Recycling to Get By

Many Eastern Coachella Valley residents are bringing their recyclable items to places such as Apple Recycling in Thermal to get by during tough times. (Photo: Tony Aguilar, Coachella Unincorporated)

By Tony Aguilar
Coachella Unincorporated

As the global economy shows idle signs of recovery, some Eastern Coachella Valley residents are finding their own recovery in the most common of places—their kitchen trash bin.

Maria Aguirre, 58, and her husband Vicente, 56, of Thermal, started recycling their used household bottles and cans when their two daughters were just three years old. Now retired, Maria and Vicente collected recyclable goods from home and goods from their work place for years. Maria and Vicente put the funds they earned from recycling into a savings account, hoping it would help offset the cost of their children’s college tuition.

It paid off. By the time their oldest daughter, Viviana, graduated from high school they had saved $10,000. By the time their second daughter Maribel graduated they had saved $8,000. According to Maria and Vicente, “We saved enough to pay for nearly half of each of our daughter’s tuition. The rest we had to pay out of pocket.”

“We now have three grandchildren to save for,” Maria said. “With rising costs of tuition in every sector of higher education across the board, it is now more important than ever to save,” she said, adding that she and her husband continue to recycle bottles and cans, glass, plastic and aluminum or whatever the recycling center will offer a redemption value for.

While the story of the Aguirre family and their grandchildren is one of optimism, other Eastern Coachella Valley residents are turning to recycling as a desperate last-ditch effort to supplement their income.

Adelina Solorzano, 73, of Thermal, lives alone and says she relies heavily on recycling household goods to supplement her income.

“I’m retired and rely solely on Social Security or the help of my sons just to get by,” Solorzano said. “My costs vary from month to month so it’s always important to have that extra help.”

Solorzano said that when she gathers enough to fit into the trunk of her Ford Taurus, she jets off to the recycling center down the street. She says the amount earned is a measly $20.00, if that.

“This used to be a family effort,” she said. “We would drive down the road in the our pickup truck with one child on each side of the road and collect cans that people would toss on the side of the road from their car windows, or that the wind would blow by.”

But Solorzano says that those days are gone. “You just don’t see recyclable goods thrown on the side of the road anymore,” she said. “People have finally come to realize that there is a value in what was so long ago seen as trash.”

In these difficult economic times, recycling is not the only way Solorzano has come to supplement her income. Solorzano has taken to cooking tamales and selling them at local trailer parks or to friends from church but says that doesn’t always pay off.

“Sometimes I get lucky and sell half of what I cooked and when I don’t, well I lose out big time,” she said.

While collecting trash and turning it in for cash may sound like a win-win situation for all, you may be shocked to find that we are not all winners in the world of “trash redemption.”

Eddy Leon, of Leons Market in Mecca, says that business at the recycling center he owns and operates out of his mini mart is down compared to this time last year.

“Recently other centers have been offering higher redemption values than I can,” Leon said. “So customers automatically turn around and drive to where they can get more money.”

We have all been guilty of tossing an aluminum can in a recycling bin. It makes us feel good. It gives us reassurance that we are keeping our community and planet clean. But the next time you let that can slip your hands and into the reaches of someone else, realize that someone is making money off of what you are throwing away, enough for a tank of gas or for their children’s tuition.

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