Business has always been steady at the Semiahmoo Bottle Depot, but owner/operator Heimin Lee says since reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Surrey business feels like “a war zone.”
Describing an increase in the number of complaints, customers’ impatience, illegal dumping and ignoring of rules in recent months, Lee said he is at his wits’ end.
“We need some customer co-operation,” he told Peace Arch News during a recent interview. “If they keep doing this, I might shut down the depot.”
Located at 28-15515 24 Ave., the depot – which accepts items ranging from beverage containers and Styrofoam to residential paint – closed for three weeks at the outset of the pandemic, from March 22 until after Easter Monday.
Since reopening – with reduced hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – it has been “way, way busier” than usual, Lee said – and many customers are not showing the same level of patience and understanding as he has seen afforded other businesses.
“Everywhere is (a) lineup,” Lee told PAN, of waits to enter banks, retail locations and other sites due to pandemic-related capacity limits.
“(Customers) are waiting at all other places. They come here, they’re complaining. If we say this (item) is not acceptable, they’re angry. They say yes and then they dump it outside.”
Lee said he has tried to be accommodating, to ease the inconvenience of the reduced hours and waits on his customers. But the efforts landed him with two warnings from the city in May, he said.
There have been no such warnings since, Lee said. But even with the addition of cameras and signage, the passage of time has not improved customers’ behaviour, he said.
“It’s worse,” Lee told PAN Wednesday (July 8).
He described an incident that occurred on Saturday (July 4), in which a customer pushed one of his employees and made like he was going to spit on him, all because he was told he’d have to wait his turn for a cart.
And on Monday (July 6), another customer who was told he had to wait accused the employee of racial bias, Lee said.
“This is really out of control.”
Lee said part of the challenge is that customers who call the city or the Recycling Hotline (604-732-9253) are given misinformation about what is accepted. Then, Lee is advised of complaints filed about his service from customers who arrive with non-compliant items and are refused.
Monday (July 13), Recycling Council of B.C.’s director of policy and communications noted that information issued through the hotline is “provided to us by local governments, BC industry stewarship programs, and businesses such as the depot in question.”
“Hotline staff perform outreach to the more than 5,000 organizations listed in our database for updates, or make targeted inquiries when calls from the public indicate an issue with our current information for a specific organization,” Harvinder Aujala said by email.
“However, we also rely on the organizations themselves to alert us to any changes we have listed for the services they provide.”
Lee said while he understands customers’ frustrations, he doesn’t understand why they’re being taken out on his business to such a degree. The depot, he said, is caught “right in the middle,” referring to city rules, stewardship-program guidelines, misinformation from the hotline and pandemic restrictions.
“We’re in the frontline, too,” Lee said.