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He’s Making Sure Environment Doesn’t Go to Waste

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Len Rector’s wife, Marjorie, thinks he works too hard for a man his age. Len, 78, insists that working seven days a week suits him fine.

For 14 years, Rector has been the hands-on manager of the City of Malibu Recycling Center, sorting plastics, separating glass and keeping the telephone books out of the newspaper bin. In a way, he has recycled a new career for himself.

“Way back when this place was started it used to take two months to fill a 10-ton paper bin and now it takes eight days,” he says. Not only does Rector know many of the steady customers by name but he’ll seek someone out if they consistently drop the wrong stuff into the bins. He loves to talk about the celebrities who stop by. He takes particular interest in the fine wine bottles that some of Malibu’s wealthy denizens recycle, because he spent 25 years as a salesman for wine and spirits.

Originally from Pennsylvania, he was a star fullback at the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. He taught school after graduation and also coached many sports. He enlisted in the Navy at the outbreak of World War II and spent 4 1/2 years in active service, mostly as a base instructor.

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After the war he decided not to return to teaching because too many things had changed--among them that he “wasn’t allowed to kick kids in the pants anymore” to get their attention. He and his wife arrived in California in 1948 and he tried to find his niche. He imported bamboo blinds for a while and did a stint selling cars, and eventually went into the “booze business.”

A couple of years before his retirement, a fateful visit occurred.

“We were living in Pacific Palisades,” Rector recalled, “and one day this young guy knocks on my door and asked for my bottles and cans, and I said, ‘How much are you going to pay me?’ He said, ‘You’re going to pay me $3 a month.’ So I signed up and was his first customer. I believe in recycling and I admired this young man for being ahead of his time. Little did I know that I would be managing the first recycling center in the country.”

The young man was Gary Petersen, who pioneered an extensive array of recycling programs in the ‘70s, first in the Westside and the Valley and then throughout the region. His company, Ecolo-Haul, was acquired four years ago by Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest trash handler.

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Rector wishes more people would recycle, especially the bars and restaurants in the area. He’s critical of the students at nearby Pepperdine, who he thinks could be doing more, as well as newspaper distributors who do not recycle the over-issues.

But he praises the elderly people who bring in their recyclable materials, “because they want to do their part to make a better environment.”

Rector is used to working hard and being involved. In spite of the steel plates in his legs from osteoarthritis, he’s on the Water Conservation and Solid Waste study group in Malibu. He runs the earthquake readiness committee at the Point Dume Mobil Park, where he now lives. He’s an avid photographer.

He believes his own job has a limited future--sooner or later, he says, curbside collection will put him out of work. “But when you’re my age how long can I expect to be working? I’m the oldest guy in waste management right now.”

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The City of Malibu Recycling Center is across from the Civic Center . Information: (310) 828 0226.

Bulletin Board

Health Lecture--The Washington Medical Center will present “Osteoporosis and Other Bone Changes in Aging”; 12101 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; 1:30 p.m. Tuesday; reservations and information: (310) 391-0601, Ext. 263 (free).

Senior Employment--Consultant and psychologist Jeanne Goen will discuss “Jobs for the After 50 Worker”; Ken Edwards Center, 1527 4th St., Santa Monica; 6:30 p.m. Thursday; reservations required; information: (310) 394-9871 (free).

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Seniors Club--The West Wilshire Senior Citizens Club will celebrate Mother’s / Father’s Day with entertainment; 141 S. Gardner St., Los Angeles; 1 p.m. Thursday; information: (213) 939-5778 ($4 membership dues).

AIDS Forum--The Assistance League of Southern California Hollywood Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center will have a forum on “AIDS--Myths and Facts”; 6501 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; 1 p.m. Friday; information: (213) 937-3900 (free).


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