We paw through your garbage at night and haunt the shadows beneath sports bleachers. On weekends you see us along the roads and in the parks. In our regular lives we are program managers, teachers, students, homemakers and professionals in hundreds or different fields.
Who are we?
We are "CANtemporaries," members of a growing group in the Washington area who cash in on the thousands of aluminum containers scattered around each week. Ours is more than just the desire to clean up the environment. It is a way to make something out of nothing and to add -- a bit -- to incomes that may need all the help they can get.
Take a recent Saturday when -- as at other locations on other days -- the Reynolds Aluminum Company's recycling truck is scheduled for the Westgage Shopping Center in Manassas. The truck is done at noon; by 11:15 there are already 19 vehicles waiting in line. Jeeps, sedans, station wagons, sub-compacts and several large trucks.
Claudia Thompson and her big black dog are there from Haymarket. The program director for the Fauquier-Loudoun Day Care Center comes in every month or so with several sacks collected around the center, at home and at parties.
"It's really not a business," she says. "I make a few dollars and it helps clean up a bit. I buy as many things as possible in aluminum and friends bring their cans along when they come to the house."
Charlie Johnson, a 12th-grader from Manassas Park, started collecting cans to have something to do, and for the money. Many of his cans come from dumpsters and parking lots near local restaurants.
"I mean," says Charlie, "I don't really dig in the garbage, but they're throwing them away anyway and . . . "
Rita Reese is there with her highschool freshman son Mike and her friend Jane Stevermer from Oakton. Reese's husband, employed at the Pentagon, regularly directs Mike to squash cans. Mike squashes. It seems to be a real family affair.
When the Reynolds truck arrives, there is a flurry of activity as people get the big plastic bags provided by the agent. After checking the scales, the weigh-in begins. There are bags of cans, bundles of aluminum siding, old lawn chairs, parts of washing machines and other miscellaneous scrap. One rugged type has a box of aluminum horseshoes.
The line gets longer. The next one up is Rob Roy, a data processor for the Justice Department.
Jim and Peggy Mathews of Oakton, who also recycle newspapers, put their money into a vacation savings account. They're hoping for Tennessee in October.
Full-time homemaker Loretta Merrimon started showing up with her grade-school children Nancy and Jimmy after reading about recycling in magazines. "It is a great way," she says, "for children to learn responsibility and makes spending money."
Engineers Bruce Mabbit and Scot Maichak, who heard of the idea from friends, have been collecting about three months. Most of their cans come from their current job site (the new Fairfax County Courthouse project). "It helps to clean up," says Mabbit, "and these days you need to save all you can."
A sampling of other "CANtemporaries":
Cafeteria manager Mrs. B. H. Heller, who has been involved about five years: "I'm economical and don't throw away anything that i can use. That's the way I was brought up. The waste in this country amazes me."
Mildred Ross of Chantilly and daughter Jody, 9, whose brother collected and resold enough cans to buy a calf. (Jody made $11 that day.)
Small Business Administration computer specialist Carman Cellucci, who drives for his sons Tony and Nicky. Their project started with a real, beer-can collection -- over 2,000 cans in the basement. "Some of them are worth $10 to $12," says Cellucci. "We don't squash them."
Office manager Donna Gruninger, arriving with a big bag of about a year's supply of soft-drink cans she has emptied personally. Throwing cans away when you can get money for them, she says, is "ridiculous."
At the weigh-in, there are both frowns and smiles. At 23 cents a pound -- or about a nickel per three cans -- no one gets rich quick, but it all adds up. An hour and a half later, the line is gone and the truck full.
"How many people?"
"About 100," says the agent. "Do you mind if i sit down?"