Before the COVID-19 pandemic, collecting and returning refundable bottles and cans was Michel Patoine’s source of income, good for around $400 every month.
But when the virus took hold and the Quebec government imposed wide restrictions on the economy and public life, retailers stopped accepting returnable vessels.
For Patoine and many others who call themselves binners — or valoristes in French — the impact was immediate and devastating.
“I don’t have anything else — I have this,” Patoine said. “You’re demolished. It took three or four days to absorb the news.”
Marica Vazquez Tagliero, a co-founder of Les Valoristes, a cooperative that works with people who collect refundable containers, said for many in that community the income is “indispensable” and the current situation is “catastrophic.”
“Most of the people who are doing this activity, they don’t do it just for fun,” Vazquez Tagliero said. “They do it because it’s a flexible way of finding money that permits them to support their basic needs.”
For people who get government assistance, the loss of a major — or sole — income supplement “makes it difficult for them to get groceries, buy medication or pay the rent.”
Some of the people Vazquez Tagliero works with are stockpiling containers until retailers begin accepting them again, but only those who have space where they live or who have the fortune of working with an organization that can provide somewhere to store what they have collected.
Maxi stores accepting cans today
Patoine is one of those who is accumulating a collection of containers, and in the meantime he has had to resort to going to food banks, something he says he’s never had to do before.
Sometime in the next few weeks Les Valoristes will open their annual summer depot under the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, though with pandemic-conscious precautions in place.
The province is working on a plan for retailers to resume accepting returnable cans and bottles, but some retailers are already taking action.
On Sunday, around 40 Maxi grocery stores around Quebec have been accepting refundable containers in parking lot depots.
“It’s been very busy, across various times,” said Benoit Jones, a district manager. “We’ve had vehicles backed up in a number of our stores.”
People who bring in containers can claim the refund or have the entire amount donated to a charity, the chain said in a news release.