The last thing 21-year-old Phoebe Kelleher wants to do is burden her "mum" with education expenses, so the England-born Brentwood resident is recycling plastics and cans for college.
It started out in December last year with a trip to the Delta Scrap and Salvage in Oakley when her mum asked her to drop off recyclables for her, due to surgery. When she was told to "keep the money," a light bulb went off in Phoebe's head.
"It has just grown from there," said Phoebe, a Brentwood resident since 2007, after leaving their home in England. "I have always wanted to be self-sufficient and put myself through college. It has been a goal of mine for a long time and I'm happy that recycling is allowing me to work towards this goal."
Phoebe plans to graduate next spring from California State University East Bay with a bachelor's degree in psychology, and will apply for her masters this fall. Before COVID-19 hit, her college fund came from being a Special Needs Substitute Instructional Aide.
Not any more.
"Due to the pandemic, there is less need for subs, so to give myself some job stability, I offer tutoring to families in need of help," she said. "I tutor most days, go to school at night and organize my recycling pick-ups and sort it almost daily."
The longest part is sorting, which takes her about an hour each day with the help of her mum. But then there's the drive time, since she picks up recycling from friends and people who have seen her posts on Facebook.
She drives to areas in Brentwood, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, Oakley and Antioch, even as far as Far East Oakley near Bethel Island.
"People are so kind and get in touch with me when they have saved a few bags and I will go collect it from them, bring it home, sort through it and take it [to Delta Scrap]," she said. "I now have a contact list of over 100 people that I have collected from."
Not only is she putting recycling money away for college expenses, but she's helping her planet as well.
"I definitely believe in global warming!" she said. "If my generation doesn't do something about the issue of landfills now, our earth will reject us soon enough. We only have one Earth, so we need to take care of it while we can."
She was shocked to find that people she talked to about recycling said they simply threw their recyclables in the "blue can" and said, "Isn't that recycling?"
She said the short answer is yes.
"But really it just goes to a different dump pile," she explained. "Taking the recycling to a center allows it to be crushed, melted and reused in other bottles, giving them a longer use rather than just sitting in a trash pile waiting for years and years to decay."
Phoebe said collecting cash and saving money is great, but it's not a glamorous job.
She recalls opening some plastic bags from her delivery filled with garbage-only and she'll never forget one day in particular.
"One funny – but not so funny – thing that happened was when I was sorting through the recycling once … I found literally a dirty diaper and someone's used tighty-whities!" she said. "As I said it's not a glamorous job and I deal with lots of dirty stuff and trash, but one day all my hard work will pay off."
Some weeks she has no donations from friends and family to pick up, and other weeks she's made as much as $100, but that's only if she uses three vehicles.
"It is so much work though. I don't want anyone to think this is a gold mine because its not," she said. "Most of the time it's sorting through sticky cans and bottles mixed with trash and making a few dollars here and there. It's not glamorous, but it will help me reach my goal."
She said her parents are supportive and proud of her determination and commitment to putting herself through school, and appreciates the fact that she's not relying on them for everything.
"My friends are also really supportive," Phoebe added. "They have even come along on pick-ups with me. I have a great support system and I am so thankful for all of them."
Phoebe lets her donators know she only accepts CA CRV plastic bottles and aluminum cans and does not accept detergent bottles, food cans or containers, milk cartons or trash.
To add to Phoebe's pick-up route, contact her on her Facebook group page called Phoebe's Recycling Fundraiser or call 925.354.1719.
A Message From Cypress Self Storage
At Cypress Self Storage, Oakley's brand new self storage facility, we are here for Phoebe, college students, and all of Oakley/Brentwood (and surrounding areas). If you would like to contribute to Phoebe's campaign, please feel free to bring your CA CRV plastic bottles and aluminum cans to our self storage facility located at 207 E. Cypress Rd. in Oakley. We are collecting bottles and cans for Phoebe in a socially-distanced manner, and we have created a special area where we are collecting the bottles and cans. If you have any questions, we are available at (925) 625-6001.
Offering drive-up self storage units, interior units, and climate-controlled units, we are also here for your self storage needs. Whether you are a college student, parent, businessperson, car collector, or non-profit organization, we have the perfect self storage unit for you at an affordable price.
We cannot wait to meet you, and we are thrilled to share Phoebe's amazing story with our local community. Let's all rally together and see what we can do to support an amazing member of our local community!