Trash and recycling in Santa Monica, CA; tinkering our way to a better planet

As you drive into Santa Monica on I-10, you’ll pass a huge American flag on the right side of the highway. This flies over Southern California Disposal, the main transfer station for all garbage produced by Santa Monica and selected surrounding neighborhoods. Take the exit and make a few rights and soon you’ll find yourself outside a huge building with garbage trucks lining up on one side, bulldozers moving two story piles of trash around, and tractor trailers going out the other side en route to the Chiquita Canyon landfill in Castiac. It smells of diesel fumes and rotting food.

Across the street is the Santa Monica Recycling Center. Run by Allan Co, a separate vendor to the City of Santa Monica, this where blue bin recyclables get sorted, independent cardboard haulers drop off and get paid, and cans and bottles end up. Allan sorts out everything that can be profitably recycled, the electronic waste going one direction, the brass fittings another. Piles of cardboard and paper. Huge cubes of crushed aluminum cans. Far more trucks pull into SCD than the Recycling Center.

This is where our waste goes. Mostly to the landfill and a little back into the materials flow. Every day, all day, ton after ton. And this just for a small corner of Los Angeles County.

It puts reDiscover’s ambitions, to provide a place for Angelenos to have a chance to creatively reuse waste material, in perspective. There is so much waste. Alone we can hardly make a dent in it by diverting material into art and tinkering. Our biggest impact is in attitudes. By sending children home with an artwork or tinkering project they created out of discarded material, displaying it at home, thinking about it, and thinking about where the material came from and where it may go, we can change household habits. That sculpture reminds the whole family that the containers and broken things and food waste and all of the material that flows through their home comes from somewhere and goes somewhere. The tinkering project made of scraps tells everyone who looks at it that they don’t need new materials to learn, play, and have fun.

We can do more to talk about where the materials at reDiscover come from and the larger waste systems they are a part of. To give connections between the tinkering activities in our programs and a lifelong philosophy of “fix it, make it last, use it up” that will keep some of those tons from going onto those trucks. To not zoom away from the smelly fumes and piles of trash just behind that wall along the 10.

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