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EARTHWATCH : Movie Trash : The movie "Men at Work" could have used some county trash-smart role models for realism.

September 13, 1990|RICHARD KAHLENBERG

Have you seen "Men at Work," advertised as "Two Garbagemen Who Know When Something Smells Fishy"? It's the new environmentally themed movie with Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Lest you think this is going to be a plug for the movie, let me say right now: I think it's fishy.

Where have these filmmakers been lately? They're out of date and out of touch. The movie shows the public and the government to be utterly ignorant and passive about garbage problems and solutions.

Maybe it wouldn't have "played" if the garbage team hadn't included the obligatory psychotic Vietnam vet and instead had a grandma with a magna cum laude in history, such as the Ventura County Solid Waste Management Department's Pandee Leachman, a waste management analyst. Maybe the characters played by Sheen and Estevez in the movie are easier to relate to because they're bumblers--unlike the brainy folks I know at the waste management offices in the city and county of Ventura.

Eric Werbalowsky, the city's new recycling coordinator, is a seasoned and canny environmental educator. I like his slogan, "Catch the WAVE--Waste Alternatives for Ventura's Environment." He comes from the movie business, a delicious irony.

David Goldstein, now a county waste management analyst, is a Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in political science. He initiated recycling programs while still in college and went to work in Santa Clarita and Los Angeles in collection, marketing and financing of recycling programs.

Why compare these folks to fictional movie characters? Well, I'm upset that the movie showed nothing of the current California environmental awareness.

Industry wants to recycle for new materials and cities want relief from landfill lease expenses. And in California, where this film is set, every city has to cut its trash flow by 25% soon or face stiff fines from Sacramento.

In the film's fictional Southern California surf town, recycling is not mentioned. But last Saturday, local civil and business leaders gathered to hear from a hired consultant, Roger Selbert, who is a conservative banking economist. His contention is that the main challenges the county economy faces are transportation and recycling (to solve landfill problems).

As exemplified by the real-life Venturans I've mentioned, a new breed of pioneer has appeared here lately, people such as original pioneers: socially mobile and egalitarian.

I've chosen my example environmentalists because they have something in common--they've all had training at the West Point of waste management, UCLA.

The UCLA Recycling Design Program is conducted by a dozen experts in the field, including Gary Peterson, president of Ecolo-Haul. The certification program received national recognition as the most innovative University Extension course last year.

When Peterson heard that I was a writer based in Ventura, he beamed. "Our three top students just went to work there," he said.

It's possible to say that Gary Peterson started the professional thing 20 years ago in Malibu (a real surfer-garbageman, ironically) when recycling was considered almost subversive. He persevered through financial and political hard times to the point that his privately held recycling company was so big, it was bought by Waste Management. He has been credited with getting all of Los Angeles into recycling, "We would never have done this citywide otherwise," said John Stodder, the mayor's environmental chief.

This will not be the last column about people in this profession. I just want to begin reporting that, in addition to our at-home efforts for the environment, there are professional efforts too.

So, when I saw that movie with airheads pitted against the crooked waste hauler, I said there's another tale to be told here. Watch this space for their further adventures.

* FOR MORE INFORMATION: For information on the Certificated Program in Municipal Solid Waste Management call: Division of Science, UCLA Extension, (213) 825-7093.

For the Ventura County Recycling Guide, listing drop-off and pickup centers, call (805) 658-4632.

For information on city of Ventura curbside recycling, call (805) 656-WAVE.

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