In the early 90's before people were talking about green-collar jobs, Vancouver resident Ken Lyotier was making a living scavenging through the trash of the city’s largely wealthy population for recyclable and reusable materials. At the time it was hard to find somewhere to return cans and bottles for money, so in 1995 Ken and his comrades created the recycling depot United We Can. United We Can has since expanded to include several other enterprises, most of which were created in collaboration with locals, and the depot now receives an average of 700 binners (dumpster divers) each day. Revenue from these activities is used to create work in the green economy for people who face multiple barriers to employment. This work includes employment in the depot as well as in United We Can’s other enterprises such as the bicycle recycle and repair shop and the street cleaning crew.

The depot is situated in the midst of Canada’s poorest urban neighborhood, the Vancouver Downtown Eastside. Some have called it an open air drug market; it is normal to see people smoking crack and shooting heroine in plain view. Many residents suffer from mental illness or physical disability, and about 80% live alone. Some reasons cited for this occurrence in Vancouver have been the fact that it is a port city to North America for drugs as well as the closure of a large hospital for the mentally ill decades ago. Also noticeable is the disproportionately large native population in this group. The issues are complex and the root of the problem unclear.

For its employees, United We Can is not just a source of income. Certain staff members told me they could earn more money by binning, begging, or illegal activities. They choose to work there because it provides them with a sense of community, a more positive atmosphere, and resources for those who want to reduce drug and alcohol use. The support, training, and friendships gained at United We Can helps residents of what is referred to as “Canada’s poorest postal code” pull themselves out of poverty.