Downtown’s Queen of Green

I noticed Minh-Son Dang  within the first few days of moving into my building on 4th and Main.  I’d see her riding her bike to and from the building, standing on a corner in conversation with a fellow downtownster, always mid-laugh or mid-smile, and always wearing green glasses.  What I noticed most was that everyone seemed to like her, and everyone seemed to know her. 

After sitting down and having a chat with her at the Old Bank’s Banquette Café I now know why.

A downtown resident for the last six years, Minh-Son is a jane-of-all trades, amateur sailboat racer, artist and sculptor, and grass-roots organizer.  She has a great personality and genuinely loves living in downtown LA.

What I was especially interested in speaking with her about was the recycling program that she instituted for the buildings of the Old Bank District.  Every Thursday, I would see her and her fellow volunteers on my corner categorizing and organizing recyclables from all of the surrounding buildings.  I thought this was curious, and was a little disappointed that my building didn’t have a program in-house.  Apparently, after an incident of rodent infestation the realty company that owns our buildings decided that recycling wasn’t worth the hassle and ended its program.  For a while, residents were taking solo weekly missions to friend’s houses in surrounding areas and tossing their recycling in their, city-provided bins.  Minh-Son decided that the buildings apathy towards greener living wouldn’t deter her values, and with the help of dozen or so other residents, a loosely structured, grass-roots program began to take shape.  They would meet on Thursday, make sure to bring only pre-rinsed recycling goods, and take turns availing their cars (those who had them) to the process, the driver keeping all receipts.  And it worked like gangbusters.  After establishing the recycling program, Minh-Son et al have also received a small grant from the city for a pilot-composting program that by all accounts is going well.  The grant is a small victory against the empty winds of city hall.  According to Minh-Son, there’s often a lot of talk from the Mayor’s office about green initiatives and programs, but, unfortunately, there is rarely action.  Any of us interested in our own community should take a page from her book and realize that a small group of motivated citizens can put a plan into action at twice the speed of our local government.  And if you don’t believe me, check out the results.  Since inception, again, only a year ago, the program has recycled over 3,000 pounds of plastic and over 2,000 pounds of glass at the recycling center on 5th and Alameda.  That’s over two and a half tons of eliminated garbage, roughly equivalent to the entire annual output of the average American family. 

 “With so little effort, we’ve done so much”, Mihn-Son says to me, smiling in the afternoon sun.  She explains that she came down to LA from San Francisco, and attempts to describe the more subtle differences between we and our northern neighbors.  “Everyone is so accepting here, specifically downtown LA, this area is so diverse, everyone is doing something interesting and everyone is interested in what other people are doing, I love it.”

She believes that the program will continue to expand, as well.  As of now, included with the bevy of other paperwork new residents in the Old Bank District’s buildings also receive a pamphlet about the recycling program.  With any luck, next years take will be over 10 tons.

Again, for the cheap seats, if you want to volunteer to help out with the recycling program, bring your recyclables (and a truck! If you have one) to the corner of 4th and Main on Thursdays between 8 and 9 am.  For further inquiries email Minh-Son:


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