For Pat Mason, happiness is a container for bottles, a container for cans, a container for paper and a free flatbed truck.
Mason, the undisputed recycling queen of the Conejo Valley, can probably offer a few tips to officials in Simi Valley, who are scheduled to start a pilot curb-side recycling program next month. Ventura is expected to follow suit this summer.
Through cajolery, praise or whatever else works, the 47-year-old Thousand Oaks homemaker has made recycling a way of life in her 131-home subdivision, and has sparked the movement in a couple of others. She serves on various recycling committees and was nominated for an award from the California Waste Management Assn.
“I try to make personal contact,” she said, “and use a guilt trip if necessary--in a joking way, if anyone lets me push them just a little. I encourage them to recycle by telling them it’s important.”
Mason is not shy about criticizing what she calls “our throwaway society.” She points to the two major Ventura County landfills nearing overflow. She speaks somberly of “the crisis.”
Her zeal persuaded the Simi Valley Recycling Center to dispatch a truck and driver to her neighborhood one Saturday a month to pick up cans, bottles and newspapers.
“She’s kind of like save-the-whales,” said Wade Schlosser, the center’s manager. “She’s a person who truly wants to do good.”
Indeed, Mason--who is so hooked on the concept of re-use that she brings paper bags back to the grocery for refills and saves Styrofoam take-out containers for future use--talks about recycling with a certain passion.
“We find it’s a chance for neighbors to get to know one another,” she said. “We notice what kinds of trash people have, what they are drinking, and we laugh and giggle about collecting garbage. We’re constantly surprised how many times we fill up the truck.”
Mason spent a year trying to persuade both Simi Valley Recycling and her homeowners association that they needed each other. The company, she argued, would get ton after ton of recyclable trash, and the association would get a monthly check for its efforts. She protested that she “couldn’t stand the amount of” recyclable trash she saw on strolls past overflowing trash cans awaiting pickup.
In the program’s first month, November, 1987, the haul was one ton. Now it’s 3 1/2 tons monthly.
Two other recycling programs started by Mason in Thousand Oaks ended recently because the price of recycled newspapers dropped so low that the rubbish company doing the pickup could not operate the program.
‘Used to Recycling’
“I’m rather disappointed the service pulled out,” said Ward Dixon, a resident of the Lynn Ranch area of Thousand Oaks, where Mason started one of the programs. “We have always been used to recycling, but it’s a real pain to haul the stuff, even though you get a few pennies for it.”
But recycling is still going strong in Mason’s neighborhood. Simi Valley Recycling Center donates the truck and driver in exchange for Mason’s representing the company on various recycling committees. Helping hands are needed to pick up the refuse as the truck goes through the area, and they are supplied by “15 or 20 people as the truck moves down the street,” she said.
Mason concedes that there are those who resist recycling.
“Yes, there are people I cannot budge. I call them my ‘reluctant recyclers.’ There are 12% in the tract that I intend to work on. They are hard-core non-recyclers.”
That’s a better track record than the one racked up by San Jose, one of the cities that Ventura is using as a model for its forthcoming attempt at curb-side recycling. In San Jose, 55% to 60% of the residents regularly sort their trash, according to Chris Velez, that program’s manager.
But curb-side recycling at best reduces waste by only 4% to 8%, according to Kay Martin, manager of Ventura County’s Solid Waste Management Department. For that reason, she said, a county task force is exploring alternatives--primarily a $25-million trash-processing plant that would churn out compost and fertilizer. Remaining, non-biodegradable garbage would be buried, but that would require only a small portion of the massive area now required for dumps, Martin said.
“Perhaps only 20% of what goes into the front door will come out the back,” she said.