Category Archives: Economy

In Silicone Valley: One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

“Three blocks from Mark Zuckerberg’s $10 million Tudor home in San Francisco, Jake Orta lives in a small, single-window studio apartment filled with trash.There’s a child’s pink bicycle helmet, a vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer and a coffee machine that Mr. Orta dug out from the garbage bin across the street from Mr. Zuckerberg’s house.” T. Fuller, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Jake Orta searched through a trash bin outside Mark Zuckerberg’s home in San Francisco.Credit Jim Wilson:The New York Times

Excerpt: In San Francisco, Making a Living From Your Billionaire Neighbor’s Trash by Thomas Fuller, NYT

“A military veteran who fell into homelessness and now lives in government subsidized housing, Mr. Orta is a full-time trash picker, part of an underground economy in San Francisco of people who work the sidewalks in front of multimillion-dollar homes, rummaging for things they can sell.

Trash picking is a profession more often associated with shantytowns and favelas than a city at the doorstep of Silicon Valley. The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, counts more than 400 trash picking organizations across the globe, almost all of them in Latin America, Africa and southern Asia.

Mr. Orta is part of an underground economy of people who work the sidewalks in front of multimillion-dollar homes, rummaging for things they can sell.CreditJim Wilson:The New York Times

But trash scavengers exist in many United States cities and, like the rampant homelessness in San Francisco, are a signpost of the extremes of American capitalism. A snapshot from 2019: One of the world’s richest men and a trash picker, living a few minutes’ walk from each other. Mr. Orta, 56, sees himself as more of a treasure hunter.

‘It just amazes me what people throw away,’ he said one night, as he found a pair of gently used designer jeans, a new black cotton jacket, gray Nike running sneakers and a bicycle pump. ‘You never know what you will find.’ Mr. Orta says his goal is to earn around $30 to $40 a day from his discoveries, a survival income of around $300 a week.

It just amazes me what people throw away, Mr. Orta said. Credit Jim Wilson:The New York Times

Trash picking is illegal in California — once a bin is rolled out onto the sidewalk the contents are considered the possession of the trash collection company, according to Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, the company contracted to collect San Francisco’s garbage. But the law is rarely enforced.

Mr. Orta was born in San Antonio, Tex., one of 12 children. He spent more than a dozen years in the Air Force, loading aircraft during the Persian Gulf war of 1991 and was dispatched to Germany, Korea and Saudi Arabia. By the time he returned to the United States, his wife had left him, and he struggled with alcoholism and homelessness. He moved to San Francisco, and five years ago qualified for a program assisting chronically homeless veterans.

At dusk he leaves his apartment building, which is wedged between a popular brunch spot for tech workers and a cannabis shop in the heart of the Mission neighborhood. The smell of marijuana fills the vestibule. Walking up a steep hill lined with mature trees, he passes homes that could pass for works of art… A virtual tour of the neighborhood on the Zillow site shows that homes valued at $3 million and above are the norm.

But Mr. Orta doesn’t look at the architecture. He walks the streets, slightly stooped, his eyes on the ground and a flashlight in his back pocket. His friends call him the Finder.

On the six times Mr. Orta went out with a reporter, he followed a variety of circuits, but usually ended up exploring his favorite alleys and a dumpster that has been bountiful. (The first rule of dumpster scavenging, he said, is to make sure there’s no raccoon or possum in there.) In March, the dumpster yielded a box of silver goblets, dishes and plates, as if someone had yanked a tablecloth from underneath a feast in some European chateau…

Mr. Orta, right, selling some of the items he found. His goal is to earn around $30 to $40 a day from his discoveries.CreditJim Wilson:The New York Times

Mr. Orta’s other recent discoveries: phones, iPads, three wristwatches and bags of marijuana…For years San Francisco has been a global beacon of recycling, attracting a stream of government ministers, journalists and students from across the globe to study the sorting facilities of Recology.

But the city is also full of young, affluent people preoccupied with demanding jobs and long commutes for whom the garbage can is a tempting way to get rid of that extra pair of jeans or old electronics cluttering their closet…Trash pickers like Mr. Orta target items in the black landfill garbage bins whose contents would otherwise go to what’s known as the pit — a hole in the ground on the outskirts of the city that resembles a giant swimming pool, where trash is crushed and compacted by a huge bulldozer and then carried by a fleet of trucks to a dump an hour and a half away. The city exports about 50 large truckloads a day. Nick Marzano, an Australian photographer who publishes a glossy magazine, Mission Gold, which documents the world of trash pickers in San Francisco, estimates there are several hundred garbage scavengers in the city.

‘It’s a civic service as I see it,’ Mr. Marzano said. ‘Rather than this stuff going to landfill the items are being reused.’ ‘It’s the primary form of income for people who have no other income,’ he said. Mr. Orta sells what he retrieves at impromptu markets on Mission Street or at a more formal market on Saturdays on Julian Avenue.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Zuckerberg lives in a $10 million Tudor home in San Francisco.
  2. He carried items home in a Whole Foods paper bag that  he retrieved from a bin.
  3. You can see people in front of multimillion-dollar homes, rummaging for things they can sell.
  4. Trash picking is a profession more often associated with shantytowns.
  5. Picking trash is also associated with favelas.
  6. But trash scavengers exist in many United States cities.
  7. After the Persian Gulf war, he was dispatched to Germany, Korea and Saudi Arabia.
  8. But he sees trash picking, and the spontaneous sidewalk markets that pop up in neighborhoods.
  9. It’s the primary form of income for people who have no other income.
  10. Mr. Orta sells what he retrieves at impromptu markets on Mission Street.

Grammar Focus: Identifying Prepositions

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Some Prepositions: at,as, across, around,by, during,for, from, in, into,of, on,to, over,off, through, up,with,

Three blocks ___Mark Zuckerberg’s home ___San Francisco, Jake Orta lives ___a small apartment filled ___trash.

Orta is a military veteran who fell ___homelessness and now lives ___government subsidized housing.

Mr. Orta was born___ San Antonio, Texas, one ___12 children.

He spent more than a dozen years___ the Air Force, loading aircraft ___the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

 

Reading Comprehension 

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Trash scavengers exist only in San Francisco.
  2. Mark Zuckerberg  lives in San Francisco.
  3. Jake Orta lives in a  large house.
  4. Zuckerberg has three kids.
  5. Jake Orta  is  millionaire.
  6. Trash picking is a profession more often associated with shantytowns and favelas.
  7. One night, Jake found a pair of designer jeans and gray Nike running sneakers.
  8. Mr. Orta’s goal is to earn around  $ 300 a day.
  9. Trash picking is  legal in California.
  10. Mr. Orta was born in San Antonio, Texas.

III. Post Reading Activities

Graphic Organizers: Finding The Main Idea

Directions:  Have students use this graphic organizer from Enchanted Learning  to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. The article states, “… “You’ve got more and more tech people here and this city is moving faster and faster. These people have short attention spans. Some discard items that ought to be repurposed through a thrift shop.”  Have you ever thought about the items that you throw out? Are there things that you might donate or give away to less fortunate people?
  2. Mr. Jake Orta is described as, A military veteran who fell into homelessness and now lives in government subsidized housing… a full-time trash picker…” How did Mr. Orta become homeless?
  3. What items did Mr. Orta find in Mark Zuckerberg’s trash?
  4. What is Mr. Orta’s monetary goal for each week?
  5. Mr. Orta states, “It just amazes me what people throw away.”  Why do you think he is amazed? In your opinion, why do some people throw away items that are still in good condition?
  6. Have you ever found a useful item in the trash? If so what was it?
  7. After reading this article, will you think carefully about your items before you throw them away? Explain your answer.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Economy, Social Issues

Boston Companies: Paying Employees to Learn English

“During most of his work week, Cesar Orantes dons a hair net, rubber gloves, and a white apron flecked with fish scales for his job in quality assurance at Stavis Seafoods, a wholesaler in Boston’s Seaport District. But for four hours each week, the Guatemalan native removes his protective gear, gathers with several of his co-workers in the company’s break room, and turns his attention to something very different: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other fundamentals of English.” S. Pfeiffer, The Boston Globe

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Blount Team in Fall River, MA

Excerpt: Get paid to learn English? Some companies offer immigrant workers that very perk By Sacha  Pfeiffer Boston Globe

“The classes are free and held during the workday, and Orantes is paid his regular wage while sitting in the makeshift classroom. Stavis even gives him and his colleagues a bonus if they attend a certain number of classes. As Orantes improves his English language skills, he is also boosting his workplace performance, since the better he can communicate with customers and colleagues, the more effectively he can do his job.

Faced with a labor shortage in the robust Massachusetts economy — the state’s unemployment rate of 2.9 percent is the country’s second-lowest, along with North Dakota — employers are increasingly relying on immigrant workers, and a growing number of businesses are devoting resources to on-the-job English language instruction.

image- Cambridge English

At least 35 Massachusetts companies provide free English classes, according to a Globe tally. The training lets them retain promising employees, promote from within, and identify workers whose potential was previously hidden behind a language barrier.

Employers offering this benefit, which is often partially paid for by state grants, range from hospitals to manufacturing firms to food service companies. Some even schedule pre-dawn courses to accommodate overnight workers, who finish their shifts with an English class before clocking out for the day at 7 or 8 a.m.

‘If we hire somebody who doesn’t cut up the right seafood for an order because they can’t read the order form, that’s not good customer service,’  said Stuart Altman, a co-owner of Stavis Seafoods, which says at least 20 percent of its 133-person workforce are immigrants, mostly Latino and Asian. Currently, 18 of them are enrolled in the company’s English class.

By offering English instruction, errors are reduced, Altman said, and ‘this gives us an opportunity to train the next generation of middle managers, and puts them in a position to succeed the best they can.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Many companies offer immigrant workers perks.
  2. Some places have makeshift classrooms.
  3. Workers can communicate with customers and colleagues.
  4. Massachusetts is faced with a labor shortage.
  5. Employers are increasingly relying on immigrant workers.
  6. Potential was previously hidden behind a language barrier.
  7. Many people are enrolled in the company’s English class.
  8. Many nonprofit organizations provide instructors.
  9. Requests for grant funding for English instruction is in demand.
  10. There is an economic benefit for employers.

Reading Comprehension

Fill-ins

Directions: The following sentences are from the article. Choose the correct word for each blank space from the word list  or make up your own words.

The YMCA of ___Boston has ___English___at the Langham Hotel and at ___small businesses in Chelsea. Interest in English training is so ___that JVS has tripled the ___of classes it offers in ___years, from nine in 2009 to 27 this year, according to___development director Mandy Townsend.

WORD LIST: training, number, business, provided, Greater, recent,  robust, numerous,

Grammar Focus

Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article  and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.

For a review of Adjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following  topics.

  1. “If employees aren’t comfortable speaking up and can’t make themselves understood, that prevents them from moving up and prevents the company from taking advantage of their expertise.”
  2. “Employees who are competent in English aren’t just better communicators; they also better understand workplace safety rules, and English proficiency makes them more digitally adept, since hospital and hotel workers who clean rooms, for example, must sometimes chart their progress on hand-held devices that require basic English literacy.”
  3. “…the classes [are] a huge investment from the company’s standpoint . . . because while they’re in class that’s a significant loss in productivity, so we end up having to pay overtime for other people to produce the work we need to produce.But offering classes during the workday increases attendance, he said, since some employees have second jobs and family responsibilities that prevent them from taking courses before or after work.”

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

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