Vanis Buckholz walks into the OASIS Senior Center, waving hello and being greeted like the regular he is — but at 10 years old, Vanis’s visit is strictly business.
As founder and president and head picker of the Re “Cycle” er recyling business, Vanis stops at the OASIS center several times each week, picking up plastic water bottles and loading them into a bicycle trailer he recently received as a birthday gift.
“I just think it’s wonderful,” said Celeste Jardine-Haug, director of the OASIS center. “There’s not that many young people who think about doing this. We just love it. We think he’s the most wonderful child.”
Vanis was 7 years old and in second grade when he first learned about Earth Day at school — and from that, the business was born.
“They were challenged to make a difference in their own way, any small way,” said his father Dave Buckholz. “He said, ‘Why not we just recycle?’ And I said, ‘Fine, that’s easy enough.’ Then it went to the neighbors, then it went to friends, then it went to businesses.”
In the beginning, Vanis would ride his scooter around his Flower Streets neighborhood, loading recyclable litter into a plastic shopping bag he hung over his handlebars. When he got a bike for his 9th birthday, he was able to cruise further from home and collect more. The trailer allows him to go even further, always wearing his protective safety vest as he cycles through his collection sites.
Neighbors and friends also drop off items in the back alley behind the Buckholz home, where Vanis keeps about a dozen big plastic and metal bins. He sorts items — glass, cans, plastics, metals — and at times, the items are stacked above his head.
Every few weeks, the Buckholz family drops a truckload of recyclables at OC Recycling in Santa Ana, where he earns between $100 and $200 a visit.
Vanis and his family track his expenses and income carefully, taking 25 percent to cover costs such as garbage bags, containers, hand sanitizers and bungee cords.
“I give another 25 percent to Project Hope,” Vanis said. Project Hope Alliance is a non-profit agency in Anaheim that helps homeless children. His mother, Evie Buckholz, said he’s donated about $1,000 to the organization to date.
Vanis spends some of the money he’s earned during family vacations or for treats, but most of the rest is going into a longterm savings.
“I’m saving for a sports car,” he said.
Growing the business took a lot of courage, Vanis said. When he first approached businesses, such as Bandera or The Place, to ask about collecting their recyclables, his parents waited outside while he went in, introduced himself and made his pitch.
Other accounts were pure luck. Bo Glover, executive director of the Newport Beach Environmental Nature Center spotted him, asked what he was doing, and now the ENC also is one of Vanis’ clients.
“He’s a very ambitious kid,” Glover said in an email.
The business continued to grow, Vanis said.
“It just got bigger and bigger,” Vanis said.
During the summer months, Vanis said he’ll spend two to three hours a day, riding his bike, collecting items and sorting them. When school begins, he said he’ll cut back but continue to work on the business.
“There’s no stopping him,” his father said, watching him bicycle away, bottles nearly overflowing. “We’re so very proud.”
Top photo and bottom image courtesy of the Buckholz family; bottom image depicts Vanis’s first business card.