May Pon and her friends got together to take action after the first Earth Day in 1970.  They wanted to do something for the planet and for their own community.   The REA or Richmond Environmental Action was a group of concerned citizens who formed 14 different recycling centers in garages across the district in the seventies.  They eventually were beneficiaries of the University of San Francisco and, with free land from USF, centered their efforts at Turk and Parker Streets near the lone mountain campus and along Anza Street on the north slope of Lone Mountain.

Through the adventure, she also met her husband, John Barry, who also became instrumental in the San Francisco environmental movement.  They worked in cooperation with the University and established the first recycling center in the city of SF.  In operation from 1970-1996, the REA created community and momentum for an ever growing group of environmentalists in the bay area.  Harvey Milk, among others, could be regularly found drumming up votes and pitching in at Turk and Parker in his day.

Today, you will find the USF Koret Health Center parking garage and USF teacher housing at the REA’s former USF sites.

Even the Haight Ashbury recycling center was initially funded and inspired by the REA.  They supplied cash, tools and advice to Ed Dunn Sr.  who founded that initiative in 1974 at Grattan School Yard.  May and John both recall how the Recreation and Parks Department would claim credit for having a recycling program in their park because they leased land to the center started by Ed Dunn Sr.  It made them proud and it helped keep the area clean, why wouldn’t they adore it?

Things have changed a lot since then.  The good work of REA was so profound, we now have mandatory recycling laws in our city, curbside pick-up and we fight over whether a recycling center should even be in a park or anywhere else.  Of course, if you ask May and John what the highest and best use of our parkland would be, they can think of nothing better than the way it is being used now.  Enjoy an excerpt of our interview with them and learn a bit more about the people behind the practice of recycling in San Francisco.