UWC and Les Valoristes

Posted on: June 6th, 2013 by

Ken Lyotier, founder of Vancouver’s non-profit “United We Can” Bottle Depot visited Montreal, Quebec in November as a special guest at the ‘Pro-Consigne’ sponsored conference ( Lyotier (below) was invited to participate and build support for the newly established binners coop called ‘Les Valoristes’. The event, which brought together activists, lobbyists from the beverage and supermarket industry, government and academics, included a series of presentations and a panel on the social and economic implications, benefits and challenges of expanding the beverage container program in the province. 

Ken Lyotier (pictured here in Montreal) started UWC in the early 90’s while surviving on binning in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.

The charitable organization United We Can (UWC) started in the 90’s, when few bottles were included in BC’s deposit system, limiting income for binners through bottle collection and return. Ken Lyotier realized that by expanding the refund-deposit system large amounts of plastic and glass could be saved from the landfill, as well as increase income opportunities for Vancouver binners. In an attempt to bring attention to the deposit issue, Lyotier asked fellow binners to drop their containers in Victory Square, located in the Downtown Eastside 

“Binners were lining up all around the park and up Hastings Street, Lyotier recalled, and built a huge mountain of bottles”. Soon after this event, the B.C. government agreed to expand the refund-deposit system in the amount refunded and the type of beverage containers included. Lyotier then created UWC as a social enterprise bottle depot in 1995. UWC operates by offering cash in exchange to anyone bringing containers that are a part of the extended scheme. UWC is a financially independent social enterprise operated by and for informal recyclers.

Since the creation of UWC 18 years ago “700 binners drop off about 55,000 recyclables to the bottle depot each day, and up to 120,000 on a busy summer day.” A “professional binner can make up to $20 dollars for a big collection [and] annually, UWC pays $2.7 million in deposits back to the community.”

Today, a similar co-op founded in Montreal, called Les Valoristes, is facing a familiar battle to that of UWC’s in the early 90’s. In Montreal, the former Liberal government had agreed to “increase the price of refundable containers from $0.05 to $0.10 in 2013”. The outcome of the provincial elections last September however, placed Parti Québéquois in power, who have since put the brakes on the proposed deposit increase for recyclables. The amount of the bottle refund in Montreal has stayed the same since its creation in 1984, without adjusting to inflation. Compared to the rest of Canada, Quebec is vastly behind in creating incentives for a return system.

For Les Valoristes, “fighting provincial laws and powerful food and drink retailers for an expansion of the deposit-refund system in Quebec”, is integral for Montreal’s binning community. The founder of the co-op, Marica Vazquz Tagliero argues “the refund system is a powerful tool not only against urban pollution, but also against poverty.”

Les Valoristes Coopérative de Solidarité

On the cold morning of -3 degrees 8,000 non-refundable beverage containers were collected in less than 2 hours.

In an act similar to UWC’s, Montreal local binners brought in about 8,000 containers in less than two hours during the “container-gathering event” last November 2012 (above). The compiled containers, “not valid for refund in Quebec but refundable in B.C.”, hoped to send a strong message to the Quebec Government regarding the expansion of the Province’s deposit system.

Les Valoristes Coopérative de Solidarité

Each valoristes received 10 cents for each container they brought. Funding for this was financed entirely from a donation by Ken Lyotier.

Despite operating in different cities, both Les Valoristes and UWC work towards a common goal of drawing public attention to the social benefits associated with improved deposit-refund systems. Les Valoristes view UWC as a model “of social involvement in addressing city waste management issues”, and are working hard in hopes of one day creating a UWC-style depot in Montreal. Tagliero “praises the success of [UWC] for maintaining an informal economy while helping those in need earn an income, clean the city and improve their quality of life”.

There is a strong emergence of binning in Canada, but the work of collecting recyclables is not limited to this country; it is a global phenomena. According to University of Victoria professor Jutta Gutberlet, who studies the binning business in Canada and in Brazil,  “UWC’s business plan could be applied in just about any urban area in the world”. In her view, urban waste issues can be solved with social and economic inclusion of this community.

Recognizing the important services of the binning community is vital to both environmental and social well-being. Governments, both within Canada and globally, need to recognize these communities and adopt adequate recycling policies and deposit systems. As said by Tagliero: “It is time for politicians to […] take action for a more efficient refund system that would benefit the collective well-being”.


*This article is based off the following news articles:

Vancouver bottle depot seen as a model in Montreal (January 7, 2013) by Anne-Laurence Godfrey from The Source (

La consigne des canettes restera à 5 ¢ pour le moment (December 21, 2012) from Radio-Canada (

*Photos taken by Alietti St-Pierre and provided by Marcia Vazquz Tagliero. 

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