Kelley Kim

Manhattan Beach, Redondo high school students dumpster-dive, sort trash for change

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Mira Costa juniors Ollie Salzman, left, and Joe Rosenberg, right, look through recycling bins in El Porto. Photo by Kelley Kim

Mira Costa juniors Ollie Salzman, left, and Joe Rosenberg, right, look through recycling bins in El Porto. Photo by Kelley Kim

Going through someone’s trash is generally frowned upon as a delinquent, disruptive practice. But, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

In a grand redefinition of this old adage, some local high school students are taking it upon themselves to sort through their towns’ trash and recyclables, all with the ultimate goal of educating, raising awareness and even inspiring policy change in their communities.

STORM DRAIN RESEARCH

Redondo Union High School seniors Chance King and Kelly VanBilliard present their findings to the community with their former AP Environmental Science teacher Mary Simon looking over.

Redondo Union High School seniors Chance King (right) and Kelly VanBilliard (center) present their findings to the community with their former AP Environmental Science teacher Mary Simon looking over.

For Redondo Union High School seniors Chance King and Kelly VanBilliard, the last two years entailed an unprecedented amount of time looking at trash.

As part of the South Bay Surfrider’s Teach and Test program (funded in part by West Basin), they counted, then sorted through the heaps of waste collected in two nearby storm drains that discharge to the ocean — one on Herondo Street in Hermosa Beach and the other on 27th Street in Manhattan Beach. The pair became involved in the project, which was already two years in, under the mentorship of their former AP Environmental Science teacher Mary Simon.

In a community presentation on Monday, June 2, at the Manhattan Beach Public Works Training Room, the two students shared their findings and pressed for urgent action on part of both individuals and their city governments to curtail or stop the use of single-use plastic materials.

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 12.18.36 PM“I realized that if this much trash can come from one storm drain in one city in a state in a country in the world, then globally this has got to be an epidemic of very drastic proportions,” said King, who is president of his high school’s Ecology Club. “It frightens me because I know in the next 10 years it’s only going to get worse unless we start banning these materials and working every day that plastics and foams don’t end up in our ocean.”

MIRA COSTA DUMPSTER DIVE

On Thursday, June 5, four Mira Costa juniors and three Waste Management staff donned yellow fluorescent vests, green caps, and rubber gloves and began opening the lids of garbage and recycling bins on North Crest Avenue in El Porto in the first of several summer afternoons spent surveying the recycling habits of Manhattan Beach residents. Students were given leaflets with examples of good and bad recycling and instructed to simply “flip the lids” of the bins during inspections.

Mira Costa juniors Joe Rosenberg, left, and Ben Manclark, right, discuss the contents of a recycling bin in El Porto. Photo by Kelley Kim

Mira Costa juniors Joe Rosenberg, left, and Ben Manclark, right, discuss the contents of a recycling bin in El Porto. Photo by Kelley Kim

Organized by Waste Management, the City of Manhattan Beach’s waste hauler, the students browsed the contents of recycling bins to reward city residents who most properly recycle in a recycling rewards program called the Clean Cart Challenge.

Surveyed bins are rated on a scale of 1 to 5—5 being the best looking bin—based on the contents of blue bins that pepper the curbs on Thursdays. Twenty winners with the best grades are chosen and receive one month’s free waste collection and recycling services.

“It’s a grassroots way to get everyone excited and invested in recycling,” said Janine Hamner, Waste Management’s manager for communication and municipal affairs.

“If it’s ooey, gooey, or chewy, that’s a no-no,” said Lisa Ryder, a recycling consultant for Waste Management.

The team convened first at the conference room of the Manhattan Beach Public Works facility on Bell Avenue, where Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Powell and Public Works director Tony Olmos attended to show their support. The group of seven then walked to Crest Avenue and began their inspections.

“I enjoy being out in the community and trying to make a difference on a more local scale,” said Trace Demarest, a Mira Costa junior who is part of Amigos Unidos, an organization started by his mother, Katie Brodkin, to, as Demarest said, “work together with high school boys to strengthen our community through community service.”

Three years ago, Waste Management instated a tiered pricing system based on trash bin size and operates a single-stream recycling service, where residents can place an unlimited amount of all types of recyclables—paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, and metal—in one bin. Since the introduction of the tiered rates, residents have been asking for even smaller 10 or 18-gallon trash bins, said Anna Luke-Jones, senior management analyst for the City of Manhattan Beach. The city plans to distribute smaller bins in 2018, at the end of the current Waste Management contract.

“Really good recyclers break down their boxes,” said Luke-Jones. “They get a 5.” An ideal candidate, Luke-Jones said, has a half-full smaller 35-gallon trash bin and a recycling bin “full to the brim.”

The Clean Cart Challenge has taken encouraged the community to be more accountable for and excited about the items they put out for collection.

“It really brought a human element by going into neighborhoods,” said Luke-Jones. “And people get free trash services. Who doesn’t love that?”

Reporter Esther Kang contributed to the story.