I wrote this piece of writing in 2016. It is about some changes that happened at RePlanet that caused us to stop taking our recyclables there.
I read this “Recycling Fail!” on episode 7 of my Words of Jen podcast.
Shawn and I used to take our recycling to a RePlanet recycling facility on a regular basis. They are located near grocery stores that accept the receipt that RePlanet gives people for their recycling. It used to be a simple way to make a few extra dollars that could be spent on groceries (or maybe a drink from Starbucks).
Things have changed! Today, we went to the RePlanet location that we always go to. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon when we arrived, and the RePlanet stays open until 4:00. In the past, this wasn’t a problem.
Today, however, there was a long line of people trying to turn in their recycling. The line started right in front of the RePlanet and continued out to the parking lot. We decided to wait a minute to see if the line would move.
For those that don’t know, RePlanet has a bunch of blue plastic garbage cans at the facility. People are to use those cans to sort their recyclables into three categories: cans, plastic, and glass. There are large cans made of wire that are to be used to sort soda cans. You cannot fill an entire blue plastic garbage can with glass because it becomes too heavy for the RePlanet guy to dump (after he weighs it for you).
The first guy in line was having his recyclables weighed, and would be done soon. The second guy had four garbage cans of recyclables, all sorted and ready to go.
The problem started with the lady who was next in line. She took about half of the total number of garbage cans – and needed more of them. When the guys in front of her got done, she asked them to hand her their empty garbage cans. So now, she had more than half of the available cans – all to herself.
There were four people in line behind this lady. One of them figured out what she was doing and quickly dashed over and snagged a garbage can for himself before she could take it. The rest were stuck waiting for her to be done.
Here’s the thing about recycling places – the majority of people that go there are poor (like me). You can tell by looking at people’s shoes and clothing. Most people are not only wearing clothes that are old, but that are also very worn. Some of the people who bring in recycling are probably homeless – and this is their only means of making money.
The other reason why the majority of people who go to recycling facilities are poor is because recycling is a hassle. First, you have to collect up enough cans and bottles to make it worth the trouble. You have to have a place to store the recyclables until you are ready to take them in. (For us, that place is the trunk of our car.)
You also have to time your trip to the RePlanet so that you get there on a day that it is open. You must get there before 4:00 when the place closes, and it’s best if you can avoid being there while the worker is on his lunch break. There is an official lunch break time posted on the wall, but Shawn and I have seen that it is not always adhered to.
In short, you have to weigh the hassle of trying to take recycling to the RePlanet (and the time it takes to turn them in) with the small amount of money you can get from bringing in your cans and bottles. Most of the people who bother to do this are those who need a few extra dollars to spend on things like bills and groceries. It isn’t really possible to make a lot of money this way, but you can get about $10.00.
The lady who took almost all of the garbage cans for herself was definitely not homeless. The shirt and jeans she was wearing looked expensive and were obviously new. Her white gym shoes had no dirt or scuffs on them. The sunglasses she was wearing were not the cheap kind that people can pick up at a pharmacy. She didn’t need the $10.00 or so that her recyclables would get for her. But, here she was, blocking the poor people from having access to the RePlanet facility.
A little while later, another lady got out of a shiny new car and walked over to the RePlanet. She stood there for a while, doing nothing, in her brand new looking vest, jeans, and sunglasses. Eventually, she started talking to the lady who took nearly all the garbage cans, and attempted to help her sort some recyclables. It seemed like these two ladies knew each other, and there was a physical resemblance between them.
It had become clear that there was no way that Shawn and I were going to be able to turn in our recyclables today. The place had less than an hour before it closed, and there were all these people in line. There was another (potential) option. The RePlanet website said that there was another facility behind our local grocery store. Neither Shawn, nor I, had ever seen it, but we decided to give it a try.
We drove across town, and back towards home, to the shopping mall our local grocery store is located in. We got out of the car and took a short walk behind the building. To our surprise, there was a RePlanet facility there. It was being run out of what looked like two really large truck trailers. This facility also closed at 4:00, which was about half an hour away.
It didn’t take long to walk back to the car, drive it behind the building, and park it. We took just a few of the bags of recycling out of the car, unsure if we would be able to turn them in. A vaguely shaped line of people were standing in front of this RePlanet facility, too, but the line wasn’t as long.
There was a man on the sidewalk across the alleyway from the RePlanet who appeared to be taking a nap. A bicycle with a handmade cart attached to the back of it was parked in front of the RePlanet (giving little room for people to sort their recyclables). The bicycle and cart belonged to a man who I had seen around before. He looks for discarded cans and bottles, picks them up, and puts them into the plastic garbage cans that are on his cart.
I think he might be homeless, or perhaps “a little off”. The man was wearing a camouflage shirt that had some kind of military abbreviations on the front. He looked to be about 60 or so, and might have been a veteran. RePlanet might be the only means this guy has of making money.
There was another guy waiting in line with a big bag of recyclables. He looked a bit frustrated by the number of RePlanet garbage cans the the man with the cart was using. There was also a guy who parked his old car nearby the RePlanet. (It was debatable which car was older – his or mine). The man had been waiting in line for so long that his brown labrador, who was waiting in the car, got bored and started whining.
Right next to the RePlanet, as close to the door as possible, was a shiny new pick up truck. It was one of those oversized ones had extra space in back. The hatch was open and a man, in a bright blue brand new looking shirt, and expensive looking sunglasses was sitting there. The entire back of his pickup was filled with trash bags that were obviously filled with recyclables. On the ground in front of him were about seven more bags. He sat there with his arms crossed, his sunglasses preventing anyone from making eye-contact with him. The guy looked somewhat intimidating, as if he might start loudly complaining about how long he had been waiting at any moment.
The man with the lab was able to turn in his recyclables. He walked the few steps back to his car where a very relieved looking lab dog greeted him. In the meantime, the man taking a nap got up and managed to grab a RePlanet garbage can. He started sorting his recyclables as best he could with only one can available to him.
A small woman appeared behind me and Shawn and asked if we were the last in line. I said “I think we are.” There wasn’t really a line, more like a collection of people. She stood behind us and we all continued to wait.
This is the part where I should point out that neither I nor Shawn are entirely capable of waiting in line that long. Shawn is recovering from an injury in his leg. I’m severely allergic to pollen and the pollen count was high that day. (It was 10.2, which is officially considered to be “high”. I start getting sick when it hits 7). It was a very windy day, which meant that tons of pollen was being blown directly into my face. I knew that I would be stuck spending the rest of the day, and possibly part of tomorrow, recovering from pollen exposure.
The RePlanet guy signaled that the man in the shiny new pickup truck was next. This was when I decide to call it a day. There was absolutely no way were were going to be able to turn in our recyclables today – despite making the attempt at two RePlanet facilities.
After having time to think about it, I have come up with some reasons why RePlanet has become so frustrating:
1. The RePlanet we usually go to used to have two automated machines on either side of the building. This enabled people to put cans and bottles into the machine themselves without having to be assisted by a RePlanet worker. When you ran out of recyclables, you pushed a button and a ticket would come out of the machine. It was easy to take that ticket to the Target department store that was located in front of the RePlanet.
Those automated machines also meant that three people could turn in their recyclables at the same time. One at each machine, and one being helped by a RePlanet worker. The machines also enabled people to turn in their recyclables while the RePlanet was closed. A while ago, RePlanet removed the automated machines. Since then, the only way to turn in recyclables is to wait in line, one at a time.
2. There used to be a third RePlanet facility that was located behind a grocery store across town. That grocery store recently closed and moved to an entirely different location (still in town). As a result, that RePlanet had to close too. The individual RePlanets seem to have a deal with the closest grocery store. That’s where people need to take the receipt from RePlanet so they can get cash. No grocery store – no more RePlanet.
People who used to bring their recyclables to that RePlanet seem to have found the one that is located behind Target. That one is the easiest to find and has plenty of parking spaces around it. It feels a lot safer than the sketchy looking RePlanet that is literally made from two truck trailers, has a small sign, and no parking. This explains why the RePlanet behind Target has become so crowded.
3. RePlanet has only one worker at each facility. In California, people who work a certain number of hours have to, by law, take an unpaid half-hour lunch break. This means that the entire RePlanet facility has to be shut down, and locked up, until the worker returns from lunch. Everyone who wanted to bring in their recyclables has to wait. Going to a different RePlanet won’t do any good – because that worker is on lunch as well.
The result is that the people who were in line before the worker’s lunch break are stuck waiting around for him to return. People who arrive while the worker is at lunch end up waiting in line (or giving up entirely and going home). By the time the worker returns, there is a backup of people who are trying to turn in their recyclables – and it makes everything take longer for the rest of the day.
Shawn and I are going to give RePlanet one more try. We intend to go tomorrow after he is done with a doctor’s appointment. All the recyclables are still in the car, ready to go. The timing of the doctor’s appointment indicates that we might end up at RePlanet before the worker goes on his lunch break.
So far, we have spent about 30 minutes trying to turn in the recyclables. Tomorrow, the pollen count will be high (again). Shawn might, or might not, be able to stand in line waiting around at RePlanet after his physical therapy appointment. We can’t go to RePlanet before the appointment because RePlanet won’t be open yet.
Best case scenario – we might make about ten bucks for what is likely to turn into an hour or so of time and effort. That’s ten bucks total, not ten bucks each. I could have spent the time we wasted at two RePlanet facilities today at home writing blogs that I get paid for.
If things go badly at RePlanet tomorrow, we have decided to stop bothering. The money and time is no longer worth it. The mobile home park we live at has a dumpster that is set aside for recyclables. We can’t many any money from recycling that way, which is why we’ve been going to RePlanet. We are poor, and every little bit of money helps. It is disappointing that RePlanet has become a “recycling fail” instead of a recycler.