Five years ago, I took my three-year-old son, Ryan, to our local recycling center to recycle two small bags of plastic bottles and a few soda cans. He thought it was the coolest place he’d ever seen and on top of that, he got nearly $3 in return to put in his piggy bank. However, what followed the next day was the start of something amazing for our family…
Ryan announced to my wife and I that he was going to start his own “recycling business” and that he was going to get everyone in our neighborhood to help him. We smiled and thought it was a cute idea that our three-year-old was announcing his business plan to us but he was as serious as a boy on a mission could be. Within a week, he had everyone on our street saving their cans and bottles. These items might have been recycled with our City hauling system, but source separation (what can actually be placed in the blue bin) and laziness still causes a barrier for some people. Ryan’s passion and education really energized our community to commit to recycling.
Not only did our local neighbors save their cans and bottles for Ryan but his influence rippled out, impacting their friends, families and co-workers. Fast-forward to today, Ryan has customers all over Orange County, CA and has a sustained passion for recycling that is amazing. Ryan spends a part of every week sorting through customers’ cans and bottles and then takes them to the local recycle center (typically 2-3 truckloads at a time). He can tell you all the different types of plastic that can be recycled and he knows the CRV value of just about everything recyclable in California.
Ryan is saving his recycling proceeds for his future college education (although if you ask him, he’s determined he’s saving for a full size trash truck) and he has saved up nearly $35,000. Ryan is also a Youth Ambassador (and the 2017 Philanthropist of the Year) at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, CA., all proceeds from the sales of his company t-shirts go to help support their volunteer efforts. He has raised over $5K to date for their organization!
In January of 2017, Ryan’s story of recycling went viral thanks in part to The Ellen Show. My wife and I have never been part of something of this magnitude before and it’s hard to fathom sometimes that nearly 140 million video views of him are circulating social media today and he’s now recognized as an influencer around the planet for his environmental passion. It’s truly inspiring to us to hear from people all around the world asking our eight-year-old how they can better recycle where they live and hear stories of people recycling because of our son!
Ryan still remains dedicated to recycling cans and bottles on the weekends at a local level from his customers. What originally started for Ryan as a quest to recycle has since grown to include weekend beach clean ups, learning about sustainability, and speaking to schools and communities around the world about how they can do their part to save the planet.
Ryan doesn’t have plans of slowing down anytime soon and our family feels very lucky to have this opportunity to inspire others. We are certainly excited to see what’s in store for Ryan’s future!
-Damion Hickman (proud dad)
Photo by: bhavyesh acharya