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Recycling Rewarded by Rubbish Rummager

Times Staff Writer

Surrounded by nosy television cameramen, newspaper photographers and reporters, Rapman the rubbish rummager wielded his rake and poked and prodded the gobs of garbage outside Julie Regele’s mobile home.

Inside, Regele sat confidently, knowing already that she had won $100 for being ecologically conscious by having segregated newspapers, glass and aluminum cans from her trash, to be recycled separately.

When the reporters came knocking on her door, she was ready for them. She had been tipped an hour earlier by Rapman, who did a preliminary perusal of her rubbish, that she had won this week’s trash contest, and that he would be returning later with press in tow. Get dressed, he said, and comb your hair because you’ll be on television tonight!

So at 8:30 a.m., the media circus pulled into her mobile home park and wisecracked as Rapman did what he’s paid to do, peer into people’s garbage. They saw her orange peelings, the milk cartons, the plastic meat packages and all the rest of her mess and Rapman proclaimed, “We have a winner!” There wasn’t a single newspaper, glass container or aluminum can in the mess. It was good garbage.

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Regele was escorted to the front curb, smiled and said all the right things about recycling as Rapman presented her with a crisp, green, negotiable picture of Ben Franklin.

“Oh, it’s easy to comply with the (recycling) regulations,” she said to a beaming Rapman. “Why recycle? Why not?” she asked back. “It becomes a way of life.”

She explained how she drapes those plastic grocery sacks over the knobs of her cupboards. Glass goes here, aluminum goes there, newspapers get stacked down there.

Music to Rapman’s ears.

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And so it was that, without a hitch, Rapman and Regele kicked off the first week of San Marcos’ Recycling Awards Program (from which Rapman got part of his acroname).

Every week, Rapman will cruise the streets of the city and, targeting a handful of the 1,000 or so people who so far have signed up to participate in the contest by giving him permission to dig through their trash, will randomly select barrels and bags of trash to dissect.

The first person every week whose trash is free of recyclables will receive $100; the next person will get $50. The money comes from area merchants and North County Resource Recovery Associates, the company that was given permission by the city to build a trash-to-energy plant in San Marcos if, among other conditions, it institutes a public awareness program on the value of recycling.

That’s where Rapman comes in.

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He is Shane Rohan, a 26-year-old blond fellow from Encinitas who looks quite charming in his banana republic outfit of explorer’s shirt,safari shorts, knee socks and hat, and who gets a kick out of his new role in life. He is, as they say, media attractive.

“They saw me one day picking up cans at the beach and they asked me if I want to be a Big Man,” Rohan said. “So they bought me this outfit and here I am.”

He is a graduate of UC San Diego with a degree in marine science who now gets paid for spending one morning a week poking through the household garbage of contest participants who have agreed that they won’t sue him for invasion of privacy.

Rohan said he quietly went through the trash of three households at the Madrid Manor mobile home park in San Marcos early Thursday, and, having discovered that Regele’s garbage was a winner, knew he could safely bring the press back to show how the contest works.

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But she would be the only winner Thursday. Subsequent trash inspections at four other residences showed that most people don’t recycle to Rapman’s standards.

One woman’s trash had a lone glass jar of cheese spread. “Ohhhhh!” Rapman moaned. “I feel real bad about that, but rules are rules.”

Nada Minth, standing good-naturedly in her robe before a platoon of reporters and TV cameras, said: “My daughter must have put that in there.” She spotted Rapman. “You’re the lucky guy who goes through the garbage?”

At the next home, it was a mayonnaise jar that did the homeowner in. Sorry.

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At the next place, it was a discarded bottle of Carlo Rossi Chablis that tainted the garbage. The fellow next door saw the commotion and, even though he hadn’t entered the contest, he promptly brought over two bags of his garbage for the whole world to see. He was done in by several glass jars, including an empty Listerine bottle.

At least his trash smelled OK.


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