“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
“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.
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.
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’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.”
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
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.
- Zuckerberg lives in a $10 million Tudor home in San Francisco.
- He carried items home in a Whole Foods paper bag that he retrieved from a bin.
- You can see people in front of multimillion-dollar homes, rummaging for things they can sell.
- Trash picking is a profession more often associated with shantytowns.
- Picking trash is also associated with favelas.
- But trash scavengers exist in many United States cities.
- After the Persian Gulf war, he was dispatched to Germany, Korea and Saudi Arabia.
- But he sees trash picking, and the spontaneous sidewalk markets that pop up in neighborhoods.
- It’s the primary form of income for people who have no other income.
- 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.
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.
- Trash scavengers exist only in San Francisco.
- Mark Zuckerberg lives in San Francisco.
- Jake Orta lives in a large house.
- Zuckerberg has three kids.
- Jake Orta is millionaire.
- Trash picking is a profession more often associated with shantytowns and favelas.
- One night, Jake found a pair of designer jeans and gray Nike running sneakers.
- Mr. Orta’s goal is to earn around $ 300 a day.
- Trash picking is legal in California.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- What items did Mr. Orta find in Mark Zuckerberg’s trash?
- What is Mr. Orta’s monetary goal for each week?
- 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?
- Have you ever found a useful item in the trash? If so what was it?
- After reading this article, will you think carefully about your items before you throw them away? Explain your answer.