I participated in the Coffee Cup Revolution a couple weeks ago, an event put on by The Binners Project and community partners. I arrived at 8:45. The event didn’t officially start til 9:30, but there was already quite a line forming. Binners were eager to trade in their used coffee cups for some hard earned cash. I was assigned a job at the counting table set up with one other counter. We experimented by counting the cups from a couple of binners who were also working with us that day. It was soon clear that we would need more counters as the counting took quite awhile, even when the cups were stacked in tens or twenties. By the time I left, we had three tables with a pair of counters at each and we were still swamped.
Most of the binners were bringing in their maximum count of 400 cups and would receive five cents a piece for each. I wore protective gloves but it was sticky and intense work with a line-up that never seemed to end. I was conscious of people having to wait a long time – and realized that line-ups were probably standard in their life. I was aware of how much these cups signified – gentrification in the neighbourhood, people being displaced, high priced cafés moving in, and many of the locals not being able to afford the coffee at the new establishments. I was struck by how the wasteful habits of the rich could now potentially provide jobs for the poor. As I watched all the logos flashing through my hands, I wondered where the companies were in all of this – where was their responsibility? Many of the establishments even use the paper cups when customers are drinking in store. And all the while, binners would plunk their bags on the table, smiles on their faces after picking up after us, proud of their haul. All through my shift, they were thanking us for putting on the event. I was horrified and humbled all at the same time.
After all the cups were collected, people created sculptures out of them. A Coffee Cup House would have really captured the irony of chopping down trees to make coffee cups when we can’t house many of the people who were collecting our garbage.
Learn more about The Binners Project here.