By Erik Luna
Although it’s hip to be green now, some people have been doing their part for the green movement without realizing it. Late into the night people from all around the East Los Angeles community get their flashlights and gloves ready for a night of Dumpster-picking in hopes of finding a good score.
Usually, a good score for them is finding aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Everyone who roams the streets at night has seen these people. They push around their shopping carts looking through residential trash bins and Dumpsters for any discarded objects they can sell. Some look at these people with disgust, but I see them with a sense of respect and amazement.
The people who set out on this unusual task are usually homeless, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Middle-class people have also drifted into this late night scavenger hunt as well. I’ve seen middle-aged mothers with their children searching the streets on trash day, senior citizens with their own carts filled with plastic bottles, and homeless people with bags full of recyclable material.
For some this is a necessity, a way of life, but why is it that some would subject themselves to the criticism of others and the inevitable embarrassment? Is it because the economy is bad? Or is it because the employment rates are down? Whatever the case may be, these people are out there for hours at a time.
They are searching for stuff others don’t think twice about collecting. If you think about it, these people make sure recycling is taken care of and that the streets are free from at least some litter. I’ll admit it, I have thrown away my share of soda cans on the streets, and have justified my action by saying “someone will find joy in finding this out on the streets.”
Luis Lopez, a middle-aged man in trying times, starts his night at around 8 p.m. and goes around searching for aluminum and plastic bottles in the Boyle Heights community until around 4 a.m. Lopez says there are usually more opportunities for a better score during the weekends and especially Sundays, seeing that people have thrown away stuff from weekend parties. Lopez went on to say that he probably makes around $10 to $15 dollars through the weekdays and up to $40 dollars for the weekends. Not bad, considering that it’s basically free money.
Some street pickers are stopped by the police. They usually get off with a warning to not make a mess when going through residential garbage bins. “The police just tells us, ‘If we come back around and see there is trash on the floor, next time we see you, you’re going to jail’,” said Frank Anthony, a homeless man that usually collects around Fourth Street and Olympic Boulevard.
“Sometimes police can be really messed up. I’ve had friends whose baskets have been taken away with all their cans they had collected,” Anthony said. Other things these pickers face are problems with the people who drive around looking for shopping carts to return.
According to Anthony, they usually are kind and let the pickers get a bag to place are their cans and bottles before they whisk the shopping cart away. These people walk incredible distances every day and many people who don’t have the need to collect recyclables simply throw away cans and bottles into the trash without thinking twice.
What they should do is make sure every recyclable goes into a recycling bin or put their unwanted cans and bottles into plastic bags for these people. It will not only help those that go out to collect these recyclables, but also the environment.