the way to get into large institutions involved in some of the social sort of responsibility work is piloting something is super key. SFU has what, nine buildings downtown? And one building right now has the Binners Project in it regularly. And I don't know if there's been conversations so far about expanding that. But I think this is kind of being tested out in a couple of different ways in more than just waste. For instance, there's a new catering contract with SFU Vancouver that I was involved in the RFP process for — and there's now written into the contract with the large caterer that they have on site that they have to source certain products or baked items, or whatever it might be from social enterprises in the Downtown Eastside. Or you, as a unit who is looking for catering for an event at the university or something like that, have the option to purchase some of your catering from different social enterprises. So it's not perfect, I would say because not every social enterprise in the Downtown Eastside can — has the capacity to meet the demand of a large institution, like SFU. But I think the rule that SFU has in this case, is being able to help build that capacity of those social enterprises, right? And bringing in small ways that they can be involved in helping them grow in different sort of areas. And so if a large caterer who a university has contracted, can provide some room within their larger contract to support some of these smaller social enterprises. I think that's a really creative, innovative way that we can use that model and other sort of RFP processes, for instance. So I've been impressed with that. And I think that groups like the city or the port, or you know, hospitals or whatever, can take that model and use it for some of their big contracts that they have as well.

Am Johal  11:56
At SFU Woodward's, we were able to negotiate some of the similar things around social enterprise, but also around food from different ethnic communities, because we're doing a lot of small festivals that had that requirement. And so a kind of centralized contract didn't quite work, and tried to carve out those places where it made sense. You know, one of the things that the Binners Project, I think is done in a really interesting way, is that in meeting with binners on a regular basis, and talking to them, you've kind of run campaigns that are, you know, essentially have a lot to do with destigmatization. Like everything from the T-shirts that people wear, to the branding around the carts, to the hooks that people can get to put up at their place, so that people know that their binners are welcome to be there. And wondering if you can talk a little bit about kind of that process and approach, in terms of how to kind of mainstream and make more visible the work of binners over time.

Anna Godefroy  12:55
When we started, and we started with consultations, with binners and one of the main — I would say the two missions that we have now, like the mission of the Binners Project, is based on those consultations. And so it's to decrease the stigma. So exactly that, work on showing a positive image of binning, and then help people earning more money doing that binning. And so it's been very much at the heart of what we do, and you cannot do one with the other. So you, by providing more opportunities for people to make money and get access to more refundables and material you you can show, you can show how you do that. And you can tackle the stigma that comes with binning. So I don't know if I'm being clear, but I think really the approach is to showcase positive work and contribution. And so instead, of as an as a grassroot group, we — and listening to the binners again, they wanted us to focus on the positive, they didn't really want us to tell the sad story of their life story. Like this kind of comes once you meet the people. But as a group, they really wanted us to focus on the work and the contribution that they make can. And so we found ways to do that. The binners wanted to have very clear bright colors, a uniform, like a so it's a green t-shirt, green hat, and they have like a name tag as well, with the name — after dawn in the love that that's very important to them. And then they also asked for business cards that have one side that blank. So you know, you have the logo, the definition of what the binners — what binners are. And then at the back, you have space to put their name and their phone number. And the motivation behind that was that they could go and approach local businesses and introduce themselves, and look a bit more professional and a little bit cleaner and, then create those informal partnerships with local businesses. So that's how we were working on the stigma. We have much more than that. But those are the very basic, simple ways that the binners want to see. And that's what they can use independently. So it's really like building their capacity. When they're involved with us, we always work towards building their capacity so that they can represent themselves better. They feel more included, and they create their own network, with local binners, with local businesses, with the bottle depot that they go to. Like we help them, we give them those tools so that they can, they can be proud of what they do.

Am Johal  15:51
You know, back when United We Can started and a group of binners kind of formed around that, there was a lot of policy pieces in place that kind of worked against people working on a part-time basis. There was an earnings exemption related to people who were on social assistance or disability. But you guys have also worked on other kinds of policy reform pieces as well, like at Coffee Cup Revolution and others where you're looking at, you know, the possibilities of putting a deposit fee on coffee cups that end up in the waste system. I'm wondering what you know, how you've approached questions of policy change? And what are also other policy barriers that get in the way of binners being able to earn income and work in terms of barriers that exist on that front?

Anna Godefroy  16:43
Yeah, that's something we talk about a lot. Lately, we talk about that even more. So yes, we've done policy — like we are advocating for change in policy. It's always been a bit tricky, because we want to do that on the higher level and lobby the government, take on those big battles, but they're also very big battles that will take years. And being a grassroot small group, it's a difficult one, because the binners might not see that side of the work. So it's always been — you have to balance that with the real work that does improve the day-to-day livelihood of people, and at the same time working on the higher level police work. So one really great way of doing that is the Coffee Cup Revolution event, that Ken Lyotier came up with, this idea at the very beginning, which kind of does both. Because we raise money in advance, we tell the binners for five cents, you can bring as many cups as you want on that day. I mean, yeah, actually, there is no limit. And you get five cents for each used cup. And in it — so that we get so much media. We invite people from the community, we invite people from, like activists in the Downtown Eastside, organizations institutions to kind of take part in that one day event. And so that raises awareness around the waste of coffee cups, around recycling, standards that need to change. We pick up the battle around the refund that's only limited to beverages, like cold beverage, refundable material, and then it also brings the binners to the table, because that's very tangible to them, they can make money on that day. So it's kind of, you know, trying to do advocacy work, but that still connects with the members that they are able to really understand and really take action in it. And then in terms of welfare, Maximum Learning Exemption, that's something Landon and I have been talking about. And I'm leaving, but I really hope that's something the Binners Project can play a role in, and it's like pressuring the government, because that's definitely a big buyer for us. As we get more contract, we're able to provide more income opportunities to the binners, but yet, they are not able to work full time nine to five. Like it's just not possible with their health issues, mental health, addiction issues. So how do we allow people to contribute to the amount that they can? And if that means four hours a week, well, that's better than nothing. So how do we make sure the government's understand that and change the regulations?

Landon Hoyt  19:28
Yeah. And there's other groups and organizations in and around the Downtown Eastside that were kind of doing this in a united front. And, you know, what we had conversations with — still when I was at the BIA about earning exemptions and things. And it's also I think about educating employers around if someone wants to move into something, some sort of employment that's a little more formalized. How can an employer support that, and be aware of those earning exemptions, and maybe do more task-based work that's not necessarily a full-time employment sort of thing. Because that's not for everyone. And there's people that we work with that are never going to be able to hold a full-time job. And so how can we still allow them to get some income and not have it affect their welfare cheque? So it's about providing that employment or training to the employers as well, I think.

Am Johal  20:25
Now Landon, you've worked inside of a university, you worked with the BIA, what drew you to apply for this position? This is probably a question during your interview, in fact. You know, you've clearly had an interesting community work, but you've chosen to come in and work for an organization like this, and you've collaborated with it in your other roles, but what is it about this work in this organization in particular, that you're interested in working on? 

Landon Hoyt  20:51
Yeah, I think, when I was at the BIA I really enjoyed that work and being on the ground, with the community, trying to find ways unit unique ways to support a lot of the organizations like Binners Project. Now, or then, when I left, I was kind of, you know, I think it took being away from it a bit to realize, maybe that that's kind of the space where I thrive a little bit better. And I knew going into my just recent role with SFU that there were certain skills that I wanted to really work on a little bit. And Janet at SFU Public Square allowed me to focus on those, which was great. And now I'm able to bring those a little bit to the Binners Project, a little more skilled in certain areas. But I think this project in particular, is doing something that is really unique and challenging, and in Vancouver, or anywhere. But the projects and the programs that we're working on are really unlike any other sort of organization in North America, for that matter. And I think that there's something there. And like Anna was mentioning — it's framed in a very different way, compared to other social enterprises, or charities or whatever. In that it's very positive and you know, we're very much about framing the livelihoods of binners, and particularly in a positive way and reducing that stigma. But also showing that, you know, it's not — we need funders and donors to support us, not because people are sad and downtrodden. But actually, like, ‘look what you're doing, if you support us, you actually like providing a really unique opportunity for binners to feel empowered.’ And then you're, you know, there's a really positive story to tell there. And so, I think that that's something that this organization in — that Binners Project in particular does, in a really fascinating and effective way. So I'm excited to be a part of that. And I think that we're kind of at that next phase as an organization, too. I mean, I'm still somewhat speaking as an outsider, I think, as I'm only in my second week, but you know, there's a few upcoming sort of projects and opportunities that I think will elevate Binners Project to the next level. And I mean, one in particular, if I can talk about it is, hopefully we're successful in achieving some funding that's coming down the pipeline. But either way, if we're not, I think it would still be amazing, but it's really building some training and empowerment opportunities for binners. And developing leadership and organization skills for them to actually represent binners as a whole — represent the Binners Project in the public, being able to keep the organization, maintain it as real grassroots organization that's led by and for binners. But building up the binner’s leadership skills so that they're able to kind of take it and run with it. I think that there's conversations about doing some training and building some sort of regular sort of program, that we can identify binners that are interested in doing that, and lifting them up to the next level, wherever that is for them. But I think it's about meeting them where they're at. It's about listening, and learning from the vendors themselves. But I think that there's some really cool opportunities when it comes to training and leadership development.

Am Johal  24:26
Now Anna, I met you I think something like five years ago when you're starting the project.  There was a Cities for People conference, I think, you were there with Ken Lyotier. And overtime, I ran into you again because the Binners Dinners were happening, at I think the Salvation Army — you guys were getting bigger than their boardroom, and you started meeting over at Woodward's. Our boardroom holds about 20 people but I remember walking by there around, I think it was Monday or Tuesday evening. I think it was Mondays, but there'd be 50 people like going right into the hallway. And at first you guys were waiting to get into 312 Main, like a number of organizations were. So I've seen sort of the growth, literally. And now we're just down the hallway from each other. But it's interesting to me as well, just watching you grow with the organization. It’s interesting, how is it — what draws you to this work? Because you know, you come from a law background from France, and then you land down in Vancouver and spend five years building up a binners organization. And now who knows what you're doing in the future? I won't even ask you that question, because you're sorting that out. But what makes you tick related to like doing a project like this? Because it seems a little bit random and out there.

Anna Godefroy  25:40
It's completely random. It's completely random. But _____. So yes, when I came here, I knew I wanted to do social justice. I've always been interested in social justice. Community work, I mean, I didn't even know what community work meant when I started. That should tell you how random that was. But I live I mean, I just randomly moved not too far from the Downtown Eastside on the border of the Downtown Eastside. And so I could see very much at the front like firsthand the poverty in the Downtown Eastside. And it was really shocking. The contrast between Vancouver and like, the rest of Vancouver, and Downtown Eastside is like completely crazy contrast. As a foreigner, it was, I think, even probably more shocking. We talk about positive. And, you know, of course, people we work with have crazy challenges. But when — so I started volunteering in the Downtown Eastside for a bunch of organizations. And I really liked the work. And I realized that the people in the Downtown Eastside have strict challenges and barriers to traditional employment and finding their place, if I can say in society. But it was really interesting, because there's just so many — people have so much potential, it's just the potential doesn't come in a nice package, it doesn't come maybe as obviously or directly as it is for typical person. And so, but I could see that there was a lot of untapped energy and skills and strength. And so at first I volunteered the weekend, I was with Ken Lyotier, and we got binners together with a bunch of other — we were a bunch of people. I was just one of committee, under the umbrella of One Earth. And we got a bit of funding from McConnell Family Foundation. And we just started doing that as a volunteer, and it really picked up and I kind of took on the leadership, and then that's how it started. But I think really — it's interesting, because you see, like we talked about earlier — like, there's a lot of organizations that do amazing work, but I do find it something that actually really pissed me off, is if I can say, is the fact that often we don't actually consult the people. And it's shocking when you look — it's shocking how many programs have been developed without actually doing real work in terms of digging into what are the needs? And how do you — like asking people and be like, 'how can we help you? Do you even want help?' And, you know, not to end — so not dealing with people as like, the end user of a service, but being like, really active in building solutions. And so that's something I just feel really strongly about that. And the Binners Project, that's what we've done, always. And, you know, when Landon earlier you mentioned the positive side, it's because the binners want that and when I talk to our members, they don't identify — they all, yeah, they all have addiction issues, but they don't want me to talk about them as drug addicts, and they want me to talk about them as 'now look, they're learning how to sort,  and their diverting waste.' And they choose to be active in the path to wellbeing. So just something I feel strongly about.

Am Johal  29:04
Yeah now, in terms of, you know, working in this neighborhood learning from working with the binners, how has it changed you as a person?

Anna Godefroy  29:14
Yeah, I learned a lot. Yeah, I don't know you're — I learn the collaborative work. Oh, it taught me two things. Not really humble, but it taught me to be humble. It taught me to — very much from that generation of people that are educated as masters of blah, blah, blah. So I've been — I came from a generation where we think we have the solutions and, and so it was very humbling to be like, 'just shut up and listen, and you might not understand what homelessness is because you don't have experience being homeless.' And so it has to mean that to be listening and to bring the skills that you know, that I could — that were useful for the group. So yeah, it has taught me that and yeah, just starting from scratch, like it was a startup, very much a startup. Like not a traditional charity, we worked pretty much as a social enterprise, as a startup. And so, just really interesting, just really exciting work to start from scratch and have like one staff and then — or like volunteer, and then I'm staff, and then I hire someone else. And then, you know, I never even did a job interview. Like, I never hired anyone before. And so slowly, and now we are big team. And so it's really cool. So just so yeah, hope, and it made me realize that anything is possible in a way. Like, if you can help binners, like if you can help those guys that are in the back-lane, that are like older men and drug addicts. And, you know, there is hope, like a lot of things can change in the world.

Am Johal  30:52
And Landon, what are you looking forward to in the work going ahead, as you start this new position?

Landon Hoyt  30:58
I'm really looking forward to learning and listening from binners specifically — but people that are, you know, more on the ground than I've really ever worked with before. So that's both sort of intimidating personally, but also,  I'm actually really excited and humbled about it. And even when I have — this week, when I've had one on one conversations with several binners, I'm happy that it's the conversations have already been enlightening. And you know, they're quizzing me on which items go in which streams and things like that. So, I'm being tested a little bit, but you know, I think I, it's about building that trust, and that's kind of my first priority is as the new director is to get to that point where, where I can be trusted in the community. And let them know that, that I'm working for their best interests as well. But I mean, one thing in particular that I know, Anna's really excited about, too — but I'm really excited to come online is the Universal Cart Project. And — our plan, hopefully, by the time this is aired, it will be launched, but you know, we're gonna have 20 new metal carts, that will be sort of like amobee stations, one right outside here at 312. Main, and then one at the United We Can depot over an industrial Avenue, and those will be available to binners to use for up to 12 hours every day. And they're kept — they'll be unlocked via a voice-activated system, which is software system, which is really exciting. So I'm excited for that to launch. And there'll be a big to-do about that, dignitaries and the public will be invited, you know all that. So it should be pretty fun. But I think that — I know, that's been a really long, long haul sort of hard project for Anna and the team to work on. So I hope that you're still in town when it launches. That's my, my biggest piece. And I mean, I think overall speaking, um, something that I think is the most exciting about the project is really the public representation part. And because I think that's really where we are able to reduce that stigma. And if we're having binners that are included in panels at events, or leading tours, or sharing their stories at different events, and things like that, and they're being compensated for that, but also like recognized and a part of those conversations — I think that's really key to building that reduction and stigma, along with all of the actual income opportunities out there that they're doing — and whether it's behind the scenes or at public events or whatnot. But to me, I think that's something that is getting to the heart of why we exist, right.

Am Johal  33:44
Anna, Landon, thank you so much for joining us, and we're gonna miss you Anna so don't be a stranger — back to Vancouver.

Anna Godefroy  33:52
Thanks, Am. Thanks for having us.

Fiorella Pinillos  33:59
Thank you again to London Hoyt and Anna Godfrey for joining us on this episode of Below the Radar. To learn more about the Binners Project, you can check out the link in the description below. Join us next week when we chat with Milena Droumeva and Brett Ashleigh about urban soundscapes and the sonification of public engagement.

Milena Droumeva  34:18
Not just as a few of the School of Communication, in particular, is kind of world-famous for starting acoustic ecology, the acoustic ecology movement.

Brett Ashleigh  34:28
Everyone thinks of jobs and marginality and moral quandaries on a pretty visual level. And I think there's something to be discovered in addressing them from an oral perspective.

Fiorella Pinillos  34:48
We'll catch you next time on Below the Radar.

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
November 19, 2019

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