Volume X, Issue 2 | April 18, 2024

Recyclo-pedic Knowledge

From conducting “waste audits” to demystifying the “magic” of vermiculture, Kenny Derieg spends all-day, every-day making SMC a little greener.

SMC In Focus


Kenny Derieg literally makes his living dumpster diving. As SMC’s recycling program specialist, he’s paid to keep his hand in the trash and his eye on everything Corsairs throw away. 

“I consider myself the traffic control for all campus waste,” he explains. 

Day by day, dumpster by dumpster, Kenny and his two student workers, Enrique Zanotta and Dylan Burger, scout the campus on the lookout for eco-fails and missed opportunities. 

They methodically log what and how much gets pitched. “We go around with a paper and clipboard, and we’re taking notes on how often this bin or that bin is filling up. We’ve got all our bins numbered,” he says.  

Periodically he and his students perform “trash audits,” emptying selected bins onto a tarp and sifting through the noisome contents for signs of “contamination.” A greasy pizza box befouling a blue recycling bin. A water bottle carelessly mixed with grass clippings. A banana peel mistakenly bound for the landfill. 

Kenny’s main focus is capturing organic waste—everything from wilted lettuce to clamshell paper boxes. It’s his job to make sure SMC stays in compliance with SB 1383, which requires the collection of organic waste around campus. 

“We’re currently averaging about 300 pounds a week,” he notes. 

According to Kenny’s boss, sustainability manager Ferris Kawar, SMC was one of the first community colleges to hire a full-time recycling specialist—almost 20 years ago now. 

“The position was important then and has only become more critical,” Ferris says, as environmentalists came to understand the  disastrous consequences of putting organic waste in landfills. Left unattended, that green waste turns into methane, a heat-trapping gas 80 times worse for the climate than carbon. 

“We were ahead of the curve,” Ferris says, reflecting on SMC’s early embrace of sustainability work, “but we still have a long way to go. We must constantly re-educate new students as they cycle through every few years. Kenny is giving them the knowledge to be good citizens both here at SMC and as they move into their careers.”


When Kenny started this job last year, it felt like a homecoming. “It’s nice to be back on my old stomping grounds,” says the 33-year-old Corsair alum. 

Kenny prides himself on being “a hyperlocal native.” Born and raised in Santa Monica, he graduated from SaMo High and studied two years at SMC before transferring to UCLA, where he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in sociology and urban planning. He went on to earn a master’s in urban sustainability from Antioch University, focusing on food systems. 

Before joining SMC’s staff, Kenny was an environmental educator with TreePeople, giving “Trash Talks” to teenagers and jumpstarting school-based recycling programs across greater Los Angeles. He also worked part-time as regional manager for LA Compost, overseeing the nonprofit’s six Westside compost hubs. 

Passion for the environment runs in Kenny’s family. His father spent 40 years working for the City of Santa Monica, starting as a street sweeper. His mom was a parking enforcement officer: they met working the same route. “She would write the tickets for the cars parked in his way,” he says, with a grin. 

Kenny’s dad worked his way up from driving a street cleaner to running the city’s solid waste and recycling programs. Intrigued by the “unique and innovative” projects his father worked on, Kenny  vividly recalls, for example, mounds of expensive brand-name sneakers deemed unfit for sale. His dad had arranged to put the defective shoes through a grinder and repurpose the shredded material to make all-weather running track. 


In a twist of fate, the “hyperlocal” recycling specialist no longer lives in Santa Monica. To escape pandemic lockdowns, Kenny left the city four years ago, embarking on an experiment in sustainable living with his wife, Brittany, and their two cats.  

High school sweethearts, the couple have been together 16 years. When both their jobs went remote in 2020, they grabbed an opportunity to become “land stewards” of an undeveloped 20-acre lot in Temecula 

“We were pretty much living off the grid,” Kenny says. No electricity. No sewage. The only available infrastructure was a water hook-up. Together, they built a tiny home on a trailer running entirely on solar power. They set up a compost toilet and installed a graywater recycling system for shower and sink runoff. In their spare time, they planted 150 fruit trees and established a productive orchard. 

In 2022, they returned to the grid, settling in quasi-rustic Rancho Palos Verdes, and Kenny now commutes to Santa Monica. He carpools with Brittany to the Redondo Beach gym where she works as an administrator, then continues alone on ebike to Santa Monica College. 

His day starts early. To beat traffic, Kenny arrives on campus at 7 am. He and a student worker “make the rounds” each morning, collecting special ear-marked waste, such as buckets of coffee grounds and greasy cardboard pastry boxes from various campus cafés. They head for the Bodega, scooping up the last day’s unwanted produce. They stop by the glass-blowing studio to collect broken glass shards. Certain departments generate lots of batteries and shredded paper, so they touch base daily.  

Kenny closely monitors all the recycling, trash and green bins across campus, taking daily measurements of each container’s usage level. He uses this information to optimize sustainability outcomes: low-volume bins get relocated, and new ones are added where needed. He also sees that everything gets properly processed by the appropriate waste-management company. 

Every so often, he tackles the IT storeroom where SMC’s retired technology is warehoused. After scanning, inventorying and stacking the devices, he transfers them to an e-waste outfit that will recycle valuable metal or plastic components and resell any salvageable devices overseas. 

With organic waste, everything stays on campus. Once a week, Kenny and his helpers crank up an industrial-strength grinder that crushes food into pulp. They mix in a slurry of mulch, horse manure and hay donated by Ocean View Community Garden. This surprisingly un-smelly slop goes into SMC’s Vermitech machine—home to some 500,000 red wiggler worms—where it’s transformed into gardener’s gold.  

“The worms have magical microbes in their intestines,” Kenny says. “Whatever they’re digesting and pooping out, the plants just love. It’s the ultimate fertilizer.” The process generates about 100 pounds of worm castings every other month. Part goes back to Ocean View in a barter arrangement. The rest is applied to SMC’s Organic Learning Garden and campus landscaping.   

Kenny’s time is also spent educating others and advocating for waste management across SMC. He regular meets with department managers, works tabling events and lectures in the Recycling and Resource Management certificate program.  

Earth Month is an especially busy time for Kenny, as the focus of campus life turns in his direction. But he’s never too busy to share his passion for sustainable solutions. To schedule a tour of the Vermitech machine, he encourages members of the SMC community to contact him directly by email 

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