According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 32% of Americans recycle, with a majority of 66% coming from paper and paperboard. On this National Recycling Day, the Mentos gum brand trained a team of urban commandos to help clean up the streets of Simi Valley – The Raccoon Recycling Force.
The RRF is an elite group of four raccoons that underwent more than 40 hours of training exercises to demonstrate that if raccoons can recycle, humans can too. The team of striped furballs recently completed a successful mission on the streets of Simi Valley by digging through trash cans and placing recyclable Mentos paperboard gum bottles from the trash into recycling receptacles. Turns out the Mentos force can recycle 75% of the time, more than doubling the recycling capacity of humans.
“We first taught them how to pick something up with their hands and every time they touched the Mentos box we would give them a treat,” raccoon trainer Crystal Chen from Working Wildlife in Frazier Park tells L.A. Weekly. “They’re naturally very curious and smart animals and get engaged with the item pretty quickly. They start picking it up because they are also very dexterous animals. We very quickly graduated them so every time they picked it up they’d get another treat. They naturally wanted to hold on to the item because they knew that every time they did they’d get paid for it. We first taught them how to put it in a little dish or basket. They learned that the trash can was the fuller container, recognized the Mentos box, picked it up and dropped it into the recycling bin.”
Treats are a variety of fruits, vegetables, plain boiled chicken and dog kibble. “We like to keep their diets clean, but sometimes for a very special treat they get a Cheeto,”’ says the trainer from Arcadia. “They go crazy over Cheetos.”
The force is made up of five-year-old siblings Daisy and Kilo who came to Working Wildlife from a veterinarian technician who had them at her home for about three months after an exterminator brought them as babies to the clinic. He had accidentally killed the mother, not knowing that she had babies. When he found out she had a litter of babies he picked them all up and took them to the vet’s office. They eventually started destroying the tech’s house and have been frolicing at the station’s Sylmar ranch ever since. Zoe came from a construction site when she was found living underneath a house with her family. The engineers summoned Chen’s team to pick her up. Luna came from a vet’s office when she was just six days old because they didn’t have the resources and skills to bottle feed and raise baby raccoons.
Chen urges civilians to leave the raccoon recycling to trained professionals. They’re still wild animals with a sharp teeth and a powerful bite. Mentos is open to suggestions on where to send the RRF next and has opened up the official Mentos RRF hotline. Text “RACCOONS” to 1-833-RACYCLE by November 26 if you want to see the task force in your neighborhood.
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