Empty bottles, trash or cash?

The University of Calgary Students’ Union’s sustainability fund is getting almost as empty as the bottles it receives funds from.

To combat this, the SU is planning to spend almost $1,300 on a fence to protect recyclable bottles from theft.

“It’s an ongoing concern for us,” said Campus Security director Lanny Fritz. “We have people who have no fixed address coming onto campus to grab a bag of recyclables.”

Campus Security estimate they encounter individuals collecting recyclables from campus two to three times a week.

The U of C keeps all bottles in clear plastic garbage bags rather than regular black or green ones.

“That’s the way we are able to identify they belong to the university,” said Fritz. “But now the guys are getting so smart at this. They are bringing their own bags and re-bagging them.”

Is it theft?

Communications and Culture associate professor Barbara Schneider, who has conducted research on media representation of homelessness, thinks the university should not disregard the homeless people coming on campus to collect bottles.

“This is one the key ways in which homeless people make a living,” said Schneider. “I think homeless people have a right to be here just like any other citizen.”

Fritz agreed that “anybody and everybody is welcome to come to campus at any time.”

“The only people that are not welcome here are people that misbehave in a manner that they are disturbing the peace and, or, if they are damaging or stealing property,” said Fritz.

He added the “university is private property with public access, much the same as a shopping centre.”

Schneider wants to encourage an open discussion with all members of the campus community.

“I think we should have a broader discussion of how we can involve homeless people, who are typically one of the groups who would come and take the bottles on campus,” said Schneider.

Who owns the bottles?

Dave Waters collects bottles almost everyday from around the city of Calgary. He questioned whether the bottles really do belong to the city or to the U of C.

“If people throw it out, then whose is it?,” asked Waters. “If I see some bottles lying by a trash can I’ll pick them up.”

Fritz said taking bottles from campus is considered theft.

“We used to call the Calgary Police and we did for a number of occasions,” said Fritz. “But the police, at the end of the day, asked us not to bother calling them anymore for people stealing recyclables.”

Student’s Union vice-president operations and finance James Delaney said stealing recyclables is theft.

“Stealing trash is one thing, but when you are taking hundreds of dollars of recyclables that is theft under $1,000,” said Delaney.

Another Calgary bottle-picker, Neil Panko, disagrees. He said that the person who paid for the beverage owns the bottle.

“It’s the person who paid the dime,” said Panko. “It’s his in reality.”

Fritz admitted it is difficult to decipher who owns the beverage bottles and at what point.

“It gets to be a little bit of a grey area if you want to get technical about it.”

Student’s Union Sustainability Fund

The Su collects bottles from 16 buildings on campus. The funds go to sustainability projects.

Funds are used for events like My Market, the upcoming NUTV Greenlite Arts Festival, as well as installing water fountains in MacEwan Student Centre and the campus composting program.

The SU employs special needs staff to collect recyclables from containers around campus and transport the recyclables to holding cages.

“We have people with disabilities pick up the bottles and bring them to the centre for us,” said Delaney. “We pay them their wages and they do the program for us basically.”

The SUSB is comprised of three kinds of funds– capital fund, Quality Money Fund and the recyclables fund.

SUSB receives $5,000 a year from the SU’s capital budget.

“Any capital improvement that increases sustainability can be funded with this money,” said Delaney. “For example, in the past there has been an expenditure to install motion sensors on lights in offices in the building.”

The Quality Money allocation was a one-time fund that is restricted to student-driven initiatives only.

“This was originally $85,000 but is now a little over $51,000” said Delaney. “This money has funded the Campus Composting pilot project, the MacEwan Student Centre Waste Audit, Students’ Union business cloth bags, My Market and the upcoming Greenlite Arts Festival by NUTV.”

The recyclables fund produces $28,000 to $45,000 worth of recyclables in a year.

“Once or twice it has been around net zero,” said Delaney. “But we have also made over $7,000 for SUSB projects in other years.”

Delaney said theft may be a factor in explaining the fluctuations the recyclable fund experiences year to year.

He said he was frustrated with the loss of bottles from certain designated holding cages. Bottles consistently disappear from the “Snake Pit,” which is north of Science Theaters.

“We reckon each bin is worth $100,” said Delaney. “There is roughly three full bins in there at a time.”

The SU has tried padlocks and cages to deter people from taking the bottles.

“They are getting $300 worth of bottles every time they do that and we are losing it,” said Delaney. “It happens a couple times a year.”

A stronger fence will be put up to stop people from taking the bottles from the area.

The upgraded fence will cost the SU sustainability fund $1,286.25.

“We decided what we are going to do is to put a bar up the side of the wire about every foot or so, that way people can’t crawl through or snip it,” said Delaney.

Delaney suspected people with vehicles are responsible for taking the bottles from the Snake Pit area.

“The cans are so big, we assume people must be using a car to haul it away because there is no way you could carry $300 worth of cans or bottles,” said Delaney. “While homeless people may take the odd bag from our actual bin where there is hundreds of dollars of cans, I would be surprised if that was done by anyone who didn’t have a car.”

The SU and Campus Security have not seen anyone taking the bottles from the Snake Pit.

“We go there and the wires have been cut and the bottles are gone,” said Delaney. “It doesn’t necessarily raise that idea of theft in your mind if you were robbing a convenience store or something.”

A conversation

Professor Schneider does not think the bottles belong to the SU without question.

“All these questions are unclear to me and I think it would be important, rather than one group on campus making decisions, that we have a conversation about who owns the bottles and what happens to them,” said Schneider.

Third-year science student Justin Potter was not aware of where the recycled bottles were going.

“I have honestly never thought about it at all,” said Potter. “I never looked in to it, never thought about it. It has never been brought to my attention that there has been any controversy or that there were options.”

Potter likes the idea that the money used from the bottles goes into the sustainability fund. If other options were available, he would consider looking into where he wanted his recycled bottle money to go.

Potter thinks people should not be taking bottles from campus.

“There are many other places they can go,” said Potter.

Panko, a bottle-picker himself, understands the university’s viewpoint but thinks the stereotypes about bottle pickers need to change.

“There is only about one per cent of bottle pickers who go and open the blue bins and dig around,” said Panko. “Ninety-nine per cent of bottle pickers don’t try to cause any trouble. We work hard for our money.”

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