Recycling Center Turns One Man’s Trash Into Another Man’s Cash

Times Staff Writer

Between the hubbub on Crenshaw Boulevard and the serenity of a horse ranch, in a shack that looks like a children’s clubhouse, South Bay residents have picked up more than $800,000--mostly in $3 installments.

The benefactor? The Palos Verdes Recycle Center, now a county-owned operation. It began in 1970 as an effort by a community group to curb pollution and became a model for other recycling centers, according to a founding member.

South Bay residents with various backgrounds but a common desire to turn trash into cash are now reaping the benefits of that effort.

“We see a lot of regulars come here,” said Dave Spinosa, center supervisor. “It’s mainly parents and their kids or serious collectors who bring in materials by the truckload. Others are private organizations.

Scheduled to Move

The center--the only one in the South Bay sponsored by the county Sanitation Districts--is scheduled to move by November to a site across the street inside the county-owned South Coast Botanic Gardens.


Since the center started paying for glass, aluminum and newsprint in 1977, it has paid out more than $800,000 to about 77,000 visitors who hauled in more than 22,000 tons of materials for recycling, said Bill George, project engineer for the sanitation districts. The center currently pays out about $7,000 a month for about 24 tons of materials.

Recycling Networks

Unlike private recycling centers, the county center accepts motor oil, tin and other metals for recycling, although it does not pay for them.

Several civic organizations have accounts at the center that are credited when members bring in materials.

At Miraleste High School in Rancho Palos Verdes, 23 drill team members take materials to the center and have the earnings put into the team’s account. Noel Mastandrea, 15, drill team co-captain, said the team reaps about $400 each year.

Some people have formed recycling groups.

“Some have networks--spider webs, so to speak--of people who collect materials and cash them in. Others, I don’t know how they get so many cans; sometimes they come in more than once in a day,” Spinosa said.

Kimberly Shultz, 13, has enlisted her neighbors in Rancho Palos Verdes in gathering recyclable materials. “We have about four or five neighbors who help her out,” said her father, Bill Shultz. The Ridgecrest Intermediate School eighth-grader makes about $10 a month, he said.

Kimberly said that she is saving the money she earns for college and a car. “But sometimes I spend it to buy presents for my family,” she said.

The center pays a small amount of cash for newspapers, aluminum cans and glass, with the average contributor earning $3, Spinosa said.

It takes about 100 cans, a three-foot stack of newspapers or 200 bottles to earn $1, George said.

Started by University Women

Though now operated by the county, the recycling center was started at the county-owned site by the Palos Verdes Peninsula chapter of the American Assn. of University Women, whose concerns include environmental quality. Margaret DeCristofaro, the group’s chairwoman who spearheaded the effort, recalled that there was considerable interest in recycling even though the group did not pay contributors for materials.

“The first day, we opened the gate at about 8 a.m., and there was a line of about 15 cars waiting to get in,” she said.

DeCristofaro said the group used the money it got from selling the recyclable materials to pay for educational programs on the environment. A report by the group was later adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a handbook on how to start a recycling center, she said.

George said that waning interest in recycling forced the University Women to hand the center over to the county. Since it changed hands, the center has paid its contributors.

Promotes Recycling

The county subsidizes the center to promote recycling and it does not operate at a profit, George said.

“We’re generally in the red,” he said, estimating that losses amount to $200 a month. But “we try to break even.

“Our goal is to be a public service, diverting material away from the landfill and lowering energy costs.” He explained that through recycling, some products can be made using only one-twentieth of the energy it takes to produce the same products using raw materials.

Spinosa commented on one effect that recycling has on the environment. “It would be interesting to know how many pounds of newspaper equals a two-by-four,” he said. “I bet we have saved a lot of trees by now.”

One factor that affects the center’s profit is the fluctuating market value of recyclable materials, which puts the county at the mercy of buyers.

‘Buyers’s Market’

“This is entirely a buyers’ market. When they want to buy recyclable material, they buy; other times you virtually have to give it away,” he said. For example, he said, aluminum has fetched as much as 45 cents per pound, but the current rate is 20 cents.

Aside from economic factors, the center’s activity fluctuates with the season. “In the summer it gets busy here, but winter is real slow,” said Charles Turner, a county employee who works at the center on Saturdays, the center’s busiest day. From one to four county workers staff the center, Spinosa said.

The center has to move across the street because a public golf course is planned for the present site. Spinosa said the new center will not be any larger but will have a more efficient design for faster service.