Express Recycling Depot


I recently decided that I make enough money to buy organic milk from Avalon Dairy. This milk comes in thick glass bottles and the recycling deposit on them is a whole dollar, so instead of leaving the empty bottles bagged up in the alley behind my building, like I do with my other empties, I looked up my nearest bottle depot and walked over carrying three of these milk bottles. The Yaletown Return-It Express Depot is wedged into a row of coffee shops and the storefront has a floor-to-ceiling glass window. The entire depot is one small room containing one plastic bin on wheels and two computer screens bolted to the wall. The last time I was in a bottle depot, it was a bustling room full of wooden sorting trays that reeked of fermented juice and sour milk, and I had no idea what to do with this neat, empty room. An employee came out of the back and asked if I’d been there before, and I told her I had no idea how it worked. In a short monologue— monotonous in a way that said it was a speech she gave multiple times a day— she explained that to get a deposit, I had to sign up online for a free Return-It Express account, bring my empties in a clear bag, log into my account using one of the computers on the wall, print out a label and stick it on the bag, then drop the bag into the bin. From there, a Return-It employee would sort the empties and the deposit would be refunded directly into my bank account.

My first thought was: just give me three loonies, you crazy person. Immediately after, I remembered who the most frequent patrons of bottle depots are. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that a bottle depot in an affluent Vancouver neighbourhood has nearly ensured that homeless folks can’t use it; without government identification or a fixed address, it’s tough to open a bank account. Under the guise of ease for the consumer—“no sorting, no change, no sticky beer to deal with,” as the clerk at the depot explained to me—they’ve put up a massive barrier to the people who really need bottle returns. I love user-friendly apps that eliminate the need for human contact as much as the next millennial, but I recognize that bottle depots aren’t for me. I took my milk bottles home and put them out in the alley behind my building for someone else to take to a bottle depot that will give them three loonies in exchange.

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