The Recycling Generation : Star-studded video exhorts young people to ‘Take It Back!’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Foster is a frequent contributor to Valley View</i>

Take out the papers and the trash,

Or you don’t get no spending cash . . .

Get all that garbage out of sight,


Or you don’t go out Friday night.

Yakety Yak--don’t talk back!

“Yakety Yak” lyricists Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had no idea their tune about rebellious youth would 40 years later become a recycling movement theme song.

What should have tipped them off were lyrics--about paper, trash and garbage--that required little alteration to urge today’s youth to “pick out the papers from the trash . . . Yakety Yak--Take It Back!”

The organization behind the new lyrics, the Burbank-based Take It Back Foundation, has packed the revamped tune into a music video featuring 19 famous pop, rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop, country and rap artists. Take It Back was founded in 1990 by activist Jolie Jones, daughter of music legend Quincy Jones, to raise awareness about recycling.

The video had an MTV premiere on National Recycling Day in April and has since been used in public service announcements and in elementary and high school recycling programs nationwide. The foundation created a campaign around its initial video effort, one that Jones, 38, hopes will eventually create careers for youth in the burgeoning recycling field.


“The whole point of the video is not to point fingers at people, but to create an entertaining, user-friendly message that can empower people, especially young people,” said Take It Back President Jones.

Jones lives with her music producer husband, Stewart Levine, and sons Donovan, 17, and Sunny, 12, in Sherman Oaks. Levine produced the “Yakety Yak” video and is vice president of the Take It Back Foundation, which in addition to the couple has three support staff members.

The video features Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Randy Newman, Kenny Loggins, Bugs Bunny, M.C. Skat Cat, Ozzy Osbourne, Quincy Jones, Pat Benatar and Natalie Cole interacting with animated props and scenery, rapping:

“Don’t be no square, don’t be no chump,

Don’t make this Earth a garbage dump,

The planet screams, ‘No more funk!’


There’s no more room for no more junk.

Yakety Yak--Take It Back!”

“I thought the video would be a three- or four-month project, but it took a year--and then it took over my life,” Jones said, seated at her desk, fingering a cobalt-blue crystal Earth paperweight placed near a Bugs Bunny figure holding a “Recycled Teenager” sign.

“We decided that if we were going to spend all this time and money on one video, we should follow it up with some ongoing solutions.”

Jones launched a series of service announcements featuring the video’s celebrities, aired nationwide on MTV, VH-1 and other cable networks and network affiliates. Trailers of the video were shown at 1,600 AMC movie theaters. Eight of the service announcements have been endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is funding a one-month recycling awareness tour that Jones and Neil Seldman, an environmental expert, will take in October.

“Jolie is one of the few people around who understands the importance of the entire recycling loop,” said Marjorie Weidenfeld Buckholtz, EPA director of external relations for the office of solid waste and emergency response.


“It all begins when you put your bottles and newspapers out on the curb,” she added. “But there must be industries that will buy and process those materials, manufacturers that will make products out of them--and then back full circle to the consumer, who must then purchase those recycled products. Jolie incorporates each part of that message in her campaigns.”

Jones added: “Recycling covers every environmental concern you can think of, along with humanitarian issues. Even some economic problems can be solved--the subject gives activists a broad brush stroke to work with.”

Seldman, director of waste utilization for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington, D.C.-based group, will join Jones during the October tour to 12 Eastern cities. The pair will give lectures to schools and appear on local television stations.

Jones said she eventually hopes to create careers in recycling for youth through establishing a grant program with the institute.

Funding for Jones’ efforts has poured in from numerous sources. The California Department of Conservation provided a $298,000 grant to distribute the video and a teacher’s recycling guide to 15,000 California public schools.

The Close Up Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based group founded in 1971 to develop civic responsibility among high school students, helped distribute the materials to an additional 18,000 teachers in every congressional district. The group is working with Take It Back to deliver the video and guide to an additional 104,000 schools nationwide.


“The commitment and the energy Jolie has put into this project are outstanding,” said Marcia Gustafson, curriculum evaluation manager for Close Up. “Our philosophy matches hers--citizens, regardless of age, should be out there taking action on recycling.”

Laura Woodward, a third-grade science teacher at Citrus Elementary in Upland, used the video and book as the centerpiece of a three-week recycling awareness class.

“Kids are so TV and music-minded that all of a sudden, ‘Yakety Yak--Take It Back!’ became their motto,” Woodward said. “They really identified with the individual singers. They could repeat exactly what each star said about recycling--and that’s a lot to remember for an 8-year-old.”

Woodward used the video on April 15, National Recycling Day, an observation created this year by a congressional resolution that Jones and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) spearheaded.

AT&T; has also funded Take It Back, providing $500,000 to date. Take It Back spent $450,000 on the “Yakety Yak” video; other companies donated equipment and transportation for artists. Atlantic Recording Corp. picked up the tab for production and distribution.

A&M; Records donated its Los Angeles sound stage, the same one used by Jones’ father, Quincy, when he produced USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” video in 1985.


Jones has assembled an advisory board of environmental groups for her foundation, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Worldwatch Institute, Californians Against Waste and the Council on Economic Priorities.

“I was the president of a local New York chapter of SANE back in 1983,” Jones said, referring to the anti-nuclear organization. “But recycling has caught my eye like no other concern.”

Jones is also owner and vice president of Oliverea Productions and has produced two albums for Brazilian pop star Ivan Lins. She has also been a singer and model.

The idea to launch the “Yakety Yak” video originated with Pacy Markman, an advertising expert who talked to Jones about it after an Earth Communications Office, or ECO, board meeting. Jones was a founding board member of ECO, a Century City-based environmental awareness group created in 1989.

“I was not into recycling at the time,” Jones said. “I thought Leiber and Stoller would never consider letting us use their song.”

But Jones later telephoned the lyricists, who agreed and in fact rewrote the lyrics for the tune.


“I started to recycle at home and then stood back and watched what happened. Our habits started to change. I stopped using paper towels and my husband organized the house to make it easier to recycle--like extra recycling bins upstairs.

“All of this raised our awareness of how much we waste. We could see how we could make a difference--without having to be politicians.”

Take It Back is the newest of several organizations that use celebrities and the media to voice environmental concerns to the public.

The Environmental Media Assn., founded in 1989, works with writers, actors and producers to encourage the inclusion of environmental themes in films, TV and music.

ECO also strives to influence network TV shows, often persuading writers and editors to script in casual dialogue about disposable diapers or excessive product packaging.

Many such environmental groups receive free office space from studios. ECO has set up shop in Imagine, Ron Howard’s Century City studio, and Take It Back occupies a two-room suite in the Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp.’s Burbank complex.


Jones said she sees no end to her efforts. The foundation’s logo, a globe shaped like a butterfly, will be used to help market recycled products and may appear as a seal of approval for recycled goods. Take It Back also is planning events for the United Nations’ “Earth Summit” conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June, 1992.

“Once we completed the video, which was supposed to be a short-term project, I knew I was in this for the long run,” Jones said. “It’s become my full-time career.”