BARSTOW • Karen Lynn has recycled for more than 15 years and estimates she earns $10 to $15 an hour collecting aluminum cans and plastic bottles.
"It's extra money and it's quick," Lynn said. "You need a few dollars, you go out for a few minutes."
With 21 percent of the city's population living below the poverty line and an unemployment rate near 12 percent, according to the City of Barstow and the www.City-Data.com, many say recycling helps them pay for "extras" in their household or sometimes even helps them make ends meet.
"People need the money to pay rent or buy food for their kids," said Felipa Gonzalez, co-owner of the All Recycling Center in Barstow.
Per the California Redemption Value program, recyclers can earn 5 to 10 cents per aluminum can or plastic or glass bottle labeled CA CRV. Lynn, who lives in Lenwood, said she scours trash bins at nearby truck stops or at the Barstow Outlet Center after tourists have emptied their garbage.
"If there's a bill that needs to be paid we can go out and do cans and get it paid in a day or so," she said.
Between 400 and 600 pounds of aluminum cans are recycled daily at the All Recycling Center at 931 West Main Street, according to owner Alfredo Gonzalez.
The business is so busy it has twice grown in size since its beginnings at 1605 State Street almost 20 years ago. It now operates from an 11-acre lot that was long the location of Valley Lumber and Hardware before it went out of business.
While recycling can be lucrative for locals in need of extra cash, it is considered a violation of City Municipal Code when conducted on private property, according to Barstow Police Lt. Mike Hunter. The violation is a misdemeanor but can be charged as an infraction and police can cite or arrest an individual, according to Hunter.
Some people attempt to bring stolen metal to recycling centers. The centers must check for labeling on materials or have written permission by a company to avoid illegal transactions, according to Gonzalez.
Anthony Brewer is a local recycler who said he spent eight months in jail because he recycled broken steel well casing pipes he retrieved from a Santa Fe dumpster in Ludlow. Despite the time he spent behind bars, Brewer said he is still an active recycler. He drives a truck through the desert about once a week with his friends, searching for higher paying material such as copper, steel and brass.
"It's cleaning up the desert," said Karen Lynn, who is Brewer's girlfriend.
Local resident Deondrae Marquise Jackson was seen recycling a mixed bag of items at the All Recycling Center on Monday, including water cooler piping, a beach umbrella, an aluminum walker and aluminum cans he collected after helping his new neighbor clean her backyard. The crop yielded him $12.
"It's like receiving a paycheck, except it's a $12 paycheck," he said.
Jackson, a father of one, was laid off in 2012 from his job as a material handler and forklift operator at the Marine Corp Logistics Base Yermo Annex, where he earned $29 an hour. Recycling allows him to supplement his unemployment income. And following in the Hollywood footsteps of his father Fred Berry — also known as "Rerun" on the 1970's sitcom "What's Happening!!" — Jackson said he's pursuing a career in acting and rapping.
"Honestly, I could probably get paid more by doing what those people do at the corner asking for change, but I like this better," Jackson said. "At the same time you can clean your yard up and then you get money for the stuff instead of throwing it in the trash."
Two other recycling centers are located in Barstow, including G&S Recycling at 534 East Main Street and the rePlanet LLC station in the Stater Bros. Shopping Center on Armory Road.
Brooke Self can be reached at BSelf@DesertDispatch.com or 760-256-4123.