Category → Editor’s blog
CPhI Worldwide is taking place this week in Frankfurt, Germany. Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer, Senior Editor Rick Mullin, and I have been in the city since Monday to attend this annual conference on pharmaceutical ingredients held in Europe. C&EN’s formal coverage will include a news item from Thayer in the Oct. 31 issue and a review from Mullin in the Nov. 14 issue.
To whet your appetite for my colleagues’ stories, here are some tidbits from my roamings and company visits in Frankfurt’s massive Messe.
First stop: Evonik, where Jurgen Krauter, vice president of communications, told me how the company hopes to change its image from old industry to provocative. The latest pharma brochure, “We love your problems,” features some offbeat photos, including of someone that reminded me of Lady Gaga:
Evonik seems to be serious in thinking out of the box in its messaging. Here’s an ad on a taxi:
Next: Roquette, where Sophie Chesnoy, pharma project development and marketing manager, briefed me on the company’s advances in formulations. One technology Roquette is touting is called Kleptose, cyclodextrins that, among other uses, masks the bitterness of APIs by trapping the molecules inside the cyclodextrin helix. When a tablet is in the mouth, only the cyclodextrin contacts the taste sensors, Chesnoy explained.
On my way to my third stop, I chanced upon David Ager and Andre H.M. de Vries, of DSM. I noticed a prominent embellishment on the DSM logo, as shown in this photo of the logo embroidered on Ager’s green DSM shirt:
The logo looks like a hat of multicolored feathers to me. Dave dutifully pointed out that in the middle of the colored arcs is the hexagon, an icon of organic chemistry. Dave also called my attention to the new tag line: Bright Science, Brighter Living. Sounds like they’re making light bulbs, I thought.
DSM’s marketing and communications director, Guy Tiene, explained that DSM is moving away from an image of industrial, heavily petroleum-based chemistry to life sciences, and the logo aims to send the message of novelty, freshness, health, and sustainability.
My third stop was AllessaChemie, where I met Thomas Buttner, the president and CEO, and Michael Hassler, director of marketing and business development for exclusive synthesis. Both conveyed confidence in the company’s growth despite the economic unease especially in Europe. They credit three factors for the steady course the company is now taking after the economic downturn of 2008: a good management team, a good workforce, and an owner who is not out for quick money in the next quarter.
That owner is Karl-Gerhard Seifert. When he retired at age 55, he told me, he could choose to play golf or build a company. He chose the latter, turning 25,000 euros in 2001 to a multi-million-dollar business today.
Next up was Hovione, where CEO Guy Villax told me that the economic unease in Europe is not yet having a significant effect on the API business, “because at the end of the day, people will have to keep taking their medicines.”
Others at CPhI corroborated AllessaChemie’s and Hovione’s reading of the business climate. Manoj Mehrotra, vice president and head of Dr. Reddy’s Custom Pharmaceutical Services suggested business is good enough that he can aim to grow sales by almost 300% in five years.
Stuart Needleman, president of scientific operations at Aptuit, said he has no worries about the economy. “The APIs are coming back,” he says, adding that “anyone who says business is great is lying. It’s not great, but it’s trending in the right direction.” Aptuit CEO Timothy Tyson predicted “significant growth in 2013.”
AMRI‘s U.S. manufacturing plants are full, churning out APIs and intermediates, said Mark Sawicki, vice president for business development in Europe. “We’re not back where we were in 2008, but we’re getting there,” he said. Outsourcing of manufacturing to China is turning around, he noted. Big pharma now realizes that only turn-the-crank type, well-established synthesis can be done well in Asia. Anything that requires people to troubleshoot and work through problems doesn’t work in Asia.
Even a stranger–a CPhI visitor who purchases APIs–I sat with on a lunch counter thought the crowd in CPhI 2011 was more upbeat than in recent years. That corroboration gives me confidence that the business executives who talked to me aren’t just putting on a brave face.
I recently had the pleasure of moderating a discussion of “New Business Paradigms for Pharmaceutical Companies” between John LaMattina and Ronald Breslow at a joint ACS/Société de Chimie Industrielle luncheon in Jersey City, N.J. LaMattina is the former president of Pfizer Global Research & Development and Breslow is a University Professor at Columbia University and a former president of ACS.
The announcement for the luncheon nicely summed up the situation we face: “Many observers believe the traditional pharmaceutical company model is broken. As patents expire, pharmaceutical companies are having an increasingly difficult time filling their product pipelines with new blockbuster drugs. Firms are responding by cutting back on the number of research programs they pursue and the number of researchers that pursue them. They are trying simpler internal structures and more complex external alliances. Results, however, are slow in coming.”
In my comments, I pointed to an unsolicited e-mail I had received the day before the luncheon from Thomson Reuters Pharma on their Pharma Matters Report. The introduction to the report states: “The ‘2011 Pharmaceutical R&D Factbook’ … paints a gloomy picture of the current health of the pharmaceutical industry: R&D expenditures fell in 2010 to a three-year low of $68 billion, while the number of drugs entering phase I, II, and III trials fell by 47, 53, and 55 percent respectively. In addition, only 21 new molecular entities reached the market in 2010, down from 26 in 2009.”
It also states: “This decline in R&D spend is coupled with an increasingly tough regulatory environment, making it more difficult for drugs to progress through pipelines: 55 drugs failed at the phase III stage during 2008-2010, more than double the number of failures during 2005-2007.”
LaMattina’s comments focused on the negative impact of mergers and acquisitions on pharmaceutical R&D (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nrd3514), calling them “a major factor in the decline in R&D productivity.” He pointed out that the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturing Association had 42 members in 1988, of which only 11 exist today as independent companies. While there are more than 11 current members of PhRMA, “the fact is that, due to industry consolidation as well as some companies dropping their pharmaceutical R&D, there is far less competition in this industry than there was a decade ago.”
Two effects of this trend, he said, are that “multiple entries in a compound class—for example, statins—will be less likely to occur” and “mergers result in the net effect of fewer researchers in big pharma R&D.” Multiple entries in a class are important, he said, because the first drug of a class that reaches the market is rarely the best drug. He also argued that multiple drugs in a class foster price competition. As to the second point—that fewer companies means fewer researchers—LaMattina used Pfizer as an example. In absorbing Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia, and Wyeth, he said, numerous research labs were closed and thousands of researchers let go.
Breslow said that the chemistry enterprise faces a “morale” problem. “We used to tell students that, if you take an advanced degree in chemistry, your career will be secure. That’s not true anymore.” Like LaMattina, Breslow took aim at the consolidation of the pharmaceutical industry. “Mergers may make great financial sense, but they are very destructive,” he said. “And not just to the pharmaceutical industry, but to the chemistry community in general because of the damage they do to morale.”
Mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical industry aren’t going away, of course, and LaMattina observed that the biotech industry isn’t immune to the trend. Breslow insisted that the economic strength of the U.S. “is largely based on the strength of our science and technology. Government must continue to recognize that support for science is important.”
While the discussions and the question and answer follow-up were lively and informative, they did not offer much in the way of reassurance for U.S. chemists in the pharmaceutical industry who fear for their futures.
Thanks for reading.
It has been clear for decades that the U.S. desperately needs a national energy policy. As many commentators have pointed out, developing such a policy would have been a productive response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A national energy policy that included a tax on carbon, for example, would have reduced our unhealthy dependence on imported oil and spurred innovation on alternative fuels and more efficient machines and construction techniques.
A decade after those tragic events, very little has changed on the energy front. Developing a coherent energy policy, however, is dependent on a clear understanding of all of the dimensions of energy production and use; the economic, societal, and environmental consequences of energy consumption; and public perceptions of all aspects of the energy landscape. An informative monograph dealing with all of these subjects was brought to my attention earlier this summer by L. Louis Hegedus, a distinguished chemical engineer with more than 40 years of industrial experience who is now a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at RTI International. A number of years ago, Hegedus was a member of C&EN’s Advisory Board.
Hegedus and Dorota S. Temple, a senior fellow in electronics and energy technologies at RTI, are the editors of “Viewing America’s Energy Future in Three Dimensions.” As stated in the preface to the monograph, “The objective of this work was to help frame the ongoing discussion of America’s energy future in the context of all three dimensions—technology, economics, and social sciences—and to draw attention to research needs pertaining to the intersection of the societal factors domain with technology and economics.”
The premise of “Viewing America’s Energy Future in Three Dimensions” is that, “Energy technology and energy economics are necessary, although not sufficient conditions for solving the energy conundrum; the sufficient condition derives from the societal dimension.” Hegedus, Temple, and their coauthors do an excellent job of concisely laying out the fundamentals of energy technology and energy economics in the U.S. While climate change is a consideration in their analysis of the national energy challenge, it is by no means the sole, or even dominant, one. “Beyond producing CO2” they write, “using coal and imported oil is associated with additional important and urgent concerns” that “require timely action regardless of the time scale and outcomes of climate change considerations.”
People’s attitudes toward energy technologies and energy economics will have a significant impact on how the nation addresses its energy challenges, Hegedus and Temple argue, and more research is needed to understand what shapes those attitudes. In the final chapter of the monograph, they make a number of recommendations for further research in the societal dimension of energy policy. These recommendations can be fairly dry—“Determine the nature and magnitude of behavioral failures in private decision making that lead to deviations from cost-minimizing behavior”—for example, but it is precisely this kind of data that should shape public policy.
“Moving forward to meet the energy and environmental challenges outlined here will force choices on the American population,” they write. “As consumers, Americans will have to choose between pursuing energy conservation (consuming less) and investing in energy efficiency (consuming differently). How we choose to mix these two ways of confronting energy shortages will prove critical in shaping American society in the twenty-first century. As citizens, we will be asked to weigh the different values we place on the environment and the economy as well as on individual choice and societal constraint. We will also debate the role of government in effecting the energy infrastructure transformation. Understanding the ways that American society will approach these choices is critical to understanding America’s energy future.”
“Viewing America’s Energy Future in Three Dimensions” is a slim volume (114 pages) packed with useful information. It is also a level-headed analysis of the difficult choices Americans face in addressing our nation’s energy future.
Thanks for reading.
During my trip to Cambodia in early September, my first stop was Siem Reap, the site of Cambodia’s world-famous ruins of Angkor, including Angkor Wat. For me, however, the main draw was two alumni of the Harpswell Foundation dormitories in Phnom Penh: Suon Raksmey and So Dany. They completed their college degrees in 2010: Suon majored in biology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and So completed a law degree at Royal University of Law & Economics, in Phnom Penh. (For a taste of life at the Harpswell dorms, go here; to meet some of the science majors at the Harpswell dorms, go here)
The two young women are now teachers at the Jay Pritzker Academy, located near Tachet village in Siem Reap. JPA is a pre-K-to-12, English-language college-preparatory school with a goal of enabling all its graduates to qualify for admission in U.S. universities. Students at JPA come from the surrounding poor communities. They receive free education, uniforms, books, materials, three meals a day, and even hygiene kits.
Suon and So have a special mission at JPA. They are helping the first batch of college-bound JPA students prepare for the Cambodian national college entrance exams. As JPA director and principal Hedi Belkaoui explained, even though the school’s goal is to prepare all students to be admissible to U.S. colleges and universities, JPA needs to prepare for the possibility that some students won’t make the cut. Students therefore need also to be admissible to Cambodian universities as a backup plan.
Instruction in JPA is in both English and Khmer. But the Cambodian national college entrance exam is only in Khmer. JPA therefore needs to ensure that students, especially those who would like to apply for admission to science degrees, have the same mastery of subjects in Khmer as they do in English. Suon and So are teaching chemistry, biology, math, and physics in Khmer to JPA’s eleventh-grade students.
Suon and So fulfill their roles at JPA with seriousness, confidence, and discipline, but also with joy in helping Cambodian children from poor families take advantage of unique opportunities similar to what they themselves enjoyed through the Harpswell Foundation. Already they are manifesting the leadership potential that got them admitted to the Harpswell dorms in the first place.
I was in Cambodia last week to visit the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory & Leadership Institute in Phnom Penh. I wanted to see what it was doing to achieve its mission of empowering a new generation of women leaders. Specifically, the foundation’s two dormitories enable young women with leadership potential to go to college in Cambodia’s capital, where the universities are located. In the dorms, the young women receive not only free accommodation but also free meals and training in leadership and the English language.
Many residents come from farming families in far-flung provinces, too poor to support a daughter’s education in the capital. All the young women have a palpable desire to master their chosen fields of study and learn about the world around them. All have confidence in their ability to help Cambodia rebuild after the devastation of the Pol Pot regime. All are driven to push their country forward in development. Through the gleam in their eyes, one can easily envision them leading government ministries and building businesses 10 or 15 years from now.
I spoke at length with some residents who are studying for science degrees about how they aim to help their country. The accompanying video clips are their responses to this question: How do you hope to help Cambodia advance?
CHORN SOKUNTHEARY is a fourth-year biology major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is the oldest of four sisters. Cambodia has a lot of environmental problems, she says, including people just cutting forests to make way for farms. “We need to learn to protect nature to avoid disasters,” she says. “People living in rural areas depend on the forests and rivers. If the forests and rivers have problems, those people cannot make a living.”
Chorn wants to be a teacher or to work with environmental organizations. She has an internship with the nongovernmental organization Culture & Environment Preservation Association. She is working with ethnic groups living in the forests near the Mekong River who may be threatened by Laos’ plan to build a hydroelectric power plant on the river
BUT KANHA is a fourth-year chemistry major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is the sixth child in a family of seven, the youngest among four sisters. All her older sisters are farmers. While in 10th grade, But’s interest in chemistry was sparked by a “nice and kind teacher” who inspired her to aspire to become her school’s top student in chemistry. “Everything around us is all chemistry,” But says.
Green chemistry fascinates But. She wants to learn ways to reduce chemical hazards in products, to recycle waste, and to protect the environment and natural resources. “People in Cambodia don’t like products made in Cambodia because the quality is not good,” she says. She hopes to help improve the quality of Cambodian products so that “people will want to use them and will not have to spend their money outside the country.”
KIM SOKNGIM is a fourth-year mathematics major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is one of five children of rice-farming parents in Kandal Province. From June through August 2011, she participated in an intensive English program in Logan, Utah. After she completes her bachelors degree in math in 2012, she will apply for admission to a graduate engineering degree in the U.S.
Kim’s dream is to be a civil engineer, to help build Cambodia’s infrastructure. She laments the poor condition of roads, bridges, schools, and manufacturing facilities in her country. She also decries the destruction of forests in Cambodia and is concerned about the impact of climate change on farmers. She says Cambodian farmers are “feeling the temperature increase and need more water for their farms.”
PHAUK KIMSAL is a fourth-year chemistry major specializing in biochemistry. She attends the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She believes that Cambodia can develop through science, just as many developed countries have. She is the youngest of eight children of rice farmers in Kompong Thom Province and one of a few Harpswell residents with several family members who have higher education.
A brother-in-law who studied chemistry and now has a good job at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia strongly influenced her decision to study chemistry. A brother is studying for a master’s degree in mathematics in Thailand. One sister also went to college and is now an English teacher.
Right now Phauk is an intern at a water supply facility, learning how to make water clean and running analyses for water quality.
HUN LINA is a fourth-year student at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, where she is studying chemical engineering and food technology. She comes from Oddor Meanchey Province, the oldest of six children. Her father is a nurse; her mother raises pigs and makes rice alcohol for a living.
Hun says her mother encouraged her to go to college. “I have nothing to give you so you have to study so that your future will be brighter. My life is difficult because I’m ignorant. If you don’t want to face problems [as I did], you have to study,” Hun recalls her mother’s advice.
Hun would like to find ways to preserve food so that the abundant produce from the provinces can be available all year round and farmers can earn more from their labors.
CHHON SOPHEA is a fourth-year biology student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is concerned about loss of biodiversity caused by rapid destruction of forests to make way for farming. She hopes to be able to discover new species in Cambodian forests before they are forever lost. She sees herself working with conservation organizations in Cambodia.
TONG SOTHIDA is a fourth-year math major, another of the few Harpswell residents whose parents have had higher education. Her mother teaches physics and chemistry, and her father teaches history and geography. She says her parents want her to teach mathematics after she graduates from college, but she would like to continue her education in the U.S. or Singapore to pursue a master’s degree.
One unique aspect of the Harpswell dorm is community living, Tong says. Residents need to do housework in addition to mastering their majors, learning English, and discussing Cambodian current events. Furthermore, older residents assist the younger ones, especially in their major fields. For example, Tong teaches math in the dorm.
LOV KIMSRUNG is a fourth-year computer science major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is the youngest of five children; her father sells construction materials and her mother owns a small business; neither of her parents have a college education.
Lov says her father strongly discouraged her from going to college. “Women should stay home and just take care of the family. College is a waste of time,” Lov recalls her father saying. But a cousin and two brothers supported her, Lov says, telling her parents that “she’s smart; why don’t you let her find her future?”
KHOEURN KIMLEANG just graduated from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and food technology. In November, she will begin her studies for a master’s degree in environmental engineering at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
In the meantime, Khoeurn is working on a United Nations Industrial Development Organization project to promote clean and sustainable production practices in Cambodian industries. For example, she has helped Ly Ly Food Industries, a Cambodian manufacturer of snack foods, reduce the amount of waste in their production by modifying the shape of the mixing vessel. The change reduced the waste from 40-50 kilograms per day to only 10-15 kilograms per day, saving about $800 per day in cost of ingredients.
Life in a Phnom Penh dormitory is unlike any dorm life I’ve seen before.
The young women at the Harpswell Foundation dormitory in Teuk Thla are all college students, sharing rooms and chores.
Chores? Yes, chores, as in cooking and cleaning.
Cooking is communal, with teams deciding the menu, purchasing ingredients, and preparing lunch and dinner three meals each day of the week. Everyone has cleaning assignments, ensuring that common areas are maintained and kept clean. Residents manually wash their own clothes. Tap water can stop running at any time; water for bathing is tepid at best. Residents must be inside the premises by 8 PM. Sounds like a place the average student in the developed world won’t go near. Yet the young women who live here consider themselves extremely lucky and privileged.
In this dorm, they take part in regularly held English classes, current events discussions based on news from the Cambodia Daily, and leadership training right where they live, for free. They have access to a library, to the Internet, and to resident teachers. It’s a dream place for anyone with high aspirations but whose college education was never a certainty in the first place for financial reasons.
Classes for the 2011-2012 school year have not yet begun, yet the dorm is bustling. Many residents are here, using vacation time to continue studying English or take part in internships. And residents call each other sister and treat each other as sisters in the best sense of the word.
The dorm transforms its residents, many of whom come from farm families in far-flung provinces of Cambodia. As Rous Sreypov tells me, “I have changed a lot since I lived in Harpswell. I have confidence, I can say what I think.” Rous’ parents, who are farmers, studied only until seventh grade. She is about to begin her second year studying economic development.
Like many of the residents I spoke to, Rous sees herself as a potential leader in Cambodia’s development. The vision imposes responsibilities that may seem enormous but all residents embrace, such as older residents sharing time and knowledge to help younger residents, especially those studying in their same field. “Harpswell does not require us to do this,” says Chhon Sophea, a biochemistry major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “We’re sharing out of love; we are doing this by ourselves.”
Quite a few years ago, I don’t really know how, the Muppets character Beaker became C&EN’s unofficial mascot. If you are not familiar with the Muppets (what planet have you been living on?), Beaker is the shy lab assistant of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. He’s got a shock of red hair, typical Muppet protruding eyes, a big orange nose, a pale green lab coat, and a tie. He’s also accident-prone.
C&EN Managing Editor Robin Giroux has custody of two small Beaker plush dolls, which often tag along on trips taken by C&EN editors, both on business and vacation trips. Since I have a new iPhone 4 and I am determined to learn how to use its multiple functionalities (I never learned how to take a photograph and e-mail it from my BlackBerry), I decided to take Beaker along on a recent vacation with my wife, Jan, to Montana to visit our son, Rudy Jr., and hike in Glacier National Park.
Nope, this Editor’s Page is not about climate change or the disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park (they’re projected to be gone by 2030). It’s just about traveling with Beaker and sharing a few of the photographs I took.
Rudy Jr. took Jan and me on two hikes in the Bitterroot Mountains south of Missoula, where he is a student at the University of Montana. He finds my newfound enthusiasm for my smartphone amusing. One hike was up the stunning Blodgett Canyon to a bridge over Blodgett Creek and a view of Horsehead Arch. Jan took the photo of Beaker and me.
Several days later, we stopped at the entrance to Glacier to take an obligatory picture of Beaker and the entrance sign (you can see that picture at C&EN Online). A car pulled up behind us, and two young women got out to ask us to take a picture of them at the sign. They saw Beaker and one woman said, “Beaker!” and the other said, “Meep, meep, meep, meep.”
The other two pictures are of Beaker on a hike up Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier on the east side of the park. The wildflowers and scenery were spectacular.
Beaker has had many adventures with C&EN staff members. He’s been in Tiananmen Square, at a World Cup football match in Germany, chewed on by Godzilla in Tokyo, hung out with sled dogs in Alaska, gone whale watching off the coast of Massachusetts, and many more. Catch some of the other pics of Beaker on C&EN Online.
Thanks for reading.
My office BlackBerry, which I had only become reasonably comfortable using over the past few months, recently decided to stop downloading e-mail. I could still send e-mail and use the device as a phone. I could even access the Internet with it. But it wouldn’t accept e-mail.
So I needed a new phone, and I had to decide what kind of a phone to get. Now, I hate to admit this, but I have reached the age where I find new technology somewhat intimidating. A couple of weeks ago, I listened to C&EN Associate Editor Carmen Drahl, who has never met a technology she didn’t embrace with gusto, talk about her iPhone as not just a smartphone but a “complete reporter’s toolbox,” which can be used as a camera, video camera, and tape recorder.
I was daunted. But I also knew that, as the editor-in-chief of this magazine, I needed to at least grasp how my staff are using technology to do their jobs. And, as important, how C&EN’s readers are accessing the magazine. So now I have an iPhone 4. In a text, one of my sons asked me, “So, how does it feel to have a tiny computer in your pocket?”
Which brings me to the subject of this Editor’s Page. With this week’s issue, we proudly introduce C&EN Mobile, which is designed to bring C&EN’s rich content to your mobile device—iPhone, iPad, or Android phone—formatted to optimize its readability on that device.
This week’s lead Science & Technology Department story by C&EN News Editor William G. Schulz is a devastating account of systematic scientific fraud committed by former Columbia University chemistry graduate student Bengü Sezen. Schulz has been following the Sezen case since her work was called into question and Columbia began an investigation of it in 2006.
Sezen worked under the direction of Dalibor Sames from 2000 to 2005. Sames was an assistant chemistry professor when Sezen joined his group; he received tenure at Columbia in 2003. During her time in Sames’ lab, Sezen was the lead author on three papers published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, all of which Sames retracted in 2006 after the results reported in the papers were called into question because no one could reproduce them (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 8364). Sezen received her Ph.D. in 2005; Columbia revoked it earlier this year.
Schulz’s story in this week’s issue is based on Columbia’s investigative report, which was obtained from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by C&EN, as well as numerous interviews. A voice not heard in those interviews, and barely heard throughout the investigation of Sezen’s work, is that of Sames. When questions were first raised about Sezen’s research, Sames deflected them, citing the ongoing investigation. As reported by Schulz, now “Columbia has expressly forbidden Sames or any of its employees from speaking publicly about the Sezen case,” often citing privacy concerns.
There isn’t much more to say about Bengü Sezen. The redacted ORI report makes clear that she is a pathological liar who didn’t conduct any of the research reported in the JACS papers or her thesis. Which is actually pretty amazing, because if you look at the papers and the associated supporting information, you draw two conclusions: Sezen knows her chemistry, and she put an enormous amount of effort into her fraud. Her first JACS communication in 2002, for example, has 33 pages of supporting information, including eight carefully constructed NMR spectra.
Growing up in the Philippines, my brothers and I used to earn spare change by heeding the calls of scrap buyers going around neighborhoods calling out, “bote, bakal, diario” or bottles, metals, newspapers. They weighed the metals with crude handheld scales; they sorted the bottles according to color and size; and they measured stacks of old newspapers by the span of an outstretched hand, from the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb. The scrap buyers were stingy, and we were always disappointed that our stash never amounted to more than a few coins. Nevertheless, at a young age, I was aware that recycling was worth money.
So it was a marvel to me when I moved to the U.S. in the mid-1980s to see organized recycling in the form of yard sales and thrift stores. When my mother was still alive, she took great pleasure in hunting for bargains, much to the dismay of my father, who would have preferred to spend Saturday mornings reading the newspaper rather than driving my mother around to neighborhood yard sales. For a few dollars, she could assemble a dining set or a winter wardrobe for each of her children, who were immigrating to the U.S. with their families.
My first home in the U.S. contained many previously owned kitchen and furniture items. I still use a salad spinner and a Waring blender that my mother found for me more than 20 years ago. Just last week, I stopped by a Goodwill store and came home with a dozen books that cost me less than the price of just one brand-new book. I still occasionally browse thrift stores and consignment stores and get a kick out of finding exquisite items at a fraction of their retail cost.