CITY YARDS — Education through art, constructive collaboration and balance are uncommon priorities for a public works organization, but the Santa Monica Household Hazardous Waste Center makes a point of investing in each.

The center, which will be celebrating its 20th year of service on Thursday, has commissioned the assistance of some of Santa Monica’s youngest artists to help visually impart the importance of appropriate waste management.

Seven students from the Virginia Avenue Park Teen Center, along with artists in residence Juan Carlos Munoz Hernandez and Alex Kizu, designed and executed a mural on an exterior wall of the recently renovated waste center.

“A lot of the kids have had a year or more to work with the brush,” Hernandez said, explaining that the young but not inexperienced painters contributed heartily to both the planning and consummation of the project. “All of the kids put their minds and effort into the planning. There was a lot of thinking beforehand with them, trying to figure out what would be the best way to strike a chord in people’s minds and to save the Earth from what’s going on now.”

Inspired by the theme of waste management and eco-friendly action in general, the mural is titled “Seven Generations,” pertaining to the projected length of time during which the effects of today’s environmental decisions will be noticeable.

“We’re trying to work ourselves out of a job,” said James Conway, senior environmental analyst with the hazardous waste center. “Our primary goal is to reduce the amount of existing hazardous waste, and the second is to reduce the quantity of hazardous materials that people are purchasing. Projects like the mural encourage people to find less toxic alternatives.”

Conway elaborated on the impact the waste center has had on the Santa Monica community, explaining that some 160,000 pounds of hazardous waste are collected on site annually. He said that although the center’s goal as of 2000 was to reach 50 percent cumulative participation in proper waste disposal by 2010, the center is currently operating at 52 percent participation.

To celebrate and in many ways epitomize the triumphs of the waste management center, a new structure was erected to replace an old modular facility. The new building was constructed out of old shipping containers and boasts a number of eco-friendly features including denim insulation, state-of-the-art windows for natural lighting and ventilation, and a “green roof” that facilitates nesting for wildlife. The construction project opened up the wall on which the mural was painted.

“We’re always trying to educate people,” Conway said. “We’ve wanted to do some education with the youth and teens for some time; I was looking for ways to educate the next generation, and when we approached the youth center, they were interested.”

Students who worked on the mural said they found it to be a gratifying experience, saying they were pleased to contribute to the cause and grateful for the opportunity to paint.

“I’m hoping that this will be a regular thing for us,” said Marc Garcia, a student who worked on the mural. “I learned a lot of new things about what you can and can’t throw away and already I’ve started to be more aware of things like my recycling habits.”

Organizers said that they expect the mural to be an ongoing project, although specific plans for future installments have not been finalized.

Hernandez was brimming with praise for the students who worked on the project.

“There’s a lot of balance to the mural; they did a really good job on it,” he said. “The kids came down and worked on Saturday mornings; I have to give them credit for that. They could have been doing something else, but they worked on the mural. They were there every morning for a few months and it was really great working with them.”

While he said that the students learned a lot about the importance of sustainable living by working with the themes of the mural, Hernandez said that for some, the importance of the work may not have yet made an impression.

“If it hasn’t come to them by now, I’m sure it will eventually,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing where you’ll work on it, and two or three years down the road you’ll look back on it and the impact will finally hit you. You realize how important it was, and when that sinks in it’s with you forever.”

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