Waste Pickers are helping solve Greater Victoria’s recycling problems


Digging through people’s garbage may not be something most people want to do, but a group in Victoria is taking on the task to prevent recyclable material from ending up in the landfill.

According to a 2021 Capital Regional District (CRD) Solid Waste Report, the Greater Victoria Region put 190,000 tonnes of solid waste and 23,000 tonnes of recyclable materials into the Hartland Landfill.

Speaking at Making Our Waste Visible, a conversation about waste management at the University of Victoria, Jutta Gutberlet, a geography professor and director of UVic’s Community-Based Research Lab said, “our landfill has only a given time span and we don’t want to fill it unnecessarily with stuff which is a resource and which can be recycled.”

The conversation circle also included insights from local Diverters (waste pickers), a non-profit group that collects bottles and recycling materials and keeps waste out of the landfill.

“Diverters are really crucial – they are a grassroots initiative who are recovering bottles and cans which many of them otherwise would also end up on the landfill,” said Gutberlet.

In the last two years, the Victoria waste pickers have diverted about 1,000 pounds in bottles and recycling materials to the bottle depots.

“I go around in my rollerblades and zip around collecting cans that I can recover. And also along the way I do a little bit of diverting too when I’m at people’s bins because they can get mixed up,” said Ryan Thomas a member of The Diverters’ Foundation.”

Spending around four to five hours a week sorting through recyclables, Ryan believes recycling is a little bit confusing for people right now, saying it needs to be more directed to the manufacturers who can help lessen the confusion by doing a better job with their packaging and containers.

UVic’s Community-Based Research Lab is looking at Brazil’s public policy that supports some 600,000 to 800,000 waste pickers through organizations, cooperatives, and associations. They are taking care of the diversion of recyclable materials in a more adequate and safer way.

Gutberlet says many of the waste pickers are also given the opportunity to engage in other activities such as going to school where they talk about waste diversion and recycling.  They have a national law which prioritizes recycling through waste picker cooperatives.

Harry CorroHarry Corro

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