COLUMBIA -- Andrew Talkish's Tuesday morning ritual is framed by a series of blue-and-white recycling bins.
The 5-year-old Columbia youngster has visions of a cleaner environment, but he's not leaving those hopes to chance. When the city's recycling crew pulls into the Chestnutt Hill Plantation each week, the drivers are greeted with an energetic helping hand from one of the area's youngest environmentalists.
For the better part of two years, Andrew has devoted his Tuesday mornings to helping collect and sort items left out for recycling in his neighborhood and nearby areas.
"He just started taking an interest in the trucks when he was 2," said Andrew's mother, Jan Talkish. "One day, he asked if he could throw it (the family's recycling) onto the truck."
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That request would eventually grow into a passion that has left its footprints on the entire neighborhood. Today -- accompanied by his mother -- Andrew follows at a safe distance behind the city recycling truck until it reaches a stop at each home and then pitches in as the crew worker unloads the contents of the bins into the truck.
"I'd say he probably helps me with well over 100 homes," said Vincent Gallman, the city worker who regularly serves the route where Andrew lives. "We're a team. He knows more about this truck and what goes on with it than most taxpayers."
Cardboard stays in the bin
And Andrew also knows recycling.
"We make sure none of it is cardboard," Andrew said, as he inspected the items in one neighborhood bin. "If it's cardboard, it stays in the bin."
Andrew's "uniform" consists of a vest, gloves, hat and shades. As an added precaution, he handles only plastic items, and his mother credits the drivers for their additional watchful eyes and encouragement.
"They're so happy to see him, and they're so accommodating to us," she said.
Gallman, who has driven the same route for five years, applauds Andrew's enthusiasm and said his trips through the neighborhood are a highlight of his week.
"This is the best help I've ever had," Gallman said. "He waits for me faithfully, and I look forward to seeing him."
Andrew's passion for a cleaner environment is evident inside his home. The youngster has a collection of miniature trash trucks and a recycling book he follows faithfully.
"He's definitely dedicated to recycling," said his father, Johnathan Talkish. "His week revolves around Tuesdays. I always thought that it was a phase and that he would go through it, but he hasn't."
Even the recent dog days of summer weren't enough to keep him inside, his parents said.
But Andrew, who personally manages the family's recycling, believes such efforts should begin at home. And when others in his family fail to recycle properly, he's the first to let them know.
"I threw his (plastic) green tea bottle away once, and he got upset with me, so we have to be careful about that," Johnathan Talkish said.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Andrew pointed to an unused portion of the morning newspaper and quizzed his mother about her plans for it.
"Are you going to read this? OK, it's on its way to the recycling bin."
Andrew's curbside adventures have been put on hold now that he's started kindergarten, but he's already looking ahead to the holidays.
"He's just got so much passion for what he does," his father said. "It's good to see him having an impact on others."