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  • Writer's pictureWayne Drury

Dumpster Divers, Bicycles, and the Circular Economy

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

This is not my idea, but it is a great one that most of us on the “outside” probably don’t even know it exists. In the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, BC, Canada, there is a thriving circular economy.

At Sustainability Circular Economy, we are always on the lookout for great ideas to pass on, and I do not know how many times I have gone through the Downtown East Side, dropped off items to people selling their recycled goods, and not even thought about a thriving circular economy there. But, all of a sudden, the light went on.

The circular economy in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver provides dignity for the people working in it, it helps our planet by keeping things in cycle longer, and supports recycling, reusing and refurbishing, all done at a profit. The circular economy may be a small initiative, but it is a perfect one that was seized in a new era of opportunity and innovation, and driven by necessity. I give the folks for their hard work, all the credit.

It all started with the Dumpster Divers and their bicycles, those folks who dive into garbage bins collecting redeemable containers and other things to sustain their livelihood which diverts waste from landfills. It began as an informal initiative and has grown accommodating more than 150 Divers in an “underground economy” which allows them to keep their bicycles in working condition, make money and cultivate social connections, all while helping the planet.

It is hard work, with long and strenuous days. But the Binners have persevered and built a circular economy that works. In the beginning, many barriers were regularly encountered. Bins were locked, businesses shunned and stigmatized the collectors, and no one seemed to want to make their job of working in the circular economy an easy one.

Perhaps, just like me, few people recognized what was happening. The Binners were living in poverty, but being creative and resilient, helping themselves with dignity, while almost as an afterthought, helping us and the planet.

With time though, things began to change. Slowly, surely, a “formal” system emerged. Businesses began to leave their bins unlocked, some separated the cans and other recyclable and reusable materials, and the Binners respected each other’s collection routes. And as one Binner said, “it is an added benefit when a restaurant leaves me a steak.”

How Has It Grown?

A “formal system” has developed. With corporate support, the Binners now have the Binners Project to foster social and economic inclusion, build community resilience and stronger networks, and engages on sustainability issues. Through the organization and programs, Binners are empowered as part of the circular economy -- building a community from the bottom up.

The End of a Long Day

Having made their rounds, the Binners take their cans to the local recycling depot. Some carrying more than 70 kgs on their bikes, but a more than satisfying day when they can put $100 or more in their pockets. Their other recyclable and reusable materials, they all have their supply chains and it is very active on the street.

Boy, they had it figured out a long time before I woke up. For more stories like this, and others of people working in the world to do a world of good – and which we may learn from, visit our website at, Sustainable Circular Economy. Sign up for our newsletter, and as always, we are more than happy to chat about how we can help you with sorting out your pathway through the circular economy. We offer a free initial consultation and look forward to your contact through our Contact Page.

Best wishes and doing the world a world of good with everything we do.

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