September 12th, 2007

Diving into the life of a binner: Exploring a scavenger's daily grind in the Downtown Eastside
Armed with a notepad and a tape recorder, Crystal Tremblay headed into the wilds to study exotic peoples. In her case, the wilds consisted of the untamed streets and alleys of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The subjects of her research were those citizens engaged in "informal resource recovery." That's academic jargon for binners, who are also known as scavengers, garbage pickers or dumpster divers. Two summers ago, when she was 25, the graduate student left the comfort of the ivory tower for some real-life experience. Born in Vancouver and raised in the Laurentian resort village of Morin Heights, Que., Ms. Tremblay got a quick education. "My first days down there were really shocking," she said. As it turned out, she had no problems in her many hours spent at a bottle depot. The binners welcomed her inquiries, pleased someone was interested in their working lives. (They were also relieved to discover she was not a government snoop.) Cursed by many for generating noise and mess, binners are generally seen as an urban nuisance. "We are just low-lifes to the general public," one of the binners told her. Ms. Tremblay came to view the binners much as they see themselves - working people providing a service.