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TRASH AND TREASURE TWENTY YEARS INTO RECYCLING, CALIFORNIA CELEBRATES A BIG SUCCESS.

Byline: BRENT HOPKINS Staff Writer

BURBANK -- Santa Claus, with his red-suited girth smashed flat, rolls down the sorting line amid bottles, cans, paper and junk.

The squashed Father Christmas, crammed into someone's curbside recycling bin, has traded a spot up on the rooftop for a mess of cast-off Coke cans, magazines and detergent bottles. As St. Nick lurches forward, a hooded, masked worker -- hands protected with thick gloves -- grabs him and tosses him into a trash bin.

``Everything has to be recycled, and we're the ones who have to separate it out,'' said Javier Garcia, foreman of the Burbank Recycle Center. ``There's a lot of trash that comes down the line: Pampers, gas tanks, helium tanks for balloons at parties, rakes, guns, money.

``We're very careful. ... We've seen it all.''

The state on Wednesday celebrated 20 years of the California Redemption Value program, which began by simply encouraging consumers to reuse their trash and keep it out of landfills. Since then, the state has recycled 160 billion beverage containers: enough to cover the length of Interstate 5 -- 800 miles -- 14 feet deep.

Whether state residents frequent redemption centers such as the Burbank facility for cash or set out material in curbside containers for municipal collection, Californians generate a tremendous quantity of recyclables: 12.4 billion containers, 61 percent of the aluminum, plastic and glass containers of beverages purchased statewide in 2005.

``It's incredible what we've done as a state,'' said Bridgett Luther, director of the Department of Conservation. ``Without this program, all this would have just been in landfills.

``You think of how much more efficient this is; you realize how important it is to pass it along to the next generations.''

In Los Angeles County, residents produce 37,000 tons of recyclables every day, about the same amount sent to landfills. In the city of Los Angeles, they pile 1,100 tons per day into blue curbside pickup bins and up to 2,000 tons of organic matter in green bins.

And nearly 300 tons of the countywide haul comes into the Burbank Recycling Center. From 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., two shifts of workers head to the long, snaking conveyor belt to separate the salvageable material from the junk.

``If you think of this as an urban mine, we're going right down the shaft,'' said Kreig Hampel, a recycling coordinator for the Burbank Public Works Department. ``This is not a sexy job. This is rigorous work, down in the trenches.''

The facility reeks of wet garbage and rotting food. The din is tremendous, with cans clattering around and immense baling machines compacting the material into tidy bundles. An 800-pound block holds 30,000 crushed cans.

As the line runs, workers hurl castoffs such as the beleaguered Santa onto a trash pile. Up to 10 percent of the material brought in -- close to 30 tons per day -- is not recyclable.

``Most people, when the trash can's full, they'll just put stuff in the recycle bin,'' said Adrian Rosales, the facility manager. ``They never think that there's real people who have to deal with it. Who do they think sorts this out? Robots?''

Though the conveyor belt can sort out lightweight paper from heavy bottles, there's still a great deal of manual labor involved. When Garcia started -- 18 years ago -- workers spent the day stooped over a gigantic pile of material, sorting it by hand.

These days, sorting on the conveyor line remains a grueling job that pays minimum wage. Workers rarely stay more than a year before they look for a promotion to forklift operator or truck driver.

``It's not a difficult job, but it's hard work,'' said Ruben Ambrosio, 33, of Panorama City. ``People leave meat in there, ... very bad on the nose. Dead cats, dogs, you get used to it. It's something new every day.''

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3738

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) no caption (cans)

(2) Workers sort recyclables before the materials are mashed into bales at the Burbank Recycle Center.

Evan Yee, Staff Photographer

Box:

By the numbers:

Source: California Department of Conservation, Division of Recycling

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 2006
Words:692
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