Last Saturday morning, as I was unlocking my bike, I was approached by a woman who asked me if she could look for cans and bottles in our recycling bins. I have seen this woman on several other occasions, usually on the weekend, and I've always been curious about what she finds.
"Be my guest," I said.
I continued to look in her general direction, as I put on my cycling helmet. She sensed this and sheepishly asked me if I thought there was something wrong with what she was doing.
"On the contrary," I said, "I'm pleased that someone finds some use for these things."
Then my curiosity got the better of me.
"What exactly do you find?" I asked.
"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," she said. "I find clothes, magazines, toys, even jewelry, and they're all in perfect condition. I find magazines like Wallpaper and Architectural Digest that cost more than books."
Then she told me that magazines are one of the things she likes to collect. She apparently has two 80-year-old neighbours whom she gives the magazines to. One of these neighbours then takes them to the neighbourhood barber who, in turn, takes them to a seniors' residence where additional reading material is greatly appreciated.
"That's wonderful," I said. "I'm so happy to hear that so many people are enjoying these things."
"You'd never know that we're in a recession," she said. "People from Outremont (a wealthy Montreal neighbourhood), and the people in this condo complex throw out a lot of perfectly good items."
"People often buy things they don't have room for, so they end up in the recycling," I said before saying good-bye and riding off.
I wanted to ask our treasure hunter more questions about the things she finds, if she sells them, how much she gets for them, etc, but I didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable. These questions could wait until I saw her the next time.
This short but insightful chat got me thinking about a number of things. For one, this woman was finding clothes, toys and jewelry in our recycling bins. These three items are supposed to be taken to the City of Montreal's Eco-centres, and if they are put in recycling bins they go straight to landfill.
You may recall that my husband and I found soiled clothing in our recycling bins last Christmas, and in light of what our treasure hunter had just told me, this problem sounds as though it's fairly widespread. Is it because our fair city has not made it clear what can and cannot be recycled? Or is it because residents don't have the time or can't be bothered to take their old clothes, toys and jewelry to the Eco-centres?
People often mistakenly believe that if something is "recyclable" that it will be recycled. This is just not the case. Each Montreal borough Web site posts a list of all the things that can and cannot be recycled. I've checked, and clothes and toys must be taken to our borough Eco-centre. However, I'm sure most people probably don't know where the closest Eco-centre is. I admit, I don't. I take all our old clothes and toys to a charity for battered women.
Anyway, our treasure hunter is doing a lot more than earning a little extra cash. She is performing a vital public service. Not only is she extending the life on a number of items and helping others, but she is also unwittingly collecting some valuable information about people's habits. It might be a good idea for the City to hire someone like her to get a better picture of the shortcomings of our recycling and waste disposal systems.
For a list of the Eco-centres, their addresses and phone numbers, click here. (French only)
For a list in English of what is accepted at the NDG/Cotes St-Luc Eco Centre click here.