Although she says she does not worry much about the world's environmental fate, Wanda Pirkle volunteers more than 12 hours a week for a recycling program. "Some people worry and complain. I guess that's their thing," she said. "My thing is keeping my neighborhood clean. I do what I can and don't worry about the rest."
Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday morning, Pirkle rides through her neighborhood around Channel Islands Harbor, collecting recyclable goods. As president of both the Channel Islands Beach Community Services District and the Sand-Dabbers, the district's beautification division, Pirkle was the prime instigator of the recycling program. The community services district is an independent special district providing public services to the unincorporated tracts of Hollywood Beach, Silver Strand and Hollywood-by-the-Sea.
The 109-pound Pirkle, 68, is accustomed to collecting bins full of newspapers, aluminum and glass. "Yeah, they're heavy sometimes. But that's OK, I don't break."
Residents separate their recyclables into blue, plastic bins provided by the district, then place them on the curb for Pirkle and the Sand-Dabber volunteers to collect. Pirkle said she has already been dubbed "the Bin Lady."
The collections are made from 8 a.m. until around noon, and it can be strenuous work, but that is one of the reasons she chose to do it, Pirkle said.
"I wanted the district to start the program because we're running out of landfill space and we need to do everything we can to conserve it," she said. "But the reason I wanted to be involved in collecting the trash myself is because I like to stay in shape," said the slim grandmother with red, polished nails and well-applied makeup.
"We just hired a 22-year-old to help me out. I guess when he heard I was a gray-haired grandmother, he was expecting some decrepit, old bag because when he met me, he kept saying how he couldn't believe I'm 68. I told him, 'Hey, you just keep right on talking.' "
The present recycling program was started in November, but Pirkle's involvement in community projects has a long history.
Sifting through the unbound pictures and mementos stuffed between the pages of her scrapbook, Pirkle pulled out a photograph of the Gulls. Pirkle was a founding member of this community beautification group, which could be considered a precursor to the Sand-Dabbers.
But in years past, instead of using a collection truck provided by the district, Pirkle collected the trash in her own car. And instead of putting their recyclables in plastic bins, residents put them in plastic bags. "Back then, they called me 'The Bag Lady,' " she said.
Pirkle has seen the neighborhood change a lot since she moved to Silver Strand more than 20 years ago. When she first came, the houses were "nice and little," Pirkle said. But then people started building two-story homes and now three-story ones. "They block my view. But I guess if I owned any property, I'd do the same thing. Progress must progress.
"And the oil rigs, they're new too. At first they spoiled the beauty of the beach for me a little. But now they don't bother me at all. We need the oil."
Pirkle said she is aware that young people often blame past generations for all the world's ills. "When I was growing up, no one even thought of the environment. But these days, we have to think about it, and I'm doing all I can with recycling." But what are the young people "doing to improve the Earth?" she asked.
The Sand-Dabbers organize a community cleanup day four times a year; in the past year, Pirkle said she has seen only about five teen-agers helping out.
"My advice to young people is to get involved in their community so they'll know what's really going on. If they want to fight for something, they'll know what they're fighting for. If they want to help, they'll know how."