Pink Cart Sparks Dialogue, Raises Cash for Breast Cancer

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They may be functional but garbage bins are unsightly. But in changing the colour to pink, Michigan-based Canadian Jo-Anne Perkins has made carrying your trash to the curb fun and cute. The colour, of course, is now synonymous with breast cancer awareness and that’s exactly the cause Pink Cart supports.

In 1986, Perkins lost her mother Arlen Kerr to breast cancer; she was just 51 years old. Perkins — whose grandmother also died of breast cancer — spent the ensuing years raising a family and building her career. But as her own 51st birthday approached, she felt that she needed to do more than just participate in fundraising walks. Her role as VP of environmental systems & services for Cascade Engineering —which among other things manufactures bins used for curbside solid waste and recycling collection — gave her the power to effect real change.

“When I did hit 52, I felt I had to figure out how to do more for the cause,” Perkins tells Samaritanmag from her Grand Rapids office. “So I had the idea that if we could turn curbsides pink, we would start a conversation and that would be really special and beyond what I was already doing. I mean, you cannot drive by a pink cart without saying ‘What on Earth is that?’ So the idea for Pink Cart was born. This was 2009.”

Perkins contacted the American Cancer Society about the idea and they were “super-supportive,” signing a contract that essentially stated that for every sale of a Pink Cart, $5 is donated to the charity for research and awareness. “Because Cascade is quite large across North America, it was really important to me that the $5 found its way back into the community where that cart was purchased,” she says.

“Every quarter, when we add it all up and send the American Cancer Society a cheque, we staple it to an Excel spreadsheet that has the address of every zip code of where those carts went. And so that money is distributed back to those communities. So if you are living in Denver Colorado and you buy a Pink Cart, your donation will make it back into your community.”

The carts come in three sizes (35-gallon, 64-gallon, and 96-gallon) and range in price from $40 to $80. So far, Perkins says Cascade has sold 80,000 carts, raising over $300,000, mostly for the American Cancer Society. 

Though three Canadian companies are listed on the Pink Cart website as distributors here (located in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec) and Perkins confirms the Canadian Cancer Society is on-board with the program, its impact here is so far limited compared to the U.S.

A phone call and subsequent email to customer service agents with 311 Toronto — which fields enquiries about Toronto city services —  confirmed that “residents must use the city-supplied bins,” for garbage and recycling pickup. “Using any other kind of bin would result in non-collection.” If you'd like to learn more about how you can advocate to allow Pink Cart in the city, via a "letter to your hauler," click here.

However, while curbside collection might have the most visual impact, Canadians can still purchase carts for other household uses (as a laundry hamper, for instance) knowing that $5 for each sale benefits the Canadian Cancer Society.

“We continue to roll out mostly across the United States, because the collection methodology is a little different here,” Perkins — who was born in Montreal and raised in Oakville — says. “In Canada, municipalities are largely in charge of collection whereas in the States, it’s very privatized. So the haulers are key in making this work and here, those companies — some 10,000 of them — are privately owned and get to make their own decisions.

“If one out of eight women are touched by breast cancer then many of those privately owned haulers will have had women in their families or their organizations touched by breast cancer. So the concept resonated with those haulers and they helped swap the carts out for their customers.”

Asked whether Cascade would consider rolling out a line of carts in colours corresponding to other types of cancers, Perkins says likely no. “People have asked us about it,” she confirms. “Our carts are pink because that’s my personal experience. But that’s not to say we’re not happy to do it. If someone really wants to have a purple cart, for example, we’ll find a way to do it.

“This is a way to honour my Mom,” Perkins adds. “I have a very supportive CEO [Fred Keller] who himself has had breast cancer in his family. In the beginning I thought, ‘If I could sell a couple of thousand carts and start a conversation, I will have made my Mom proud.’  It has ended up just resonating with so many people.”

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.