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Recycler nets $20K for non-profit
Lou George shows the recycling container next to the Coca-Cola vending machine in the Woodbridge at Del Webbs clubhouse. The container was donated by Coca-Cola to help Georges fund-raising efforts for American Cancer Society. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Lou George is trying to save lives one can at a time by turning other people’s trash into treasure.

He collects empty bottles and cans and turns them into cash at the local recycling plant. Then he turns around and gives the money to the American Cancer Society. His most recent donation earlier this month amounted to $1,650 which brought the grand total for the last six and a half years to $20,000.

“That’s hundreds of thousands of bottles and cans!” said the retired Woodbridge at Del Webb Manteca resident with a laugh.

“When I first started, the bottles were just three cents. Then they raised them to a nickel,” he added, his eyes twinkling.

“I just got tired of people throwing away bottles all the time. Every nickel helps these kids (undergoing cancer treatment)!” George said about how he got started recycling and raising money for a good cause at the same time.

For one thing, he said, “it gives me something to do. In the summer months, it just keeps me busy. I enjoy collecting the bottles and cans, and I enjoy collecting the money.”

But most important, George said, “I enjoy doing this for the kids.”

He and his wife Sandy have been involved in the annual Relay for Life fund-raiser for American Cancer Society for nearly a dozen years.

“I look at my age and I look at the little kids – two, three, four, five years old – with cancer and it brought the point home to me that every nickel helps,” George said, his voice turning soft and serious.

“This last year (at the Relay for Life), there was an 18-month-old who just had cancer in a wagon, and the mother was pulling the wagon. The child’s whole head was shaved. When I see stuff like that, it always gets to me and I just keep going.”

Wife Sandy is the “big supporter” of Relay for Life, George said. It all started nearly 12 years ago when their daughter signed up her mother in the Relay for Life in Tracy where she lived. Later, they also started getting involved in the Manteca Relay for Life.

While his wife dedicates her fund-raising efforts to Relay for Life, George concentrate on his recycling project.

In the years they have been living at the age-restricted Woodbridge at Del Webb community in north Manteca, word got around about what George has been doing to the American Cancer Society. He does not have to go around collecting the bottles and cans everywhere anymore. Now, he has a collection container in front of his house. There are also recycling containers now placed in various parts of Del Webb where people can simply drop off their bottles and cans. George then simply picks up the bags once they are full.

The former Milpitas resident and retired owner of a service station has the local recycling company to thank for those collection containers.

Invention can crush 70 cans per minute

“Manteca’s been really great because the recycling company turned around and donated to me all the containers. They donated all the containers for me so people that live here can just drop them off at my house. In fact, I just came in 20 minutes ago and someone had dropped off a bag for me,” said George who hauls his bottles and cans in the trunk of the hybrid car that he won last year from the Price is Right game show on TV.

“A lot of time, I just get my golf cart and pick them up at the neighbors’ houses – beer bottles, plastic soda bottles, big two-liter bottles. I get full value back for everything – five cents – with the lids off.”

George has even got many of the residents really involved in what he is doing. In fact, one innovative resident built him an electric can crusher which made the job a lot easier for George.

“We can crush 70 cans a minute. You can’t put them in fast enough,” he said with glee, like a child who was just gifted with a special toy.

“We can only crush cans that are whole cans. We have to put (the can) in the machine whole – leave the pull tab intact,” George qualified.

Friends and neighbors also call him all the time to come by their house and pick up “big barrels and small barrels” full of recyclables.

Even their two children who live in Tracy, and their neighbors as well, collect bottles and cans for their father.

In the winter, George said he brings in an average of “at least 500 to 700 plastic bottles, and maybe 150 glass bottles a week.” The haul is much bigger in the summer months when people drink a lot more bottled water and soda, he said.

Not even a scary health episode six months ago has slowed down the retired service station owner’s philanthropic mission.

“But since I’ve been sick, I’ve had another guy helping me,” George said.

“It’s been a rough six months for me,” said the 69-year-old grandfather of five who spent 15 days at the hospital.

George said it still amazes him how much this project has grown.

“The first year, I started with $300. And each year, it’s just going up. Now, the average is $3,300 to $3,500 a year,” he said of the money he is realizing from his recycling project with every cent turned in to the American Cancer Society.

He’ll keep doing it “as long as God wants me,” he said.

“Like I said, I got really sick there for a while; I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Like I tell people, what I do is for the kids, that’s why he (God)  keeps me going,” George said.