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A corn syrup morning, strategic binning and a lost and found iPhone

September 21, 2016
Looking east down an alley, under a walkway, as through a door, at a golden sunrise at 7 a.m.

Looking east down an alley under a walkway, as through a door, at a golden sunrise just before 7 a.m.

The sunrise Wednesday morning (September 21) was of the warm yellow variety—the kind that makes everything that it touches look dipped in gold, or at least drizzled with high fructose corn syrup.

Emerging into such gilded beauty, short-lived as it is, certainly starts the day off on the right foot but it has to be said that sunshine alone cannot wake me up the way that a nice hot cup of coffee can.

Minutes later a block west. The rising sun makes a mystery of a dumpster collection truck.

Minutes later and a block west. The rising sun silhouettes a dumpster collection truck.

However, instead of getting up at 6:30 a.m. and going straight from bed to a hot coffee and breakfast, as I do most weekdays, I determined to make do with the sunshine as well as any cold coffee that I had left over from the night before.

I was heading straight into the back alleys.

It was recycling collection day in the Fairview neighborhood. If I wanted to earn any quantity of money from cashing in returnable beverage containers, I had to get them quick, before Waste Management’s Top Select recycler trucks emptied all the recycling blue bins in the area.

Binning hard or smart—just get out there and do it

One of the Waste Management Top Select collection trucks tipping blue bins at 7:45 a.m.

One of Waste Management’s Top Select recycler trucks tipping blue bins at 7:45 a.m.

Just racing through the alleys, one step ahead of the advancing collection trucks, to randomly check recycling blue bins for bottles and cans is—to put it bluntly—playing the lottery. On collection day I’m out to win a more certain prize.

Along with the dozens, if not hundreds, of apartment and condo recycling blue bin sets that are always left outside, there are a score, or so, of “underground” recycling bin sets. These are located in various buildings and only come out on collection day, at different times between 7 and 8 a.m.

A dumpster diver pokes through the trash in a big 4-yard-size bin at 8:11 a.m.

A dumpster diver pokes through the trash in a big 4-yard-size bin at 8:11 a.m.

If finding returnables in the outside blue bins (which are checked fairly constantly by binners) is pure luck of the draw, underground blue bins are supposed to be much more of a certainty. This is because they represent an untouched week’s-worth of a building’s discarded returnable beverage containers.

They do, that is, if underpaid building custodians haven’t spent the week cherry-picking all the containers.

The trick with underground bin sets is to learn where in a neighbourhood they are and when they come out and then to be on the spot when some of them do.

I had two such condo undergrounds in my sights this Wednesday morning and I’m happy to report that I got them both, before any other binners and before the collection trucks.

I almost made it past the security guard at City Hall

A bunch of bigwigs loitering at the entrance to Vancouver City Hall at 9:14 a.m..

A bunch of bigwigs loitering at the entrance to Vancouver City Hall at 9:14 a.m.

Between two hours of random binning Tuesday evening and an hour of strategic binning the next morning, I ended up with two packed bags of mostly flattened plastic and aluminum containers lashed to my bike trailer by 8:30 a.m.—not to mention a quarter bag of boat anchor-weight glass beer and wine bottles.

My only thought was to make a beeline to the Go Green bottle depot, which opened at 9 a.m., about 1.8 kilometres away in Mount Pleasant. I would cash in my load of containers and rush back to Fairview to get that cup of coffee I was so seriously jonesing for.

Well, I did plan to make one quick stopover on the way back—at Vancouver City Hall, located on the boundary between the two neighborhoods at 12th Avenue and Cambie Street.

I had one of the City of Vancouver’s iPhones and unlike a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, it wasn’t burning a hole in my pocket. But it wasn’t mine either. I didn’t know which city employee the Apple device belonged to but who’s ever it was, I wanted them to have it back.

It was terrible to imagine that perhaps our Mayor himself might be going through Pokémon Go withdrawal.

Actually it belonged to the taxpayers but I didn’t have their address

The thought that the phone would be reunited with its rightful owner was reward enough (cough).

Knowing the phone would be reunited with its rightful owner was reward enough (cough).

It was my front bike tire that actually found the iPhone Tuesday morning on east 10th Avenue, just as I was coming back from cashing in returnables. My tire clipped a corner of phone without damaging it in the slightest, thanks to its strong Otter case.

As soon as I saw the City of Vancouver logo on the lock screen I have to be honest and say that any enthusiasm I had for contacting the owner/user and arranging an immediate return vanished, along with my hopes for even a miniscule finder’s reward.

I just put the iPhone securely in one of the big pockets of my cargo shorts and for the rest of the day I enjoyed the frisson of its intermittent buzzing.

Tuesday evening, one of my dumpster-diving homeless buddies actually laughed in my face when I told him that I was going to drop it off at City Hall the next day. The hard shell Otter case alone, he said, was worth $70.

Forget about getting a reward from the city, I’d be lucky if I didn’t get arrested (so cynical, my friend).

When I did finally show up Wednesday morning at the 12th Avenue entrance of City Hall, at about 8:50 a.m., I wasn’t arrested but was a bit nonplussed.

For starters there was group of important-looking people milling about foot of the steps like they were at an open-air cocktail party, or some kind of press function—there was even a woman darting about taking photographs. Problem was that these people were blithely blocking any access to the one-and-only bike rack.

Rather than make a fuss, I ended up locking my bike and trailer to a pole by the north sidewalk of 12th Avenue.

As I threaded my way through the dignitaries, or whatever they were, the woman taking photographs shot me an expectant look that shaded immediately to disinterest.

I managed to get about 5 metres inside the brass-fringed entrance of the city’s Art Deco seat of power before I was stopped by a security guard. Then and there I decided that he was enough of an authority figure to fob the thing off on.

I explained to him that I wanted to return a City of Vancouver iPhone that I had found.

The guard listened to me, took the iPhone, turned it this way and that; tried, without success, to turn it on (the battery had died overnight—it was an iPhone 6 after all) and pointedly asked me how I knew that it belonged to the city as well as where exactly I had found it.

I answered all his questions sweetly and convincingly—I so wanted to get out of there.

Through the entire exchange I remained mindful that my rig, loaded with over $50-worth of bagged containers was sitting exposed and unattended beside a public sidewalk frequented by other binners on their way to the bottle depot.

Besides that, I just wanted to cash in and get a cup of coffee. And soon enough the guard accepted my explanations and that is just what I managed to do.

So someone got their iPhone back, about a day late and I finally had my morning coffee with my lunch—a happy ending for both of us. Yah!

By the way, in 36 years of living in Vancouver, I believe that those five metres were the furthest that I have ever penetrated into City Hall. Click the images to enlarge them.

  1. Drive flaneur permalink

    Do you find that the local house blue box lifters are later these days?
    I find that household blue box are being picked up the “next day” after their official pickup day.
    City Garbage trucks are picking up the compost/food bins in the correct day, but recycling blue box, blue bag, yellow bag are being left out for a second day (in the rain) because now the recycling is being pickup by the private groups of MMBC


    • This might well have something to do with the changeover in general but my understanding (from a City of Vancouver sanitation worker) was that the actual physical changeover to a private company doing the pick-up duties would be this coming Monday, September 26. I don’t know which company will be doing it but Waste Management has the appropriate fleet and already does the apartment blue bin pickups.

      One wonders if the city will be selling its 20-year-old recycler trucks. I’ve asked CoV people about this a few times over the last year but have received no answer.

      I for one have always admired the speed and efficiency with which city crews have tackled neighbourhood bluebox pickup—the way the whole fleet of trucks is co-ordinated by GPS and redeployed according to minute-by-minute need—just the whole “go, go go!” mentality. The private garbage collectors have always seemed pokey by comparison. But we shall see.


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