When I first arrived in Los Angeles in December 1993 – almost 17 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see a homeless person pushing a shopping cart half full of drink cans and plastic
bottles, on their way to recycle their loot for cash.
With this knowledge – I was recently intrigued by the number of regular Angelino’s who were using the recycling facilities, once the domain of the homeless.
In June, drove to my local Rite Aid drug store to purchase five litres of coolant for my Jeep (yes, you can purchase almost anything in an American drug store), when I was distracted by the large number of people at the rear of the parking lot.
These people weren’t there to shop at the drug store – but to use the recycling centre, operating out of an old shipping container.
“It’s better than putting it in the ocean” says Maria, a woman in her twenty’s who along with boyfriend Felix and her brother Michael have spent the past month collecting and storing their used plastic bottles and cans. “.. thousands and thousands of bottles end up in the ocean every year” she continues.
But, Michael and Felix’s motivations for recycling are more honest. “Why do I recycle?” asks Felix as he answers his own question, “Cause it’s good for the environment and at the end of the month when money is low, use the extra money.” Michael then pipes in – “… it just helps make extra cash every month.”
During the hour I am filming at the Vine Street, Hollywood recycling facility more than fifty people pull up in cars – men and women, families and unload their recyclable trash.
“It’s 50 percent homeless and 50 percent are people who the economy sucks for them right now. So they’re doing this on the side” claims Bakri, the owner of the Vine Street centre and two additional facilities several blocks away.
With money tight, either because of the ten percent and climbing unemployment rate due to the downturn in the US economy or fall-out from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, people now realise the recycling facility is a way to supplement their income with a few tax free dollars.
Homeless men like Dan and Julian, who I met don’t worry about these people with roofs over their head muscling in on their trade. “You know when I was born in my baby crib, I dreamed that I was going to push a cart and jump in dumpsters” says Dan in a threatening frustrated manner. “We’ll recycle anything that isn’t tired down.”
Julian is friendlier when questioned about his days. Pushing a cart He and Dan work as a team – ‘We got to walk a lot of mother fuck’en miles to get a little bit of money’ says Julian.
The Rite Aid parking lot and its daily transaction of pounds to dollars, says a lot about the current state of the American economy. Gone are the days when the homeless had a monopoly on LA’s street recycling business.
NOTE: The imperial system of measurement is used in the above article. The metric conversion is: one kilo of glass = US$0.24, one kilo of aluminium = US$3.31 and one kilo of plastic = US$2.05