By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Despite the often-dramatic fluctuation of the price of aluminum, more cans are being recycled than ever. Aluminum companies nationwide last year recycled more than half of all the empty cans, according to a trade publication. That compares favorably with a decade ago, when a third of the empties were recycled.
The Valley had no aluminum recycling operations at the time of the first Earth Day in 1970. Fifteen years ago, only two local firms bought used cans. These days, the Valley's yellow pages list nearly four pages of recycling companies. Cans are recycled more than any other item. Just 4 percent of the nation's tires, for example, are recycled. No tire people work the streets of Phoenix.
"People are picking up cans 24 hours a day," says All Valley Recycling owner Nathan Sorkin. "Almost half of my business is walk-up. A lot of them are people who don't have jobs, or who don't have much in the way of money. It helps them and it helps us make a few dollars."
One of Sorkin's employees, an elderly man who calls himself "Pappy," says he regularly sees can people at the downtown recycling firm.
"We got a guy named Black Hat, who rides his three-wheeler in here all the time, and I can't tell you how many guys just like him," Pappy says. "I live downtown, and when I'm walking home, guys come up to me, `Pappy, Pappy, come here. How much is the cans going for now?' You think about it, you don't see too many cans on the city streets, do you?"
That's due mostly to the can people.
James Devine, seven-day-a-week recycler, says he's never heard of Earth Day.
"What's that?" he asks, scanning the area for cans. "Earth's Day? Oh, Earth Day. Okay. Well, I like it clean outside, nice and clean."
"I have a lot of respect for these foot soldiers," says Paul Reynolds, who owns a small recycling operation in north Phoenix. "At least these guys are doing something to earn their way, despite what people might think of them. They are the real recyclers, and they make their money the old-fashioned way."