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A Passion for Recycling

Ryan Hickman has been collecting cans and bottles since he was three years old. 

A decade ago, three-year-old Ryan Hickman and his father, Damion, made a trip to their local recycling center in California. Afterwards, Ryan proposed an idea to his parents. He wanted to hand out plastic bags to his neighbors so that they could save their recyclables for him.

“We thought it was kind of funny at first because he was so little,” Damion said during a recent interview via Zoom. “And then, week after week, we realized he was really into it, so we thought that was pretty cool.”

Now 13, Ryan is the founder of Ryan’s Recycling Company. To date, he has recycled more than 1.7 million cans and bottles.


Ryan sorts items he collected in his hometown of San Juan Capistrano. 


In 2016, a story about Ryan’s efforts went viral, attracting global attention. Since then, he has been featured on several media platforms and honored with numerous awards.

Ryan is also the founder of a nonprofit organization called Project3R. Established in 2020, its goal is to raise climate and recycling awareness through beach cleanups and other events. He told me about a recent beach cleanup, which involved about 300 people. 

Every Saturday, Ryan and his father make their weekly rounds in Orange County, where they live. They collect recyclable items such as plastic cans and bottles. The items are eventually sorted at their house or at their local recycling center, where the recyclables are weighed and cashed in. 

“Boom! It’s recycled,” Ryan said after he described the process to me. He estimates that he recycles 6,000 plastic and glass bottles and cans per weekend. 


Zoya talks with Ryan and his father, Damion, via Zoom. 


Ryan continues to inspire people around the world. He enjoys recycling and plans to continue doing so for as long as he can.

Ryan has a few words of encouragement for others who want to begin recycling. “Every little bit makes a big difference,” he said. “Just start small. Even one bottle and can helps. You don’t have to be doing it like me.”



Top photos: Ryan Hickman/Ryan's Recycling Company; bottom photo courtesy of the author